“We’re all Going to Die!”

One of my biggest reservations about getting sober was that I was too young to get sober. I got sober on June 23rd, 2012, which was my 27th birthday. My disease told me that I had a lot more drinking and using to do. I also thought that it was unfair that I’d have to get sober because people like my mom didn’t get sober until they were in their 40s or 50s.

The reality and weight of the situation was that even though I was only 27 years old, I had congestive heart failure, and the doctors said that even if I managed to stay sober, I’d probably die in the next couple years (I SURE SHOWED THEM!). I was also walking around with a damn oxygen tank like a senior citizen, and as you probably guessed, it was pretty embarrassing.

I had to come to terms with the fact that I did to my body in less than 10 years what it takes some people decades to do. What really helped me with this was finding Young People’s Alcoholics Anonymous (YPAA). This helped me see that there were many other people who were my age or even younger who had screwed up their life bad enough that they had to find a new way of living.

I met a young woman there who is still a good friend to this day. She was about my age, but she had eight years sober. This absolutely blew my mind, and it really put things into perspective. At that moment, I realized that this disease of addiction doesn’t care how old you are, and for some of us it can completely take control at a very young age. She’s extremely fortunate to be one of the few people who actually had this type of clarity so early on.

No matter how old you are, I highly suggest you check out your local young people’s scene. I got sober in Fresno, California, and there was a bustling young people’s community for both AA and NA. Not only did they help me see that I wasn’t too young to get sober, but they also helped me realize that you could have fun in sobriety.

I’ll never forget the first YPAA event I went to. I had about a week sober, and they were playing broom ball. There must have been 50 people on an ice skating rink in their shoes playing a weird form of hockey but with broom sticks. They were laughing, falling, looking ridiculous, and I remember that the only thing I could think was, “There’s no way these people aren’t drunk or high right now.” But they were. They taught me that I could actually have fun, laugh and smile in recovery, and that gave me much needed hope.

I also got involved with YPAA at a very exciting time. Fresno had won the bid to be the host for the ACYPAA statewide convention. It’s all everyone talked about from the second I got sober, and I had no clue why everyone was so excited about it. A lot of this had to do with the fact that I was still the miserable newcomer who thought everything was “stupid” and “lame”, so a convention for alcoholics didn’t sound like my idea of a good time.

Boy, was I wrong.

As I write this over five years later, I can’t even express how grateful I am for having the opportunity to attend that conference. This three-day event got me pumped for sobriety, and that’s something I never thought would happen. It was HUGE. Thousands of people from all over the state as well as a ton of people from out of state came to this convention. People of all ages and walks of life came down to celebrate sobriety as well as get a tune-up on their own personal recovery.

This convention sold me on recovery. There were marathon meetings, amazing speakers, workshops and other activities 24-hours a day. It was great too because I could meet new people who were fairly early in recovery and talk about the struggles of being a newcomer while also having others who had some clean time and told me to keep coming back. One of my favorite parts was they had a game room for board games, and my friends and I would sometimes just sit in there for a few hours and meet others from different cities and states. It was a great time, and I’ll never forget it.

Fire and Brimstone AA

As exciting as the conference was, it was like being at an amusement park for three days. There’s definitely times where even though you’re in this fun, exciting atmosphere, you find yourself sitting there thinking, “ALRIGHT! RECOVERY IS AMAZING! I GET IT!”, and you just kind of find something to take up some time. During these times, I’d go into the various marathon meetings just because they were familiar as well as interesting.

There were a few different rooms that were doing marathon meetings, and each one had a different format. One of these rooms was just an open podium meeting where people would just go up there and share, and it was really cool. There were people of all ages at the convention, but it was primarily young people, so I saw even more people my age or younger who were getting sober or staying sober.

In this meeting was an old man who was an old-timer that I had seen at a few meetings before. At one point in the meeting he went up to the podium, and I’m just thinking, “Alright. Cool. Old-timer going to give some great advice to this younger crowd!”

But then he proceeded to speak…

With Big Book clutched in hand, he exclaims, “DON’T LET THEM CHANGE A WORD OF THIS BIG BOOK, OR WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!”

Right then, my eyes got as big as silver dollars, and all I could think was, “Holyyyy shit. What is happening right now?”

He goes on to tell us that there is a group out there (which I’m still not sure if this group actually existed), and he told us that they were trying to change the Big Book. He told all of us that we were Alcoholics Anonymous’ only hope to preserve the program and stop these evil doers from changing the Big Book. He made it VERY clear that if even one word of this book was changed, everyone would die.

I left right after he shared to tell my friends about what happened. I was confused, amused and kind of scared of what just happened. Later, we went back to that same room for a different meeting, and that old man was there again.

He walked up to the podium, Big Book clutched in hand, and he gave the same speech.

Was this guy honestly sitting in this 24-hour marathon meeting and repeating this for every new set of ears and eyes that walked in? To answer your question: YES. This man was there for the entire course of the three-day convention saying this every hour.

Being fairly new, it scared the hell out of me that there might be some illuminati or secret organization trying to destroy Alcoholics Anonymous from the inside. Or was it some big shady corporation trying to change Alcoholics Anonymous, break some traditions and turn a profit?!

Why This is Wrong

The fact is that I was pretty new and had no clue what the hell was going on, and that’s a scary thing. It’s extremely scary to think that an old timer would preach “fire and brimstone” to groups of extremely naïve, ignorant and emotionally weak young people. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs already have to fight the stigma that we’re a cult, so we can’t go around acting like that around groups of people who are fairly new to the program and still getting their feet wet.

Hell, I’m a Big Book thumper. I wasn’t then, but I turned into one. But let’s get real for a second. This happened in 2012. The Big Book that this man was waving around was a 4th edition.

Yes. He was trying to scare people into not changing the Big Book while holding onto the fourth iteration of the book.

Now, some of you are already thinking, “But they didn’t change it THAT much. I can show you the extremely minor changes they made to the book.” I get it. The fact is that it has changed. There have been generations who realized that the book had to change in those small ways in order to help more people.

I’m not sitting here even saying the Big Book needs to be changed. God knows I sure don’t want the responsibility of changing one word and every alcoholic dying as a result (that may be the PTSD from Mr. Fire and Brimstone Old Timer talking). What I’m trying to say is that this way of thinking is hurting people far more than helping people.

With every action we take, we must think of the newcomer and what the newcomer is hearing. Most newcomers not only think we’re a cult, but they also think we’re religious. Although this gentleman didn’t preach scriptures, I am 100% sure that anyone in that room who had resentments towards the church because of growing up in that type of environment had flashbacks. They immediately began associating AA with their old experience.

Remember, this is a program of attraction and not promotion. Using scare tactics doesn’t work. One of the primary reasons it doesn’t work is because newly sober addicts have a problem with fear modulation. Many of us don’t get scared, and we decide we’re going to do something else just to prove you wrong.

The Big Book as well as the Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text sell themselves, so there’s no reason to scare people into not changing it. I’m sure that whenever the next edition comes out, it will be even better than the last.

Plus, we all know that the main problem with newcomers is convincing them to even open it and read the damn thing in the first place.

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