AA's "How It Works" for Everyone

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AA's "How It Works" for Everyone

By Brenda Martinez 10/25/18

Women have had to endure a generic "He" for God all these years. I am not rewriting the Big Book. I am simply asking for a moment to honor my God as a She; for a moment of freedom to express my God as I understand God.

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"Let us NOT, therefore, pressure anyone with our individual or even our collective views. Let us instead accord each other the RESPECT and LOVE that is due to every human being as he tries to make his way TOWARD THE LIGHT." - Bill W.

After attending AA meetings for 12 years, I picked up a coin this month celebrating ten years of continuous sobriety. Throughout my sober years, when asked at meetings to read “How it Works” from the AA Big Book, I sometimes replace "He" with "She" for the word "God." Recently, an old-timer in my AA home group became highly offended when he heard me read my “She” version of "How it Works." My improvisation became such an issue that it was put on the agenda at our home group’s monthly business meeting. A motion was presented to place wording at the top of “How it Works” stating, "Please read as written, do not make changes." After much discussion, members of my home group decided not to make this change to our meeting format. Whew! How interesting! 

As with any issue in recovery, I learned from this experience. I learned that people get offended at meetings! Ha. We can’t please everyone. I mean, I get offended at meetings, but I just accept things and go on. If I do not like the way a meeting is held I move on to another one. "Attraction, not promotion."

Thanks to my messing with pronouns, I find that I am no longer asked to read at AA meetings very often. Yes, the whole Big Book is written in He/Him-antiquated-patriarchal-Bible-form and I accept this. I mean, I got sober underlining everything in red that pertained to me as I worked my first step not caring about the gender terms! I simply did what my sponsor asked me to do. The pronouns were not important at that point. What mattered was that I did and do identify with the men who shared their message. Yet still, today, when asked to read at a meeting, I feel it causes no harm to insert She/Her instead of He/Him for my God. Women have had to endure a generic "He" for God all these years. I am not rewriting the Big Book. I am simply asking for a moment to honor my God as a She; for a moment of freedom to express my God as I understand God. That is all.

Lately I have begun using a gender-neutral term for “God.” Instead of saying “He” or “She,” I simply say “God as we understand God.” For truly, I have experienced God as a spiritual man, as a spiritual woman, and most recently as pure divine spirit, with no gender identity at all. How could GOD be reduced to a He or a She, to a mere sexual form? Hence, my favorite definition of God is "Group Of Drunks." Namaste: "The Drunk in me greets the Drunk in you" (the sober drunk, of course). I see GOD in all of you at meetings! It is my favorite vision! I love you all so much!

I have to remember that “love and tolerance is our code." If an old-timer is offended because I say that I have made a decision to turn "our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Her," umm, hey, imagine what it took for me, a Hindu, and a lesbian, and a woman to read through the patriarchal (with Christian overtones) Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous! I am so, so grateful that my homies love and tolerate me enough to let me be me and accept me for who I am! As the Third Tradition of AA says, “The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.” And Tradition One calls for UNITY. That means members are given the freedom to think, talk and act. No AA can compel another to do anything. Nobody can be punished or expelled. Our traditions repeatedly say, “we ought,” never “you must.”

I have to remember that we are evolving. I believe the AA founders, Bill and Bob, left room for change when they wrote on page 164 of the Big Book: "Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little. God will constantly disclose more to you and to us."

Today, there is a new updated version of "How it Works" created by Hillary J and the Sober Agnostics Group. That alternative to the Big Book text is used at their meeting in Vancouver, BC, Canada. There are also two gender-neutral versions of the Big Book available on Amazon: The EZ Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous Same Message -Simple Language and A Simple Program: A Contemporary Translation of the Book, Alcoholics Anonymous. Neither book was created by AA so neither is designated as “Conference Approved Literature” by the AA General Service Office (GSO). It is important to remember that the term “Conference Approved” has no relation to material not published by GSO. AA does not tell any individual member what they may or may not read. Each group is autonomous and is free to decide what material is read at the group level.

Offending someone at a meeting drove home the point that I’m a drunk, plain and simple. I just want to get and stay sober, that’s all. I learned that I am not the only one who replaces “He” with “She” when reading AA material. Many other people are doing this and changes are being made to the literature. Someday, we may see changes to the first 164 pages of our Big Book.

I have learned that God is beyond gender – and it is comfortable to refer to GOD as simply “God” instead of a He or a She. For me, God is pure divine spirit. Close the eyes. Feel GOD now. Pure Divine Love! God is Love! I love loving God, plain and simple. I love feeling Shiva embracing his beloved Devi in divine union. Sigh, bliss. This breath, here, now. 

I also learned that AA has evolved enough to publish a new pamphlet already approved in British AA called, “The God Word: Agnostics and Atheists in AA.” There is a quote in this pamphlet that Bill W. wrote in 1965 that says: “We have people of nearly every race, culture, and religion. In AA we are supposed to be bound together in the kinship of a common suffering. Consequently, the full individual liberty to practice any creed or principle or therapy whatever should be a first consideration for us all. Let us NOT, therefore, pressure anyone with our individual or even our collective views. Let us instead accord each other the RESPECT and LOVE that is due to every human being as he tries to make his way TOWARD THE LIGHT. Let us always try to be INCLUSIVE rather than EXCLUSIVE; let us remember that each alcoholic among us is a member of AA, so long as he or she declares.”

I love the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. I love that we keep evolving and changing. I love that we get to ask questions. Here’s one more (ha ha): Why do we close some meetings with the Lord’s Prayer? I’ll have more to say about that topic later. That’s enough for today. Peace and love to one and all.

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Brenda Martinez lives in Boise, Idaho, where she lives a life of recovery with 10 years of continuous sobriety, one day at a time. She LOVES serving as a channel for Shiva (and Devi) (The Divine Masculine and The Divine Feminine), she LOVES laughing, she LOVES to LOVE, and she mostly LOVES helping alcoholics recover from the disease of alcoholism, just as one woman once helped her. She has had several articles published in the AA Grapevine magazine beginning in 2009. Follow Brenda on Twitter or Facebook

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