This episode was recorded from our weekly Friday night live stream on YouTube. Every week, Angela and I cover a topic we think may be of interest to secular people in AA, and for this particular episode we were joined by Willow F. to talk about outside issues. We are living through a pandemic the likes of which hasn’t been experienced in over a hundred years, millions of us have lost our jobs in numbers not seen since the great depression, and our society is grappling with the difficult and painful issues of racism and injustice. All of these external events affect us deeply, and it could be argued that talking about these events and our feelings about them is just what we need to do.
0:00:00 John: AA Beyond Belief is a podcast by for and about people who have found a secular path to sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous. So I had the day off today, the company I work for, like a lot of other large companies, decided to close in honor of this day, Juneteenth or Freedom Day. It’s a holiday commemorating the emancipation of people who were held in slavery in the United States. It was June 19th, 1865, when Union Army General Gordon Granger announced in Galveston Texas that all slaves in the State of Texas were free, and this was over two months after the Civil War had ended.
0:01:02 Angela: I think two years.
0:01:03 John: Two years? Okay. Of course, racism, the underpinning of slavery lives on over the last 150 years, it has seeped into every aspect of American culture, including Alcoholics Anonymous, every one of us, and our parents and grandparents and all those who preceded them or either victimized or complicit, rather degraded and demean or knowingly or unknowingly enjoyed a station of privilege. Someone once told me that my alcoholism didn’t take place in a vacuum, well, neither does my recovery. External events that we often refer to as outside issues can have a significant impact on my emotional well-being and my sobriety, who could have witnessed the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent demonstrations and not be moved or in some way impacted
0:01:53 John: So, this episode is devoted to subjects we don’t discuss in AA, but talking about them might be just what we need, not only to support our continued sobriety, but also to inspire us to work and fight for more diverse, open, tolerant, free and inclusive culture, both within and without of AA. So, like so many of our livestream, this one was completely Angela’s idea. And in my opinion, she’s the best person to lead the discussion. Oh, and Willow F from Olympia is joining us by phone. So Angela, if you don’t mind, I will let you lead the discussion. There you go.
0:02:39 Angela: Well, thank you for bestowing upon me, the leadership of leading this discussion. Hello, everyone out there in Facebook and YouTube land. I wasn’t really sure of what the response was going to be in bringing this up last week, and there was a little bit of the outside issue topic coming up, but I thought that it was important and important to my sobriety in particular, which is what this is really about. But to talk about what’s going on, there’s a lot of different directions we can go with this conversation, and I don’t think that it’ll be the only one we have, but we need to start somewhere with it and acknowledge our history in AA as well as our personal experience about white privilege, about inequality, and about what outside issues really are or are not. Our friend Willow, I was gonna call in, and she and I have been having a discussion with John on Facebook about different ideas on where to go with the conversation, but one of the things that we could probably just start with is, is this an outside issue talking about privilege, white supremacy systemic inequality. Is this an outside issue?
0:04:22 John: I don’t know if you can see but Willow is here now. Do you see her there?
0:04:25 Angela: I don’t see her on my screen.
0:04:26 John: Yeah, she just joined us.
0:04:28 Angela: Okay.
0:04:28 Willow: I think I’m here. Can you guys…
0:04:30 John: You are there. You are there.
0:04:31 Willow: Oh, yey, good.
0:04:32 John: Yeah. Hi, Willow.
0:04:33 Willow: Yeah, hi. Sorry for being a little bit late. I was getting my hair dyed.
0:04:38 John: Oh, you look great.
0:04:40 Willow: It’s a very exciting thing, for a long time.
0:04:43 Angela: Yes. Definitely. So yeah, hi Willow.
0:04:47 Willow: Hi. What’s up?
0:04:48 Angela: We were just introducing the topic and I don’t know how much of it you heard. John gave a great introduction on the holiday and yeah.
0:05:01 Willow: I missed that part, but I heard kind of from the hand-off from John to you, and I’ve been doing some research on the holiday today, so I’ll just kind of go with my own kind of information on that. So that question, is this an outside issue? I think it was a really good one, and I haven’t really been a person to get down deep with the traditions and arguing back and forth about what’s what when it comes to that. A lot of that stuff has actually been counterintuitive to being happy, joyous and free to me, but I think one of the things that stands out to me is that the tradition itself, is that AA has no opinion on outside issues. I think that we as individuals have all kinds of different experiences with all kinds of issues, and I really think that it’s important for meetings to feel comfortable to anyone and everyone that wants to be in them as long as they’re not threatening anybody else’s safety.
0:06:18 Willow: And so for that reason, I think we need to be careful about how we talked about various things, especially things that we know are controversial in our societies, but I really think that if something is affecting and impacting your recovery, which if you’re involved in at any level of civic stuff, it probably is. I think that that is a valid thing to be able to talk about within meetings, but I also think that we need to not just completely avoid it and make it taboo. We need to talk a little bit about how to talk about it and have that be a common… You need to be able to talk about it in a healthy way that doesn’t prevent us from performing our primary purpose.
0:07:05 Angela: Right, I agree. And have you had discussions like that with your group? I know that our group has been working with our district. Sorry, [chuckle] I forgot the name for a minute regarding safety. You know what the safety cards just got to Idaho, I don’t know how long they’ve been around, but it’s a service material from the General Service Office, and it talks about safety in AA. And we had a safety workshop that did not go as successfully or safely for everybody as the organizers had hoped. And so, I think that that’s one of the things that I think about when looking to talk about difficult but important subjects in AA. So, I don’t know if you were, John, have any experience with talking about something along the lines of safety and your meetings.
0:08:14 John: Well, I do it or I was telling you about our area assembly where we had something come up that was really more race-related than anything else, but I just thought of something kinda ironic. You actually had a seminar or something about safety, and then there was a person who actually started attacking you in an unsafe way because of that, isn’t that weird? How ironic. [chuckle]
0:08:41 Angela: Yeah, yeah.
0:08:42 John: No, we don’t… This is the most dramatic thing I ever saw in Alcoholics Anonymous when it comes to this sort of issue, and it was a topic that came up at our area assembly in Western Missouri. And what happened and I wasn’t at this conference, but our area had a conference. I think they call it… Oh, something in the Ozarks. It’s down in Southern Missouri. It’s called Colors of Fall, whatever. It’s down there in the Ozarks every year. Anyway, they have a costume party, and some people decided to go to the party, some white people decided to go to the party dressed in black face and wearing very stereotypical costumes, like pimps and rappers and stuff like that. And obviously, the black people that were in attendance were offended, and they let these people know that they were offended. And those who were wearing the costumes, the black face and so forth, they weren’t apologetic at all. In fact, they were outraged that the black people who said they were offended didn’t seem to have a sense of humor.
0:09:57 John: So, it wasn’t a good experience from what I heard at that convention and later at our area assembly, there was a lot of discussion about it on the floor, and what I found… And it was really a moving discussion. There were some people who came… White people who came to the microphone and said they learned something from the experience. They talked about their own racism growing up in a racist household or what they learned, but there were also people who stuck to that idea that those who were offended just didn’t have a sense of humor. And then there were the people who were offended, the African-American members who stood up and explained exactly why they were offended and what it’s like to be a black person in Alcoholics Anonymous, and what specifically is what like to be a black person in the state of Missouri, and what they have to see on their way to the assembly.
0:10:57 John: So yeah, it was really interesting and it was something that made me stop and think. I learned something from it. I was really taken aback that there were so many people who wouldn’t even make an effort to try to understand the pain of someone else, that was what shocked me more than anything. But other than that, I feel kind of like I was an observer and really didn’t do anything more than that, and maybe that’s where I need to change is to carry on from just understanding that kind of situation exists to maybe putting myself out there to do something about it.
0:11:34 Willow: Yeah, and then in our meeting, we haven’t had a… My home group meeting on Wednesdays is pretty much the only meeting I go to. Sometimes I also go to the Sunday mini pods meeting, but one a week seems to be the right balance for me. And our meeting is very small… We usually are around six people, sometimes we expand to 10 or so. Since we’ve been online, we’ve been somewhere in the range of 10 to 20-ish, usually right around to 15, and that… You know, not a whole lot has come up, we haven’t talked about the… We haven’t used the safety card. I think at one point, the mini pods group on Sunday, we talked about, do we wanna read the safety card. We haven’t had a whole lot of issues in our… And because our meetings are very big, it doesn’t seem like safety has been much of an issue, so we didn’t employ that. If it was a larger meeting, I would probably have pushed that a little bit more and as far as the…
0:12:48 John: Are you getting arrested? [chuckle]
0:12:52 Willow: No, [laughter] I am… I will let you know that I’m about four blocks from the Capitol Hill occupied protest. That’s been on the news lately in Seattle, the CHOP. So, I’m just a few blocks from it, and because their police… The police station that’s there closed down, there’s a lot more activities from the fire department that’s closer to where I am, anyway… But no that’s not happening right here.
0:13:17 John: Okay, sorry. [chuckle]
0:13:17 Willow: Welcome. But anyway, with the recent events, we haven’t talked a whole lot about it as a group. I do though, within my group, for me, it’s a factor of my recovery, trying to apply the principles of AA and the principles of the traditions and the principles of the steps personally to the rest of my life so that I can be an effective productive member of society, which for me, right now in my life, involves some civic engagement which… So, I’ve talked about that a little bit in the meeting just when I’m sharing, here’s what’s going on with me, here’s what I’m struggling with. But I do… I make a concerted effort to kind of keep it… I don’t talk about the issues. I talk about the challenges that I’m having coping with stuff or working with stuff or communicating with people in a healthy and productive way or things like that, so it doesn’t get too contentious. But I think in a lot of our secular meetings, many, many of our members talk a fair amount about religious practices within AA and other things that go on which if you got right down to it, that might be considered kind of a divisive in an outside issue and I think that it’s kind of a natural, I don’t know debriefing process when people first come into secular meetings to go through that, but it’s also… It also can be a bit challenging and kind of make an unwelcome place if we have somebody in the meeting who is a believer.
0:15:17 Willow: And so in our meeting specifically, we call it many paths, and we say that everyone is welcome and encouraged to find their own path and everybody is supported. So we put that part out there. But there’s definitely… That talk comes up and we kind of let it go because it’s not threatening to most of the people that are usually in the room, but I’ve noticed, especially now that we have… Now that we’re online and it’s easier for somebody to walk out of the meeting, I’ve noticed some people drop off mid meeting with us and that I think about that a lot and I think about, are we really meeting our primary purpose with that?
0:15:58 Angela: Right. Yeah, that was one of the things I was thinking about is like if this is something that we can talk about in group inventories, how many people have been a part of a group inventory. You don’t have… Both of you. You both have a lot more time than me, so… [laughter]
0:16:18 John: I’ve never done a group inventory.
0:16:18 Willow: I haven’t been to a group…
0:16:22 Angela: Okay.
0:16:22 Willow: I haven’t been to a group. We did it with a… We did it with a district? We did it with a district once somewhat recently, but I haven’t ever done it with a group.
0:16:33 Angela: Okay. Yeah. Our group started working on putting one together before COVID, and so since then, we’ve got kind of what we think that we’ll need to do once we’re out and depending on how long that is, we may do an online version of it, but I was thinking about the group inventory as being one of the ways that the different groups can be looking at this because there are questions on what are you doing to help the next suffering alcoholic? What are you doing to make sure that you’re serving the full population that you’re in? And it has questions all from accessibility to are you reaching out? Do you give out phone numbers? What do you do? And that looking at issues like this would be something that I think would be important to be putting on the group inventory and being able to talk about that and how people feel about that and where they’re out with the issue of race and seeing people come in and sticking up for people, the whole… All of that stuff, I think that that’s one of the ways that groups can take a look at it to ensure that we’re meeting our primary purpose.
0:18:00 Angela: I did take a look at the pamphlet that we have for AA, I don’t know if either of you have read it before but the black and African-American alcoholic pamphlet, and that’s… I think it makes an effort, but when I read it, I didn’t feel a little bit like it’s lacking in acknowledging that there’s a lot more difficulty for black people and people of color to get sober, that there’s a lot of different barriers for them, and I don’t know if they should mention it in a pamphlet, but I think it’s something that group member should think about in the way that we’re presenting ourselves and talking about issues in meetings because I know for me, when I think about helping the next person coming in, I often think about somebody who looks like me, and I don’t know that I would do anything different, but maybe I should be thinking about things that I should do differently to ensure that everyone is welcomed in Alcoholics Anonymous or at the very least, in my meeting.
0:19:29 John: I went ahead and opened up the phones, Angela, so that if anybody wanted to call, they could. Bre had a really interesting comment and she’s talking about words. She said that… ‘Cause I use the word “race”, I talked about race issues, and she says, “There’s only three kinds of races: Marathons, sprints, and the human race. Pigmentation differences within DNA are very minute.” And she says that, “Words matter. As a society, we need to recognize that misusing the word race is elitist.” I never even thought of that. We do have a caller. Should I go ahead and take it? Hello? How are you doing?
0:20:05 Joe: Hey, good. Hey, this is Joe in New Providence, New Jersey.
0:20:08 John: Hey, Joe.
0:20:11 Joe: How are you doing?
0:20:12 John: Good.
0:20:12 Joe: We’re having a major thunderstorm here so if you lose me, you lose me.
0:20:17 John: Okay.
0:20:19 Joe: I was actually thinking about this topic, I was actually almost gonna bring this topic up at our Thursday secular meeting, and I kinda held back a little bit, and we ended up talking about… Like someone suggested the doctor’s opinion, and I was like, “Oh, I should have brought up the topic I had ’cause we talk about that quite frequently in other meetings.” And a friend of mine, we’re at this point where… With outside things, you’ve got Covid-19, we’ve got to the Black Lives Matter Movement and the protests, and then we’re very politically divided, so we have these three issues that are all extremely, I think… Well, they impact me greatly. And I had… Our meetings here are about 99% white. I think white privilege is probably never gonna come up at a meeting. But I had an issue when my parents had gone to a protest and I came back and we started talking about politics. And we ended up… We never talked about things and I was on speaker phone with my wife, and we ended up screaming and my wife ended up hanging up the phone and I went outside. Before I left, she was like, “I have never seen you that angry since you stopped drinking.”
0:21:29 Joe: And I had thought about it, and I’m like, “It’s just something I’d like to probably share at a meeting just to get off my chest.” And I talked to my older brother, and I didn’t even think about drinking. I went out, she was like, Are you alright?” I’m like, “I just need to calm down. I need to go out for a walk. If you wanna come with me, you can.” And we went and we walked and we talked, and I calmed down. But I talked to my older brother about some of the things of the conversation that disturbed me, and he was on the same page. He was like, “That’s kinda surprising, where Mom and Dad are at.” But he’s like, “How is this affecting your sobriety?” And I’m like, “You know what? I never even thought of that.” I’m about three and a half years sober, I don’t know if that has anything to do with it or I just don’t… I don’t know.
0:22:12 Joe: And then I was talking to my wife ’cause I was telling her about the phone call, and she was like, “Oh, is that really impacting your sobriety? I didn’t think it was.” I’m like, “Well, I’ve been thinking about how the way I grew up, you swept up everything under the rug. So when we get together at family things, we don’t talk about things.” So I think there is probably… I turned 50 this year, so there is probably about 40 years of some other hostility going on under my explosion. And I’m thinking, “But How do I… ” I know at our meeting, at our secular meeting, politically we’re on the same page. I’m like, “Do I talk in code?” Because I kinda felt like at… At regular meetings, I kinda talked more or less in code, from a secular viewpoint, and I’m a pretty hard core Atheist and I usually just say, “I don’t believe in God.” I find if I say “Atheist” people… It’s softer just to say you don’t believe in God for whatever reason.
0:23:06 Joe: And I had been thinking lately, I’m like, “Oh, this kind of reminded me of how I grew up, and sweeping things under the rug. It’s like, how do we not talk about these things?” And then I was thinking… I think maybe Willow said it at the beginning of the call, I was kinda thinking the same thing. It’s like AA has no opinion but I as an individual have an opinion. But then if you talk about these outside issues, you’ve dropped into a political argument. ‘Cause they’re like, “I support person X and I support person Y.” And we’re gonna go so far off the mark of the primary purpose, and that’s kind of what I worry about. And I texted someone after the meeting, and I’m like, “This is what happened with me and my parents and everything that’s going on.” And he’s like, “Yeah, yeah, I kinda thought that’s what you’re alluding to.”
0:23:51 Joe: But it just makes me feel like, “I kinda have to talk in guarded language.” And I don’t know what the answer is, but I do wish there was a way… I guess you need to be able to talk about things. People talk about things being uncomfortable. I know they wanted to… And I’ll stop talking, but I know they wanted to at one of our meetings, they wanted to stop… Someone said, “Let’s change the Lord’s prayer.” And it’s like, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” and that’s the reason for not changing it.” And I’m like, “But if you don’t… ” They always talk about recovery, change is a big part of it, and I definitely need to find a way to change. I don’t know how to do those things, but I do wish there was a way to talk about those things, I guess.
0:24:32 John: I think the way that Willow…
0:24:34 Joe: I don’t know.
0:24:35 John: But it was the best is that she talks about not the specifics about viewpoints or opinions, but just the way that it impacts her, the way it impacts her sobriety and her recovery. Believe it or not, we have two other callers. Can I take these other calls? Thank you for your comments. Thank you for calling, appreciate it.
0:24:52 Joe: Oh, yeah, of course. Sorry for going on for so long. [chuckle] Bye, everybody.
0:24:55 Angela: No, that was…
0:24:57 John: Bye-bye.
0:24:57 Angela: Thank you for calling and sharing. Yeah.
0:25:00 John: Well, hello. Hello?
0:25:03 Rand: Hello?
0:25:04 John: Hello. How are you?
0:25:08 Rand: I’m good. My name is Rand. I am in Minneapolis, and I have been chomping at the bit to jump in here. I’ve been in the room since I was what, a senior? No, a junior in high school, circa 1976. And I can tell you that when I first came to the room, my 1978 12×12 has a line in there, I could dig it out and read it to if you want, it talks about how they only let in the pure alcoholic and they listed people who weren’t pure: Fallen women, convicts, queers, etcetera. And as a young person, our meetings were governed by an adult, and that lying about secrets gets you drunk. I had a secret, and because I wasn’t willing to share it, the adult told me, don’t come back until I was. And then I did go back and shared it and was uninvited anyway, because we were considered those unfortunates.
0:26:16 Rand: My original grand sponsor was a friend of Jerry Leach’s. And Jerry was, according to legend, gay AA number one in the sense that he challenged world and inter-group to list the special interest meetings as gay. And that was something that had never happened before. Recently, we’ve gone through the whole gender identification, queer, letting trans people in our rooms, and it’s been a very difficult process because of, I think, groupthink. And when we’ve had group inventories, it’s almost impossible to get somebody to consider that their Minnesota-nice, welcoming, hot dish attitude is anything but that. And what ends up happening is, by default, people who aren’t like me aren’t made to feel welcome. They’re not necessarily made to feel unwelcome, but reaching out to the newcomer doesn’t happen with the same gusto that it would happen if they looked like me.
0:27:32 Rand: So, like the previous caller, the meetings I go to are always middle-aged, white gay men. Black people will show up, but they don’t stay because they don’t feel welcome, and it’s my personal responsibility to reach out to those people. Now, related to this topic specifically, it’s a really fine line. I went to my meeting two weeks ago, it was the Tuesday after the riots. The riots happened about a half a block from my house, and I and neighbors were out protecting our homes with shotguns, hunting rifles, side arms, blocking streets. We had M16s pulled on us by the police. Literally, my entire neighborhood was engulfed in flames. I had an escape plan with my 87-year-old neighbor if something happened, because it was literally in our backyard.
0:28:30 Rand: I have boxes from the Family Dollar, from the looting, that were left in my driveway. That Tuesday at my meeting, we had the business meeting beforehand, and as an “old-timer” I wanted to preface by saying we all needed to be very careful how we talk about this because it is a charged issue. And unfortunately, what ended up happening is people saw permission to immediately launch into it and we had people on all sides of it. Sadly, a sponsee of mine was on the side that was a rioter. And it became an outside issue in the sense that… How do I say this? It’s almost like he felt a certain entitlement to be out there and rioting. And I’m sitting on the other end of it, older, scared, sleeping with a gun next to me, and what I chose to do in that particular situation is just excuse myself from the meeting. But I know that it has exploded in other meetings here in Minneapolis because the whole country is in this polarized conversation right now, and our rooms reflect that. And there doesn’t seem to be, at least in my experience, anybody who’s really listening to anybody else, even in the rooms. And things always repeat themselves, nothing is ever new. So what’s happening right now is an exploded version of what I experienced 40 years ago when I first started coming to the rooms as the newly minted gay man.
0:30:37 Rand: I also, though, coincidentally experience it when I talk about not being a deist. My guess, you’d probably say closest to being an agnostic. The rooms have groupthink and we all think that, “The groupthink is what I think.” And as it relates to this, because we were kind of ground zero, this has been huge in every room I’ve ever gone to since the riots have happened. It’s expanded to conversations on Facebook with people in the rooms. I was talking to another sponsee and we were reading one of the Grapevine books, and this other friend was texting about his particular rant about the riots. Then coincidentally, my sponsee and I read this little section where it talked about exactly that, it talked about listening to other people. And so I copied it, pasted it and sent it to him, and I said, “These are the principles of the program. This is what I lived by. I listen. I try to be empathetic. I try to be compassionate. I try and reach out to somebody who suffers. I don’t say that I’m entitled to go out and burn down the third precinct.” I was on the third precinct Advisory Council. Well, the third precinct does exist anymore. It was just, you guys haven’t…
0:32:06 Angela: I think that respectful language and all of that, any time that we’re gonna talk about it within the rooms and with other alcoholics, because we want it to remain welcoming and safe for all of us, respectful language in regards to everyone involved is the most important. There are a lot of things that are going on right now that are not riots, and I think that there are a lot of people who are out there who aren’t out there because they feel privileged. They’re out there because they think that there’s something really important going on that if they don’t raise up their voices in some way, that it won’t change because it hasn’t for hundreds of years. And I also wonder about the idea of groupthink. I think that we make that assumption sometimes, but I think that a lot of times there’s as many perspectives and experiences in the room as there are people.
0:33:15 Angela: Because we have that autonomy thing and everybody is kinda so afraid to damage what’s going on in AA, I think a lot of times we think everybody thinks one thing and they may or may not. And I really think with what you went through, kinda coming out, we have to think about the fact that… I’ll just say I try to think about the fact that whenever I’m saying something in a room, I try to make sure that I’m just talking about my own experience with it and not making assumptions about the other people that I’m challenged with, because there might be somebody else sitting in there that really needs to be in that meeting that has the same perspective of these people that I have challenges with. And that happens in my own house. My mom’s in recovery also, and she and I don’t see eye to eye on several things, and so we’ve had to figure out careful ways to talk about or not talk about this stuff. It’s hard and we don’t train each other to do it in AA.
0:34:19 Rand: No, I was with my sponsees… Most of my sponsees believe in God, and I’m really down for that as long as they learn how to speak, “I believe” or, “I think.” And I was at a meeting here, before the riots, but maybe a week or two, and there was one guy who was talking, and he was talking about all of the blessing of the program and how his life has been so wonderful with his Mercedes soft-top and his suburban zip code. And he was talking about it in terms of, “the blessings of God since I got sober.” Cause and effect. And the next guy to speak was having his house foreclosed on because of COVID. And the way it was conceptualized, what I heard was that old Puritan argument that says, “Oh, your faith and your program must be better because you have all these rewards and this poor guy who’s got probably the same amount of sobriety time, he must have a bad program because he’s losing his house.” And it all had to do with exactly what you’re talking about, talking in terms of God as an absolute cause and effect, promises versus, “I think that God,” or, “I think that my higher power is providing me opportunities to gain well.”
0:35:43 Rand: And it just was so… It was back-to-back and the guy talking about God had no idea how somebody in the room might be losing everything and have the same amount of sobriety.
0:35:55 John: Well, Rand, thank you for calling.
0:36:00 Rand: That’s my rant for the night.
0:36:01 John: You made some good points and it was really nice to hear from you. Thank you, thank you so much. I have another call…
0:36:05 Rand: I didn’t know you guys did this. So, I’m excited.
0:36:07 John: Oh yeah. [laughter] We’ve been doing this every Friday, we’ve been doing this every Friday at 7:00 Central. We decided since we’re all in quarantine and have nothing else to do that we’ll do this. [laughter] But thank you, Rand. I’m gonna take another call.
0:36:22 Rand: Well, just…
0:36:23 Angela: Thank you.
0:36:23 Rand: Yeah, okay, bye.
0:36:24 John: Gotta go. Bye bye.
0:36:25 Rand: Thank you.
0:36:26 John: Hello.
0:36:27 Robert: Hey.
0:36:29 John: Hi.
0:36:29 Robert: It’s Robert from Santa Barbara.
0:36:34 John: Hi, Robert.
0:36:34 Robert: How’s it going?
0:36:34 John: Good, good. I don’t know if we’ve ever had so many calls in one night. It’s kinda nice.
0:36:39 Robert: I know.
0:36:40 John: Thanks for being patient and waiting.
0:36:44 Robert: I wanna give a shoutout to Mike at the Newhouse Three front desk and all the other guys there. But also, yeah, I think that’s why we try to keep things kinda simple and steer away from all the political stuff, so we don’t get into these little tantrums in the rooms and concentrate on being sober and getting sober and welcoming everyone in. ‘Cause we ended up turning away a lot of people because everyone’s got their own beliefs.
0:37:17 John: I’m sorry. I didn’t get…
0:37:19 Angela: Was that a question? Yeah, I wasn’t quite sure.
0:37:25 Robert: No, it was a comment.
0:37:29 Angela: Okay.
0:37:30 Robert: I’m not sure if you heard me or not.
0:37:32 John: I might have missed you and I apologize. Sometimes the sound isn’t so good on my end. Would you mind saying that again?
0:37:44 Robert: I was just saying that’s why we try to keep the political stuff…
0:37:47 John: Oh.
0:37:48 Robert: Like it says in the book, separate, ’cause then we get into all this arguing and whatnot back and forth. It’s okay if it goes to a certain point, but once it starts affecting everyone’s sobriety or turning away the newcomer or whatnot, then it’s a bad thing.
0:38:07 John: Exactly. I think that there’s a real difference between talking about how you feel about what’s happening in the world, in your world, and a political point of view. And maybe it’s a fine line and maybe it’s because our society is so fractured that it’s so difficult to talk about some basic concepts anymore, but there’s gotta…
0:38:39 Robert: Yeah, well and everyone gets so heated about it.
0:38:42 Angela: Yeah. Well, that’s true.
0:38:45 Willow: And I think that that’s part of the challenge is finding ways… AA in particular has gone so long with just staying completely out of these conversations and 12-step groups in general. And I kinda feel like we’ve taken that a little bit too far, that the only way that we can find healthy communication about some things is just to not communicate about them at all, and I… I spent the early part of my life… I became an adult in AA. I also got into AA when I was a junior in high school like our first caller did, or one of our callers did. I became an adult in AA. I learned how to be in the world from AA, and I completely avoided any kind of civic engagement for that reason, that I just didn’t think that alcoholics could possibly talk about that stuff. And I think it’s definitely wise to be careful on some of those things, but we also… How far do we go and do we really stunt ourselves by not learning and allowing people to talk about the things that are affecting them?
0:40:08 Angela: Right, yeah. I’m in the same sort of mindset as I think certain things should be talked about or can be talked about at the group level because it does affect our sobriety. Because a lot of us have difficulty with managing our emotions and not being reactive, so it affects us on that level. But also, if our primary purpose is to help, then at least for my program I need to be thinking about the ways that I can help. And if I am seeing that a certain part of the population is not represented or coming to the table, then what can I be doing to help get them there? Because it’s not as if the different communities don’t have issues with alcohol. There may be a reason, and so I need to be looking at that. And that’s part of my program, is for me to be continuing to grow and to look at those things, “How can I be more effective in helping and what do I need to be looking at in myself? What are my blind spots?” And I learned in AA that I didn’t know what my blind spots are because that’s part of the things with drinking. So I did learn some tools to help with finding those out, but I still need other people to help me, and they can’t help me with my blind spots if we don’t talk about these things. And so that’s the main reason I brought it, is because I’d like to hear what other people think about how we could start talking about these things.
0:42:03 Angela: ‘Cause it’s important to my sobriety, I know that, and I’m guessing other people’s as well. And then with the whole drinking, my primary thing is I have to not drink. Yes, definitely. No one who’s listening to this will probably do any better if they take a drink. But the other thing is that I want to grow. Part of my getting sober is so that I could be a better person in society. And I was telling John before the show it’s kind of like with kids. The kids that I’ve helped raise, I never wanted to say that I just want them to be happy when they grow up, because what if happiness to them is being a serial killer? That’s not a good thing. I guess if they had a list and they went through it and they were more like Dexter, I might be okay. But the point is, I want them to be productive members of society and that in doing that, hopefully they will find happiness and growth and such. And so I need to be thinking about that for both my own recovery and the commitment I’ve made in my recovery, which is to help other people who are searching for recovery as well.
0:43:20 John: There’s some good comments, Angela, in the Facebook group I would like to read if you don’t mind. From Diane, she says… She’s made a couple of comments. She says, “So if we step away from the conversation, are we ‘saying that we agree with what is going on?’ Isn’t that the problem? We need to talk about solutions, not just about what is going on. If I don’t stand up, me personally, then I am not working for the solution, I am adding to the problem. We have to understand where people are coming from to help and support one another in life and recovery.” That’s what I think is so critical is trying to understand the other person and where they’re coming from. That’s what shocks me is when people don’t even make that attempt. That’s me saying that, not her.
0:44:00 John: But she says, “Sometimes we have to sit back and listen, but we need to respond, not react.” And those are good comments. And then also someone from the Facebook group has a question, which I think is a good question. He or she says, “Aren’t the group conscious meeting, district meeting, area assemblies a better place to discuss issues of this nature rather than the meeting itself?” Well, I would say it depends on what you’re gonna talk about. If a person’s gonna talk about it from their own personal perspective of how they’re feeling or how it’s impacting their sobriety, that would belong in the meeting, but if it’s about how the group itself is going to handle issues like that, then that would be in the group business meeting.
0:44:44 Angela: Well, and for our group on the safety issue, and at that time, we were looking more at predators and things like that of people feeling physically safe, and we did both. So we had a discussion about it as the topic for our meetings because not everybody attends business meetings or does service within AA, and so they weren’t aware. And so they needed to hear that some women, and this was particularly the discussion, some women were feeling uncomfortable and these are the things that make them feel uncomfortable and not want to attend a meeting. And it wasn’t necessarily at that meeting that anybody was doing that, but it was a surprise to some of the guys. And then there was the surprise to some people that others had been taken advantage of financially. And so we needed to talk about, at the group level, some of the safety things: What’s okay? What can a sponsor ask you to do? What can they not ask you to do? Should you be giving a ride to just anybody? And what are some of the different ways that we need to be working with each other and looking out for each other, particularly people who are new in recovery?
0:46:05 Angela: And we hadn’t had that conversation before, it was kind of like, “You talk about that outside of the meeting.” But again, not everybody goes to business meetings, not everybody’s looking for that kind of information or involvement, but everybody in the meetings need to have some sort of familiarity with it so that they know that we don’t turn the other way anymore, at least our group doesn’t. But again, we also did have it at the district level and that needs a little bit more work.
0:46:33 Willow: Yeah, I wonder if anybody has talked about having an inclusivity card or something like that. And I know there’s some pamphlets, you mentioned one, I hadn’t read that one. It didn’t even occur to me that it would be out there, but I definitely sense… But I think that that’s one way, in the in-person meetings anyway, that is one way that I think meetings can show that they are inclusive and welcoming, is if there are pamphlets out there for special interest groups that you think may attend your meeting. Have those pamphlets at your meeting. Take that extra step ’cause somebody looking at the literature table, seeing that, could say, “Oh, maybe my place is here. Look, this speaks to me exactly.” Now, granted some of them aren’t worded so well.
0:47:32 Willow: Just the other night in one of our meetings, somebody said… I was in a treatment center, someone came in, and they had the God word pamphlet with them, and I didn’t know that I had a place in AA until I read that pamphlet. I was just figuring that I would play along until I left the treatment center, but I saw that pamphlet and I knew that I had a place here. And so I’ve encouraged some other meetings to have that pamphlet, but it hasn’t occurred to me because it’s not the thing that affects me. Like, “Hey, have pamphlets about other types of diversity.” But some of those things are out there and available. And that’s how the conference and AA as a whole has addressed many of those things, as they’ve made some of that supplemental information available. But how many times do we go and look and see what’s out there? It might be worth taking a look online at AA.com and seeing what they have.
0:48:34 Angela: Yeah, definitely.
0:48:35 Willow: What’s available.
0:48:37 John: One thing that we did at our area assembly after our situation is the following assembly, we had an ad hoc committee on inclusivity, and it was really interesting. One of the members of our group was on it representing the Atheists and Agnostics, [chuckle] and that we had different…
0:48:54 Angela: Represent.
0:48:55 John: Yeah, we had these under-represented groups in AA at the table, and they were having discussions at this committee about what our area could do to be more inclusive. And I actually think it was really done well. There was a survey that was sent out to all the districts in our area, and it gave all the different members of the groups an opportunity to complete the survey. And like all surveys, you don’t get huge participation, but you get a pretty good sense of what’s going on out there. And so anyway, they did that survey and then the area came up with some suggestions I suppose, and I can’t quite remember what those were, but at least they were making an effort at inclusivity.
0:49:44 Angela: Right, so that’s one thing that people listening can do to move forward with inclusivity, is suggest it to their groups or their group representative and see if taking that to the district or the area would be a helpful thing. So something proactive that people can do.
0:50:08 Willow: And also ask what’s already out there. There might be already conversations out there. That’s one of the biggest things that I’m learning in our current issues is that… And I knew this, but most of the things that I think there are people who are more directly impacted that have expanded significantly on those things, and I just need to go and do some research and find out what’s already going on and being led by the people who are impacted, and follow and support and raise up those things. Maybe if there’s something out there that I have the brand new best idea about, then propose it, but probably somebody’s already doing it and I should just go and support them. [chuckle]
0:51:00 Angela: Right.
0:51:01 John: So one thing is gonna be interesting after we come out of the COVID situation, and I don’t when that’s gonna be but our group isn’t actually meeting in person right now, and I don’t know when that is going to happen, but it’ll be interesting when we all get together, are we going to try to reach out to people who don’t look like us and aren’t in our neighborhood? Are we gonna try to change our little part of the world? Online, I’m noticing the same kind of really… Oh, I don’t know, I’m not seeing the diversity online anymore than I’m seeing it when it was face-to-face, and so there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.
0:51:52 Angela: Yeah, I’m not sure with our group, again, we’re not dividing, but we’re going to be having our Tuesday meeting be in person and our Thursday meeting be online, and so we’ll still have that element. And because of our location, our online meetings are more diverse [chuckle] than our in face meetings at the moment, and so I think that that’s really a helpful thing for our group as a whole to be able to understand and get some perspective from outside of our area that we didn’t really get before. Occasionally, people would come to town and visit and come to our meeting that way, but I think that my recovery has been enhanced by other people coming to our meetings and attending other meetings in different areas, and hearing about the different things that people face. Yes, we have similar emotions, and getting in recovery and staying sober have a lot of the same components, but some people have a lot more adversity to getting there than some of us do. There’s a lot of different ways that they’re impacted that I wouldn’t have thought about. And so this has been good for me and being able to take those things into consideration, and think about that and see how I can do things differently to either be more helpful or just be more conscious.
0:53:31 John: Angela, we have a caller.
0:53:33 Angela: Okay. [chuckle]
0:53:33 John: This is the most calls we’ve ever had. Hello.
0:53:36 Bri: Hi, John. This is Bri.
0:53:39 John: I knew it was you. I could recognize the area code. How are you doing, Bre?
0:53:42 Bri: Good. How are you? I’ve travelled around a lot in Kansas, particularly, and made a lot of AA meetings when I was doing that, my former job. And sometimes you would go to… Especially in western Kansas had some of the smaller meetings. You’d go in there and then some of them would start talking about an outside issue. So it was like, “Well, we need to pray for the truth.” Something like that. And then I kind of felt it was kinda my responsibility to make sure that the hand of AA was always there for other people to speak up and say, “Hey, we cannot be, no matter how you feel, we cannot be included in outside issues.” Especially in those types of things where we… It’s a slippery slope, is what I’m trying to say about that. But I do feel that those of us that have longer time in the program, if you wanna call it that, ’cause all we have is 24 hours, but those of us that have accumulated, we need to step up and help the newcomers because sometimes personalities do take over principle. So if that goes too far in a group, then a group will become very exclusive or elitist. I’ve seen that happen actually in a couple of groups in central Kansas.
0:55:14 John: You know, Bre, what’s happened, I… From our group, when we first started meeting online, the topic that was discussed the most was how people felt about COVID and being isolated and all of that. But that wasn’t really considered an outside issue.
0:55:36 Bri: No. No. No. Because we were… Kansas…
0:55:44 Willow: I think something that… Go ahead. Go ahead, Bre.
0:55:47 Bri: Okay. Well, I’m done pretty much. Alright. Well, thanks a lot. Send me my t-shirt!
0:55:50 John: It was nice to hear… Nice hearing from you. [chuckle]
0:55:51 Willow: Thanks, Bri.
0:55:53 John: Call again.
0:55:53 Angela: What were you going to say, Willow?
0:55:54 Willow: The one thing that I would implore anybody listening to this conversation to think about is, if somebody does come into a meeting that you’re in and they’re talking about something that feels outside, or you can tell that they’re directly impacted by it and that it’s something that’s making them struggle with their recovery, be sensitive about how you handle it. Don’t just shut them down. If you can find any other way to talk to them about it, talk to them after the meeting. Go and find out what they need to make sure that they stay sober through whatever it is that they’re going through. ‘Cause that is one of my biggest worries right now, is that there are people hitting meetings that are directly impacted by this stuff that’s going on, they’re struggling to get through it and they’re getting shut down. And it’s not that I’ve seen that happening. I have seen it happen before in regards to our political climate, and I was shocked at how it was handled in the meetings ’cause the person was just cut off and they just said, “That’s an outside issue, you need to stop sharing.” And I couldn’t believe that they handled it that way. And we just need to know that… Yeah, we need to make sure that the meetings stay comfortable for everybody, but also just be sensitive. If somebody is talking about something that is impacting their ability to stay sober, there’s a reason they’re coming in and talking about it.
0:57:31 John: Yup. So there was a comment here and I may have lost it… Oh yeah. And this is cool, I’m so glad that you wrote this, the person on Facebook. “Thank you for taking this subject on. One of the things I most loved about AA was that politics had no place in the meetings. I haven’t attended for a while. Do you think there is more talk about current affairs in meetings today than in past years?” That’s a good question. I would say it depends. And someone else answered your question on Facebook, “It seems to be more after the meeting than during the meeting.” But I have seen some meetings over the last three or four years where people have openly talked about how whatever is going on in the world is impacting them personally, and I never have heard that before. And personally, I think that’s because some of what has been happening transcends normal politics. It’s not like you’re talking about a budget or something. It’s like you’re talking about human rights and the basic fundamentals of what makes us a free people, I suppose. And I guess that’s what makes it so different, especially with what we’re dealing with now in the world.
0:58:52 Angela: Or what we’re aware of now.
0:58:53 John: What we’re aware of, yeah.
0:58:55 Angela: Yeah.
0:58:58 John: Hard to believe that we’re coming up on an hour. Wow. Thank you, Angela, for agreeing to handle this, to take care of this, to lead the discussion. I think you did a wonderful job. And thank you, Willow, very much for joining us. Your contribution was very appreciated. And thank you for all the callers. Wow.
0:59:18 Willow: Yeah. Sorry for being late. For sure.
0:59:20 John: Oh no, no problem. I think it’s cool that you can just get on your phone and hide from the police and all that, and participate.
0:59:26 John: I’m glad you didn’t get arrested.
0:59:32 Willow: Yeah, I gotta be honest, I’m not really worried. There you go.
0:59:37 John: Good.
0:59:38 Angela: It sums up the discussion, huh?
0:59:40 Willow: Yeah.
0:59:40 John: Yeah. But it was great to have all of those people calling. That was amazing. So anyway, I guess that’s gonna wrap it up. We’re right at an hour, so is the right one?
0:59:49 Willow: Thanks so much to everybody who listened or participated in this.
0:59:54 John: Yes, and thank you.
0:59:55 Angela: Thanks so much.
0:59:58 John: And that’s it. That’s another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast. Thank you for listening. Whoa, we got through this one. It was a good topic. I’m glad that we had it. So anyway, we’ll be back again next Friday for another live stream. We do this every Friday at 7 o’clock PM Central. And anyway, thank you. Y’all take care. Be well. We’ll be back again real soon.
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