Charlie P. born January 28, 1914 was one of the co-founders of Children of Chaos AA Group. His vision for atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers in Alcoholics Anonymous has been far reaching and long lasting. His sobriety date was September 9, 1970. He began the first We Agnostics Group in Hollywood, CA in 1980. He spoke as the principal speaker for the first special meeting for Atheists and Agnostics at the 1985 AA International in Montreal. When he moved to Austin, TX in 2000 his efforts and inspiration led to the formation of over 11 freethinkers meetings in Austin and his story stands as a tribute to the power of AA and the important role that atheists, agnostics and freethinkers have played in the sobriety of many alcoholics who otherwise might have been left out in the cold. Charlie P. died on February 27, 2012, at the age of 98 after 41 continuous years of sobriety.
Charlie’s Memory Book
1914 - 2012
Charlie’s Memory Book
This little book has been compiled as a gift for Charles Polacheck’s family, to honor his memory.
Charlie was beloved by many, as shown in the stories shared here by a few of his friends. These stories are just a brief glimpse into the many lives touched by Charlie, a generous man who gave of himself in ways that can’t be measured. I’m sure that Charlie’s family is aware of how admired and loved he was, but I wanted to put something together for his family, some tangible token of our esteem.
I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to this collection, and I want to add a very big and personal thanks from me to Charlie’s family because I know he came to Austin to live near his sons, and if Charlie had never moved to Austin, I never would have met him. Having been close to Charlie, I feel that my life has been changed immensely in many wonderful ways. Finally, a special thank you goes to Angela for sharing her photos of Charlie (especially since I didn’t ask for permission—I didn’t think you’d mind, Angela, that I borrowed them from your online files...hope that’s okay!).
I learned tonight that my AA sponsor, Charlie P, passed away in Austin, Texas at the age of 98.
Within recovery communities, one hears much about sponsors. Charlie was both a son of a
gun and a saint. Also, the most spiritual man I have ever encountered. That is really saying
something about a guy who claimed to be a raging atheist (more on that later).
Many years ago I was “meeting shopping” and in the Los Angeles AA Directory I noticed a
meeting called “We Agnostics.” There is a chapter in the AA Big Book titled “We Agnostics.”
In essence, the chapter emphasizes that all drunks come into AA as agnostics and godless
but, over time, they rid themselves of that ridiculous concept and see the path towards a
Higher Power (code speak for the more commonly used word – God). I thought this “We
Agnostics” meeting was either one of two things, a Big Book thumpers meeting or – just maybe
– something more interesting. It was indeed more interesting and was located on Barrington
Avenue in a big old wood home which was part of the Unitarian Fellowship.
My first meeting there truly made me see the unique, complex components that make up the AA
fellowship. This was a group of people that did not subscribe to any notion of canned theology
or cultish adherence to anything besides this: “no matter what” one does not put alcohol
anywhere near the lips or nostrils. Also, if craving or life itself made you feel like jumping out of
your skin, you must pick up the phone and talk with another meeting member. We help each
other ”no matter what.” That was the guiding principle of the LA We Agnostics AA group. Simple concept.
At the end of this meeting an old guy, obviously from NYC, asked me if I was a real alcoholic.
I answered in the affirmative. He handed me a piece of paper that looked like one of the slips
from a fortune cookie. This guy, Charlie, told me to call him sometime and we’d chat about the
Higher Power stuff or anything else about being an alcoholic in the rooms of AA. By the way, the piece of fortune cookie paper he handed me simply said “Charlie” and had a seven digit phone number (he assumed, even then, everyone still lived in the 213 area code). Charlie had brought the AA We Agnostics format to California.
I still have that little slip of paper.
I called Charlie. It was a journey speaking with Charlie. After a month I asked Charlie to sponsor
me and he laid out his ground rules. The criteria were, for me, stern and disciplined. This man
was not into holding my hand.
He was not an easy sponsor. Doing the Steps with Charlie was hardly a warm, pleasant
experience. Brutal in fact. Much better than almost any shrink I had ever encountered and
overwhelmingly wise. That was my first Steps go around. Subsequent redoing of the Steps work
proved simply enlightening with Charlie. It helped keep me sober then and still does now.
As the years passed, I watched Charlie perform countless acts of real kindness – without
an audience. For example: I was at meeting when a deeply disturbed schizophrenic whose
personal hygiene was lacking raised his hand and asked for a meal and a ride to a shelter.
Charlie quietly took the man and led him out the door – and then into his car. Nobody noticed
but me. Not a word was spoken about it. The personal hygiene deficient man kept coming
around and the same routine continued for well over a year. Once he (the lacking-hygiene man)
showed up clean shaven with clean clothes and looking nourished and healthy. Charlie’s doing.
This is but one small example. Charlie gave again and again – without looking for attention. To
him, having acts of kindness witnessed or acknowledged somehow cheapened the act.
He was not merely about the 12th Step but adhering to a life of giving of oneself – always with
Charlie claimed to be a staunch atheist. His heritage was Jewish but unlike many atheistic
Jews, Charlie did not observe the holidays or traditions. That would have been a treasonous
act to Charlie. Yet, in later years, after endless hours discussing the definitions of God from
the perspective of many belief systems and the nature of the universe from a philosophical
stance, Charlie said to me that he had discovered a definition of “God” that he could tolerate.
That power greater than himself was the “E” in the equation “E=mc2.”
That worked for Charlie and I can embrace his logic.
Charlie’s higher purpose and power was the act of loving and all the Energy (the “E” in “E=mc2″ equation) contained throughout the universe (both known and unknown). Charlie gave
unselfishly and saved countless lives. He did not care to keep score. He was a very devoted
loving husband, father, grandfather and great-great-grandfather. Charlie was significant
contributor. He saved lives and reinstalled the ability to experience joy into many hearts. He was
a holy man.
Charlie had a good run. A life worth living and I am forever grateful to have known this man.
In honor of Charlie, let’s never forget the “no matter what” principle of the Los Angeles We
Agnostics. My salute and love to Charlie P.
Charlie P, AA founder of “We Agnostics” in Los Angeles, California in 1978 and in Austin, Texas in 2001, passed away on February 27, 2012, after a year of failing health. He was 98 years old and had 41 years of sobriety in AA. He remained active in the program, holding AA meetings at his bedside and receiving AA visitors up to the last week of his life. He dedicated his life to helping others achieve sobriety, sponsoring hundreds to find a new way of living without alcohol.
My life is infinitely richer having known and loved Charlie P.
He made a huge difference in my life, and the lives of countless others. He taught us the true meaning of living rigorously honest, consistently responsible, and unconditionally loving lives. And this very public atheist was truly one of the happiest and most spiritual people I’ve ever known. Those of us fortunate enough to have known him will carry little bits of Charlie’s message and love with us, and we’ll pass it on to others so that they also can also benefit from Charlie’s experience, strength and hope.
Charlie. My friend. He lived the richest life of anyone I have ever known. He was brilliant, always cheerful, adored by his family, admired by his friends. Charlie shared his secret to living well often and it was this: “To live well, practice these principles – rigorous honesty, unconditional love, and consistent responsibility.” He was legit.
Another great contribution to present day and future alcoholics. AA could use more brick layers and fewer architects – Charlie was both of course but his story teaches me to focus on the brick laying and the architecture will take care of itself.
I am grateful for Charlie’s work. It reminds me of another long-time member of AA: 50+ years of sobriety, had once bought a mini-van so she could drive more women to meetings, a weekly church-goer (ok, so not exactly like Charlie), and open-minded. As she follows the proceedings at Toronto Intergroup (i.e., the de-listing of agnostic groups) she just sighs and asks, “Why must we put more barriers in front of the alcoholic?”
I met Charlie Polacheck when he moved to Austin in 2000. He also handed me one of his pieces of paper with his name and phone number. During his last 12 years in Austin he became an icon (as it were) of the AA community in Austin and was loved by many all along the belief continuum. Through his influence the number of freethinkers meetings in Austin went from 0 to 6 per week. He has directly and indirectly helped and his legacy continues to help many people who would normally have walked away from a less tolerant AA.
i was a friend of charlie's from 2000. i would pick him up for meetings and coffee outings.
i learned consistent responsibility, rigorous honesty, and unconditional love from charlie, along with so many other tools for living well.
once charlie and i were having coffee at la madeleine. he was re-reading proust at the time so he was telling me the famous story of the madeleine. when he stopped talking, people at a nearby table asked him to continue. he had the whole room into proust. (he was hard-of-hearing so spoke a little loudly).
I met Charlie through AA, but our friendship soon went far beyond the group. I called him “my adopted grandfather,” but just like calling him “my sponsor,” this barely begins to describe our relationship.
When I met Charlie, I was dealing with a lot of difficult memories and emotions as a result of my mother’s death after her battle with Alzheimer’s. I had become aware that I needed to change my attitude about old age so that it wasn’t something I feared and dreaded, and Charlie’s arrival in my life was exactly what I needed, when I needed it. Of course, Charlie helped me by just being himself, but he also listened to me with never-ending patience and kindness while I grieved, always sharing his love and wisdom to ease my pain. I don’t know what I would have done without him to help me through that difficult experience. Here’s a very strange coincidence: My mother died on February 27, the same day Charlie died (but eleven years earlier). I’m not sure what that means, but as my mother used to say, “It’s a sign.”
Charlie didn’t just offer love and moral support through hard times and difficult emotions, though he definitely did that; he was also a trusted and trusting confidant and a fun-loving companion. We regularly shared breakfasts, dinners, and lunches and went shopping together, went to museums, movies, plays together...we even went to a nightclub to listen to a jazz band a couple of times.
One sunny Sunday afternoon, before I learned that Charlie wasn’t much of an outdoors kind of guy, we went to a park together. The day we went to the park, as we were walking back to my car, Charlie was shuffling along, watching the ground and where he placed his cane. I noticed a low hanging tree branch and saw he was headed right for it and was going to get smacked in the head, so I motioned to it and told him, “Watch out for the tree branch.” He nodded and moved over a step or two to avoid the branch. We kept walking, Charlie watching the ground and me looking up, and soon Charlie used his cane to motion to the ground a few steps ahead of me. He told me, “Watch out for the dog turd.” Charlie and I watched out for each other.
I feel very fortunate to have seen Charlie the day before he died. I gave him spoonfuls of water and was grateful to be able to help him be a little more comfortable. Maria (one of his attendants) was there, and she told me how attached she’d become to him, that he was strong-willed but at the same time very caring and warm. He had told me during an earlier visit how much love he felt from everyone who worked at Paradise Court and how fortunate he felt to be somewhere with people who took good care of him.
For his birthday a couple of years ago I wrote Charlie a poem, but I was too embarrassed to give it to him when we went to dinner because it was not a good poem. I knew Charlie was very well read and had refined tastes when it came to art, music, and literature. However, a few days later, I plucked up my courage and gave him the poem, feeling nervous and shy. When he finished reading it, he laughed (the last two lines of the poem were a rather lame attempt at a joke), and I said, “It’s terrible, isn’t it?” He said, “I think it’s terrific!” and then we talked about another poem he liked that had a theme similar to mine. I’m so happy I gave him that poem in spite of my fears (and that was one thing Charlie always said, wasn’t it?, that we should do things that we’re afraid to do). More recently, I wrote him another poem and gave it to him, and I’d like to share it here....
I was 6 days clean and sober - possibly on my way to 'Friendly House' - and at a We Agnostics Friday night meeting, in Silver Lake - that Charlie took me to, from the detox house that Bea J. got me to.
And Charlie, the one and only Charlie Polacheck - who picked me up for meetings,
2 - 3 times a week, while I was still shit-faced! And he did that - for me - for an entire year!
And then - he took me under his wing and I became NOT just another baby (sponsee - today),
but like a daughter (and I had lost my own father in 1975). This was 1983. AND, Charlie, actually was very much like my Dad! They even looked alike! Every holiday, Jean and Charlie had me in their home for dinner and fun! And boy! He was a fantastic cook! And, just as an aside, I was (am?) Jewish too! And on THOSE Jewish Holidays, Charlie would sit at The Head of The Table, and read from The Torah (in English)! He did THAT - for Jean! He could NOT have cared less about
celebrating Passover or Rosh Hashonah! And - his turkey with stuffing, on Thanksgiving.........was truly 'to die for'!!!!!
He was the most loving man I had EVER met (next to my Dad), and also - the most brilliant (like my Dad)!
AND his love of The Arts - just added more and more - for me! My Dad was like that too!
AND - I am an artist myself.........a writer, a composer, and a piano player, who became a piano teacher in 1983!!! And, finally, ME as my own boss!!!!! I remember the first time - MY DEBUT - at UCLA (with an audience of 100 people), playing a piece of music I wrote myself! This was a small, but special recital - for composers only! OMG - I was SOOO nervous, my fingers were ACTUALLY shaking on the keys.....BUT! I didn't make one mistake! When I was finished, I sat down in the audience, not being the only performer, and I was waiting.........on Charlie's reaction - which was, "That was good! Now go home and write some more!"
That had been my very first musical composition! I had always known there was a composer,
inside of myself - BUT! Drugs and booze kept me away from music - for a VERY long time!
I had started playing the piano at 7, but at 16 - when drugs came into my life..........it wasn't long before the piano and my playing..................just slowly vanished. I didn't start playing again 'til I was 7 years clean! That's approximately 27/28 years!