June of 1989 was my original sobriety date. I was what is described in our literature as a classic “two-stepper.” You could have never convinced me I would ever forget that horrible bottom . . . but I did!
In 2006, my primary doctor of fifteen years prescribed me some cough syrup for walking pneumonia. I filled the prescription, took a dose and went back to work without realizing it was a narcotic. Fifteen minutes later, that golden glow descended over me. I thought I had “changed” and it would turn out differently. It didn’t! A little over two years later, I checked into a homeless shelter minus the million-dollar company, minus the new wife and kids, minus the two homes, etc. We all know the story. I returned to AA in June 2009 and fervently did “the deal.” I got a sponsor, worked the steps (all of them), and rebuilt my life one piece at a time.
In the rooms around here I often hear, “When you pick up a five-year chip, if you hear a loud pop, that’s just your head popping out of your ass!” I remember always laughing to myself after hearing it thinking, “yea right.” Then it happened to me! There I was five years sober, going to meetings, helping others, "fellowshipping" all the time, and I was miserable. I didn’t believe in a God, I didn’t identify with most of what I heard in meetings, and I only saw what I didn’t like about the people in the rooms. Of course, that popping sound represented the continuing process of my recovery. At five years sober in AA, I realized I wasn’t being authentic with myself or anybody else.
My relapse taught me participation in a recovery program was paramount and I had to stay connected. I was in trouble! AA helped me rebuild my life but it just wasn’t working for me anymore. The summer progressed and I isolated more, grew disgruntled, and was lonely. In August 2014 I was ready to try other programs and started reaching out to those I trusted and get some suggestions. It turned out one of them had started an agnostics meeting right here in Jacksonville; I started attending but the unhappiness didn’t go away. I still felt alone and a little lost. I found out about the 2014 WAAFT Convention at this meeting and decided to go. I had planned to go surfing in El Salvador that week but canceled and made reservations for Santa Monica instead. Best damn decision I ever made!
I arrived the first day not knowing anyone or what to expect and was greeted cheerfully, got my packet, and started to check things out. The first day is still a blur but by the end of it I was overwhelmed with a feeling of relief and joy. Here were hundreds of people in AA from all over the world with similar thoughts and beliefs. I WAS NOT ALONE!
On day two of the conference, I attended a workshop on “How to Start a Meeting” and decided to start a meeting when I returned home to Atlantic Beach. I talked with several different groups and individuals at the convention about their groups, how they got started, and how they ran their meetings. They gave me good suggestions and some even emailed their meeting formats. I was ready!
Armed with the information and inspiration, I headed home and got to work! During the following weeks I found some help, a room to meet in, and on Saturday, December 13, 2014, Beaches Agnostics & Freethinkers of Atlantic Beach convened our first meeting. There were only four of us at that first meeting but we didn’t care, the hour passed quickly. We’ve been meeting ever since on Saturday mornings at 8:30 in a really cool art gallery.
The convention workshop leaders stressed the importance of registering your group with GSO and getting a group number. They said it may help at the local level if intergroup or others tried to say you were not an “official” AA group. That was great advice. We had no problems registering with intergroup but did run into some resistance at the local clubhouse when we posted our flyers. We changed the flyer and added our group number and that was that.
Starting this group taught me the difference between an AA group and an AA meeting. Registering with GSO, district, local intergroup, and North Florida Area 14 turned out to be a great learning experience for me. As was suggested at the convention, I registered with GSO first and got a quick response from them informing me they didn’t assign group numbers until the group had been meeting for a month.
After hearing some of the negative experiences of other WAAFT groups, I was a little apprehensive but our new group packet arrived right on time with a surprising amount of materials enclosed. The next step was registering with intergroup. Now remember, we live in the heart of the “Bible Belt” so with some apprehension I attended our monthly intergroup meeting, filled out the paperwork, and introduced myself.
My fears disappeared when I received a big welcome and a “Glad you’re here!” Unlike some of the experiences shared at the convention, our group has met with very little pushback from anybody in the AA service structure. Intergroup listed our meeting in the local “Where and When” and on the website. It took some time but we now have a GSR that represents us at district and area meetings, an intergroup representative, and we disperse money every month to them all. Starting next month along with the other area WAAFT group, we are going to start carrying a meeting into the local hospital once a week using our format.
Right now our meeting is made up of twelve to fifteen regulars who are mostly men, though our intergroup rep is a female who has been with us from the start. We have a good mix from mature double-digit sobriety to newcomers. The other WAAFT meeting in town supports us and has always been a big help for which we owe them many thanks. Our group’s personality has changed over time. Our first meetings were filled with lots of God bashing, angry atheist talk, and frustrated venting about what was wrong with AA and the people in it, me included.
After about nine months our discussions became more intimate, personal, and positive. Having gone through a similar process after “coming out” as an atheist in AA, I believe this is part of the growing process. The other WAAFT group in town said they went through the same thing. So now when an angry newcomer comes in and vents, it brings a smile to our face as we can relate.
Last month we had another big first in our group. One of our regulars sheepishly shared that he had found God and experienced a medical miracle. He shared his fear he wouldn’t be welcome anymore and would have to find another meeting. This turned the discussion on a dime! We assured him he was wanted and welcome no matter what his belief or non-belief was. Hell, that’s part of what we read to open our meetings every week. It’s been a positive experience for our group and group conscience as we want to remain inclusive, not exclusive. To best describe our group today would be to say we are atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and a believer in AA and want to be there for the alcoholic who needs us.
I had an epiphany at the 2014 WAAFT Convention that has been with me ever since. I am not alone in AA and I can be authentic with myself and others about my beliefs. I am so grateful to everyone who helped orchestrate and/or attended the 1st WAAFT convention. The convention did change my life. Members from both our local groups will be in Austin this November and we are so excited! I only hope we can be as much help to someone else struggling as others were to me.