Children of Chaos Alcoholics Anonymous Group
Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings for Atheists, Agnostics and Freethinkers in Austin, Texas
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 P.

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!).

With much gratitude and affection,

Mary D.

March 25, 2012


Shawn M (from AA Toronto Agnostics) says...


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

unconditional love.


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.



anonymous says...


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.


Bruce K (from AA Toronto Agnostics) says...


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.


Thank you Charlie P. You made a difference.




kkash says...


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.



Joe C says...


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.



Todd L says...


Blessings to Charlie and all his kind.




DJ says...


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?”



Nick H says...


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.



John M says...


The tree is known by its fruits!



Kandhi A. says...


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).








Mary D. says...


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....


               to Come to art

              with open Heart—

               to Accept life as is,

                             with full Reality—

                to Live each day

                 with true Integrity,

                       with positive Energy—

i may not have it all down Pat,

   but i’ve seen all this and Other

                      things in you, Learned

       much more than i can Articulate...

          i don’t know how to Convey,

           how to express, you Have

      my gratitude and love Everlasting,

                but i try as best i Can

  and hope, somehow, you Know



the doctor says...


I've known Charlie for 30 years. I was a regular attendee of the original "We Agnostics" meeting in Los Angeles. Charlie and his group saved hundreds of lives.


A typical phone conversation with Charlie went something like this:


ME --- "Hello Charlie, it's Brian!"

CHARLIE --" Well, hello Brian , how are you! ?"

ME --- " I'm doing well are you ?"

CHARLIE --- " Dandy !! Goodby !!"


He never minced words


I'm dandy, Charlie, goodby.




Phil C says...


Charlie's three essential principles derived from AA :

1. unconditional love

2. rigorous honesty

3. consistent responsibility


Charlie's 8 elements of honesty:

1.   Don’t lie.

2.   Don’t cheat.

3.   Don’t steal.

4.   Don’t take advantage of.

5.   Don’t manipulate.

6.   Don’t judge.

7.   No running away.

8.   Don’t harm – physically, mentally, emotionally.


Those who knew him and remember him sharing in meetings will probably recall the resolute tone he used as he enunciated these principles. They were challenges for living a good daily life.



Jerry S says...


Thank you, Charlie!


I had struggled for years trying to reconcile my spiritual beliefs and worldview with

the mainline teachings of the AA program. When I discovered Charlie P. and the We

Agnostics Group he had founded, I felt instant relief and a revitalization of my program.


His pragmatic approach to the AA Program was liberating. The summation of the

program into the three principles of Rigorous Honesty, Consistent Responsibility, and

Unconditional Love made perfect sense. I was finally able to build a program for myself

that is both rational and healing.


Thank you, Charlie.



ornatus says...


I returned to Austin in early November 2007 from a 30-day in-patient stay with no prior

experience with AA. My counselor at the rehab facility had told me how much AA

varied from group to group and he advised me to “shop around” and visit different groups

in Austin until I found meetings where I felt at home. During the first couple of months

back in Austin, I visited various groups but none of them really appealed to me. And

then one day I found Children of Chaos – Freethinkers.


It had become customary for me to arrive early at the AA meetings and park at a strategic

location where I could watch the folks as they walked into the building. After finding

a strategic parking spot, I waited as I watched cars pull up and mostly older gentlemen

made their way into the building. I had my doubts. One car pulled up and an older,

bearded man got out of the passenger side of the vehicle. He needed the help of a cane to

walk and slowly made it to the back door of the Unitarian Church where the AA meetings

were held. David, the driver, opened the door for the older gentleman. That was the first

time that I ever saw Charlie P. It was late 2007 or early 2008.


Through the coming months, I got to know the regular members of Children of Chaos

and marveled at Charlie P’s length of sobriety, insight, and kind nature. I always looked

forward to what he’d have to add at the end of each meeting. After one of the weekly

meetings, Charlie approached me and asked if I would mind giving him a ride to the

Saturday noon meetings at Northland. I agreed to his request and we exchanged contact

information and he gave me his apartment address in north central Austin.


On that Saturday morning, it was easy to find Charlie’s apartment and we made our way

to Northland for the noon meeting. Being with Charlie at Northland made me feel like I

was somehow special. So many folks came up to shake his hand and chat. He insisted

that we sit on the front row near the speaker’s chair, which was never my chosen location

for AA meetings. After the meetings, Charlie asked me if I would mind stopping by the

HEB so he could select a card for his son’s 20th anniversary of sobriety in NA. I told him

that would be fine.


As usual, Charlie had brought along his disabled parking tag so I parked in the closest

parking spot to the front door at HEB. By the time it took me to walk around the back

of the car, Charlie was already headed into HEB and he selected a motorized shopping

cart to his liking. He swiftly backed up the motorized cart without looking behind him,

and proceeded to drive in the wrong direction through one of the checkout aisles. Folks

scrambled to get out of the way of this reckless driver. Charlie seemed not to notice their

surprise and headed directly to the card aisle. We spent a long time looking through

the cards until we found the right one for a 20th birthday and then headed to the back of

the store near the pharmacy to find a couple of large bottles of hydrogen peroxide. We

checked out at the 10-items or less aisle and Charlie haphazardly returned the motorized

cart to its approximate designated location. Charlie seemed to be in his own world as he

navigated his way around the neighborhood HEB.


Charlie was mostly quiet as we drove back to the apartment. And then he turned to me

and asked, “Do you have any questions?” I didn’t know what to say and tried to think of

something of relevance. At the time, I only had a couple of months of sobriety. Finally,

I asked, “Why has it been so easy to not drink?” His answer was “Just consider yourself

lucky!” I did and I do today.

I feel lucky to have had the privilege to be around a fellow human with such insight and

caring. Charlie was one of the most amazing individuals I have ever encountered and I

will always feel lucky for having found the Children of Chaos meetings and one winter’s

day watched an old man with a cane get out of a car and make his way into another AA

meeting in north central Austin.



Nick H. says…


I first met Charlie Polacheck in early 2001 when I was chairing a meeting at the now defunct

Readers Group. At that point Charles was trying to visit every group in the Austin area after

moving here from Los Angeles. The Readers Group had been dying for several months and we

should have shut it down a long time before but I felt there was a need for a group that studied

AA literature so I helped to keep the meeting going long after it should have closed down. Most

of the time the “meeting” would consist of some court ordered miscreant or an opportunity to

read a novel or take a nap. Why I mention the details of this moribund meeting is that my first

meeting with Charlie was an opportunity to be alone with him for a full hour rather than having

to share him with a dozen or more other alcoholics. I can’t really remember all of what we

talked about during that time. We were reading Marty Mann’s Primer on Alcoholism which

Charlie stated was “out of date, irrelevant, and of dubious value” then he began to talk about his

journey into recovery.


Over the next eleven years I have, like all of you, listened to Charlie’s stories about being tricked

into going to his first A.A. meeting, the seemingly obtuse A.A. member who confronted him at

Venice Beach would not take no for an answer and took him to his second meeting, then the next

day meeting the Viennese dialog coach at Venice Beach who informed him that he was his A.A.

sponsor and his surprise when he found out that his new sponsor just happened to be the husband

of his wife’s Al-Anon sponsor. Or the story of the unconventional meeting he attended near the

intersection of Melrose and Swisher that started at around midnight and would end when the last

person spoke, which sometimes would not be until very early in the morning. Charlie would

stay till the end and clean up the ashtrays and coffee pots and make the room look again like the

kindergarten it was during the day, then walk back to his apartment. It was there that Charlie had

one of his first “spiritual experiences”. He stepped off the curb to cross Melrose when he was

struck with the thought, “I just might not be the smartest person in the world.”


Charles told us of how he came to accept the universe as it is, not as he would have it. He told

people how he dealt constructively with the recitation of Matthew Chapter 6, verses 9-12 at the

end of A.A. meetings, by realizing that it was a bonding ritual for the group in which he was

happy to participate. He did not have to believe the words and at the end of the prayer he would

say Omen instead of Amen. He told us about visiting Austin, Texas during the mid-1970’s and

finding the “We Agnostic” AA group that met at Northland and how he borrowed their

format to take back to California to start his own We Agnostics meeting in Hollywood on Sunset




But what was most important to me was Charlie’s serenity. Charlie had the attitude that all

sentences that begin with would have, should have, or could have, need to be struck from

your vocabulary. Acceptance of the universe as it is was his interpretation of the third step.

Through his example and words he has helped other people come closer to that goal of serenity

and the ability to live a life based upon unconditional love, rigorous honesty, and consistent

responsibility. The only way this can be done is through acceptance. And acceptance of the universe as it is precludes the use of would haves, should haves, and could haves.


Even though Charlie and I may have come from much different backgrounds, and had different

theological perspectives, we did agree that the path to A.A. needed to be wide enough to include

all people who had a desire to stop drinking no matter their ability to believe. I owe a great debt

to Charlie which I will repay every time there is a hand reaching out for help. I will look upon

Charlie’s example and have my hand available so that A.A. will always be there. And for that, I

am responsible.


 From DJ in Los Angeles

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 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!



in the midst of a meadow

a skylark singing

free from everything

...Charlie’s favorite haiku

Six hearts encircling an infinity symbol

Charlie will live forever in our hearts.
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