Platitudes in AA

 It was getting dark and I didn’t have anything else to do that Friday night.

So I decided to go to an AA meeting.

A “traditional” meeting.

As I wended my way down the street, looking left to right, I finally saw a crowd of about a dozen people smoking cigarettes and chatting away. “I found the meeting,” I thought to myself.

Sure enough, there was the church. The Ryerson United Church.

So I made my way through the side door and into the basement, shaking hands with people I had never met as I went down the stairs and into the meeting room. Towards the back of the room there was a table with some Styrofoam cups and a coffee machine. I poured myself a cup.

The coffee was awful.

There were about fifty or sixty chairs aimed towards a podium at the front of the room, so I picked a chair in the last row. People started filing in, chatting and shaking hands with each other. A fellow sat down beside me, introduced himself and asked, “This your first meeting?”

“Here, yes,” I answered.

“Keep coming back,” he said, and gave me a pat on the shoulder.

At the front of the room on the left of the podium was a huge and very old placard with the 12 Steps. I gave them a look. The word “God”, “Him” or “Power” (with a capital “P”) were in six of the twelve Steps,  underlined in red.

I whispered to myself, “Amen”.

On the right of the podium was another placard, this one with the 12 Traditions.

On top of a piano to the left were five cardboard signs with slogans: “Think, think, think”, “First things first”, “Live and let live”, “Easy does it” and “But for the grace of God”.

Just to the right of the podium was a little table. In the middle of it were two pictures, one of Dr. Bob and the other one of Bill Wilson. To the right of the pictures was a copy of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous. It looked like it might be a first edition, published in 1939.

Along the wall on the right was a table with a bunch of pamphlets on it and a few books. There were more recently published copies of Alcoholics Anonymous and several copies of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

Looking around now, still gagging on the coffee, I could see that there were about fifty people in the room. Mostly men, of course, but there were some women. The vast majority of those in the room were older than me, and I have been collecting my pension for a few years now. For a moment I felt young like a kid, and then I came back to my senses. It’s only in a traditional AA meeting that I get to be one of the younger people in attendance.

Bang. bang. bang.

The chair started the meeting. “My name is Linda and I am an alcoholic.” “Hi Linda,” people shouted back at her. “We will start with a moment of silence followed by the Serenity Prayer.”

A moment of silence.


God. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

“Today I have asked Gerry to read ‘How It Works’.”

Gerry gets up slowly from the back of the room and lumbers to the podium. Finally, he gets there and looks at his audience. “My name is Gerry and I am an alcoholic.” “Hi Gerry,” people shouted back at him.

He tweaks the microphone. And tweaks it some more.

Some excerpts from “How It Works”:

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves…

Remember that we deal with alcohol – cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power – that One is God. May you find Him now!

Somewhere around here Linda comes back to the podium and says, “I have asked Dianne to read the 12 Steps”.

Dianne arrived at the meeting in a wheelchair and with some help makes it to the front of the room. With a shaking voice, she says “My name is Dianne and I am an alcoholic”. “Hi Dianne,” people shout back at her.

She reads the 12 Steps. The same 12 Steps as on the placard. With the word “God”, “Him” or “Power” in six of the twelve Steps.

When she was done, I again whispered to myself, “Amen”. But someone to my left heard me and looked at me and smiled, knowingly. I decided not to do that again.

Gerry rumbled back to the podium to finish reading “How It Works”. I heard something about some stuff becoming clear. Apparently, we could not “manage our own lives”. Moreover we were to discover “that no human power could have relieved our alcoholism”.  And then, in a loud voice, Gerry finished the reading and everyone in the room joined in:

God could and would if He were sought.

I sat there for a moment, in silence, and looked around once more at the people in the room. Everyone seemed at ease, comfortable, in the right place.

Linda came back to the podium and called upon Danny to tell us about what a few of the slogans meant to him. As it turned out, Danny was younger than me and pretty much ran to the front. “Hi. My name is Danny and I am an alcoholic.” “Hi Danny,” people shouted back at him.

Danny explained two slogans. For him, “First things first” was about “my recovery and working with my sponsor and working with my Steps”. And “But for the grace of God” Danny wouldn’t “get to be here and be sober and live my life”.

At that point in the meeting I needed a break. But I wasn’t going to get one. So I got up and went back and got another cup of coffee.

I sipped it and shuddered.

Linda came back and introduced the speaker, Gary. “My name is Gary and I am an alcoholic.” “Hi Gary,” people shouted back at him.

Gary then spoke for 45 minutes. It was his version of the classic “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now”.

I won’t go into details, except that after 38 years of sobriety, all of them in the fellowship of AA, Gary had reached a conclusion. He had come to understand why he was an alcoholic: “I am an alcoholic because I am an alcoholic”, he said.

Gary finished his talk by sharing his commitment to his home group and his work for it.

He got a round of applause as Linda thanked him. I got up and headed towards the door. I dodged a few people on the way and once out of the room I turned around to watch.

Linda announced that the meeting would end with the Lord’s Prayer. People stood up and reached out to one another, everybody holding hands.

“Who’s in charge?” Linda asked.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

The meeting was over. It got noisy in the room, with people suddenly chatting with each other. A few of the men starting collecting the chairs and piling them at the back of the room. Others were taking the coffee machine and cups back into the kitchen. The placards were coming down and the pamphlets on the literature table packed into a cardboard box.

I climbed up the stairs and out of the church basement onto the street. Already there were a few people outside sucking on cigarettes.

And I went home.

Not long after I got there, the phone rang.

It was my friend, Denis. He has some 40 years of sobriety and has played a vital role in starting agnostic AA meetings in Vancouver.

“What have you been up to?” he asked.

“I went to an AA meeting, I said, “a traditional meeting.”

“How did it go?” he asked.

“Guess,” I said.

“Same old, same old?” he asked.

“Yes, that’s right”, I replied. “It was pretty clichéd, for sure. Growth and change and keeping pace with the times are not a part of traditional AA. I swear it could have been a meeting in 1940. Well one in New York at Bill’s place, anyway. In Akron, they would probably have forced me to kneel down for the Lord’s Prayer.”

“Ha ha,” Denis said.

“Don’t get me wrong: I’m genuinely happy for those people at the meeting,” I continued. “But it had such an ‘insider’ feel to it.  You had to know the language to feel a part of it, to feel that you belonged. They don’t understand how effectively they are cutting – and driving – other people out of the rooms of AA. I can only imagine how an outsider – a newcomer – would react to the religion and the platitudes. If it had been my first meeting I would have had little choice but to head back out the door.”

“What I don’t understand is why they don’t understand that,” I concluded.

“Thank goodness for our agnostic meetings,” Denis said.

“Amen,” I replied. A religious day, as it had turned out. And not the least bit spiritual.

About the Author

Roger C. is a member of Beyond Belief, the first agnostic AA group in Canada. In 2011 the group was booted off of the official AA meeting list by the local Intergroup. Roger was part of starting the website AA Toronto Agnostics which eventually became AA Agnostica. He has managed that site for the past four years and four months, posting on a regular weekly schedule 300 articles written by atheists and agnostics in AA from all over the world.  That seriously cut into Roger’s time for his two favourite sports: golf in the summer and squash in the winter.

He looks forward to the day when AA drops its antiquated religiosity and becomes a true refuge for all those suffering from alcoholism. He also hopes to see the next WAAFT convention in 2018 held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, one of the proud centres of the secular AA universe.

This Post Has 64 Comments

  1. Edward C.

    I am one of the very lucky – a sales type, outspoken, not to be intimidated, I have not had trouble (much) as an atheist / agnostic in AA – 24 yrs clean, sober, nicotine free I do now shun some meetings (will not re-attend any that use the lords prayer) I can hang with the serenity prayer. I am often at the AA at the VA hospital to support fellow veterans and we are a rather open group – ok to ID as an addict if ya want to. Damn I want a local – Freethinkers meeting – sorta working on that.

    1. John S

      The Lord’s Prayer is standard fare where I come from. I would say 99% of the meetings end with the Lord’s Prayer. Thank you Edward for visiting. We are grateful for your support.

  2. Pat

    I’m so glad I found this network of sobriety.

    Thank you and keep it up.

    1. John S

      Me too Pat! I’m very grateful, and thank you for visiting.

  3. annalia

    Some really yucky platitudes: God will not give you more than you can handle!
    (Then why do some of us end up in mental institutions?)
    Everything is the way it is supposed to be in God’s world.
    (Then children are supposed to be raped, starved, and beaten to death?)
    What are your yuckiest?

    1. John S

      “God will never give you more than you can handle”. I guess he just takes you to the brink as a test.

    2. jennef

      “Everything happens for a reason ” – this is just not true.

      Unless you’re talking about people getting killed because they walk in front of trains, or breaking china because they drop it on a hard floor.

    3. Helen

      “God will never give you more than you can handle”.

      But .. what exactly is meant by “handle”?
      Manage? Tolerate? Endure? Survive?
      What about the millions who died?
      And are dying?
      Oh!… perhaps it means that God in his mercy will kill you (make you/let you die) rather than give you anything more that you can handle?
      It is just SOOOO stupid and ridiculous.
      Oh thank you to the people who think!

  4. Bill D.

    We’ve been able to eliminate the Lord’s Prayer at a few meetings, but it’s still dominant here. I’ll join in and hold hands during the prayer, but won’t recite it. It feels like this is spreading. During a recent meeting it seemed like an arc of people around me weren’t reciting it. Eventually I’m hoping we will become the “silent” majority.

  5. Bob K.

    Misled by the title perhaps, this is not the essay I was expecting. I thought rather there would be a slogan by slogan analysis of the endless mottoes and aphorisms. The essay vibe that I got is that the whole damn thing is a platitude.

    I was at the Hamilton meeting described, and it was painful. And yes, the whole damn thing was a platitude. There was some sense of what Hell must be like, the suffering going on and on relentlessly, no end in sight. It remains almost unimaginable to me that there may have been a single person helped by that particular gathering. It was a classic case of an AA speaker who thought he was stellar, but he wasn’t. (Not all traditional meetings are as bad as this one, folks)

    Finally, the droning ended as the interminable speaker terminated. I made a break for the washroom to dodge the whole Lord’s Prayer/hand-holding deal. What a PAINFUL experience. I made faces at Roger from the hall.

    May the saints preserve us!

    bob k

    1. Mark C. "Mark In Texas"

      “And yes, the whole damn thing was a platitude.”

      It is odd to think of what it must have been like when the platitudes came into existence and were thought useful, or relevant. For the life of me, I cannot imagine it. hahaha

  6. Wally K.

    I too became weary of platitudes and the dull often uninspired robotic recitations at meetings. Today, after several decades of sobriety, I don’t require a lot of meetings, so my weekly meeting of “Atheists, Agnostics and All Others” in Boise, Idaho does it all for me. I don’t have to take luck of the draw. My Tuesday night encounters are always (really!) stimulating, entertaining, and valuable.

    We often joke about the platitude-laden discussions of other meetings on “gratitude” which seem to occur because no one bothered to bring a meaningful topic or provide a sharing of real experience, strength or hope. Meetings mired in uninspired yadda-yadda signal to me a “settling in”, an acceptance of a stagnant status quo of sobriety with a lack of growth and vitality. If I chose to introduce “gratitude” at a discussion meeting today, I would share with my fellow AAs how my program continues to grow and evolve through my home group members and the support of the secular movement activism of AA Agnostica, Beyond Belief and WAAFT.

  7. Steve K

    My home group is a relatively ‘traditional’ AA meeting here in the UK. I attended it yesterday and the average age is somewhere in the 40’s. Apart from possibly the reading at the beginning of the meeting (I wasn’t paying attention) I’m pretty sure God wasn’t mentioned during any of the shares (none more than 10mins) once.

    The shares were all about living life sober, the good and the bad and the struggles with ego and trying to practice helpful principles and behaviours. There was lots of honesty, self-awareness, tolerance (a child was at times running about the room as we are a child friendly meeting), hope, gratitude and humour being expressed. Despite there being some members of a religious bent that attend the meeting regularly they wouldn’t dream of suggesting reading out the Lords Prayer at the end, for fear of causing a riot!? ( a few agnostic/atheist types attend and we would object)

    In this country meetings differ quite alot, ranging from a very liberal attitude and almost secular feel to the ” back to basics” brigade who are very literal when it comes to the Big Book and Steps. As an agnostic/humanist I choose my meetings carefully and focus on the good that’s expressed and happens in the meetings I attend. I’ve considered starting an AA meeting for agnostics/atheists but am not sure of the interest outside of a large city or the need in my area which is fairly accepting of atheists in meetings.

    I would like to do my bit for humanist members within traditional AA meetings and am open about my non-belief in the hope of helping others of a similar persuasion feel part of a pluralistic fellowship as it’s supposed to be.

    1. Bob K.

      My friend Gabe S. in London has an agnostic AA meeting a few blocks from his house. When I asked what it was like, he said he’d never been – there was no need. The UK is many years ahead of us in the “non-religiousness” of its meetings.

  8. Sandra T.

    Things are different here on the west coast folks! In Nanaimo we have over 100 meetings a week and only two say the Lord’s Prayer at the end. Several have re-written the “blue card” changing it to say “share freely your experience strength and hope” so addicts of all kinds are included.

    We have overwhelming numbers of women and young people. Our “We Agnositics” meeting is flourishing and just celebrated it’s first year anniversary with a group pot luck. At the end of our meeting we say “Who’s Responsible?” and then we recite the Responsibility pledge. There is not a Big Book, a banner or an old photo anywhere in site. (lots of free pamphlets which are gender inclusive) AND people bring their own coffee/water/juice which saves the group the hassle and cost. Change and progress is possible and it is happening. Keep it Simple! 🙂

  9. CathyM

    I can’t wait for mtgs in our city…I find responses vary from outright “how can you recover without higher power?” to “are you dropping AA?”

    Talk about close-minded. Give it time to sink in I figure. Then I consider, how best to lead others to take part, to see we want to remain part of …? We are not superior, better than or trying to take over.

  10. Adam N

    Such a touching, poignant depiction. I could see you sitting there, could see the whole thing. I could feel the staleness. The only thing missing was the pall of hazy blue smoke leveling across the room. Thank you, and thank you for all you have done.

  11. Thomas B

    So sad how AA has become ritualized into dead stone. Thanks Roger for an effective description of how boring & lifeless AA has devolved into.

    So grateful for the exuberant life we experience in secular AA.

    Thanks John for carrying the torch in this iteration & evolution of Roger’s seminal work !~!~!

  12. Paul H.

    I get sad anymore when I realize how the comfort of that process has gone away when I read it as you wrote it. Nonbelievers are shamed here in Mississippi, or at least looked at as, let’s say, “PariAAhs.” I’m running out of gas taking a meeting into the local prison. The book hurts sharing possibilities, and the “outside issues” that are stigmatized here hurt just as much. I appreciate this site, it’s ancestor, and those of you who have kept the flame burning. Please help me stay on the path.

  13. Jeff M

    Wow, Roger, what an accurate description of most of the AA meetings in my home town of Newmarket ON. I keep going back to meetings I used to enjoy, hoping for a little of the old magic, but usually leave discouraged and saddened. Every meeting in town says the Lord’s Prayer except one – the Freethinker’s meeting I started with my friend. Every Wednesday we create a small refuge for those who can’t take the rituals anymore, but we’re reaching very few. It’s true that you can’t go back again I suppose, but there is one traditional group that still welcomes us – therein lies the future of AA perhaps. If AA is to survive it must adapt or perish I believe, although it may be a long slow death. Viva la difference!

    1. Bob K.

      Hang in there. Our Whitby Freethinkers meeting is entering month #22, and we are flourishing, AND reaching our principal target market. We may have to get a bigger room. A year ago, I was disappointed and growing pessimistic, as the results were not meeting our expectations.

      This Thursday, a copycat meeting will begin in the adjacent town of Ajax. The blessings from nothingness continue. We may get some blank pamphlets printed.

      1. Helen

        The blessings from nothingness continue. We may get some blank pamphlets printed.

        Oh l LOVE it!
        Good on you and best wishes…

  14. Jenny

    I’d like to know where in the UK Steve K finds these open-minded meetings. I attend four or five meetings a week in a large citym and it is impossible to avoid the ones like Roger C describes. We certainly don’t have the LP but they are the same in all other respects. A visitor who was asked to lead the Serenity Prayer at my home group recently began: ‘Using the word god whether you like it or not …’! When I said at the grp consc. that I found this shocking, I was told that it was just her attempt at humour.

    I was once asked to lead the SP at another meeting and explained that I begin with the word ‘Grant’ and use the prayer as an affirmation because I don’t believe in gods. Another member said he thought this was quite alright because his treatment centre worker is called Grant. I really did not expect, in my 60’s, to be having the same arguments about interventionist, supernatural creatures’ which I had in my ‘teens. Thank you to everyone who contributes to this site and to AA Agnostica. I see there are some open-minded meetings in Derby. If anyone knows of any further north please advise.

  15. Steve M

    Yup, this is almost *exactly* what I have had in every single meeting I have been to in Quebec here. But every share – and I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say “every” share – is peppered with, “Grace à Dieu”, or “By the grace of God” if I happen to get to an English meeting (there are 50-1 French/English meetings here).

    I am new. I’m coming up on 30 days after a ridiculously stupid slip – 2 weeks in a row. I would have been celebrating 10 months next week.

    They say you need to go to “all lengths”, and with that, I should be able to suck it up at these religious meetings. But I end up thinking, “Wow – this has ZERO credibility” – and then I end up resentful that I have wasted my time. So since those slips, the only meetings I attend is the weekly Agnostic video meeting on ITR and I am trying to get to more Skype AAAA meetings. I am also in the beginning stages of maybe starting my own AAAA Skype/Video/Something meeting with a number of the ITR folk.

    I too, am happy that someone who is Christian, or whatever religion, can find that their religion can strengthen their own sobriety. But I need to hear stories and experiences that make sense to me too. That I can relate to.

    This (new) site, the weekly newsletters – they are so incredibly important to me. I find myself literally sighing with relief as I read these things here.

    I think my own reaction to these God meetings is not quite as rational as I would like it to be. It is what it is, and it really doesn’t affect me if they all want to hold hands and pray together. I have been pulled into them, and I now have to try to stay near the door to get my way out, if I do go to a meeting. But all told, I would prefer to not feel the resentment that I do. I hope I can get to that stage. But until then, you guys are all I got. 🙂

    Thank you. I really appreciate you all.


  16. Chris G

    Great article – I could just smell the moldy old church basement and feel the band tightening around my head at the boredom of it all. Well written, Roger!

    The Niagara Peninsula is LP country through and through. The other day somebody asked if I’d go to a traditional meeting; three people were celebrating anniversaries “with a total of over a hundred years of sobriety”. Well, I certainly applaud the sober time, but I just couldn’t face the platitudes. Might as well go to a church service. Actually, a church service might be less predictable: a priest might say something new.

    We have one meeting – Wednesday mornings – that breaks the mold. No prayers. We do 15 minutes of meditation, read some stuff (Beyond Belief by Joe C. is wildly popular, and recently we have added some dharma readings), and share. Not yet a fully agnostic meeting, but we are taking it in that direction.

    A few weeks ago we had a visit from an AA policewoman who tried to tell us the error of our ways – sent her packing! I wonder if we will get de-listed?

    And on the 19th we’re starting another similar at the local recovery house. The folks currently there are a real mix of alcoholics/addicts/both, and we want to try and make it comfortable and welcoming for everybody, so that is exciting.

    Maybe we will put “The Tao is empty” on a slogan board…

  17. Laurie A

    My experience after 31 years sober in AA in Gt Britain is similar to that of Bob K and Steve K. There are 3,500 groups in GB, maybe Jenny is just unlucky where she lives. Very few members bang on about God in the meetings I attend, but the meetings I attend are just a microcosm of British AA. It’s unrealistic to generalise from our own anecdotal and limited experiences. The thousands of GB meetings I’ve attended over the years ended with the serenity prayer (except for the handful of agnostic meetings!); no group used the paternoster. I object to clichés like ‘using the word god as you understand, or may come to understand, him’ from the person leading the prayer so I stay silent. But really, some people could start a fight in an empty room.

    1. Jon S

      Hi Laurie. I’m in the UK (Brighton) and interested in atheism in AA. Sober 15+ years and active online, but no longer attend meetings. Just a question about your post, what’s the paternoster?

      Thanks! Jon S

      1. Tommy H

        Pater noster is Latin for “Our Father”.

  18. Brent

    Thanks Roger. Kind of read like the voiceover in a classic film noir, Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, exhausted by cynicism, certain the world holds no surprises, at least for him, attends an AA meeting. And, if you’ve been going to AA for some years, you can’t be blamed for introducing that guiding subtext to your exposition.

    AA is not known for its surprising insights. And that’s when those platitudes, aphorisms, sayings – whatever! – that way overpopulate our written material, hypnotically lead us to a kind of glassy eyed conformity.

    Anyway you ignited my overall complaint with AA, the absence of critical thought when you mentioned the “slogan”, But for the Grace of God. Think about it for a moment. Think of the complete thought in that statement rather than the decontextualized version that we’re continually exposed to; But for the grace of god, there go I. In other words, when saying that, we’re really saying, thank Christ I’m not as effed up as that poor sot; that drunk, cold and hungry piece of human trash huddled in the flophouse doorway. It’s a vicious sentiment disguised as an expression of gratitude. Yet in the 76 years since the publication of that time capsule referred to as the Big Book, I’ve never once heard anybody take issue with it. Not saying it hasn’t happened, rather it’s a rare occasion when issue is taken.

    The so called slogans (originally, Scottish war cries) are but a single element, among too many others to identify here, that help to keep AA predictable and free of any original thinking. Any organization as faith based as AA cannot afford original thought or critical thought. Because that would mean we’re questioning one of the top ten most charismatic leaders in eternity, God. While AA, according to its critics, themselves usually thoughtless mudslingers, is frequently referred to as a cult, it is far closer in construction to a Christian denomination.

    L. Ron Hubbard, the most notable modern day cult leader, was a clumsy, obvious oaf of a charlatan, not to mention a mere speck of historical dust when compared to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Religionists are notable for their ritualized behaviours, whether praying, chanting, observing Latin liturgies that make absolutely no sense to them, or kneeling and bowing several times a day on mats, facing the east, reciting their holy book, which they’ve memorized or are in the process of doing. These are deliberate road blocks to original thought or creativity and they are as predictable to practitioners as the AA meeting Roger, aka Sam Spade, attended at Ryerson United Church is to alcoholics.

    Roger, thanks for the deliberately clipped narration of an event we all wish would drop the religious trappings and wise up a bit.

  19. Tommy H

    It seems to me platitudes are used when we want to reply but to do so honestly may be the wrong thing to do.

    The problem with this is the traditionalists (lower case t) take these platitudes as truths. They aren’t meant to be and really don’t hold water.

    My favorite platitude is “Get off your cross, we need the wood.”


  20. Lance B.

    I just received a text message from our DCM who last night in one of our traditional meetings spent quite a bit of effort talking about her belief in a god. Topic picked by chairperson: “divine providence”.

    I read this article by Roger early this morning. It arrived earlier than in the past for which I was grateful, because I open our WAAFT meeting at 10 AM mountain time. What a gift AA Agnostica has been for me, and I need to thank him once more for giving me a voice I did not know how to use.

    In the past, I’ve reported that this particular meeting is the only secular meeting of which I’m aware within 500 miles. It is usually myself with one or two other Christian fellows who are new enough not to have fallen into the belief that there is only one correct way to read the steps or conduct a meeting. Based perhaps upon my talk last night, 7 people showed up this morning. The regular two Christians, and old GSR of this group, who is back after getting in trouble, his girlfriend, and two other relatively new to AA guys. Probably one other agnostic.

    The message from our DCM: “My Brother loved your meeting! He is so excited to commit to this.” I commented back a thank you for letting me know. Now this: “I told you this meeting is needed. I was complaining to my brother it seems your (sic) distancing from your home group family when it’s so obvious we love you. He said: do you support his meeting? So I owe you an apology (as) I have not been there.”

    Thank you John and Roger and all you others at the 1st Annual WAFT convention for helping me find my voice and showing the way.

    1. John S

      That’s a nice story Lance, and thank you for sharing it.

  21. life-j

    Thanks Roger and John, we’re off to a good start here

  22. Mike U

    When and where exactly did that group-chant of the “could and would if he were sought” nonsense start? I got sober in ’98 in central Florida (oh, boy, a lot of “back to basics” there), but I’d never heard the group-chant thing until this year when a new member joined our group. He’s in the military and I thought that it might have been a military AA thing until reading this article.

    It’s the most off-putting thing ever! Oh, except for the delightful folks that say “it’s either god or an alcoholic death.” They win the award.

    1. Mike U

      Oh, and by “new member” I meant new to our area, just to clarify

  23. Russ G.

    “This program demands rigorous honesty.”

    “Fake it ’till you make it.”

  24. Daniel C.

    Thanks Roger my friend. If I hadn’t have had you as a roommate at my start of recovery, I doubt that I would have made it. Looking back at us laughing at that poor woman’s legitimate question “Does everyone have a higher power?” makes sense now.

    You are doing a great job at AA Agnostica


  25. Bob C

    If you’ve just walked miles from a frozen front
    Hearth and home
    Are divine
    If burning up
    Water and cool air
    Are providence indeed
    If you’re a desperate drunk
    A sober alcoholic
    Must be the work of god…


    1. Brent

      “If you’re a desperate drunk, a sober alcoholic must be the work of God… Right? No. I’ve never seen such a mangled metaphor. I’m hoping that was the point. If so good job, but don’t assume people are necessarily going to get it. If you’re a faith based crusader, you’re surely demonstrating why our meetings exist. But do come back, you can be restored to a reasonable state of mind.

      1. Bob C

        I can assure you, my friend, that my comment was purely in jest. But I am happy that at least someone read one of my poems.

        1. John S

          I like the poem Bob!

  26. Marketta K

    My favorite AA nonsense is “Let go and let God.” Let God what? Hit me with a lightning?

    My favorite quote from my We Agnostic friends, re “God as we understand him”: “The way I understand him is that he doesn’t exist.”

  27. Roger C.

    Hi folks: I want to thank you all for your comments. I wasn’t sure that people would find these meetings to be quite as rote and robotic as I do, but apparently I am not alone in that view. Yes, bob k was as that meeting with me! He can attest that I didn’t make anything up. I didn’t mention bob because I didn’t want to distract from the main point of the story (other than by mentioning the coffee, of course).

    It is nice to see some regular commenters from AA Agnostica here, such as life-j and Brent. Most of you who know me know that I am a pretty spiritual sort of guy, so it’s nice to see the “spirit of rotation” at work as we move to AA Beyond Belief. A special thanks to John S, of course, for taking on this project. The launch today has been an inspiration. Keep coming back! Roger.

  28. Sherry J.

    Nice article. Thanks, Roger. Nice comments. Thanks everyone. Each time I visited AA Agnostica and now AA Beyond Belief I am reminded I am not alone. My experiences and my feelings are shared by many. We can enjoy sobriety and be true to ourselves at the same time. Thank you one and all!

  29. Denisk

    The most disgusting platitude I heard at the last conventional meeting I attended 3 1/2 years ago was ” Don’t worry if you haven’t found god; god has found you.” Another suggested, “We have to stick together, we are like bananas, if we get away from the bunch, we will get peeled.”

    I haven’t been to a conventional meeting since; I simply don’t belong there but I certainly belong here with fellow Waaft travelers. I am more excited about AA today than 40 years ago when I got sober.

    Denis K

    1. Helen

      So often I’ve heard at traditional AA meetings:

      “If you don’t get AA, AA will get you.”

      Sounds more like a tricky web or lure of some sort instead of a benevolent fellowship whose primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

      If it wasn’t for websites like this, I’d be having a very lonely sobriety indeed. Or I’d be drunk.

      Thank you so much to all who put their time and effort into providing these places where we “outsiders” can feel even virtually accompanied.

  30. Benn B

    Well described Roger. I also agree with Thomas about the lack of passion and spirit in the robotic nature of traditional AA around these parts as well. I feel like I can practically say what the person will say before they do. There’s not a whole lot of authentic sharing from my viewpoint or relating their recovery to their lives now.

    I have experienced a growing dread each time I consider attending a traditional meeting. The brainwashed part of me says, “What is it about YOU that makes them so unappealing to you?” Yes, it’s always good to question our motives and our own part, however even after doing so I have come to this conclusion for myself: It’s much like drinking in the past, it doesn’t do what it used to do for me so I needed to quit doing it. That’s similar to how I’m feeling about most of the traditional meetings I attend these days. It’s like going to the closed grocery store at midnight expecting to get fed; it ain’t gonna happen!

    I unfortunately don’t feel a whole lot of living, breathing, experiential sharing at meetings these days; more so, it feels like planned mini-sermons (some not so “mini”) by each person. I’m so very thankful for this “movement” in AA. It’s keeping my recovery fresh, full of life, and vibrant!

  31. Dave J

    Most of the meetings I attend are carbon copies of the one described. On the average, it seems to take about 12 minutes to get to the part of the meeting worth being at, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The meetings all start at 8 o’clock, so does Bill O’Reilly. Now I can sit in my car and catch the first ten minutes and if he’s having a great show, I can always skip the meeting.

    Thank god for Sirius radio. Definitely heaven sent.

  32. John H.

    First I want to salute John S. for taking on this monumental task and Roger C. and his fine work in organizing, editing and managing the original forum up in Canada. I look forward to contributing articles here (as I did on several occasions for AA Agnostica) and urge all of you to get involved on some level.

    As to the platitudes in discussion today, I have seldom (since my earliest years) frequented rooms with plaques written in gothic script or featuring prominent displays of antiquated (irrelevant) literature to shove down newcomers throats.

    I have been very lucky in Washington DC AA to have avoided much of this, and in nearly 29 years whenever I encounter the rampant foolishness described here, I manage to block it somehow and focus on the process of sharing itself, as well as the wisdom and support of my dear friends in both our We Agnostics and conventional meetings.

    Recently (after over 60+ years of good health) I had a hospitalization followed by a lengthily recovery period, and have found my regular meetings essential in adjusting to some altered realities in terms of mobility and other limitations that may arise in the future. The ability to deal with life as it presents itself in the cool light of reality is extremely important to me, and the skills acquired and insights gained in AA have been of inestimable value.

    It’s not just about not drinking (though that of course remains the cornerstone and foundation for me), it is abut dealing with life in all its perplexing complexity with the help and assistance of others. It’s a very lonely life for many. Not so in AA.

  33. Daniel

    I believe there is a place for all kinds of groups in AA, provided they are following the AA traditions, and that they can be effective, even if I don’t agree with their procedures. I often ask myself am, I being tolerant of people and groups?



  34. Annalia

    When the LP is recited, I consider it a violation of our own tradition of non-affiliation. So, to make my dislike obvious, I drop hands and step back out of the circle. I sometimes get a bit of flak for this, but more often, I get comments such as “thank you”.

  35. Manoel

    I’ve been sober for almost 6 months now, and made contact with AA Agnostica for just about the same period of time. Here in Brasília- in fact in the whole of Brasil, as far as I know – we do not have any agnostic groups, so I´m part of a traditional group.

    I can´t say that I feel foreign in my group, and much of the religious stuff, as narrated by Roger in his text about platitudes is endorsed. But I sometimes feel uncomfortable at meetings, as if I am not being exactly truthful about my views on religion. Still, I don´t see what I can do about it except to keep going back – it is working, that is a fact. But I do hope to create an Agnostic Group here in Brasilia, maybe next year. For the time being, I think I´m doing the right thing by attending the regular meetings. Had I met a meeting like the one described, I doubt if I´d be writing these lines now. I have a gloomy picture right now in the back of my head.

    Hope you guys can help me here in my objective – a group where truly free discussions are open and welcome.

    1. Annalia

      If you are fairly new, you may not yet have heard how so many agnostic meetings happened to get started. In one Canadian city, they threw the agnostic meetings out of the Intergroup there. Many of us felt the push to start more meetings after that. We have gone from no meetings 13 mos. ago to 5 or more in Phoenix, now.

      They did me a favor when they violated AA traditions, and I know others feel that way also.

    2. John H.

      Good to see you on here Manoel. I hope all is going well with you. Let me know when you hook up that Skype!

    3. Scott A.

      Good on you, Manoel!V/p>
      As you say, “it is working, that is a fact. But I do hope to create an Agnostic Group here in Brasilia, maybe next year. For the time being, I think I´m doing the right thing by attending the regular meetings.”

      Somewhere in early recovery I heard the line “Buy the Time,” which I took to mean: do what it takes to get a handle on, maintain a grip on, sobriety. It is hard to argue with “success,” but it would also be natural for my needs in recovery to change; grow; and evolve, over time, as (hopefully) I do.

      “Honour your limitations,” is another line that I heard in recovery. Taking on the challenges of starting a meeting (especially an “out-lier/counter-culture” meeting…. however important and valuable such a meeting may be (or become)) can be “A LOT” to take on. My (somewhat remote) impression is that sometimes (and probably even “often”) that can be an invigorating, inspiring, energizing experience, and other times it can be “overwhelming” (in a bad way).

      When I came into aa, as part of a “go along to get along” strategy, I did a lot of mental gymnastics to try to forge a “higher power” that met aa’s “requirements” AND passed the sniff test. Even though my quest was never satisfied, I continued to “sought” as prescribed by the ABCs of “how it works.” When I first started connecting online with “my (real) peeps” (the atheists/agnostics/freethinkers in aa), I feared I might quit “soughting” and that “righteous indignation” (that I, and some of my fellow travellers, have perhaps been keeping “under wraps” for some years) might “rise up” within me and threaten to cleave me from my “mother ship of sobriety” (aa). Instead, I would like to think (and hope) that my connection(s) “here” help me be MORE tolerant of the god-mongerers in aa and help assure me that I am “a part of” (a saner) aa. The internet is truly god-sent (Haaaa).

      1. Scott A.

        In the words of Mark C. “Ewww…no edit function. I’m screwed. 🙂 ”
        “that ABCs” = the ABCs (e.g., “god could and would if (*) sought;
        (I used to declare it didn’t say I had to actually “find” god, just sought it.)
        “might quite ‘soughting’ “= might quit “soughting”;
        “help assume me” = help assure me…
        and god only knows how many spelling errors (blush)

        1. John S

          That’s okay Scott. We will come back and correct your typos.

  36. Mark C. "Mark In Texas"

    Thank you Roger. This was an excellent and accurate description of most AA meetings that I’ve been to. My home group is like that more or less, but is now being punctuated by voices of secular, and other types of nontheists who are putting their experience into their own language games.

    Slow but steady progress. Just the other day after our Sunday AM meeting a Christian was complaining to me (but put jokingly) that I had turned his sponsor into an agnostic. His sponsor has 30 years, and was at one time a pretty vocal opponent of an atheist being in the room and being honest about that.

    I listened to his narrative evolve over time. The gates are being widened.


    1. Mark C. "Mark In Texas"

      Ewww…no edit function. I’m screwed. 🙂

      1. John S

        That’s okay Mark. We’ll try to come in behind you to clean up your typos. At the same time, please be sure to let me know of any we make here.

  37. Ed W.

    I use some slogans sometimes. But they can easily turn into mental contagions that promote some weird sort of group-think.

    Someone shares that if they miss a meeting-a-day, they will go out/crazy because “Meeting makers make it!” Pretty soon the entire room starts to think that they can’t miss a meeting-a-day, or else they will all go out/crazy automatically…. It’s a little weird.

    I haven’t made a meeting in 5 days and I feel fine!

    … [Easy Does It! 😉 ]

    1. annalia

      I missed 3 weeks of meetings after open heart surgery, and admittedly was somewhat insane, deciding that no one wanted me to come back to AA, that they all hated me, etc. Who knows if it was a result of the surgery, or some of the medications, or the nutrisweet they were feeding me, or being away from meetings. 2 a week is enough, but since the agnostic meetings started, I go to 4 or 5 a week, just because I like them so much.

  38. Christopher G

    Ahh, mon ami, tres bien!

    I honestly thought this was going to be an educational article on the slogans themselves and was pleasantly surprised by your observations of AA culture, and old culture at that.

    Glad to hear you are getting more time for golf and squash. Maybe we can take in a round in Austin or Toronto, eh!?

  39. Fred S

    The funniest use of a platitude I’ve heard was when I was guesting away from my home group, at an NA meeting in a dreary, nasty old former warehouse in a run-down part of town. Most of the attendees were unemployed or working at low-wage jobs, and they met in this building because it was provided rent-free. Yet the meeting was lively and upbeat and the attendees all seemed to take their sobriety very seriously. When the donation basket came around I found that I only had a twenty dollar bill. I looked in the basket to make change, but there was only about three dollars there. I looked at the basket, and I looked at the twenty, and then I said, “Aw, what the heck,” and threw it in the basket.

    Immediately the chairperson quipped, “Keep coming back!” and the whole place burst into laughter.

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