Episode 132: International Conference of Secular AA-An Update

In this episode, Gregg O., Chair of the Host Committee for the International Conference of Secular AA provides an update on the conference to be held from October 30 – November 1, 2020, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Bethesda, Maryland. Registration is $125 and is now open at the Secular AA website. Conference attendees will receive a special hotel rate of $129 per night, which is available the week before and the week after the conference. This is a great opportunity to take a few extra days to explore Washington, DC and the surrounding area. 

There will be number of interesting speakers at the conference, including:

  • Dr. George Koob, Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse is the keynote speaker. Dr. Koob is an internationally recognized expert on the neurobiology of alcohol and drug addiction.
  • Jon Stewart, PhD, a lecturer in cultural history and a public speaker on secular recovery. Jon is also the lead guitarist for the band Sleeper, and he was  a guest on one of our earlier podcasts episodes.  
  • Dr. Georg Kolodner, a board certified addiction psychiatrist, and founder of Kolmac Outpatient Recovery Centers.
  • Kathy Mitchell, spokesperson for the National Organization for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a tentative speaker, depending on her schedule.

In addition to the speakers, secular AA members from around the world will present panels and workshops on a variety of topics. One of these panels will feature Joe C. from Rebellion Dogs Radio who will be interviewing William H. Schaberg, author of Writing the Big Book: The Creation of A.A. 

This is the fourth international gathering of secular AA members,which takes place every two years. The idea of of two women from the We Agnostics group in Hollywood, California, the first conference, then known as the We Agnostics and Freethinkers International AA Conference was held in Santa Monica, California from November 6-8, 2014. Subsequent conferences were held in Austin, Texas in 2016, and Toronto, Ontario in 2018.

Audio recordings of the speakers, panels, and workshops from the previous conferences can be found  at the AA Beyond Belief YouTube Channel, and the audio page on the AA Beyond Belief website.

Read more at AA Agnostica

Visit AA Agnostica to read Gregg’s article “ICSAA 2020: The Science of Alcoholism and Recovery.

Podcast Transcript

00:00 John S: This is AA Beyond Belief, episode 132.


00:23 John S: The fourth biennial International Conference of Secular AA will be held from October 30th through November 1st, 2020, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Bethesda, Maryland. In this episode, I spoke with Gregg O, chair of the host committee, who provided an update on how things are progressing. For more information please visit the conference website at secularaa.org. Gregg, how are you doing?

00:46 Gregg O: Fine, thank you, John, how are you?

00:49 John S: Good. So you’re here today to talk about the upcoming International Conference of Secular AA which is going to be… Is it in October of 2020?

00:57 Gregg O: Yes, it is. It begins Friday, October 30th and it goes through Sunday, November 1st of 2020.

01:04 John S: But before we talk about that, I know that you recently went to the Arizona secular AA conference, and I was hoping you can give me a little report on what happened over there and maybe what you learned there.

01:14 Gregg O: Yes, I did, and I’m so glad I went. That’s a really good conference. It was the third biennial Arizona secular AA conference, and frankly, the speakers and the topics and the panels were so good, I hope to hijack a few of them, or plagiarize a few of them in ICSAA 2020. And in fact, a couple of the speakers there have already agreed to speak there, including a group of LGBT secular AA that will be leading a meeting, and that’s one thing that will be happening non-stop at least during the days not necessarily all night. But we’ll be having one track that’s all AA meetings hosted by different groups from all over the world, and including an online meeting, that literally will have participants from all over the world. But there was a panel on tolerance within secular AA, there was a panel on dogma and ritual in secular AA, and I don’t mean to slide any of the other speakers, but those two I thought were particularly good. And I’ve got a program that’s all marked up with notes and things I learned.

02:25 John S: How many people were there?

02:26 Gregg O: There were probably 75 people.

02:29 John S: Okay, that’s pretty good then.

02:30 Gregg O: Yes, it was a wonderful turnout, and they were kind enough to let me have the mic for 20 minutes to talk about ICSAA 2020.

02:40 John S: So you’ve actually been to two of these regional conferences now, did you go intentionally to learn something from those conferences or just to spread the word or what?

02:49 Gregg O: I actually went to spread the word, but yes, I did learn a lot. The first regional conference I went to was SOAAR, Secular Ontario Alcoholics Aanonymous Roundup, in Hamilton, Ontario, and that too had a number of good speakers, a number of good topics and a number of good panels that I hope to reprise at ICSAA 2020.

03:12 John S: So let’s get into ICSAA 2020. You already told me when it is, and it is going to be in Bethesda, Maryland?

03:19 Gregg O: Yes it is, Bethesda is a high-end suburb of Washington, DC. You can literally walk from Bethesda to Washington DC. So we’re calling it the Washington DC ICSAA, but it is in Bethesda, Maryland, it’s at the Hyatt Regency Bethesda. You can go on to the www.secularaa.com website, and click the ICSAA 2020 tab, and that will allow you to register for the conference, which is $125. There’s an option to purchase copies of all the speeches, they will be recorded and available, that’s a $5 add-on. And you can also book your hotel.

04:04 Gregg O: Now, the hotel if you were to book without a special ICSAA code, would be $170 a night. For us, it’s $129 a night. Now, usually there’s some sort of a city tax and there’ll be more things tacked on, but the base cost is $129 a night, and the Hyatt Regency Bethesda has given us, I think about a week before and a week after the conference to use that rate. So this is an outstanding opportunity, if you’ve never been to Washington DC to visit and combine ICSAA 2020 with a family vacation. The hotel by the way, literally sits right atop a Metro Station, the Metro is what they call the subway in Washington DC, so it’s easy to get into town if you want to see the National Mall or the Smithsonian, or any of the many, many things that Washington DC has to offer for free, I might add. And if you’re in vacation mode people often don’t realize how close Washington DC or Bethesda is to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, maybe 75 miles to the north, and Colonial Williamsburg maybe 75 miles to the south. So you can get your revolutionary war on, you can get your civil war on, and you can get your sobriety on all in one visit.

05:27 John S: Is there a keynote speaker?

05:29 Gregg O: Yes, there is a keynote speaker, he is Dr. George F. Koob, K-O-O-B. He is the Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Now, I had heard of NIH, the National Institute of Health, I did not realize that it’s actually the National Institutes of Health, there are many, many of them. And this particular one that Dr. Koob heads is on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. If you go online, you can see his biography, but he has a fabulous background in neurobiology, and teaching in the physiological effects of alcohol on addiction and recovery, and his speech will be titled recent advances in alcohol research, a 50-year perspective. So this will give us an opportunity to learn about recovery, and what we’ve learned about alcohol is over the last half century.

06:00 John S: I’m excited about him. I think I told you, I read a book last summer, I didn’t finish it because it was too scientific-y for me to finish, but it was all about research into alcoholism. And the person who wrote it worked closely with Dr. Koob, and he wrote quite a bit about what it was like working for him and how high esteem that Dr. Koob is held among researchers in the field of alcoholism. So just from reading that, I got a pretty good idea that this guy that you’re going to have speaking, he knows what he’s talking about, and he’s pretty well respected in the field.

07:01 Gregg O: Yes, he is. And I’ve noticed the same thing. Once his name was implanted into my mind, I’ve seen him quoted in a number of places in books on recovery and alcoholism and articles as well. So yeah, I’m excited too. We have other speakers that we’re not calling the headliner, but they’re also very impressive. One is Dr. George Kolodner, who is the founder and chief innovation officer of the Kolmac Outpatient Recovery Centers in and around the Washington DC area, not just in Washington DC, but also in Silver Spring, and they just opened a new center in Annapolis. But I have a personal relationship with Kolmac, that’s where I did my rehab. Dr. Kolodner’s program is, according to their website, the first intensive outpatient treatment program in the world.

07:57 Gregg O: It was an eight-week program from 5:30 to 8:30, which for me was also known as happy hour, except it didn’t end at 8:30. But he and his staff and another person from his staff will be speaking, are very innovative. In addition to being the first intensive outpatient recovery center, it is as I understand it, the first program to combine neurobiology and an addiction psychiatrist, Dr. Kolodner. With Kolmac, is made of Dr. Kolodner’s name and a guy named, I think his name is McCarthy, who was a 12-stepper. It’s the first program to combine psychiatry, psychology, and a 12-step program. So it’s medicine and it’s AA. And it worked for me. Other speakers include Dr. Jon Stewart, who is from England. He’s perhaps better known as the lead guitar player in the band, Sleeper, which has had a couple of tracks in the movie, Trainspotting, and he’s performed with KD Lang.

09:10 John S: They’re kind of making a revival. I follow him on Facebook and the band has kind of gotten back together again, I think, ’cause he’s been playing at different venues.

09:20 Gregg O: Yes. And you also interviewed him, I think, for a podcast, and he’s got his own blog called; Leaving AA, Staying Sober: New Perspectives on Recovery. And that’s at jonsleeper, and that’s, J-O-N-S-L-E-E-P-E-R.wordpress.com.

09:42 John S: He was one of the first people that we interviewed, that came on our podcast, he must have been like on episode four or five, it was really early on. And to this day, that is the most listened to podcast that we have recorded. And we also have him on YouTube, and it’s gotten more of, they call them views on YouTube, than any other recording that we have. He’s really interesting because he’s left AA, but he’s not anti-AA, he refers to himself as being pro-choice. So what he would like to see change with AA is he would like to see AA make it known… Kind of he’d like to see AA come into the broader recovery community. So in other words, help out some of these other programs. Why not list SMART on your AA website and that kind of thing? So, he just thinks that there should be more, I guess cooperation within the road to recovery community, and that we not be in our silos.

10:45 Gregg O: And for any of your listeners who have not heard your interview with Jon Stewart, I really recommend it. That was one of the best you’ve done, John.

10:56 John S: He is such a nice person. He did that for me. I didn’t really realize what a favor he was doing me, because he’s pretty well-known. [chuckle] He keeps telling me that people thought that he was the American comedian, Jon Stewart, and that’s why he’s so popular, [chuckle] I don’t know. But also it was kind of funny, as any article that we post or any podcast that we post about someone who’s actually leaving AA, seems to be some of the more popular podcasts that we have. But I like him, I’m looking forward to meeting him.

11:30 Gregg O: Yes, yeah, and he’s coming all the way from England. I don’t know if his band is on tour, or how that’s going to work, but he’s committed. Yes, he’s a very interesting man and his campaign for greater recognition of the wide range of non-spiritual recovery options, I think is fascinating, and I’m looking forward to his speech as much as anyone else’s.

11:53 John S: You can Google him, he’s got all kinds of talks on YouTube, that he goes over to different places in England, and he talks about; Oh, Alcoholics Anonymous, some of the history of AA, and oh, the religiosity of AA, and also what he believes about being pro-choice in recovery. He’s going to be really a good speaker, I’m looking forward to that. So it’s nice that you have the science and then you have him, so that’s cool.

12:25 Gregg O: Yes, and there is one more scientists that is invited, and she’s checking on her schedule, but I think we’re going to get her. And that is the spokesperson for the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. She has just returned from, well, at the end of June, she was delivering a paper on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders at the World Health Organization forum on alcohol, drugs, and addictive behaviors, in Geneva, Switzerland, at WHO headquarters. She’s a very interesting speaker and as I’m fond of saying, spoiler alert, the amount of alcohol you can drink safely during pregnancy is zero if you’re serious about avoiding Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, what we’re used to call fetal alcohol syndrome.

13:19 John S: So how did you get her?

13:20 Gregg O: Well Washington DC has a wonderful stable full of associations for lobbying and getting their messages out and she’s with one of them.

13:30 John S: Yeah, that’s what I thought, ’cause in DC, you’ve got all the experts on everything there, don’t you.

13:35 Gregg O: Yes, yes, whether they’re experts or not, you’ve got them. But yes, yeah.

13:41 John S: That’s cool.

13:42 Gregg O: Science advocacy, it’s a wonderful resource. And while we’re mentioning DC, this time of year, it’s going to be the Halloween weekend of 2020, but the cherry blossom season is, of course, well known in Washington DC, and it is beautiful, but it’s full of tourists, it’s often rainy, it can be chilly. No one ever realizes how lovely Washington DC and the surrounding area is during the end of October, and beginning of November. So I’m hoping that we’ll have a just wonderful weather for people. And a number of people have told me they’re coming. Somebody said, “You had me at Smithsonian,” and he plans to take his family from Canada too.

14:27 John S: I’m looking forward to it. I’ve never been to DC other than a drive-through. When my family was moving, when I was a kid, we were moving from New York to… Well, actually, we were moving to Kansas, but we went down to Florida to see our family, our relatives. So anyway, we drove through DC, and at that time, you could just drive right in front of the White House, so we can drive in front of the White House. I think we walked around the mall, we saw the cherry blossoms and that kind of thing, but that was it, it was all just kind of drive a drive-through tour. But so I’m looking forward to maybe spending some time there and I would like to see… I’d like to see a lot of things there. I’d like to go to the mall. I’d like to see the Lincoln memorial. I’d like to see, I don’t know, all the sites there.

15:10 Gregg O: As I tell people, if you’re bored in Washington DC, it’s your own darn fault. Plenty to do and most of it thanks to the taxpayers of America is free.

15:18 John S: So are those the main speakers, are those the featured speakers?

15:22 Gregg O: Those are the headliners, but in addition we have a number of very interesting and fascinating speakers. Joe C is going to sit on the stage and interview someone who you recently interviewed John. Do we call him the author of the… Editor of the notes that eventually became the big book.

15:45 John S: I haven’t interviewed him but that’s the book over there. See it? Yeah, that huge book.

[overlapping conversation]

15:50 John S: Yeah, I’m going to be reading it. Actually, I’m going to start it, maybe today even. And Roger, I told Roger that I was going to write a book review on it, but I’m not going to promise him that. [chuckle] There was another book I just read, it’s the one sitting next to it, see how little it is. It’s like 200 pages. I was going to write a book review on that one, and I just found it impossible. So I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get the…

16:15 Gregg O: Well, you’ll get to hear an interview.

16:17 John S: Yeah, and Joe’s the best interviewer. In fact I listened to the podcast he did with the author, I think it’s Shaffer. I keep wanting to say Schaumburg ’cause that’s where my company is located, but I can go get the book and tell you who it is. It is William Schaberg. Yeah, Schaberg.

16:36 Gregg O: And the title?

16:37 John S: It’s called Writing the Big Book.

16:40 Gregg O: And again, I won’t give away the surprise ending, but I understand that this person had access to all of Jim Burwell’s notes and the notes of many other people. Jim Burwell, perhaps you’ve seen the bumper stickers, friend of Jimmy B, he was the agnostic or atheist, one of the five or six originals who wrote the big book.

17:01 John S: And there’s some new information in that book from what I understand, that nobody… There are people mentioned in the book that have never ever popped up before in AA history. So kind of interesting.

17:12 Gregg O: I’m looking forward to reading it. We also had an award-winning poet who will talk about art and sobriety, and I think this may be a panel with a musician, a poet, and perhaps a graphic artist on using art.

17:27 John S: Is that the poet that you knew, and I think you gave me his book?

17:32 Gregg O: Yes.

17:32 John S: Okay.

17:32 Gregg O: He has a couple of books but we used one poem, which is the title of also the title of one of his books: Drinking Weather.

17:39 John S: Okay, that’s the book I think that you gave me, and I would love to meet him. I look forward to meeting him, because I’ve always wanted to have him on the podcast or do something with him on AA Beyond Belief.

17:52 Gregg O: He’s a fascinating individual. See me after the meeting here and I’ll give you his contact information. In addition, we have someone who is a certified instructor of Tai Chi, and I don’t know how to pronounce this, Qi Gong, but these are health and wellness sort of exercises that can be used in recovery, and we’re going to do it. We’re going to do it afterwards.

18:18 John S: I’m not going to do it.


18:22 Gregg O: Well, for those who want to. And it seemed to me like it would be a good thing to do after lunch on Saturday. And then, as I mentioned, there will be continuous AA meetings and there will be speakers on topics we’ve had before at the three previous International Conferences of Secular AA, but starting a secular meeting, how to do oral histories. We’re now getting to the point where there are not just 30 years sobriety people around but 40-year and even more.

18:54 John S: So are we going to record people? The record histories.

18:56 Gregg O: Yes.

18:56 John S: That’s a good idea. Could we record maybe just group histories too, if people just want to talk about groups they started?

18:56 Gregg O: I think that’s an excellent idea John, yes.

18:56 John S: That’s really good.

19:07 Gregg O: And I’m hoping that with your podcast experience you can help us a little bit, and I know you’re the archivist for…

19:14 John S: Yeah I’m trying to monopolize the secular audio recordings, so we’ve got our YouTube channel, which is huge now, I think it’s huge, it’s like what, 1700 people I think who are viewing it. But anyway, we got all the just the incredible amount of audio now that we’ve collected over the years that we have on our YouTube channel and on the AA Beyond Belief site. So yeah, I’ll definitely… Anything that’s being recorded, I’ll snatch it up and I’ll participate and help as much as I can.

19:46 Gregg O: Oh, thank you, and you’ve done a fantastic job. I know your podcast has 15000 listeners from time to time.

19:52 John S: About 10000 a month.

19:53 Gregg O: 10000 a month. Excellent John. So those are sort of the highlights of the conference.

20:01 John S: So what do you need right now? Do you need help? Do you need volunteers? Do you still need people to fill in to do panels and workshops?

20:08 Gregg O: If you go on to secularaa.com, and sign up for, register for the conference, there’s one of the things in the sign up sheet, the registration sheet is an opportunity to offer yourself as a volunteer, and people have been extremely generous with their time and ideas. But we can use more volunteers, I’ve never really overseen a bunch of volunteers. So we could use a volunteer who’s in charge of volunteers, for example.

20:36 John S: And when you talk about the recording, we’re going to record it ourselves, right?

20:40 Gregg O: Yes.

20:40 John S: Okay. So we’re just going to… I think maybe just get some equipment or something and just…

20:46 Gregg O: We’ll rent some equipment.

20:47 John S: Okay, kind of like we did in Toronto?

20:49 Gregg O: Yes.

20:49 John S: Okay.

20:50 Gregg O: And we’ll have a training session.

20:52 John S: Oh, okay.

20:52 Gregg O: A day before, or maybe just the morning of.

20:55 John S: Okay. And I’ll bring my equipment too, ’cause I’ve got two of these digital recorders, and I got plenty of microphones.

21:01 Gregg O: Oh fantastic, thank you, John. Yeah, that would be great, but you can sign up to volunteer when you register online for the conference. And as I say, people have been wonderful about offering to volunteer. And I’ve never put on a conference of this size and scope before, so I don’t really know, I’m sure the week before it dawned on me that, “Hey, we’ve got to get name tags done, we’ve got to get this done, we’ve got to get that done.” So there’s plenty of work for volunteers.

21:30 John S: I was going to ask you about the business side of it. Do you know how much it costs to pull this thing off and how much money is going from the last conference to this conference?

21:42 Gregg O: There is a little money going from the last conference to this conference. Well, the hotel has a minimum use requirement, which if we meet, then we don’t have to pay for the conference rooms, but it’s not cheap. And the $125 registration fee is designed conservatively to generate what we need for the hotel. And of course, we don’t just give dollars to the hotel, we give dollars to the hotel and they give us food, or they give us various amenities.

22:12 John S: And that’s part of the requirement, isn’t it, that we actually have the meals and stuff there?

22:15 Gregg O: Yes. But the prior three ICSAAs have not done a lot with meals, we’ll probably have one or two meals provided, but Bethesda is a safe area for walking. It’s got dozens and dozens of restaurants within walking distance. It’ll be easy enough to pop out of the hotel, go get some fresh air, get a meal, lunch or dinner, and then come back. And we’ll try to schedule the keynote speakers so that they don’t conflict with people going out for lunch. And we may have a banquet, I don’t know, we’ll see. I’ll be delighted if we got 400 people to sign up, but I’m shooting for 600 frankly.

22:57 John S: Yeah, I think that’s a good possibility for that because you’re in a really great population center there, more so than when we were way out in California. It’s a long way from everything. And of course, in Canada, I think we dropped because of not many Americans have passports, so yeah. And so, DC you’re right there next to New York and Philadelphia and…

23:20 Gregg O: Baltimore and Richmond.

23:22 John S: Baltimore. Yeah, this is a huge population to draw from, so I think there’s a good chance for it. I was going to ask you, I wanted to do a panel, I wanted do either a panel or workshop or whatever it is about AA Beyond Belief. Do I need to sign up for that somewhere?

23:34 Gregg O: You just did.

23:34 John S: Okay, okay. Yeah, I thought I would just do like, oh I don’t know, just tell people what AA Beyond Belief is, what my experience has been with it, about the podcast, about the website, and how we got started, why we do it.

23:50 Gregg O: Frankly, perhaps you could follow that speech or presentation with a recording for the podcast or the website. I know there’s another secular person in recovery who is kind of developing his own approach.

24:10 John S: John H.

24:11 Gregg O: John H.

24:12 John S: John H, yeah. I would love to talk to him and if you wanted me to interview him or if you wanted me to interview him, I’d be glad to. We’ve had him on the podcast actually twice.

24:20 Gregg O: Yes, and that was pretty good.

24:22 John S: I read his essays now. It’s fine, yeah. They’re very well-written and so forth. I could give him a hard time though, because I can read all of those things that he’s talking about and I can attach a step to each one of those things, but I won’t do that to him.

24:39 Gregg O: Well, I’m sure he can handle his own if you do.

24:40 John S: ‘Cause he says he has nothing to do with the steps, but those things that he talks about are basically.

24:44 Gregg O: Well, yes. And these are all things that I like to think about, and I think a number of other secular AA people do too.

24:51 John S: But if I interview him, I’ll be very nice, I always am, I never argue with my guest, I just let them say what they want to say.

24:58 Gregg O: Says who?


25:03 Gregg O: Well, we’re putting the program together now, it’s not been posted. Some of the biographies, maybe have been posted, and John H, who actually lives in Bethesda has put together a paper on things to do within walking distance or metro distance or driving distance from Bethesda. And that’s sort of my next… Between now and the end of the month, is to get that program filled out and posted on our website, so that it’s… We’re less than a year away.

25:36 John S: I know, it’s hard to believe.

25:37 Gregg O: Yeah, although sign-ups, registrations continue to come in. So if you’re listening, don’t wait. Go ahead, secularaa.com. You can register for the conference and you can book the hotel.

25:51 John S: Well, if you can go, I would recommend it. I’ve gone to, I guess, all of these international conferences since the first one in Santa Monica. Did you go to that one, Gregg? I can’t remember.

26:01 Gregg O: No, I didn’t.

26:01 John S: Okay.

26:02 Gregg O: I wish I had. I missed that. I’ve been to the three since.

26:04 John S: That’s right. John was there and some other people from DC. That was a fun conference, it was in a small Unitarian Universalist Church in Santa Monica, just beautiful. A lot of it was outside, and that was really the first time that I’ve ever met that number of people that were agnostics or atheists in Alcoholics Anonymous. And so a lot of the people I met there have been friends ever since. And then I went to that conference, the Austin Conference, which also was really very good and the Toronto conference. The hotel in Bethesda, when you walk outside… The complaint that a lot of people had about the Austin Hotel is that it was like way out in the middle of nowhere, but this hotel isn’t quite like that. You can walk around and see things and do things?

27:02 Gregg O: Oh yes, absolutely. This is right in the center of Bethesda, you can walk out, as I say, there’s dozens of restaurants within an easy walk.

27:11 John S: That’s nice, because you need a little bit of a break when you’re inside a hotel all the time. It’s nice to be able to walk outside and see the sunshine and feel the air on your neck or whatever.

27:22 Gregg O: Yes [chuckle]

27:22 John S: And then in Austin, it was like you had to drive to get anywhere, and it was like, it seems like there was some crazy highway that was around the building or something, anyway it was still fun, it was still a good conference, but I like that you can… I liked about in Toronto, you could just leave the hotel and you could walk around the streets of Toronto, I thought that was nice.

27:39 Gregg O: Yes, yeah, I enjoyed that and Bethesda is very much the same sort of a vibe as the Toronto facility and location was. We’ve talked about the general theme of science, but some secondary themes that I’m pushing are how to grow secular AA and how to attract more young people to secular AA. Now I realize for young people, it’s difficult to go at the end of October early November, if you have a job or if you’re in college, or have a young family. It’s difficult to take time off to go to a conference like that. And as a result, we tend to get older people, but I’m trying to select topics and speakers that will appeal to younger people and information that whether you’re a young person or not well, let’s talk about the fetal alcohol speaker. A number of the attendees may be older but they may be grandparents or parents or… I think the information we’re going to get out of this conference is going to be valuable not only for the attendees but for their families as well.

28:43 John S: Well, there’s a nice trend that’s starting right now. I think one of the reasons that there hasn’t been a lot of younger people in Alcoholics Anonymous, in general, has been that most people, unfortunately, don’t get help for their drinking until they’re older. It started to change a little bit over the years but still most people are probably in their 30s or 40s, or maybe even later before they stop to get help. However, that trend is beginning to change as younger people now are beginning to view alcohol consumption not so black and white. They see the problem of the alcohol on a spectrum, and there’s a trend now, the sober curious, there’s just more of an awareness, I guess, of how alcohol affects people. And I think that people understand, they don’t have to reach the depths of alcoholism hardcore. Maybe we’ll see younger people get help or address their drinking earlier, than what’s been happening.

29:52 Gregg O: That’s a good point, John. I know there has been a radical change in the view towards drinking on campus fraternities. When I went to college that was a drinking place and that’s what all the weekends were about. As I understand it, fraternities don’t allow alcohol in their houses anymore, at least most don’t, and there of course, have been some horrible, horrible sad tragedies. So maybe we are growing in awareness and that’s what ICSAA 2020 aims to help further, is spreading that awareness.

30:25 John S: That’s one thing I had written down, actually, is, “why do we do this?” And just looking at past conferences, especially when we had our first conference, I can’t remember how many secular AA meetings there were in the world, but I think they were less than 200. And then shortly after that conference, there were 400 or so, and I think there’s over 500 now. So it seems like you get a little bit of a bump after each conference in the number of secular AA meetings that start-up.

30:53 Gregg O: And I’ll extend that, what you just said, to the regional conferences as well. I think they’re very, very good, and I wish I’d started attending those several years ago, because the speakers and just the people you meet in the audience are fascinating, interesting people.

31:10 John S: I enjoyed SOAAR, that was the only regional one that I’ve ever been to. But it reminded me a lot of the first international conference in Santa Monica, because it was smaller, it was in a more intimate location. So yeah, I like those regional conferences too. I thought about doing one in Kansas City, but man, I don’t know, I don’t know if we have enough people that want to go through that kind of work to put one on.

31:34 Gregg O: Well service is important, but yeah, you never know how much work it is ’til you’re…

31:38 John S: And the Midwest is so spread out. If you had like a midwestern conference, we’d have to get like… You got Kansas City, I guess St. Louis, Omaha, Minneapolis, these places are kind of a long ways away from each other, so it’s not that easy to get people together out here, I don’t think.

31:57 Gregg O: I will say that the Arizona secular AA conference, attracted people from not just Arizona, but from as far away as Canada and Montana. I was quite surprised and pleased to see what a diverse group of people came to that conference. And one of the people who came was from Vancouver, Canada, and he is sponsoring a regional conference in May in Vancouver. I don’t have any details on that now, but if I do, I’ll make sure I share them with you for posting. And then there’s the Detroit non-secular AA conference this summer, and this will be the first year that ICSAA and the big international, I’ll call it traditional AA conference, have occurred in the same year. So I’m a little worried that some people can’t afford to attend both.

32:46 John S: If that happens, like I’m one of those people, but I’m going to be going to ICSAA, and one reason is it’s impossible to get a room in Detroit. There’s so many people, I mean what 60000-70000 people that go to that thing, I can’t even imagine. I would love to go. I’ve never been to one of those things, but it’s a bit of a stretch to do that, to do two conferences like that in one year, to travel like that. And if I had to choose between being around 70000 people and 400 people, I think I’d rather go with the 400 people. Plus it’s a lot easier to get a room and all that kind of stuff, too.

33:25 Gregg O: Secular AA will have a presence at the Detroit conference, and whether it’s a booth, there will be a booth and there will be speakers from secular AA. And I’ll be there, I’ve never been to one, either.

33:38 John S: At all of those conferences going back to the 1990s, there’s always been a secular presence. They used to call them the We Agnostics panels, and I’ve got a lot of the recordings from those, and most of them are pretty good, they’re actually atheists, agnostics, talking about their experience in AA. There was one panel that wasn’t so great, where it was about atheists who converted, or something like that.

34:04 Gregg O: The We Agnostics chapter.

34:05 John S: Yeah, yeah.

34:06 Gregg O: Well, I am looking forward to this and I’m looking forward to more registrations. For those of you who are listening here, go on to the website, secularaa.com, and you can register for the conference, you could sign up to be a volunteer, you can sign up to lead a meeting, you can also on the website register for the hotel or reserve your room in the hotel. And as I say, I wish I’d checked real quickly before we started this discussion John, but I know there’s roughly a week on either side of the conference where we also have the special conference rate of $129 a night.

34:45 John S: Well, thank you, Gregg, I appreciate you coming by and giving us this information. Did we cover everything that you wanted to talk about? Is there anything else that we need to know?

34:53 Gregg O: Yeah, I think we did. Stay tuned, because hopefully after this Thanksgiving weekend, there will be more information posted on the secularaa.com website.

35:03 John S: Okay.

35:04 Gregg O: But don’t hold me to that.

[background conversation]


35:22 John S: And that’s another episode of AA Beyond Belief. Thank you so much for listening. Hey, if you’d like to help out our site, and podcast, there’s a couple of things you can do. First of all go over to iTunes and leave us a review, hopefully a favorable one. You can also help out financially with either a recurring or a one time contribution. You can do this by setting up small recurring donations at our Patreon page, which you can find at patreon.com/AA Beyond Belief, or through PayPal at PayPal.me/AA Beyond Belief.

35:53 John S: And you can always visit our site, AABeyondBelief.org, and click on the donate button. Thanks again for listening, we’ll be back again real soon with another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast.