My understanding of God has not improved since I joined the fellowship and took the steps. In fact, I probably understand God less today than I did when I was sitting in front of the TV day after day with my bottle of wine and bag of pot. Back then I believed that God created the universe and everything in it, but the rest was up to me. It was "dog eat dog" world where only the successful, the strongest, survive. I didn't need God while I was achieving worldly success. I was the center of my universe.

Then alcoholism began to have its way with me. Slowly it robbed me of interest in my career and enthusiasm for life. It took away my relationships, my health and my self respect. My days became predictable, mechanical and routine. I had absolutely nothing to look forward to except the next drink. Denial kept me from seeing this truth. I was pretty close to hopeless, but didn't know it.

My best thinking was that a new high paying job that would solve all my problems. When I couldn't find the motivation to even write a new resume I went to a therapist to find out why. Thank God she told me the truth -- in her words I didn't have an ounce of humility in my whole body, I had the emotional maturity of a 13 year old, and my mind was so cloudy from my drinking that I could not hope to get any clarity on my life. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! She said she couldn't help me but she knew a treatment center that could.

A few days later I walked into my first AA meeting. Almost immediately the obsession to drink was removed. This fact continues to be the cornerstone of my faith because I could not explain how, after 30 years of relying on alcohol as the solution to my life, I could wake up one day and not think about drinking at all. I didn't know what it was called at the time, but today I know I had received Grace. My higher power did for me what I could not do for myself.

Grace comes to me in exact proportion to my desire for it and my reliance upon it. I demonstrate my desire for grace by trying to the best of my ability to practice the 12 steps in all areas of my life. When I remember to do this my day turns out pretty damn good. This is not blind faith, but a faith born of my experience.

Keeping it Green

I learned early in sobriety that I had crossed a couple of invisible lines as the disease of alcoholism progressed in me. I crossed the first line a few months after my 18th birthday when I went from "liking to drink" to "wanting to drink" I paid wine-os to buy booze for me and I wouldn't go out with a girl unless she liked to drink. A few years later, once I became established in my career, I drank almost every night -- after work cocktails, wines with dinner and at all social events. I rarely drank during business hours, but drinks before and with lunch on weekends, holidays. vacations were part of the "good life" to me.

This stage lasted about 15 years. Although I picked up a couple of drunk driving arrests (out of 100s of times driving drunk), not too many "bad" things happened. My career was successful, so I almost totally ignored these "minor" hiccups. Little did I know that alcoholism had me in it's grip and was subtly taking me down, separating me from everything of real value in life.

In the mid 80's I crossed the next invisible line. I went from "liking to drink" to "needing to drink." Outwardly I still looked good. My job and bank account continued to grow, but somehow it wasn't enough. I felt increasingly frustrated, empty and stressed-out. My drinking ratcheted up.

I wasn't happy but I didn't know what to do except find the next "thing" to fill the hole: new cars, fancy vacations, investments helped for a while but not for long. One of those "things" turned out to be a woman who like to drink too. We married three months after we met. Once the honeymoon ended six months later, all the old feelings returned. Only now they were made worse by the fact that my "solution" didn't work. I blamed her and we split up.

It would be five mostly painful years that I am just now beginning to remember before I walked into my first meeting in 1994 at the age of 47. I didn't know it at the time, but I crossed another invisible line when I walked into that first meeting -- the line that separates "wanting to die" with "wanting to live."

Remembering what it was like and what happened helps to keep it green for me.

AA Way of Life

Before AA my number one goal in life was getting comfortable and staying comfortable. I sought to create a warm cocoon of a life wherein I was protected from all fear and hardship. A life where I could do what I wanted. I decorated my cocoon with as much stuff as I could afford. As my drinking progressed. I found there wasn't room for other people in my cocoon, so I chased them all away. At the end there was only me, my bottle of wine and my remote control. Had I had enough money, I might have stayed in that dirty easy chair, in that dirty apartment surrounded by half-eaten fast food bags until the end.

Today the comfort zone continues to beckon loudly. It is still the biggest threat to my sobriety. Going to the same meetings every week, talking to the same people, saying the same prayers, and sponsoring every newcomer the same way can be indications that I've lapsed into another comfort zone where I 'm living my life largely from habit.

The book tells me that I must continue to "perfect and enlarge" my spiritual condition through work and self-sacrifice or I will drink again. This means to me that I cannot allow myself get into comfortable habits with my sobriety and think that I am living the AA way of life.

Instead I must be willing to reach out to new people, walk through the discomfort of continuous inventory and introspection, volunteer for a new service commitment, seek to be of service outside of AA in my community and the world at large and constantly work at better balance between body, mind and spirit. This to me is the AA way of life.

Tolerance for Pain

I'm coming to believe that everything that happens to me is intended for my spiritual growth. Inside every problem there is a message just for me. Usually the message is "let go." Without the associated pain that problems bring I would not be motivated to let go, change course, develop faith, and grow as a consequence.

For most of my life I drank through everything uncomfortable so I never heard or understood the messages. I became hardened and insensitive and developed a great tolerance for pain. Things had to get down right awful before I would try to change anything. I'm grateful this tolerance for pain didn't kill me before I was given the grace to see I had reached my bottom. Many of us aren't so lucky.

Since I began trying to live life on life's terms I have become increasingly more sensitive to internal turmoil. Now I try to pay attention to what's going on with me. I ask myself: Where is that fear coming from? Why did I lose my temper? What is this worry about? I use 10 to find my part, 11 to reconnect, and 12 to get out of myself. Taken together, these spiritual actions have helped me overcome many problems large and small.

Reliance not Defiance

My defiance is very subtle. It sometimes starts out first thing in the morning. The small voice reminds me that I should get quiet and connect with my Higher Power. I ignore the voice, decide to check my email and read the news instead and my day starts off on exactly the wrong footing. The voice says pick up the phone and call another alcoholic. My ego tells me to wait until one of them calls me. The voice reminds me about the AA meeting, but I got more important things to do. Besides I'm feeling "fine." Someone says or does something I don't like. I defy the voice that says "let it go, Jeff." I end up making a mountain out of a molehill and saying things I don't really mean. One more time I have given away my serenity. I have "squander(ed) the hours that might have been worth while."

What is it but plain insanity to choose "being right" over "being happy"?

The small voice usually comes to me as a thought, but sometimes, if the world is not drowning it out, I actually hear a voice whisper inside my head. I am coming to believe that this voice is my guidance system leading me to wholeness. I need only get quiet and listen and then follow directions. Of course I don't hear the voice if I already have my mind made up or if I'm fearful, angry or resentful. Then it's like I'm saying to the universe "thanks but won't be needing any guidance or help today. I can handle this myself." Immediately the voices stop.

Left to my own devices, without Good Orderly Direction, I'm guiding myself right back to that dirty, darkened apartment, where I sat day after day on that dirty easy chair with the bottle of wine, bag of pot, overflowing ashtray, fast food bags and pizza boxes scattered at my feet watching reruns of Gilligan's Island and other lame daytime TV all the while thinking this was a great way to live.

Free Will?

I wonder why it is called "free" will? When I use my free will to make wrong choices it can get very expensive!

I'm coming to believe that whatever I give my attention to will eventually govern my life. If I don't give my attention to anything in particular then nothing in particular will come into my life. I will live in uncertainty.

The Steps help me focus my attention on becoming the kind of person I was meant to be. As I continue to apply the steps in my life, I am able to let go of the false parts -- my anger, bitterness, resentment, spite and self pity. Since nature abhors a vacuum, kindness, concern, appreciation, forgiveness and love automatically rush in to fill the void. Little by little I am changed.

Before God graced me with a moment of clarity I gave my attention to the material world of making money and acquiring possessions. What I am coming to understand is that the material world is constantly changing and shifting. There is no real security. It's like building a house on sand.Giving my attention to these things sooner or later will bring me unhappiness, poverty and ill health.

But if I use my free to focus my attention on my program by practicing the spiritual principles contained in the Steps, I am led again and again to spiritual understanding and growth. Now I am building my house on firm bedrock and my life feels useful and contented.

Ego Deflation

I didn't know I had a disease that was killing me. I only knew that I was unemployed and quickly running out of borrowed money and there was no one left who would lend me anymore. I wasn't looking for the doorway into a brand new life, I was just trying to figure out a way to get a job so I wouldn't wake up every morning in stark terror.

My job search wasn't going well. I went to a therapist I knew to find out why, after six months, I couldn't find the energy to even send out a resume. After she listened to me whine about my life for 40 minutes she told me she couldn't help me. Her almost exact words were "you have the emotional maturity of a thirteen year old, you don't have an ounce of humility in your whole body, and your brain is so cloudy from you daily drinking that you cannot hope to get any clarity on your life." Then she looked deep into my eyes and said "you're in trouble aren't you Jeff?" The voice inside my head screamed at me not to agree, but finally I whispered "maybe."

Without knowing it I had taken the first Step. The admission -- "maybe" I was in trouble -- deflated my ego just enough to give my Higher Power the space to enter my being and work in my life. Suddenly I was being led by an unseen hand. A few days later I walked into my first AA meeting on a pink cloud. The obsession to drink was taken completely out of me.

I don't believe for a moment that I could have stayed sober this long without continuously practicing surrender, inventory, confession, restitution, service and the other principles embodied in the Steps. My spiritual awakening got me sober, but the willingness to "completely give myself to this simple program" keeps me sober. "Completely" reminds me that I can always do more -- that I can never let up on my program of action.

Non-stop Miracles

They say recovery in AA is like playing a country and western record backwards, after a little while you get your girl back and your car back and your happiness back etc. It was like that for me. I was a couple of years sober and had started to get my life back. So there I was in my suit at a noon time meeting sharing that I had had a high bottom, etc. I was unaware that my sponsor had slipped in the room.

After the meeting he came up to me and said, "so you were a high bottom guy? Funny, I seem to recall that you are just now going through a bankruptcy, that you've been divorced, that you are deep in debt, that didn't have a job for two years and that you basically spent the last few months of your drinking inside your apartment. Doesn't sound so high bottom to me."

The truth is that before AA I was hopeless and didn't know it. It's taken me a while to realize how far down the scale I went. Even through I still had an apartment and a car and enough money to pay for those things for a couple more months, I was in deep doo doo. I was 47 years old, unemployed and living in a dirty apartment on borrowed money which was quickly running out. My mind told me that as soon as I found another big pay job everything would be fine. But my alcoholism had taken away my will to work and to make something of my life. I had no energy for anything other than getting high and watching lame daytime TV.

Then I got a moment of grace that led me to a therapist who told me the truth. Three days later I enrolled in a treatment program and three days after that I walked into my first AA meeting. Suddenly I was filled with hope that if I did what you did, I could get what you had. I floated on a pink cloud.

I loved everything about AA. I went to 400 meetings in my first year and did everything else that was suggested. By putting myself in the center of AA I make space for my higher power in the center of my life. Since then there have been non-stop miracles. It's almost hard to believe that I could get to where I am from where I was.

Step Four

Taking Step Four deflated my ego. It helped to make me right sized and create space in my being for my higher power to begin to work in my life. I learned some truth about myself -- that I wasn't always the nice guy I thought myself to be. I learned there as a lot wrong with me besides just drinking to much.

I discovered my part in soured relationships and began to take responsibility for my actions. Just the act of writing the fourth column took much of the fire out of my resentments. I learned that I was afraid about much of life and dependent on others to feel good about myself.

I relived and recorded embarrassing incidents in my past. I cringed recalling some of what I had done, both drunk and sober. Some of the things I used to laugh about were no longer funny. I wrote down icky secrets I'd been hiding for thirty years.

Writing my fourth was uncomfortable, painful. My disease wanted anything but the real honest truth and tried to get me off track by telling me to take short cuts -- to minimize, rationalize and justify. I put my pen down times, wanting to run. Only the date with my sponsor for the fifth kept me going.

In the end I fought through my demons and wrote my fourth step to the best of my ability. I'm sure I had some divine help to keep going, but my conscious motivation was simple. I wanted what you had. I wanted that sense of ease and comfort I saw on the faces of the oldtimers. I wanted to belong -- to be in the center of the herd. And I knew that the fourth was a key to gaining admission to the AA club.

Working with Others

I rarely drank to be social. I usually drank for only one reason -- to change the way I felt. I drank to escape the guilt, the constant tension, the frustrations, and a “hundred forms of fear.” And I drank when I felt good because just feeling good wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted euphoria -- the perfect high. A few times I got close, but predictably I overshot the mark and when I did my repertoire of behaviors ranged from cynical and negative to argumentative and belligerent. Toward the end only my lower companions could stand to be around me and sometimes even the bar flies flew.

I came into AA on a pink cloud -- a sense of dreamy weightlessness that was better than any drinking high I’d ever experienced. Like any good addict, I wanted more and I was willing to go to any lengths to get it. Even though the pink cloud wore off in a few months, I did everything that was suggested to put myself in the center of AA and the good feelings have kept on coming ever since.

Working with others makes me feel good. When I am passing on the AA message of hope, joy and love, my life becomes more hopeful and joyful. When I'm taking the actions to connect with a still suffering alcoholic, my life feels more fulfilling, useful. There is no greater pleasure than to see the light come on in another drunk’s eyes. It's simply a wonderful way to live.

Inner Change

I read once of an Indian tribe who cursed their enemies with “may you stay just as you are forever.” They understood that stagnation brings death. Everything in nature is constantly changing. Most of my life I held onto my fixed, rigid ideas about how life should work, until pain yanked them from my grasping fingers.

The new age minister at the church I attended in early sobriety said there are only two motivations for change: either we “feel the heat” or we “see the light.” Today I’m better at embracing change, probably because I’ve learned the hard way that doesn’t do any good to resist it. The pain always comes from resisting.

As an alcoholic I have learned all I can from pain. Now it is time to see what joy can teach me. All I have to be is willing -- willing to give up my fears, judgments and expectations, to “let go of my old ideas absolutely.” I’ve found it’s not as hard or scary as it seems.

It’s important to be gentle with myself. Trying to force myself to change because of self-dissatisfaction is just more violence against myself. All it really requires is that I pay attention to what’s going on inside of me. My Higher Power does the rest.

The sign said “Spiritual Pizza Parlor” so I went in and ordered a $12 pizza. I gave the waitress a $20. When she handed me my pizza, I asked for my change. She said “change comes from within.”

Old Ideas

Where I got sober, a few of the oldtimers used to say "I came for my drinking, but stayed for my thinking." The process of working though the first nine steps to the best of my ability deflated my ego which in turn made room for my Higher Power to work in my life and remove the obsession to drink. I was able to discover some big chunks of truth about myself and clean up most of the wreckage of my past. But I still have plenty of "stinking thinking" down in my subconscious that can bubble up to the surface and cause me to say and do things that I regret. The 10th step helps me become aware of how these false and worthless ideas are robbing me of my peace of mind.

Staying sober is no longer a daily challenge for me, but living with poise and serenity is. When I churn in anger, lose sleep to a resentment, or project a doomsday scenerio in fear I can be sure that some old idea is at work. When I am reacting from anger, fear or guilt, I forfeit any any chance at authentic happiness for as long as it take me to return to sanity.

When I work step 10 regularly, I pay attention to to my life instead of sleepwalking through it. I begin to see patterns to my reactions. I see how self will, driven by "100 forms of fear," keeps me in a prison of my own making. Eventually I get "sick and tired" of giving away my serenity and I become ready and willing to do whatever it takes not to live this way any more. I believe this is what "entirely ready" means in step six.


I identify with Bill when he said in his story, "I was winning at the game of life." I too enjoyed significant worldly success before alcoholism took most everything I held including my interest in life itself. But even as I look back on those so called good times, in honesty I felt empty inside. I found out in the rooms that what I was missing was not more money or a bigger house, but a true partnership with a God of my own understanding -- a God I could do business with. I found that God in AA and I'm forever grateful.

I was 47 years old and about 90 days sober when I was elected the donut guy by the men in my home group. I looked at this as a huge honor and I've been looking at service as an honor ever since. I've been fortunate enough to do a lot of neat stuff growing AA here in mainland China. It feels good to help where I can.

In the 70's they used to say, "whatever goes around comes around." Whatever I put out into the universe comes back to me. Whatever I give I really give to myself. If I am putting positive thoughts and actions into the universe, it comes back to me 10-fold. That's been my experience.

I got my life back in AA. No amount of service that I can do can ever repay this debt.

Treating My Disease

I was less than 24 hours sober when I met with Dean S. a counselor at the out patient treatment center to which I had been recommended by a therapist who had told me the painful truth about myself. Dean, sober for 16 years at the time, was giving me an orientation to help me make up my mind about committing myself -- and a big chunk of my meager funds -- to their treatment program.

I don't remember too much of what he said, but I do remember that he was a warm caring person, not judgmental at all. He was totally opposite in disposition and personality to the lower companions I met every day in the bar near my apartment.

One thing I do remember that Dean said made a deep impression on me. He told me I had a disease called alcoholism and that is was not my fault that I had it. Had he said that I was somehow to blame, that it was simply a matter of not having the willpower, well, I would have been right back out the door. As I was enjoying the moment of feeling off the hook, he said something else. "But, now that you know you have this disease, it is your responsibility to treat it. And if you fail to treat it, you will pay a bigger price than you can just now imagine."

I took those words to heart and committed to the treatment program. Three days later I walked into my first AA meeting and I have been treating my disease ever since.