TJ Dudeman is a Member of Secular AA in Nashville, Tennessee. Here we talk about secular AA, his background, and more.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was family and personal background regarding geography, culture, language, religion or lack thereof, and so on?
TJ Dudeman: I was born in a small town to a mother who had moved from small town to small town. My grandmother was a devout Christian woman who practiced Pentecostalism. Growing up I was exposed to a lot of different cultures and religions. My mother having had a rough upbringing wanted to provide different ideas and opportunities for her children, so she exposed us to a lot of different ideas. She was married when I was around 8 or 9, and we converted to Catholicism. We eventually left the church when the big molestation scandals came out in the late 90s. In my teenage years I began practicing Pentecostalism like my grandmother, but there was always this lack of commitment to the religion for me. Later I came to realize that it was because I didn’t have that belief that those around me did, but at the time I self-flagellated, thinking it was because I was a dirty sinner. As far as my familial environment, I have a lot of what we refer to as “rednecks” in my family, and although that was our family’s basic identity my mother always tried to provide us with a way out of that set of ideas. It was only within recent years, when I came out to my family that I was an atheist, that my mother told the family that she was too, and that she never wanted to force that on any of us, and she wanted us to make our own decisions.
Jacobsen: How did this impact outlook on life?
Dudeman: My outlook on life was skewed to say the least. Religion taught me to hate my basic human nature. And I believe that those religious views fed into my self-hatred and drug and alcohol use. I remember times being so afraid of what god was going to do to me, that using drugs and alcohol were the only means I had at the time to anesthetize that fear. I couldn’t have sex without some sort of guilt and working through the AA program was extremely difficult. I would say I have recovered from many of those false ideas today, but the process to get there was one of the most difficult experiences I have undertaken. I was actually very lucky, because I got sober in a small town, and my sponsor was the one of only 2 atheists in what felt like the entire state. He has been a major role model for me in letting go a lot of my self-hatred and guiding me in this recovery process in a way where I could be true to myself.
Jacobsen: How did you become a part of the Secular AA community?
Dudeman: My sobriety story doesn’t have as much zing as many others. My mother and father had exposed me to AA as a child, due to both of their own addiction issues. My father has 28 years sober, and my mother bounced in and out of the rooms of AA for most of my life. My mother got sober this time about 2 months before me, and she remains sober to this day. For me, the long line of destructive behavior led me to a strange epiphany. I always had a tendency for destructive drinking. Ever since my first drink I remember being completely taken by the drink and being a chaotic and troubled drunk. One morning around 6 am, I woke up in the parking lot of me and my now ex-wife’s apartment complex, my truck was still running, I was covered in my own piss and had about 20 missed calls from my ex-wife. Compared to many of the scenarios that had come before, this was probably the most innocuous. But it hit me harder than anything else. I just realized I could not live like that anymore. This was 2 days before my birthday and my mother and sister ended up coming into town that night and both had gotten sober about a month or so before. They begged me to try staying sober for a while. I obliged and remain sober to this day. I fought going to AA for a while though. I think I was sober for almost 2 months before I went to my first meeting. I just didn’t want to deal with all the dogma, and from my experiences with my parents, and having been forced to go there by courts, I had a sour taste in my mouth. But I gave it a shot eventually, and if it weren’t for my sponsor, and another intelligent man who was an atheist I don’t think I would’ve made it. See, for me I went into the program still afraid of my religious identity. I didn’t want to admit I may not believe. I was truly terrified, and the constant god talk on exacerbated my self-hatred and irrational fear of god. It was only through working through AA the way that my sponsor taught me, that I came to terms with my lack of faith and found the freedom to embrace my identity. I am so thankful for that experience, and hence why I am so passionate about approaching AA as its supposed to truly be worked. Eventually I found myself growing tired of the dogma in the AA rooms and was referred to some websites. One called AA Agnostica and the other called AA Beyond Belief. I ended up going to some secular meetings in Dayton, Ohio and Dublin, Ohio. From then I knew I wanted to get my own meeting started but it was never the right time. I then moved to Toledo, Ohio and after being run out of a bunch of meetings, I decided the time was right. I started a meeting and to this day it still is growing strong.
Jacobsen: What takes place at the Nashville, Tennessee, Secular AA group?
Dudeman: Well, the Secular AA meeting in Nashville is just now starting again. When I first moved here it was closed, and I called and spoke with the gentleman who started it to try and see what we could do about getting it started again. We are still working together to get it the way he sees it. This is not my first meeting startup though. Before I moved away from Toledo Ohio, I started a meeting for the secular crowd called AA Beyond Belief. When it first started, it was about 6 people. We would read a few groups approved readings and have an open discussion meeting. We try hard not to center the meetings around god and our lack thereof. Sometimes it feels like secular meetings can talk more about god than anyone else. But we worked hard to develop an environment of inclusion and acceptance. When I left we were running 30 people a week, and from what I hear from my mother the group runs much higher than that. The whole purpose was to provide a safe space for addicts and alcoholics to come and talk about their recovery without having to be fake, or without being accosted by other members for not working the program in a way that is not true to who they are.
Jacobsen: How does this community of likeminded people provide a healthy basis for recovery?
Dudeman: One of the first messages that rang true to me was “To thine own self be true”. And that is the premise by which all the meetings I’ve ever had a hand in cultivating stand on. We want to create and environment where the addicted person can be open and honest about who they are, what its like, and what’s happening in there lives. We strive to do this in an environment where they don’t have to wrestle with unnecessary arguments. I’ve never found it conducive to tell an addict that before he can find a way to stay sober he has to answer one of the greatest debates in the universe. I don’t believe in a god. And there are many others among us who do not. But that’s not the whole point here. By providing a secular means of recovery, that person can focus on their recovery, and answer their spiritual questions on their own time by their own means. Its none of my business what you believe, and I’m only here to assist you in the recovery process. That’s it.
Jacobsen: What is included in Secular AA and not provided at more spiritual, higher power, and religious AAs? Also, what is included in the more spiritual, higher power, and religious AAs than the Secular AAs?
Dudeman: In Secular AA we strive to provide safe environments for those who do not believe in a god. All are welcome, but by removing the god aspect, it allows for more people to feel comfortable in speaking openly about their recovery. I cannot tell you how many times I have laid my heart on the line in the mainstream god believing meetings, only to be met with harsh criticism for my lack of faith, instead of providing support in my recovery. I’ve never once watched someone be torn down like that in a secular meeting. Even the believers I’ve seen at this meeting have been welcomed with open arms. That just doesn’t happen in higher power AA. I have been run out of higher power believing AA meetings than I can count. Its truly disturbing.
Jacobsen: How can people become involved in Secular AA in Tennessee?
Dudeman: Just show up to a meeting. That’s it. You’re part of the team.
Jacobsen: How can donations and professional networks, and organizational support, help with the flourishing of the Secular AA communities and groups?
Dudeman: I really don’t know. I have always been one who believed in attraction rather than promotion. And to be honest, outside of some of the internet pages I’ve seen, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything about secular aa anywhere I’ve been. Most of the time the central AA offices refuse to even list us. So, I think trying to provide material to people in recovery houses and treatment centers would be beneficial. Inmates would benefit. But outside of that I’m not sure. Id be willing to assist in any way I could though.
Jacobsen: Any recommended books or speakers?
Dudeman: Book: Beyond Belief, Agnostic musings for 12 step life.
Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings conclusion?
Dudeman: Being involved in starting 2 meetings in different parts of the country has been a serious challenge in my life. But I’ve also found that long term no matter how poorly I thought these meetings were going to do, there ended up being a significant population that needed what was being provided. So, for me, I believe my conclusion, is that as a group, we agnostics and atheists must keep working together to impact the recovery community. I don’t know if I would’ve stayed sober without the guidance of secular men and women. And I want to provide that same hand to the next sick and suffering alcoholic. We all have an obligation to carry that message. And I look forward to watching more atheists and agnostics come out of the shadows of AA and change the face of this program.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, TJ.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.
Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.