It seems to me that pride is the opposite of gratitude -- one of the most important tools in my AA tool box. Gratitude opens up the channel between me and my Higher Power, pride closes it. With my channel open I am capable of untold miracles limited only by my beliefs, with my channel closed my accomplishments are insignificant. I like to remember the quote "Man's greatest accomplishment is foolishness to God."

So what is it I want? To be connected to the power that created and maintains the universe and everything in it or the power than managed to get himself isolated in his darkened apartment in a dirty bathrobe drinking wine and watching reruns of Gilligan's Island day after day? Hmmm. let's see...

Certainly it's OK for me to take satisfaction in my accomplishments -- God gives us these good feelings for a reason -- as long as I remember that "i" didn't do it. There is only one Source, one Supply and one Power. It's all coming from God and it's all a gift -- "war" "peace" "good" "bad" whatever you want to call it.


I'm not sure denial is a bad thing. Toward the end if I had the ability to see my life as it really was, who knows what I might have done to myself? I was pathetic but didn't know it. It's only now 10 years later that I can see that I was in really deep trouble. While I had not yet lost my apartment or my car, I had lost my interest in virtually everything that didn't involve getting high. Alcoholism has eroded my spirituality from the inside out. I was running purely on self will -- rationalizing, justifying, or ignoring all the events of my life. Denial is probably saving a lot of alcoholics (drinking and sober) from suicide, but not all of them. It didn't save my father.

It's uncomfortable to inventory and see myself as I really am. It's uncomfortable to see how my actions harm others. It's uncomfortable to admit I am wrong and uncomfortable to make amends. It's easier just to stay in the warm cocoon of denial. I think it takes a lot of courage to leave the comfort zone and work the Steps. If you are doing this work, you are learning what I am learning: "the truth will set (me) free."

Self Will

I remember the story of a little boy who had watched Gone with the Wind with his parents. He saw Rhett Butler say to Scarlet "I want what I want when I want it." So the next day he tried this out on the little girl who lived next door. He swaggered up to her and said "I want what I want when I want it." She looked at him and said "Well, you'll get what I got when I get it."

I'm running on self will when I want what I want regardless of what God or anyone else may want. In this condition -- consumed with my own plans and ideas -- It's only a matter of time before I'll be doing mental, spiritual, emotional and maybe even physical harm to another of God's children. I'll be like that tornado the Big Book talks about ... running through the lives of the people around me.

I learned in AA that the only solution to self will is to do God's will instead. Fortunately the instructions on how to do God's will are neatly written down in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. All I gotta be is willing, honest and open minded.

The Three C's

"The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others."

This line in the BB described me to a tee. I was so caught up in me that I was totally insensitive to you. I stepped on your toes, belittled you (just being "cute" you know), and used you to get my needs met. And I didn't even realize I was doing it unless you brought it to my attention, then I would argue with you. "I didn't mean to.." If I finally apologized, it was to get you off my back or to get me out of hot water.

As a few layers have come off the onion, I am a little more in tune to the fact that there are other people on the earth besides me, but admitting that I am wrong is still not one of my strong suits. But I do it (albeit sometimes not "promptly") because I believe that the program of Alcoholics Anonymous works IF you work it.

I'm pretty much convinced that my life is a result of the thoughts I think. If I'm carrying around a lot of negative thoughts, then my actions will be negative and I'll create more wreckage. So the challenge for me today with Step 10 is to pay attention to what I'm thinking. And I can find out what I'm thinking if I listen to what I'm saying.

If I can stay away from the three C's: Complaining, Criticizing and Condemning then a better life is possible for me.

Dancing with God

After 30 years of drinking and causing wreckage and pain to myself and others, I received a moment of clarity. In a flash I was allowed to see the truth about what I had become. I saw that alcohol was involved in all the negative experiences of my life. I got a good whiff of myself and it wasn't a pretty smell. Along with this vision of truth, I got a feeling of hope. I learned later that this is called "grace" -- an undeserved gift.

I did not go to God to get this experience. He brought me to Him. He took away the alcoholic obsession and compulsion. He loved me first and that's why I seek Him today. For me it's not blind faith, but faith based on the reality of my own experience.

There is not a time when I am apart from God. He is right here in my heart and has been there all along. But my experience of Him that changes based on my willingness to seek Him.

Its like we do a little dance. By taking the actions that demonstrate my willingness, I take a step closer to Him and he automatically takes a step closer to me. When I get caught up in life stuff and forget what's important I take a step backwards and God steps backwards too.

The difference is that after 10 years of this dance when I'm close, I'm closer than ever and I don't have to move backwards as far before I realize that I'm heading in the wrong direction.

Meeting Makers Make It

There's a certain truth that exists for me in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous that I haven't been able to find elsewhere. By the time I got here, I had heard the lies for so long I believed them totally. The lies about relationships, success, how life works, even the lies about God. I believed that it was a "dog eat dog" world and whoever had the most money and other stuff at the end was the winner. I believed that getting and staying comfortable was the number one goal. I went to any lengths to get comfortable and sometimes, for brief periods, it felt like I was winning, but the emptiness would always return. For thirty years I drank to fill up the emptiness. Today I realize that it was the spirit of God that was missing from my life.

Meetings for me are like cool clear water dripping into a bucket full of muddy, dirty water. Over time the water in my bucket has become clearer. But there are still rocks and sticks and rusty beer cans in the bottom of my bucket. Meetings will not lift these out of my bucket, only the continuous, dynamic action of the 12 steps applied to my life one day at a time has removed some of these big chunks.

Each meeting I attend has the potential of 12th step work if I am focused on what I'm bringing to the meeting rather than getting what I think I need. If I'm sitting in a meeting condemning, resentful, and judgmental, I'm not much help to anyone else. But I gotta keep coming back anyways. It's the only chance I have.

Life Changing

I'm coming to believe that my life experience today is a direct result of my thoughts yesterday. It is absolutely impossible for me to have a life that is happy, joyous and free, if I am entertaining thoughts of worry, resentment and fear. When I was still practicing, one of my favorite expressions was "life is a sh*t sandwich and it's always lunch time." This kind of negative thinking became ingrained in me -- self perpetuating. It's no wonder that I had a life that was mostly negative.

Like any bad habit, it's taken some time to reverse some of this negative thinking. This is work that I would not have even attempted while still drinking. But now that I've been able to see a little progress in the form of a better life experience, I'm enthusiastic about wanting more.

All of this has come as a direct result of increased contact with my Higher Power. The Steps and the Program of AA has made this increased contact possible. Mostly I feel my insides are cleaner today. I'm not carrying around so much guilt and shame, thus I'm not dogged by the constant feeling that something bad is going to happen. I feel lighter.

The AA suggestion of being of service is one that is serving me well. If I am truly a channel for God's Peace, Love, etc then the channel has to go somewhere. It doesn't end in me. My prayers for opportunities to be of service are being answered both in and out of the rooms. When my focus is on what I can give rather than what I think I need, my life just naturally seems to be better.

Self Discovery

I used a spiral notebook for my 4th. Pretty much filled it up. The first pages were neatly written in my best hand. These were the pages where I was intellectualizing my fears, harms and resentments. The final pages (where I was rushing to get finished before my appointment with my sponsor) looked like another person had written them. This was the true stuff, the painful stuff, the embarrassing stuff. These were the twists and crannys. I wrote this stuff down quickly, trying not to look.

Then just before my fifth, I decided to "clean it up a little." After all, what would my sponsor think if he saw my sloppy handwriting? So I rewrote it on the computer with justified margins and subheads. Like a college thesis. Even gave it a title, "Instincts Gone Awry." I reduced 30 pages to two and a half.

It took me about 15 minutes to read my "manuscript" to my sponsor. He looked at me kind of blankly and said "is that all there is?" I showed him my spiral notebook and he said why don't I read that too. Two hours later I had read it all, even the embarrassing bad handwriting pages. He gave me a hug, told me he loved me and said that now I'll never have to be alone again.

I'm coming to believe that once I crossed the line into alcoholism every drink or drug I took me further and further away from Reality. So when I came to at age 47, I had no idea who I really was or how life worked. To me the Twelve Steps is very much about discovering the Truth about myself. The willingness to go though this process of self discovery brings me closer to my Higher Power and the Promises begin to come true.

See the Light

I heard that there was a South American Indian tribe that cursed their enemies by saying "stay just the way you are." If I'm not growing and changing, I'm stagnating and dying. Which is exactly were my alcoholism was taking me before God graced me with a moment of clarity that led me to Alcoholics Anonymous.

The biggest road block to change is the idea that the best way to live is to avoid pain and to just get comfortable. I don't use alcohol or drugs to try and get comfortable today, but other things. Sweets, exercise, numbing out in front of the computer, working too much, controlling too much, and the list goes on. I'm sure I've missed a good part of life because of the fear that some new experience or a change in my routine would take me out of my comfort zone.

The New Age minister back in San Diego said there are only two reasons why we would want to change: because we see the light or because we feel the heat. Thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous I'm more willing today to try and see the light.


By the end of my drinking, I had become an expert at playing the role of the devil's advocate. I prided myself on my ability to tell you exactly what was wrong with any plan or idea you had. If I was looking at a beautiful garden, my eyes would automatically focus on the one weed. My outlook was cynical and my humor sarcastic. My favorite expression was "life is a sh*t sandwich and it's always lunch time."

By the time I staggered into the doors of AA, negativity had become an ingrained habit. Years of negative thoughts and words produced negative deeds. But I was so wrapped up in self that I was only vaguely aware of how my actions affected others. I didn't purposely set out to have a negative life, but as alcoholism eroded my spiritual center, I really had no other choice.

It's only by practicing moment by moment, the actions I learned from the Steps and from sober, recovering people in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous that have I been able to break the habit of negativity. Oh sometimes I still see the glass half empty, but generally my outlook is positive. And this positive outlook is paying dividends in a positive living experience. AA really is the softer, easier way for me.


Forgiveness is the my E-ticket to peace of mind.. As long as I am unwilling to forgive, I block my HP out of my life. The light goes out. Then I’m back to running on Jeff power fueled by the energy of my self will and anger. My mind whirs in a constant state of condemnation. I send out my vicious attack dogs to find more evidence of your guilt. They return and obediently drop it at my feet. Now I have new bones to chew on. I’m drinking the rat poison waiting for the rat to die. Peace of mind and happiness are impossible. Man o’ man, I just don’t want to live this way anymore.

I don’t practice forgiveness because I’m a good guy. I practice because I don’t want to suffer. It is forgiveness of self and others that wipes away the anger. This doesn't mean I condone what you did, it’s just I choose to forgive you for it. Sometimes it takes a while to get to the place of forgiveness, but I notice that the amount of time I’m willing to sit in my own crap is less and less as the years roll by.

Through the years I’ve tried everything suggested. I’ve tried to see the other person as spiritually sick, I’ve prayed, I’ve written steps.I try to remember when I point my finger of condemnation at someone, I’ve got three fingers pointing back at me. When I realize that I have done the very same things to others that you have done to me, forgiveness comes easy...well, easier. I begin the forgiveness process in Step Eight

It's All About Me

AA works because it's all about me: my sobriety, my spiritual growth, my sense of usefulness and purpose, my joy. I receive these gifts by being of service to others. Since it's in my best interest, I share my ESH with anyone who wants to listen. It is an added bonus if I can play some small role in helping another human being turn their lives around, but it's none of my business who "gets it" and who doesn't. I just do what I learned from my sponsor and others and try to get out of the way and let God do its thing.

Buddha said to find a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life. I do not consider my 12-step activities to be work--much less self-sacrifice. I might think differently had I come along thirty years earlier. I've heard old timers describe 12-step calls back then. How they often left their warm beds in the middle of the night to go to some flophouse and clean vomit off wet drunks. How they put their belts between the teeth of a shaking alcoholic so he wouldn't swallow his tongue. How they abandoned their wives and kids to help some poor wet-brained sot stay away from a drink for few hours more. A self-centered person like me might conclude that a steady diet of these activities is self-sacrificing. But the principle is the same. The old timers did this work to stay sober themselves and for the joy it gave them. Self-interest pure and simple.

Am I doing enough? I have no idea. I know that I am sober; I know that I feel much more comfortable in my own skin today; I know that my life has meaning; I know that the spiritual love we alcoholics have for one another has grown in me over the years. All these gifts are a direct result of passing on to others what was so freely given to me. Self-sacrifice? Hardly.


The issue of my perfectionism came up in the treatment center almost seventeen years ago. The counselor said, "Trying for an 'A' in everything you do is making you nuts. Why not shoot for a B minus?" It sounded simple at the time, but it is anything but that. Essentially she was asking me to change the way I view the world entirely.

In AA I learned the only way I can change what I see on the outside is to change on the inside. The good doctor in his Opinion calls this "a deep psychic change." This interior change requires me to let go of all my old faulty beliefs about who I am and how life works and allow myself to be restored to the person I am meant to be. Only the repeated action of the 12 Steps makes this possible.

I am not cured of perfectionism, but I am much better. I have a better idea of what it means to do my best. The critical voices from my childhood no longer yell, but they still whisper.

AA Centered Life

I liked everything about AA from the moment I walked into my first meeting. I was shocked to hear people speaking from the heart. I laughed, really laughed, for the first time in years. I kept coming back. My mind began to relax. My life began to feel lighter. I floated on a pink cloud. One night when I was a few days sober it came to me that I had not thought about a drink for the whole day! I had absolutely no desire to drink. The obsession had been removed. I knew then without a doubt there was a power greater than me at work in my life.

I took the actions suggested and put myself firmly in the middle of AA. Since I was unemployed I went to two meetings a day. I made a bunch of new sober friends and looked forward to coffee after the meetings with other alcoholics. I worked through the steps with a patient and loving sponsor. My home group elected me the doughnut guy. I began to change. I found work and I fell into a comfortable routine of meetings and work. By this time I was sponsoring a couple of guys. The promises were coming true. I was almost three years sober when the crisis hit.

I was fired from the job it took me two years to find, sabotaged by unhealed character defects. Fear had me by the throat. I plunged into darkness. Instead of drinking, I picked up the phone and called my sponsor. I told the truth at meetings about what happened. I worked through Steps one through nine on the job loss issue and made my amends. After a few days the voices stopped and the fear evaporated. I was lifted up on another pink cloud. I had an overwhelming feeling that somehow everything was going to be all right. Three months later I accepted a wonderful job offer in China and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime. I went from the bottom of the heap to the top of the world in three months. There is no possible way this could happen, but it did.

Today AA is still in the center of my life. I keep coming to meetings because I enjoy them. I sense there is still much more to learn. I remember reading a famous book when I was still drinking, Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. One of the habits suggested was to live a God centered life. I do not know how to bring God into the center of my life, but I do know how to put AA in the center. God seems to follow automatically when I do.

AA Role Models

Every single person I meet in AA or anywhere for that matter has something of value to teach me if I am willing to learn. There are some people I don't want to learn from. They make me feel uncomfortable so I tune them out. What I know is that the discomfort comes from seeing a reflection of myself in them. It's not their BS I hear, it's mine. It's not their rigidity I sense, it's mine. It's not their confusion I see, it's my own. I grow by having the willingness to look in the mirror when it is handed to me. Some days I have this willingness, some days I don't.

This mirror also reflects my good qualities back to me. These qualities might not be showing up in my life right this minute, but the potential is down there somewhere just waiting to be released.

Those men and women in my journey who stand out in my memory are the ones who make me feel good about myself when I was around them They came from different backgrounds -- one guy sold shoes at Sacs, another worked the swap meets, still another was a retired oil executive -- but they share a number of common qualities that drew me to them.

They all love drunks and share freely with anyone and everyone. They are good natured and don't take themselves too seriously. If they get angry, they seem to have an ability to let go and regain their peace of mind quickly and easily. They are not afraid to gently tell you the truth, even at the risk of hurting your feelings. They are kind and considerate to all. I guess you could say they are wise, though they wouldn't agree. They have a certain light in their eyes.These are the qualities of the people who have what I want.

I read somewhere that we are all but single strands of thread, but together we make a perfect cloth. No one strand is more important than another, but some strands, might be just a little brighter than most.

Freedom from Self

Dependence on others, negative thinking, worry, attachments and desires, family and cultural ties, and prejudice and judgment all keep me bound to self. Some are heavy chains some are thin threads, but all keep me in the self-centered prison of my own making. I start to free myself from bondage as I begin I let go of all these things that block me from a true experience of the life my higher power planned for me.

Chained against the wall in my self-centered prison, I must be full of fear because I know unconsciously that I have no power to free myself. This relentless fear creates dis-ease. Since I have been conditioned that all pain is bad, I won't look for the cause, but I’ll look for something to bring about a sense of ease and comfort. I’ve spent my whole life trying to make myself comfortable in my prison.

Growing spiritually does not mean that I can make myself Holy. I can only hope to become aware of what’s blocking me from a full experience of peace, abundance and joy -- that feeling of useful and contented sobriety. I use the 10th step and tools found in other spiritual literature to discover what’s blocking me. I’m coming to believe that this simple awareness is 99% of the work.

If I am willing to look honestly at myself and see where I am still selfish, fearful, dishonest or resentful, I begin to see patterns in my behavior. Each of the patterns binds me to self. Certainly I am willing to do this work when I am in pain. Then I’ll go to any lengths. But unless I’m willing to do this work continuously, even when I am feeling good, I’ll continue to stay in my prison, unable to truly love anyone else, even me, and still trying to make myself believe that a few scraps of stale bread is a lavish banquet.

Courage to Change

I never really saw the need to change anything all those months I sat alone and unemployed in my darkened, dirty apartment drinking cheap red wine and watching lame daytime TV. After all I was a pretty good guy who at one time was winning the game of life and would do so again as soon as I could find another big paying job. Except for the fact that I was running out of borrowed money and could not find the energy to even send out a resume. Denial was so strong that I didn't really believe there was anything wrong with me that a new job couldn't fix, so why would I want to change?

What I wanted was my life to be fixed, not changed. I wanted more energy and enthusiasm. I wanted my old "can do" attitude to return. I wanted the secret to a happy fulfulling life. Almost weekly I would head to the bookstore to the self help section and carefully select a new solution for my life. I liked to read and think about the ideas in these books, but since I didn't have the courage to actually DO anything differently, I stayed stuck in my dirty easy chair with my bottle of wine, overflowing ashtray and a week's worth of empy fast food bags and pizza boxes strewn on the carpet at my feet. The dull ache of fear grew daily.

God works is mysterious ways. One of these books was about men experiencing mid-life crises. This book sent me to a therapist who made it clear that my symptoms -- low grade depression, feelings of uselessness, and worry about the future -- were more due to alcoholism than any mid-life crisis. At her suggestion three days later I entered an outpatient treatment program. Three days after that I walked into my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I have been changing ever since.

It's only when I look backwards to where I was can I see how far I've traveled. I have moved from a life of materialism toward a life of simplicity; from a desire to achieve success to a desire to connect with others; and from jealousy of what you have to certain gratitude for my gifts. I haven't reached the end of any of these roads, but I'm making progress. Practically no area of my life looks the same as it did fourteen years ago. Consequently I'm happier than I've ever been.

It takes courage to walk the path we are on. It's not been easy for me to leave the comfort zone and challenge self-destructive habits after so many years of living in the insanity. It takes guts to honestly share with others what's going on with me and to walk through fear when the voices say "run away." Without courage I can't move forward with my life.

It helps me to remember that this courage doesn't come from me. It comes from my Higher Power in the form of grace. Courage is always available to me as long as I am sincerely willing to seek it.

Letting Go of Results

Years ago I remember seeing an interview of George McGovern by Barbara Walters. McGovern was a former presidential candidate. He had five beautiful daughters. One had our disease. Despite numerous treatment centers and spin drys, she passed out drunk in the snow and froze to death. McGovern had tears in his eyes. He said he just never knew when to be tough and when to be soft. I can identify.

Ala-non teaches detachment with love. This has to be the most difficult thing a human can do. We are asked to watch people we care about make self destructive choices putting themselves in harms way while we sit on our hands. Yet that is exactly what is asked of us.

As soon as I put myself between the alcoholic and the consequences of his thinking and actions, I am trying to do God's job. Better I just put out my hand, be available, share my ESH, and take the person through the steps and let go of results completely. Whether anyone "gets it" or not is none of my business.

Willingness to Grow

I was told when I was new that just saying I was willing was not enough. I had to demonstrate my willingness by doing the things suggested. Today most of what is suggested like going to meetings, socializing with other alcoholics and sharing my ESH doesn't require much willingness because by now these things are comfortable, even fun. I might be able to stay sober on meetings and fellowship alone but I don't believe I can grow spiritually. And if I'm not growing, chances are I'm slowly slipping backwards into the cesspool of my own thinking.

I demonstrate my willingness to grow when I make the effort to see myself as I really am and to become "cleaner" inside. The steps help me do this. I grow when I sit with uncomfortable feelings instead of running away or numbing out. I grow when I try to understand the messages that the fear and anger bring. I grow when I am willing to look honestly at myself, to search for my part in every disturbance, to admit when I am wrong and make amends.

A part of me doesn't want to do these things. A part of me wants fo fall back to sleep in the childish illusion that my life will succeed by doing only the things I enjoy. And sometimes I do fall back asleep, I'm no saint. But sooner or later I realize that when I do fall back asleep I just stay stuck and the same lesson will just keep presenting itself over and over until I finally get it. There's no escape.

If I'm paying attention I notice that every day life hands me many opportunities to look at myself and grow. The main thing for me is to be willing to look in the mirror when it is handed to me.

Not My Fault

Twelve hours sober and three days before I walked into my first AA meeting I was in an orientation meeting with Dean, a counselor for an outpatient treatment program. I had to decide if I should commit most of my remaining meager funds to enroll in the program. I was skeptical because if I spent the money on treatment, what would I drink on?

At the outset Dean said something I'll never forget -- something that I've repeated hundreds of times since. He told me that I have a disease called alcoholism and that it was not my fault that I have it. Just like having cancer would not be my fault. But he also said that now that I know I have this disease, it is my responsibility to treat it, and if I fail to treat it my life would become more painful than I could possible imagine.

Had Dean said to me that I was somehow to blame for my alcoholism, that I had it because I lacked the willpower to put down the bottle, I would have been right out the door. My fragile little ego just could not have stood the thought that it was my fault.

I need to let myself off the hook with my ego too. This small, separated part of me was formed while I was still a little kid by well-meaning but ignorant and fearful parents, teachers and others who filled me with false ideas about what's important in life. I was scared to death that I couldn't measure up, but I just couldn't let anyone see my fear so my life became a lie that drinking made bearable.

It's absolutely true that all the pain I experience in my life today is of my own making. I make decisions based on self (ego) that put me in a position to be hurt. As long as I remain in bondage of self I will continue to experience pain even if my motives are good. It's the only way the universe has to tell me I'm on the wrong path, that I'm holding on to tightly -- that I'm heading away from the light.

Like my alcoholism, it's really not my fault that I have a frightened ego. But now that I now I have it, I am responsible to treat it -- to reduce it's illusionary power over my decisions and actions. I treat my ego by trying to the best of my ability to practice the spiritual principles contained in the 12 step. The steps give me a way out of ego and the corresponding pain it brings to me and others

Then and Now

About one year before I got sober, I flew from California to Florida every other weekend to be with my parents while my mother was dying of late-stage cancer. I made five or six trips before my father ended her suffering and took his own life. My wife is a cancer survivor and has had to endure a number of surgeries in the time we've been together. When I compare how I handled my mother’s sickness while still drinking to how I handle my wife’s health challenges, it’s clear my whole attitude and outlook has changed.

I remember during one my trips to Florida during my mother’s last days. I sat up all night by her bedside and killed most of a fifth of cognac until I passed out in the chair. I just didn’t want to feel anything. It’s equally as hard to see my wife suffer for days on end, but I haven’t once had the thought to run. I consider it an honor to walk through this difficult time with her. I look forward to showing up at her bedside and being of service where I can. The contrast between the way I was then and the way I am now amazes even me.

I had no spiritual center before sobriety. I was terrified of death. I worried about painful long term illness. Thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous I am now connected with God of my own understanding. I have come to believe that only the body dies, that death is nothing more than a continuation of life in a different form. And as far as extended illness goes, I have seen so many of you walk through so much physical and emotional pain without a drink, that I just know I can too as long as I stay close to the program.

Asking for Help

A minute after she declared that I had probably had a drinking problem, the therapist looked deeply into my eyes like she was looking into my soul. "You're in trouble aren't you Jeff?" My ego fought hard against the truth. "Maybe," I admitted.

As it turned out, this slight admission that perhaps there was this one tiny aspect of life I couldn't handle myself -- this pesky 30 year drinking problem -- was just enough to give my Higher Power an opening to begin to work in my life. Many years later I'm only slightly better at admitting I need help. I'm getting pretty good at asking for help on the big stuff, but my response to the challenges and vexations of daily living is usually "OK God move over, I'll take it from here" rather than "Thy will not my will be done."

Self-will holds me hostage when things don't go according to my script. My attitude plunges and I begin to look at the world through crap-colored glasses. I usually try and fail to coach myself out of it. I even try praying, but it feels like I have my fingers crossed behind my back. A part of me doesn't really want to feel better. Finally, reluctantly, I call another alcoholic and let him know what was going on with me. After the call a tiny bit of light seeps in and the darkness began to evaporate. A short time later my positive attitude returns.

Help is what I needed before I got sober and help is what I need today, but admitting I need help and asking for it doesn't come easy. I was raised to be a rugged individualist and those old tapes are still playing. Fortunately the whole AA program is set up for people like me. In one sense everything I do in AA is an admission directly or indirectly that I need help. Attending meetings, calling other alcoholics, putting out my hand to newcomers, being of service to the group, sponsoring, reading the literature and working the steps are all ways I ask my Higher Power for help. Help always comes if I am willing to take the actions that prove I really want help.

My Blind Side

Bill talked about my blind side when he wrote:

"Very deep, sometimes quite forgotten, damaging emotional conflicts persist below the level of consciousness. At the time of the occurrences, they may actually have given our emotions violent twists which have since discolored our personalities and altered our lives for the worse." 12x12 pg. 77

"How are you, Jeff?" a member asked when I was a few months sober. "Fine," I replied. He looked at me and smiled. "Fine, for people like us, means frustrated, insecure, neurotic and emotional." I couldn't see how this could be true because I felt fine, I really did. The obsession to drink had been removed and I was floating on a pink cloud. Today I can see the truth in what he said. I can feel fine, but as long as I'm carrying around the accumulated guilt, fear, anger, shame and resentment from the past in my subconscious, I'm really not fine. I'm just experiencing a temporary lull between fearful reactions to the people and events of my life.

When someone pushes one of my buttons -- and there seem to be an abundance of expert button pushers in my world -- I instinctively react. I don't see it coming. Often my defensive, angry reaction seems to be stronger, more violent, than the situation calls for. For many years it used to surprise me when simple anger would turn to rage or a tiny mistake would turn to shame. Today I know whenever I over react it's because of some ancient hurt in my subconscious that's not yet healed. Fortunately I have a spiritual program that works both above and below the surface of my consciousness to make me whole. All I need is the willingness to take the actions suggested.

Group Of Drunks

As I made my way through the church doors to the AA meeting I wasn't sure I wanted what you had, but I was convinced beyond a doubt that I didn't want what I had.

The man who would become my first sponsor held out his hand when I introduced myself as a newcomer. "Some of us go to breakfast after the meeting. Why don't you come along?" I mumbled that I'd like to, but I had a lot to do that day. With a knowing smile he said, "I'm sure you do, Jeff, but why don't you come along anyways?"

I really didn’t want to go. The fear that kept me on the outside looking in throughout my life had morphed into chronic isolation. I hadn’t a clue about how to interact with others without a few drinks first. Besides, the men who surrounded me after the meeting in welcome seemed a little too happy, a little too up.

But the same unseen hand that guided me to AA nudged me to the breakfast. There was six or eight men altogether. I laughed for the first time in years. I remember driving home, caffeinated to the hilt, thinking “who are these people?” It didn’t take long to find out that these guys were a Group Of Drunks who shared a common problem and a common solution. All I need to join is a desire to quit drinking.

Moment of Clarity

“You have the emotional maturity of a thirteen year old, you don't have an ounce of humility in your whole body, and you brain is so cloudy from your drinking that you can’t hope to get any clarity on your life." After brutally taking my inventory, the therapist looked deep into my eyes. It felt like she was looking directly a my soul. After a few seconds she said, "you’re in trouble, aren't you Jeff?" I stalled for a few seconds, my ego fought against admitting anything was wrong. "Maybe, I whispered."

It turned out that this “maybe,” this slight admission of powerlessness, opened a tiny door to my HP. I was graced with a dose of truth about myself. For the first time I saw that every negative event in my life was connected to alcohol: the drunk driving arrests and nights in jail, flunking out of college, painful divorce, insane financial decisions, failed relationships, poor business judgments. Taken separately over my thirty year drinking career, these were just isolated incidences of bad luck that probably happened to everybody so I thought. But when I saw them altogether in one snapshot, the evidence was overwhelming. I experienced that moment of clarity that I believe every one of us must have if we are to stick in our program. I had finally discovered what was wrong with me.

A few days later I sat in the first group meeting at an outpatient treatment center with five or six other newcomers. I had just spent the last of my Visa credit to enroll. The short, rotund woman who ran the program, an ex-heroin addict from New York, was giving us the run-down. This woman had no tolerance for BS. She had a sign on her desk that read, “I go from zero to bitch in two seconds.” “This is an AA-based program,” she said. “To graduate you must attend at least three AA meetings every week.” Then she looked at me and said, “Except for you Jeff. Since you are unemployed, you are required to go to a meeting every day.” I burned with resentment about being singled out, but I didn't dare speak up. The requirement to go to a meeting every day turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.