Qualities of Recovery

Fortunately for me only a bare minimum of honesty, open-mindedness and willingness is required to make a start in sobriety. I don’t really have to be honest, I just have to have the capacity to be honest. If I can say, "my name is Jeff, and I’m an alcoholic" and mean it, I probably have the capacity. Our program doesn’t require me to believe anything. I can take what feels right and leave the rest. So what is there to be close minded about? And all I have to do to demonstrate my willingness is show up at a few meetings each week, drink coffee and laugh at the newcomers’ solutions; talk to my sponsor about my favorite subject -- me; and offer mostly parroted advice to people with less time than me. Seen in this light, I need to stop patting myself on the back for sobriety. It’s nothing I did anyways.

There is one more indispensable quality I would add to the list -- compassion. It’s strange that I can’t find mention of this word anywhere in the Big Book, yet it is critical to my recovery that I learn to care about others. I learn compassion when I connect with you through the shared pain, confusion and anger of our disease. I know what you’ve been through because I’ve been there too. As the saying goes, I’ve walked a mile in your moccasins. Compassion for others melts away my self-centeredness and asks "how can I help?" rather than "what can you do for me?"

I didn’t start out with a bucket full of any of these qualities, but I believe I am more honest, more open-minded, more willing and more compassionate than I was when I walked into my first meeting fifteen years ago today. I consider myself recovered from "a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body," but I also recognize that I am a long way from being fully restored to spiritual sanity of Step Two. I'm no longer hopeless, but I'm not fully recovered either. I guess I'm right on schedule as my first sponsor would say.

As the voice of self hate continues to die down, I am beginning to hear another voice gently reminding me that my sobriety is a precious gift. I fully express my gratitude for this gift by being of service both in and out of the rooms and by continuing to hack away at all my old ideas, beliefs, and attitudes that separate me from you, from the rest of humanity and from God. If I had to guess, I would say that this is the work I was sent here to do.

Living Inside Out

In my journey before AA I lived almost entirely from the outside-in. I got totally sucked into the idea that my good would only come to me if I were successful in the world. I entered the maze and began the frantic search for the golden cheese. I strove to get ahead, to achieve, to win at all costs. Today I know that it wasn’t money, power or prestige that I searched for, but the holy grail of self-acceptance.

I achieved a measure of worldly success that felt good for a while but it was never enough. There was always the next mountain to climb. As the years went by, I became increasingly disillusioned and cynical. Toward the end of my drinking my life was so heavy, I had trouble finding the energy to show up. It was in this state, at age 47, that I was graced with a moment of clarity that pierced the walls of my denial. I was allowed to see the truth about what I had become. I was not a vision for you.

The doors to AA swung open to greet me. In a very real way AA reconnected me with life itself. I worked the steps and began to strip away the "old ideas" that blocked me from my Higher Power. I got into the habit of spending some quiet time each morning listening to my internal guidance system. I am learning to be of service both in and out of the rooms. Today I know that the good I had been struggling to find was right inside of me the whole time.

Unlike the painful struggle of my life prior to AA, I’ve noticed that the "right" things for me seem require almost no effort. Almost 12 years ago, unemployed again at age 50, I faxed just one resume overseas and two months later I was working in Shanghai, China. Thus began a wonderful adventure. I have had the chance to resurrect my career and provide for a reasonably secure financial future. A few months after my arrival I met a beautiful young Chinese woman. We celebrate our ten year anniversary next month. Because of a lack of AA’s here with time, I’ve had great opportunities to sponsor I wouldn’t have had back in the US. Some of those men are now sponsoring other men.

I have no idea if my Higher Power sent me to China to work, to marry, or to sponsor. Maybe it is all three or maybe it wasn’t for any of these reasons. All I know is that it certainly had nothing to do with any plan I made. Left to my own devices I’d still be running through the maze afraid that all the cheese would be gone by the time I got there.


I had a year or so of weekly piano lessons when I was a kid but today I can’t play a single tune – not even chopsticks. Practicing spiritual principles in AA is just like practicing the piano. If I don’t practice what I am learning, the tiny light that was awakened inside of me will die out. If that happens, I’m right back to my darkened, dirty apartment with only my bottle of wine, bag of pot and remote control to keep me company. If I want my life to be a beautiful melody instead of a dissonant nightmare I have to practice.

A few years ago, I came upon a twenty-four hour practice plan. It is to show up, pay attention, do the next right thing, stay out of results and be grateful. This plan has served me well.

I show up by living in the present moment with the willingness to do what is suggested. I pay attention by getting quiet and listening for the still small voice inside me. I do the next right thing by following the guidance I receive, even if I don’t want to. I let go of results by not having any expectation of how my actions will turn out. I practice an attitude of gratitude by being aware of all the blessings I receive each day. Of course I don’t do any of this perfectly, far from it. But if my life gets wobbly, I can look at this plan and quickly see where I need more practice.

I am coming to believe that every human is given a unique gift. The gift is using our God given creativity to express love. Each of us expresses differently. I find my unique expression of love by practicing the principles in all my affairs. God does the rest.


I heard that trying to get spiritual is like standing in water up to my neck trying to get wet. I cannot get spiritual because I already am. I often forget this simple fact. When I go through my day remembering that I am a spiritual being I am able to see the world from a whole different perspective. Then it’s much easier to connect with others as human beings, not because they have something I need or want.

I came to Alcoholics Anonymous mired in judgment, cynicism and negativity. Today, I am more often able to see that the world is perfect exactly the way it is and that you and I are OK too. I can still get so caught up in my stuff, that I miss the beauty that surrounds me. But at least I know it is there if I am willing to look.

Today I realize sooner rather than later that I am trying to run my own life. I have become more sensitive to self-inflicted suffering. A few years ago the adrenaline rush of self righteous anger used to feel good. Today it doesn’t. After my sobriety, my serenity is my most precious possession. I’ve learned through painful experience that without peace of mind a happy, fulfilling life is just not possible.

A holy man was asked to define spirituality. He said, “When you are hungry, eat! When you are tired, sleep!” More and more I’m coming to believe that life really is this simple, natural and effortless. As I continue to let go of the old complicated ideas, I get closer to the idea my Higher Power had in mind when he sent me here.