Saying Goodbye to My Home Group

By John S

I sometimes write just to let out whatever emotion is tying me up in inside, and when I do this, I don’t plan or think too much about the words I choose, I just let it out. I’ve been doing this for most my life, probably for as long as I could write. My mind is a confused and disorganized place, so it helps when I put my thoughts and feelings down on paper. Often, when I look back at what I’ve written, I will gain some insight into what I’m feeling and maybe why.

Some weeks ago, I was feeling a little sadness and a touch of anger as I reflected on my former home group. A group I made my AA home for twenty-five years, and that I left over a year ago to help start a new secular AA group. I guess I felt a need for closure in that relationship, and when I was finished writing, I realized that a longing for closure in relationships has been a recurring theme throughout my life.

Though, I was thinking about my old home group, the feelings that came through in my writing, could just as easily have been about the many other relationships, mostly during my drinking years, that ended abruptly with finality and without explanation. Sometimes it was me who just walked away, and other times it was I who was left.

What you are about to read is simply the raw emotion that flowed through me one evening as I wrote.

When I was a young man with an out of control life, with nowhere to turn, with no one left who cared, I found you, and you welcomed me and you made me feel loved. I needed you and I depended on you for my very life. You helped me make sense of the madhouse of horrors from which I emerged and you gave me hope for a new life and the courage to make it happen. I needed you then and thankfully you were there for me.

You became my everything, my world, my life, my love and passion. I devoted my time and attention to you. Day by day, month after month, through the years and decades, I was devoted and committed to you. They were good years too. We laughed, we cried, our children grew, our parents died, our friends moved on, we had successes and failures, triumphs and defeats and we shared them all.

We had a language all our own and I knew the words that would make you swoon. I spoke the language of the books, the books we loved so much, the books we read over and over, the books we studied, the books we praised, the books we knew were true. We knew we were good, and we knew we were right because we read the books and we knew the books.

The best book, the Big Book, was the best book of all! We would not and could not speak a word without first reading from that most wonderful of books. The book that told us how it works.

When I spoke the words I learned from the books, I could see that you approved. I could see it in your eyes. You thought you knew me. I thought I knew me, but I was a stranger even to myself. The words I spoke had no meaning because they didn’t belong to me, they belonged to people who lived long ago, and who have been gone long since. Yet day after day, I returned and said those things that you knew I would say, that you expected me to say that I knew you wanted me to say.

Then the day came when I couldn’t do it anymore.

I wouldn’t tell you. I couldn’t tell you, because of the drill, the all-important drill. The drill demanded we pray day and night. Nobody ever went out when they followed the drill. Yet, I stopped and the shoe didn’t drop.

The doubts, the nagging, stubborn, clinging doubts, that I could no longer ignore, eventually took me away from you. My faith was gone and the God I stopped praying to years before was also gone. God, He, Him, Our Father, was dead at long last and I was elated. I was glad that he was gone until I thought about you, and then I became afraid. I was afraid of losing you, but I had to speak the truth.

It was hard because you still spoke from the old books, and I was speaking from my new thoughts. With trepidation I tested the waters, and when I spoke, I saw the disapproval in your eyes. I saw the judgement, and I knew we had grown apart.

You looked at me and sternly spoke at me straight from the book, and you broke my heart.

One day I left. I just up and left and never said goodbye. I was gone for a day, and then a week, then a month and a year. I was no longer with you. Did you notice? You never called me, not once. Did you write me off as one who strayed and was lost, like so many others who just would not or could not grasp our way of life? Do you think about me from time to time? Do you care that I’m gone?

I have a new home now, and I’m happy here. I wish you knew that I was happy here. I wish you cared that I was happy here. Maybe if I had said goodbye, but I didn’t. I never said goodbye.

A few weeks after writing this, I returned to that group and I finally said goodbye. I walked into the room for the first time in several months, feeling a little nervous but not overly so. My sponsor was there, a person I used to sponsor was there, a lot of people who I’ve known for decades were there. Before the meeting started, I chatted with some old friends or at least people I’ve known for a long time. Some asked where I’ve been, others knew and asked how my group was doing. It seemed like pleasant enough conversation, and a few even said they would come to one of our agnostic AA meetings someday.

The meeting started as they always do with the reading “How it Works“. I sometimes feel as if I’ve heard that read a million times, and it once served as sort of a mantra to relax me before the meeting started. However, I now bristle at the words which contradict my beliefs, and indeed seem to contradict AA itself.

“There is one who has all power, that one is God. May you find Him now”. That’s my least favorite line because it’s so authoritative and doesn’t leave much room for people like me.

Next, the Twelve Steps are read, concluded with the all important a,b,c’s: “That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives“. “That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism”. “That God could and would if He were sought”. 

Following the reading of “How it Works“, the meeting leader asked someone to read from Daily Reflections. On this day the reading was taken from November the 14th, “…we ask God for inspiration, an intuitive thought or a decision. We relax and take it easy. We don’t struggle”.

The meeting leader picked someone to start the sharing, and then we went around the room, one person after another sharing their thoughts on the reading.

People of course talked a lot about God and their relationship with him, and all the myriad problems with which he helps them. When it came my turn, I had nothing to say about the reading, but I did have something to say. I needed to say goodbye and I needed to say the words “I don’t believe in God.”, and “I’m an atheist”.

This is what I remember saying:

I came to this group for twenty-five years and I don’t come here anymore because I stopped believing in God. I’m an atheist and I no longer felt comfortable here, so I helped start a new group for agnostics, atheists and freethinkers, and that’s where I now go to meetings, and I’m very happy. I do want to say thank you for my sobriety because this is where I got sober, and I will always be grateful to this group. So, I won’t say goodbye, but I will say “see ya ’round”.

Very few who spoke after me had anything to say in response. Some wished me luck, others seemed to lay the God stuff on heavier than normal, and a few spoke some kind words about me and my contribution over the years to the group.

When the meeting closed with the Lord’s Prayer, I experienced something that I thought was quite odd and discomforting at the time. As everyone stood to pray, and this is not a “hand holding group”, they just stand and pray, most with hands folded and heads bowed.

As they prayed, I  just stood there with my eyes open, looking straight ahead, when out of the corner of my eye, I could feel that someone was staring at me. It’s odd how one can sense such a thing, but I was right. When the prayer concluded, I looked at the person from which the stare came, and he was absolutely glaring at me with frankly a menacing look. At the time, I wrote him off as an ignorant person, and I felt no need to talk to him. I just looked back at him as he glared at me with his hateful look.

Days later, I had a delayed reaction and I got angry about that guy and his menacing look. I realized that he was actually harassing me. He was intentionally letting me know that I wasn’t welcomed there anymore. I considered giving him a call or going back to let him know how I felt, but I thought otherwise.

As it turns out, he actually did me a favor and gave me the closure I needed. He represented everything that drove me away from that group in the first place, and he served as a perfect example of the need for our agnostic meetings, and the necessity of helping educate the rest of the fellowship about the importance of inclusion.

I did the right thing by leaving that group. I’m happy today with my program and my new home group. I must have met a hundred people since helping start this group, people I have come to trust and care about, people who have become friends. At our meetings everyone is free to express their search for, or rejection of spirituality. There is no insistence that we all have the same experience, and nobody will give you a menacing look no matter what you do or say.

We are relaxed and accepting of everyone. You won’t hear a prayer or be asked to pray, nor will you hear the dogmatic reading from “How It Works“. What you will find is humor, love, and the basic core ingredient of Alcoholics Anonymous; people sharing their experience with one another, honestly, openly, and without judgement.

I now have closure.

About the Author, John S.

John S. lives in Kansas City, Missouri with his wife Susan, two cats, Phoebe and Luna, and a very sweet Wheaten Terrier, Gabby. John has been sober since July 20, 1988 and his home group is the We Agnostics Group which has been meeting since August 2014.

This Post Has 27 Comments

  1. Mikey J.

    One of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through in sobriety was losing my home group. What I’ve found though, is that I can go back to that home group and still connect with the people I like. I’m not a part of that group in the social sense, but I’m still a member of the same club. But I’m not there to socialize, I’m there to carry the message to the closeted non-believer who still suffers. I’ve found a way out and I can stay sober without magic. I need the people in AA but there are people in AA that need me too. That’s why I go back to my old stomping grounds occasionally.

  2. Lyle P.

    Thanks so much for the sharing. Ironically – not too perhaps – most appropriate for my experiences over the past few years.

  3. Tommy H

    Very well put, John.  I think it reiterates the fact that we have different needs at different times in our sobriety, and you expressed it very well.

  4. Chris

    Well, you “told my story” as we say. I especially feel the irony of “You never called me, not once.” In a society where perhaps the most common advice is to “pick up the phone”. You tell it better than I ever could. Thank you.

    I still go to a few meetings, sporadically. I’ve met a newcomer to our local half-way house who is an atheist, and we prop each other up. I’ve got a couple of sponsees who didn’t abandon ship when I came out; they have pretty solid sobriety now and we just spend some sober time together once in a while. Other than that, I’m about done with it all.

  5. Lance B.

    I believe your article this morning, John, will be valuable for many people just beginning to open their minds to the truth.  It reassures us that it is frightening to break ties but that it is possible and others have done it successfully.

    In my own case, I’ve disentangled myself from my home group in a more gradual manner.  I started a secular meeting but made it just a 5th weekly meeting of that home group.  The break has not been as abrupt as yours was, and I still go to any of the other four weekly meetings when I feel up to it.

    That is my general feeling nowadays.  I don’t really enjoy those meetings, but I need the interaction with other people.  And our city is so small that I’m the only real non believer at the weekly meeting which will occur at my insistence in another 90 minutes.

    I’ll get there early.  There will be a mess from the previous week’s meetings and I’ll wash a few cups, vacuum the floor and then welcome the other two regulars on Sunday morning.

    Many of my friends in that home group are in church about that time on Sundays so they can honestly say they are otherwise committed.  But some years ago we had a 10AM Sunday meeting which was probably the largest of the week.  So I know it is not the time which is  a problem with attendance.

    I have been disentangled from my sponsor of about 15 years for a few months now and feel a lot of the unease you describe.  He felt I was in danger of losing all connection with my fellows and said he did not think he could do me any good since my beliefs were so counter to his own.  The break was freeing but also frightening.  I do stay at home a lot more and find my own company more comfortable than a groups.  Of course, your company on this website is of considerable help in keeping me sane and sober.

    Thank you for being here, for providing the forum for these discussions and for expressing yourself so clearly on the feelings of separation most of us must have.

  6. Micaela S.

    Great article.  I had a similar experience in AA.  I came into AA a church going God “Believing” Christian.  As the years progressed and my sobriety become more solid I discovered that I was a atheist.   A happy atheist.  It was almost like a gay person coming out of the closet.  I finally exhaled.

    Now I am trying to find an atheist/free thinkers group in my area.  Not much luck yet.  I still go to my regular meetings . I take what I need and leave the rest.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.  It helped me not feel so alone.

    Micaela S.

  7. Thomas B.

    Poignant, moving, heartfelt article, John — Thank You !~!~!

    What I find so perplexing about AA the last 25 or 30 years is how rigid it has become in making sacred the precise words and directions of Big Book, so aptly described by you as “The best book, the Big Book, was the best book of all!” It ranks just a tad-bit behind the biggest and bestest ever of Books, the Christian Bible, in AA meetings throughout much of North America. The intrusion of an evangelic, pietistic brand of  Christian religion, described by Ernie Kurtz as “Akron-style” AA throughout vast regions of North America primarily across the Bible belts of the south, midwest and southwest,  has morphed AA away from our historical tradition of being spiritual, but not religious.

    This weekend I have had the privilege to participate in WACYPAA XIX in Portland, Oregon — the 19th Western Area Conference of Young People in AA. In significant ways it has been as raucous, as unruly, as loud and proud and weird expression of youthful exuberance, as any I participated in during my first decade of recovery in the wild and swinging 1970s. I am most gratefully relieved about this.

    Nevertheless, there is an underlying theme that I find disturbing. In meeting after meeting I heard young people in the prime of both their lives and recovery berate themselves because sometimes they still felt bad due to them not working the steps hard enough. It was as if when they weren’t perfect — always being “happy, joyous and free” — they were doing something wrong, not doing it right enough. They expressed that they had to be at fault, needed to clean their side of the street, had to find their part in it, because they hadn’t worked the steps “precisely” or properly enough for their higher power to grant them the miracle of always being happy, joyous and free. Whenever they feel bad, they come to the conclusion that they must be bad, requiring them to work the steps harder and deeper and better in order to feel good again.

    There is no tolerance for grieving tragedy, for being depressed, for the effects of PTSD and other mental health conditions from which so many of us concomitantly suffer. If we feel bad, it’s our fault and if we work the steps hard and diligently enough, maybe we’ll once again be perfect and feel good again. This is the direct result of the Christian doctrine of Original Sin which taints every human being due to the fall of Adam and Eve, which is a significant feature of the 12-step process. It’s one of the primary reasons why I left my religion and work in service for secular recovery.

    I’m most grateful for the 1998 Judith Voirst book, Necessary Losses, that describes how necessary it is to grieve the natural losses we humans experience in the best of lives, aging, death of friends, urban renewal, etc. etc. etc. This article, John, most effectively describes the necessary loss of your home group. Thanks again.

    1. John S

      Yeah Thomas. I was like that once. Beating myself up with the steps. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I recognized this in other people and realized how I had done the same thing in the past. It’s dangerous. We talk about the steps pretty frequently at our meetings and often I will add a qualifier and say, “the steps are suggested only, you will not be condemned to death and drunkenness if  you don’t do them”.

      It’s nice that I can say that at our group and not be subject to criticism. I’m afraid that in some circles in our fellowship, they would ride me out on a rail for such a statement.

  8. Kit G

    Thank you, John, and thank you other posts, especially Mikey’s. I too feel the sadness and isolation of being different from the accepted norm. Joe C. covers this topic of stigma quite well in his December blog on his Rebellion Dogs website. Please read it if you like and the adjoining TED talk. They are very informative and revealing of our nature. Not necessarily the “exact nature of our wrongs” but our inherent ability, with mutual support, to make meaning out of disappointments.

  9. Bob C

    Thanks so much for the honesty and vulnerability in sharconclusion.

    I once again see the conclusion at work that I have made many times now since I met fundamentalist AA, and later distanced myself from them. The conclusion is this: I still perceive in such powerful agreement about the big book and god, a desperate desire to connect with others in meaningful ways. It just happens the case of fundamentalists, to be framed in an antisocial rhetoric: “Its all about god. But if you don’t buy into that, we won’t let you connect with us. We won’t be your friend. We won’t hep you.”

    Such is the fragility of such positions: they normally cannot even withstand any form of criticism, even from someone who was their friend for 25 years who was being genuine and true to themselves.

    The longer I experience this, the more I am convinced that such people are like all of us alcoholics when we first come in- socially awkward, unsure of ourselves and willing in our weakness to exclude others so that we can feel more connected to members of an in-group. But of course this is one of the lowest forms of socialization and demonstrates just how far alcoholics will go to evade deeply connecting to others. We will create whole systems of belief to serve such dysfunction, rather than transform these traits.

  10. life-j

    John, thanks for this. It brings up a lot of painful stuff.

    I have not left my old home group, because we’re here in a little-bitty town, and therefore our freethinkers meeting was big last week with 4 people, often there is only one, me, and I still believe that that’s too small of a meeting, but I keep going.

    The old home group, however has a bunch of the same problems that yours did, intolerance, bordering on harassment, whenever I speak up honestly, occasionally someone getting up with deliberately loud noises and leaving the meeting.

    I’m doubly sad, because – without the purpose here being me taking credit here, but I can’t help feeling let down – I’m practically the one who built this fellowship.The one who showed up to almost every single meeting, just so there would be one extra body, even the ones I thought should not be started, but some eager newcomer absolutely wanted one more meeting, and the meeting folded a year or two later, as I predicted, but i kept going to those, too, I was the one to open the door if the secretary didn’t show up, i was the treasurer, the one who ordered literature, chips, anything that needed to be done, printed readings, schedules, phone lists. for 10 years I did this.

    Hey it gave me something sober to do, I’m ok, I’m glad i did it all, but I confess my feelings are hurt, can’t help it.

    1. John S

      It’s a weird thing Life. Either they don’t know what they are doing or they just assume that we need to be corrected, that we are somehow off track. It’s the damn dogmatism of AA itself, people just need to loosen up.

  11. joe C

    Great article. AA breeds a false intimacy; people talk like members of the group are like family but out of sight- out of mind. It’s kind of like those high school friends we thought we’d be close to all our lives.  Come back to the meeting and you hear, “I was thinking of you (or worried or I was going to call).” But intimacy is love and love is an action and not a flickering thought.

    It is what it is. We are lucky to have a few rock/solid friendships in life. The rest is fluff.

    I agree you did the right thing. I learned about the importance of goodbye the old fashioned way – it was explained to me in therapy. When I left my home group to start our agnostic group, I went to the business meeting and under new business I thanked everyone, let them know that my time there mattered to me and I was now doing what I thought needed doing, so it was time to say so long.

    1. John S

      Joe, your insight is amazing to me. You are absolutely right, it is a false intimacy. AA is strange in that we get to know each other in a sort of a deep level, but as I look back at my old home group, I wasn’t doing much with those people outside the meeting time. After the first ten years, my life expanded outside of the rooms, very little of my social life was involved with those people.

      Yeah, I knew them for a long time and maybe I knew a lot about them, but AA did for me, I suppose what it was supposed to do, and helped me move beyond those relationships in the rooms and instead build relationships on the outside. The most important of those relationships being my wife, who changed everything for me when I married her in 2006. I don’t think there’s been a day since we’ve been married that she hasn’t made me smile, even on the worst of days.

      So, it’s good to keep things in perspective even with regard to the relationships I have with people in my present home group. One thing though, I can count on from the people at my new group, they aren’t going to give me a hard time about the Lords Prayer, because we don’t say it.

  12. Mikey J.

    huh? What? Did someone say my name?

    1. John S

      Indeed they did. Your podcast was among our most popular episodes. You were great and I was amazed at all the good ideas I got from you.

    2. Christine L.

      Hi Mikey.

      Can you tell me where I can find your blog?

  13. Roger C.

    I really liked this article, John. It is so honest. I had read your earlier one – written before you said goodbye to your home group – and I liked it. But this one is better yet: it is more complete. And I like it even if it brings back very painful memories for me.

    I never said goodbye to a home group. But I was in the room when Intergroup said goodbye to my home group, Beyond Belief, and kicked us off the meeting list. It was ugly, with people storming around the room, and shouting. Quite frankly, it was also one of the very few times in my life that I had been afraid for my physical safety. They felt that banning us from the list would kill our group and our meetings. And some really didn’t care what happened to the alcoholics who attended those meetings. And some – you could hear it in their voices and see it in their faces – wished us the worst.

    Your story – and especially the part about the guy with the menacing look – reminded me of all of that. The fact is that that is the reality within certain parts of our fellowship. As I said earlier I appreciated the honesty in your story today. The truth should be told every once in a while even if it is unpleasant, and hurts. Thanks John.

    1. John S

      Thanks Roger. I can’t imagine how difficult and painful it would be to go through a delisting. I feel a special bond with our Central Office, I actually credit them with saving my life, so if they were ever to tell me that they no longer considered us part of the AA community, would be very painful.

      Going to my former home group was a good reminder that there are plenty of people in AA who don’t welcome hearing our experience, strength and hope honestly shared. They expect us to tiptoe around their version of AA, and to coach our words carefully.

      I rarely attend a so called traditional or orthodox AA meeting anymore. The last few seemed a bit bizarre to me. However, I know that I need to venture out there to make it known that we exist and also so that I can keep in touch with what’s happening out there. I will have to be prepared for the few characters that want to make us uncomfortable, and maybe start calling them on it.

  14. Benn B

    Thank you for your honest sharing John. I have felt many of the same things when dealing with people from my old home group. I have never officially said goodbye, but I no longer attend my old home group on a regular basis. I seem to show up once every few months. Sometimes I worry I over-personalize people’s reactions to my (in my opinion) more personally authentic sharing, but other times I know they are overtly trying to send a message.

    In more traditional AA meetings around here (Lincoln, NE) it generally doesn’t feel very accepted anytime I share something not exactly in line with AA’s “company line.” Any questioning or doubt seems to be viewed as “heading down the path to relapse” or “being unwilling” or “having contempt prior to investigation.” Truth is I have contempt (for some things involving AA) AFTER lots of investigation. I used to see any doubting as a dangerous thing when I viewed it in others. I now see it as a healthy thing in general … I am battling to continue to stay in AA and stay sober and any doubt or questioning I do regarding recovery is helping me to arrive at a more honest and genuine place where my recovery has become more personal and more meaningful in the long run (and thus more likely to continue). If a person was questioning and truly just wanted to justify leaving AA, they wouldn’t even bring up the doubt … they’d just get the heck out. And people do …

    I’d like to think if doubting and questioning were a bit more accepted and not covertly put down by the group think that takes over, more people might stick around and have their own experience to share rather than feeling like they have to have the exact same experience as everyone else (or at least how others make it sound). AA as a whole would be a much richer experience in my opinion and we all would be more connected, more grounded and centered in our own idea of recovery. I could be wrong, but that is my belief. I will always stand up for anyone trying to walk their own path, at a minimum, for this very reason — because I think we all (AA as a whole) will benefit greatly.

    Thank you all for the genuine sharing of your walk in sobriety … as YOU experience it.

    1. John S

      Thank you for the kind remarks Benn. I totally agree that the rigidity and demand for conformity absolutely must stop. I can see some benefit to group dynamics and the feeling of acceptance that comes from feeling as if one “belongs”, but the group can also squash individuality.

      I know that AA in the traditions tries to give as much freedom as possible to the individual, but the dynamic that takes place within the groups themselves has a way of suppressing an individual’s freedom to express his or herself truly freely.

      I sometimes feel as if I have woken up from a dream. I spent decades saying things that I knew would bring me approval from the group, yet then I realized that I didn’t even believe what I was saying any longer, and when I reached that realization, I just couldn’t take it anymore.

      You are right, a lot of people just leave, in fact most people probably leave and those of us who remain in the rooms should stop and ask why and stop blaming the people who leave and dare not to conform.

  15. Scott A.

    Thank You John S., as ever…

    Your article is so poetic, complete with bittersweet melancholy of love lost.

    At our little “Saturday afternoon” aafreethinker Skype meeting we read much of it as fodder for discussion. It so spoke to me that I had to return to complete the “story” and to try to digest some of the “so very much more” multi-faceted comments that your story has inspired here.  Combined with this, “the season of forgiveness and renewal,” I find myself very “stirred.”

    The interest in “saying goodbye”/closure did re-mind me of “the grief recovery handbook,” which I encountered years ago through members of AA. In part, the book speaks to the many things that may have us “hung up” and need closure, long after the fact. Counter balancing this inclination, one attendant of the Skype meeting remarked: “I acknowledge presence a lot more than I need to complete absence.” The challenge of the balance for me is in finding the cord, between denial and wallowing, in pursuit of some healthy and necessary grieving; amending; and, forgiving; all to serve the freedom and release to enjoy the present.

    As “a gaytheist” (as Mikey J. put it), I am eternally struck by the similarities of these shared challenges that reflect a sense of being “all alone in a crowded room.” I imagine that the “skill set” gays develop for “passing” in a straight society may “help” a gaytheist to survive/endure within AA’s dogmatic environs, when others may have (understandably) fled much sooner. I once heard a long sober gay AA’er share that he felt both his sexuality and his dis-ease of alcoholism were afflictions of isolation.  The horrific irony is that in both cases (of gays in a straight society and non-theists within a dogmatic fellowship) the “casting out of the sinner” can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, that eats its own tail in self justification.  There is a line in the pamphlet “a member’s eye view of AA” where the author declares his theory that every human being has a desire to “stand naked” before his fellow human beings and feel acceptance… and… (claims the author)… such a task can begin in AA.

    I often juxtapose: “there is a comfort in the familiar” with “familiarity breeds contempt.”

    In speaking of us (AAe’rs) as being “people who ordinarily would not mix,” the (“bestest evah!”) big book declares (pg. 17) that “The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us. But that in itself would never have held us together as we have now joined. The tremendous fact for every one of us is that we have discovered a common solution. We have a way out on which we can absolutely agree and upon which we can join in brotherly and harmonious action.”

    The devil is in the details as to what exactly is OUR “common solution”? It would seem that your “to-thine-own-self”-non-theistic-truth is a menacing monkey wrench for some in your former brotherly-loving-chorus. As your podcast with the U.K. “Leaving AA” Jon S. remarked… these are interesting times to be in recovery. While I imagine others would be diametrically opposed to it, I found the notion Jon mentioned of blending Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with an AA meeting interesting and perhaps “outside the box.” Ironically such non-dogmatic “honest, open minded, willingness” is, in theory, what we are called to explore.

    Sometimes it is not a bad thing that something has “run its course” (i.e. a business; a relationship; or (even!) a home group). Perhaps it is okay to appreciate what was, take what we need, and move forward (with or without a glance in the rear view mirror).  Where does this road lead?  Time will tell… but here’s wishing us all a sober journey.

    1. John S

      Thank you Scott for those kind and thoughtful comments. It was a good experience to write this, but sharing it with others was even better as it gave me the opportunity to learn from the perspectives of other people.

      I must say, this site has been a rewarding experience thus far and I’m grateful to you and everyone else who participates and makes this possible.

  16. Lindsay K

    John, I enjoyed your article and have had some similar experiences. I too am leaving my home group, not because of the god thing, but because of some other things which are the antithesis of what I believe in as a human being, and how one should behave. So, I understand your unease staying in a group which held, in such high regard no less, tenets which are the antithesis of what you believe and know in your soul. Basically, deal-breaker type stuff.

    My only comment to you is this: some parts of your article come off as having a disparaging tone, as though the people in your former home group are fools living a fool’s life. That they simply don’t know the real “truth,” but that you do, and, therefore, you seem to have a disdain toward them. Aside from the guy who glared at you at the end, who was completely out of line and disgusting, did you ever consider that perhaps they are simply participating in a meeting which includes things which, to them, are truths? Those things are anathema to your belief system, but perhaps they are fundamental to theirs, and, more importantly, the foundation of their sobriety? That perhaps it doesn’t matter WHAT they, or you, or anyone believes, as long as it enables them to live a happy, sober, productive life?

    I am not a god person. I cringe each time my soon-to-be former group says the Lord’s prayer to close a meeting. But that works for them, and I won’t criticize them for it. They have their truths, I have mine. I have the right to leave, as you did. But I don’t have the right, and I don’t believe you do either, to judge them or hold contempt towards them simply for doing an action that works for them. Be happy for you, and for them. We are the lucky ones-the ones who have survived the madness of drinking. The ones who have lived to tell the tale, and to live our lives not in spite of it, but enriched by it.


    1. John S

      Thanks, Lindsay. One thing about writing and publishing one’s work for others to read is those words are frozen forever in time. The essay was written from the emotion that I was feeling at the time and doesn’t necessarily reflect how my thoughts have evolved since that time or how I feel about the situation today.

      Most people at that last meeting were kind, but there was a lot of passive aggressive cross talk aimed so subtly in my direction. In other words, “counter shares.” That’s ultimately what caused me to leave traditional AA. I feel like I can’t be myself. I can’t express the program from my atheistic perspective without getting the rebuttals. So, now I go to secular AA meetings pretty much exclusively. I drop in on AA meetings with the group prayers from time to time, but not often.

      I no longer tolerate the Lord’s Prayer, and those who practice it at an AA meeting which is supposed to be welcoming to all who seek help is downright insensitive and wrong. Say it on your own or say it in church. It doesn’t belong in AA.

      My sentiments about the Big Book are complicated. I come from a background where it was venerated and quoted from frequently. Those who recited a passage from the Big Book received plenty of approving nods from the rest of the group. I went through a phase when I hated the book because people had used it against me. It was weaponized to put me in my place. I found it oppressive.

      I don’t feel like that now so much. I respect the book for what it is. It’s a historical document with the writings of those pioneer AA’s forever frozen in time for us to learn from. I don’t think we need or ought to replicate their experience or hold their words on any higher plane than the words we hear from our contemporaries in meetings today. That was their experience, written in the language of their generation. We need to do the same for our generation.

      I am not judging or holding people in contempt who feel that praying and the Big Book are essential to recovery in AA. I understand that is what they believe and it helps them. However, I also see the dangers to the “get God or die” approach to AA.

      As an atheist living in North America, I have learned to keep most of what I really think about religion and belief to myself. It’s a delicate dance to express how I feel without people becoming offended.

      Anyway, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I hope you visit the site again. There are a lot of great articles here written from the personal experience of a hundred or more different people. And it’s free without any advertising! Can’t beat that!

  17. Christine L


    I really appreciate your article; it was very timely for me. I recently left my home group because of the religiosity of the group and their recent antagonism towards my beliefs.
    Leaving them has left a bittersweet taste in my mouth since this was the group that I turned to when I finally decided to get sober.

    I have known the people in this group for 20 years and I developed a new sense of maturity with them. I developed many friends there and will miss them.

    My intent was to merely walk away from the group but I also have a strong sense of lack of closure.

    I am still debating on how to address this, but you have given me a strong sense of purpose to address the situation head on and say good-bye to the group.

    Thank you again for your heartfelt words and know that you have affected others in the world.

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