Why You Must Go to Austin

By John S.

If you attended the first We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers International AA Convention in 2014, then you are one of some three hundred people who experienced a very special and unique event. I would even say it was an historic event. I arrived late on Friday night, the first night of the conference and I missed the fellowship speakers. When I made my way over to the church, I was in time for the business meeting. I knew nobody other than Dorothy H. and my friend R.J., yet I didn’t really feel that I was among strangers. I immediately felt at home.

At that meeting, it was decided to add “Atheists” to the name of the conference, changing it from We Agnostics and Freethinkers International AA Convention to We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers International AA ConventionI was happy with the change since I identify as an atheist, and it was certainly in the spirit of widening the gateway. People were happy at that business meeting. It was peaceful and people were polite and deferential, and there was an air of excitement in the room that I just can’t explain. I think we all felt that we were in a special place and time.

Never have I attended an AA  Convention like this. It was like AA was brand new. We had workshops on how to start new meetings, and it seemed that I would almost always run into someone who had either started a meeting or was going to start one when they returned home. The speakers were amazing, we had the General Manager of the General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous and a former Non-Alcoholic Trustee of the General Service Board. I was blown away by these speakers as was the rest of the crowd— all of them received standing ovations and very warm applause.

At the time, I was still young in my journey as an atheist in AA and I was still trying to find my way. It was helpful for me to meet people with such a varied experience, and such interesting perspectives on the program. This was all totally new to me and I know there were others there just like me.

When I returned home, I stayed in touch with people I met in Santa Monica, and I’m still connected with those people today. My how they have changed my life! Prior to Santa Monica, my AA world was contained pretty much within the borders of Missouri and Kansas. Now my AA world has expanded to the point where there are no borders.

Had you told me in November of 2014, that I would be operating a website, hosting a podcast, and helping to create an organization to support secular people in recovery, I would have thought you crazy. Yet that’s my life today! I honestly can’t think of any other AA event that has had as much an impact on my life as did the We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers International AA Convention.

If there were three hundred people at the convention in Santa Monica, I would bet that we will double that number in Austin. In 2014, I was the only person from Missouri at the convention. In 2016, I bet we could have about 10 or 15 from Kansas City. Now, imagine that experience replicated in other cities. That’s a movement!

You absolutely must find a way to get to Austin and attend this convention. You will reconnect with old friends and make new friends. You will feel more connected to the fellowship, and you will be inspired to do the hard work necessary to ensure that AA becomes ever more inclusive, tolerant, and available for all.

I hope you attend. I look forward to seeing you

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Benn B

    I really enjoyed the first convention. It truly was unlike anything AA-related I had ever attended. AA felt fresh and new and it was freeing to be around other people who thought similarly to how I thought and had many of the same concerns I’d found myself having. In traditional AA meetings I would sometimes feel like I was kind of insane thinking some of the stuff I was hearing seemed a bit unhealthy. I found out I was not alone. We have the permission to have our own beliefs (and non-beliefs about recovery/AA/sobriety) about how to do this deal from Bill Wilson himself’s mouth. It was nice to have that reaffirmed in the presence of so many other travelers on this sober path. It can be really easy for me to feel lonely as a non-theistic alcoholic, but the convention opened up a new world to me.

    Most AA events are not that fun to me to be honest. There is a rare meeting where I am not ready for it to be over after an hour. Now that I attend some non-theistic meetings I find myself not wanting them to end at times. The entire convention in Santa Monica was a breath of fresh air. It felt nice to be able to express myself freely and have authentic conversations in workshops and on panels. People were friendly and open and welcoming. Yes, there were a few debates but people did so respectfully.

    Many conference workshops in traditional AA conferences feel like education classes and are very dry and terminally serious. The was a lightness to the workshops in Santa Monica. A ton of heart and humanness, less rigidity and dogma. I’ve said enough. I also encourage everyone to attend. My nephew and I went to Santa Monica not knowing what to expect and thinking we might be 2 of 50 people and wondering why we wasted our money and time traveling. I left feeling refreshed and rejuvenated and re-inspired in my sobriety. I left with a lot of new friends and I met several other people in my area that I didn’t know prior.

    Looking forward to meeting many more of you in person this year!

    1. John S

      Yep, and I first met you in Santa Monica and here were are all this time later. That’s what blows me away. There will be a lot of people in Austin who are new to secular AA. I truly think that it’s simply the energy of us all being together in one place that makes it special. The speakers, workshops, panels don’t make the convention. It’s the people who make the convention. It’s the friendships made between panels and speakers. It’s the people gathered around talking about starting a meeting.

  2. Victoria R ('Vic')

    Hi , from all the way over in Australia. I can’t begin to tell you how critical AA Beyond Belief and Agnostica have been in helping me to keep coming back to my local and mostly traditional (Melbourne) AA meetings. My recovery efforts in AA (multiple relapses and rehabs, two – nearly 3 – sponsors, and Steps work, etc) have played out in a gargantuan struggle over the past four years in particular.

    We have only one agnostic meeting in this State – and indeed, the whole of Australia – despite Australia being quite a bit less a religiously-oriented society compared with the US, AA’s Mother Lode :-). Unfortunately, health problems prevent me from going to it, although I did make it to the first one or two meetings back in early 2014.

    The last half of that year, as it panned out recovery-wise, was – so I’d hoped – going to be a real turning point: I planned my first ever trip to the States to join in the first WAAFT IAAC convention in Santa Monica. But as the months of such planning, I realised that I wasn’t really ready to take on such a huge undertaking, alone, and in such early sobriety. No, I didn’t rely on trusting God for that intuition 🙂 : I relied on what I’d learned in rehab, the rooms, and my extensive readings about recovery.

    Just as I was coming to accept this fact, very begrudgingly – my sister took her own life, literally a day or so after the Santa Monica convention had wound up. She was a devoted, continuously clean member of NA for close to 25 years. I fell apart, badly, beginning a few days after the news of her death, ending up in a long and hideous relapse for nearly seven months of 2015. After another five week relapse again early this year, I’m back on the horse – as before, always in AA, with weekly dual-diagnosis rehab group and visits to my doctor.

    The materials and discussions here and over at Agnostica are what keep me coming back, and I believe, help to keep me (relatively) sane in AA. I would dearly love to try again to travel to this year’s Convention….but will have to just truck along, a day at a time and practice letting go of the outcome whichever way it swings. So I just want to say that I’ll be there with you guys and gals, in one form or t’other: in person, as I’d love to meet you all…or else keeping up the good work of recovery in a virtual sense. It’s pretty lonely at times, not having more accessible secular meetings, that’s for sure. But I don’t feel so alone when I check in here and Agnostica at least weekly or more.

    Please know that what you’re all doing gives me great hope for newcomers to AA. ‘Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly..’, seems apt when applied to secular AA’s growth, as well as our own individual journeys. Nice irony, there 🙂

    1. Victoria R ('Vic')

      Just had a thought, which the planning committee may or may not have considered: it is possible / viable to run ‘live’ podcasts of each session so that those of us who can’t be there in Austin can enjoy the spirit of it all? If not in real time, then maybe posted a few hours afterwards online? It would be such a help!

      Warm regards again,


      1. John S

        LOL.. You just read my mind. Yes, I do plan on podcasting from the convention. There is no way anyone can stop me. I will probably be walking around all the time with a microphone asking people to chat. 🙂

        1. Victoria R ('Vic')

          Thanks so much for sharing that very important part of your story, John. Wow……I knew only a little, from just this Sunday a.m., listening to you and Benn discussing Steps 1 and 2, and halfway through 3. I nod my head at pretty much all of it – including the skewering of the many weird / inconsistent / downright antiquated stuff at times: love it. Scratches right where I tend to itch with dear old AA discourse 🙂

          Very good to hear you’ll do some poddies. Full sessions and / or speakers would also be terrific if technically / financially possible.

          Warm regards


    2. John S

      Thank you Vic. I was very moved by what you wrote. It has now been many decades when a few days after my 21st birthday, my mother took her life. I stayed drunk for five years during which time, I had more overnight stays in jail than I can count, and all the result of not being able to stop drinking once I start. It was a hard life.

      I’ve been sober now for more than 27 years, and I no longer have to worry about being locked up, even if only for a night. I wouldn’t trade this freedom for anything.

      I’m very grateful to you for posting your comment and for passing on what this site and AA Agnostica mean to you. That makes everything worthwhile. There are many, many people who make AA Beyond Belief possible. There is our Chief Editor Doris, our editors Bob, Thomas, John and Mary, the many authors who contribute, and the hundreds of people who read and listen and post their comments.

      This has become like a huge AA meeting without the constraints of borders and time, just fellow alcoholics sharing their experience with one another. What an amazing experience!

      I hope you can make it to Austin, but if not I do plan on recording some some podcast interviews with people who attend, and I will post them here for you and others so as to allow you to experience the atmosphere as much as possible.

      So, I send to you my very best wishes, as you continue to trudge this road to happy destiny.

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