By Tom L.—
The gates restricting access into AA are being essentially blown away with explosions in recent years of secular literature, meetings, websites and conferences. Detonations in North America and beyond make this evident as a real movement, a movement that may save AA as a still-viable recovery program in communities worldwide.
The recent “Widening the Gateway” conference in Tacoma, Washington is an example of this revolution.
The Tacoma conference took heart from the preceding “Widening the Gateway” conference of two years earlier. That first regional conference in the Pacific Northwest exceeded its own expectations, drawing participants from around the US and Canada.
Though not necessarily anticipating it becoming a regular event, one attendant that day two years ago had an emotional experience that she hoped could inspire others in a similar event in the future. Willow F, one of the founders of the Many Paths secular meetings in Washington, acted from that profound impact on her to begin planning the Tacoma meeting.
With months in the planning, and the cooperation of other secular groups in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, Willow was impelled to pull off a professionally executed event. Her dedication, and that of the planning committee, was rewarded. More than 90 conference attendees, guest speakers, and a full day of panels and fellowship, attest to a job well done.
Here is what the day looked like:
Widening the Gateway Conference Agenda
Saturday, March 31, 2018
Opening remarks and Keynote Speaker, Ray B: “Building Our Recovery Capital as We Trudge Our Many Pathways of Happy Destiny” [10:00 – 11:00]
Session 1 – Recovery [Three rooms simultaneously – 11:15 – 12:30]
- Spirituality in Unchurched AA
- Evolution of a secular AA group
- The Core of Recovery
Lunch [12:45 – 1:45]
Session 2 – Service [Three rooms simultaneously – 2:00 – 3:15]
- Service, the Newcomer, and our Primary Purpose
- Perspectives on Secular Sponsorship
- Attracting Young People
Break [3:15 – 3:30]
Session 3 – Unity [Three rooms simultaneously – 3:30 – 4:45]
- Our Common Welfare
- Gaining and Retaining Unity
- Al-Anon and Other Voices
Break [4:45 – 5:00]
Wrap Up Comments and Keynote Speaker “My Life in AA: Past, Present and Future” [5:00 – 6:00]
If regional secular conferences and events, though few in number at this stage, occur elsewhere, it could hearten AA members to start their own local meetings. They could plan their own conferences. They could support the international efforts in secular AA already extant. Ambitious as it may seem, these are real possibilities. AA can remain meaningful to those like us who have had a stagnant, stultifying experience in “traditional” AA.
Grateful to AA for our recovery, nonetheless we were bent like steamed wood into something that we were not. We might have feared rejection in our AA community, or being mocked as unable to “get it.” We found others with our experience and wanted to share it.
The first salvos of the secular revolution have more than widened a gateway. They have revivified AA in a way relevant to many of us. As the smoke from the blown gates clears away, the path is indeed wide open.
Tom L. has lived in Washington State for over 20 years. Now retired, he worked and lived all over the world. His retirement gave him the time to dedicate himself to his destruction with alcohol. He accomplished this in 2009, when cirrhosis and apathy put him near death.
Recovery eventually became fairly typical for this inveterate alcoholic, consisting of AA meetings and service. Not as typical, Tom was fired quickly by his first sponsor, dis-invited from his home group, and released into the “wild” where he doubted AA was for him. He didn’t drink without AA, but he tried to find local meetings where he could be accepted.
He looked for a new home group by attending a number of local AA meetings, settling on a very traditional meeting with a format that many of us will recognize: long recitations from the big book, sharing by others that sacralized everything AA, and closing with the Lord’s Prayer.
Tom found others who wanted a non-dogmatic meeting for all wanting recovery, and the first Many Paths meetings were started in King County 11/1/2015. “Open” in every sense of the word, Many Paths welcomes anyone without restriction.