Sudden Realizing

I didn't start out to become separated from you, God and everything good in the world. It just happened over time. Probably as a result of some wrong ideas that were poured inside my head as a kid by well-meaning, but misguided parents, ministers, and teachers. Fears and insecurities were the building blocks of my ego.

Looking back it seemed I was walking through my life on auto pilot -- numbed out to other people and life in general. I remember the feelings of emptiness. I tried to fill up this emptiness with all manner of things: good job, possessions, beautiful wife, vacations. For a while I really thought I was "winning at the game of life." But sooner or later the emptiness would always return.

The walls of my ego became thicker and for the last year of my drinking I was in extreme isolation, only made bearable by alcohol and denial. It was in this pathetic state that God graced me with a moment of clarity that led me to Alcoholics Anonymous and you. I felt at home for the first time in my life and the obsession was removed on the first day. I wanted what you had so I did what you did. Slowly I began to change.

Today almost 12 years later I still feel like a newcomer some days when those old tapes begin to play, but even the perfectionist in me midst admit that I have changed in some deep meaningful way. Almost daily I get glimpses of a different, better person emerging from the ashes of a broken damaged life. Here are a few glimpses I've had recently:

Catching myself feeling happy for no particular reason. Looking people in the eye when I'm talking with them. Not always blowing the horn and extending the digit when another driver does something dumb or inconsiderate. Viewing my work as a way to be of service rather than a way to make money. Having a sincere interest in the lives of other people. Standing up for the the person who's absent instead of participating in the
gossip. Listening for the still small voice...

I certainly don't have these flashes of the "new me" all the time, but often enough to realize that God is doing for me what I could not do for myself.

Handling Criticism

I think it's called a paradox. On one hand I was unaware of the damage I caused as I roared through other people's lives like that tornado Bill talks about. On the other I was super sensitive to any critical or unkind remark. I was so thin skinned I was almost transparent. I just couldn't stand criticism in any form, so I grew up with the idea that if I could do everything perfectly, you wouldn't criticize me.

Since I was trying so hard to be perfect, I felt certainly justified in getting angry if you criticized me anyways. But the anger didn't always come to the surface. Often I would stuff it down into my "mental cesspool" where I also stuffed my fear, guilt and shame. My mind was a raging sea of fear, resentment, and anger. I drank against these feelings for almost 30 years.

I learned in AA that this is an exhausting way to live. Regardless of how much money I have or other postive circumstances, I cannot hope to enjoy the full beauty of life without peace of mind. When I ask God in prayer for "serenity" I am asking for peace of mind.

I gain peace of mind as I use the Steps to muck out the cesspool -- to get down to causes and conditions, to get cleaner inside. By feeling better about myself I feel better about you too and it becomes easier to let go of petty hurts and forgive you for your mistakes too.

One thing that has helped me deal with criticism is the "1% Rule." The idea is that there is a least a small amount of truth in every criticism. My spiritual work is to see the 1% of the criticism that's true and disregard the rest. When I can see my part and realize you have been put in my life to help me, then I am saved from anger and a peaceful life is possible.


I saw the fatal progression of my alcoholism when I took the first step. I had crossed the three lines every alcoholic crosses. I went from liking to drink to wanting to drink and finally, to needing to drink. I drank against guilt, fear and anger and their ugly step children for almost 30 years. I stuffed them down into my consciousness where they festered and grew and filtered my perception. As my alcoholism progressed, my perception became increasingly negative. When I crawled through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous I was looking at life through sh*t-colored glasses. There was something wrong with everyone and everything. I complained, criticized and judged, but I didn't understand why my life had become so painful.

Today I know that it is not what I'm looking at that matters, but what I'm looking with. As Chuck C. says in his book, I've been given a new pair of glasses. The dynamic action of the Twelve Steps is changing my perception of life. Toward the end of my drinking, I automatically reacted negatively to almost everything that went on in my life. Today, I automatically react positively to almost everything.

As my perception changes so does my reality. As I look backwards over my years of sobriety I see that my life is getting progressively better. The guilt, fear and anger is melting away and I often feel happy for no particular reason. I have no reason to doubt that this trend will continue as long as I keep doing the things you taught me to do in my first week. I fully expect the best years of my life lie ahead of me.

Fear of Death

Turn it over, take it back. Turn it over, take it back.Sometimes it feels like I have my fingers crossed behind my back when I'm saying the Third Step prayer. I surrender my will and life over to the care of God, but part of me knows that almost as soon as I get up from my quiet time someone is going to say or do something that I don't like and Boom! I take my will back. It helps me to remember that the Third Step does not ask me to become a saint. It only asks me to make a decision -- a decision to take the rest of the steps.

It is the fear of death that keeps me holding on to self will. Not physical death but ego death. The fear that I will lose something I cannot live without and the fear I will not get something that I need to live runs deep into my consciousness. I don't experience these ancient fears in my head, but in my gut. Like a clenched fist. On some level ego death feels scarier to me than physical death. Geez, no wonder I hold on so tightly!

The dynamic action of the Steps grinds away at the fear, guilt, shame, and anger that keeps me in bondage to self. In the process, my self will--the jet fuel for my ego--begins to let go a little. I begin to change -- that deep psychic change the good doctor talks about in the Doctor's Opinion. As I become cleaner inside, my life seems more hopeful. My faith in my recovery program grows. I begin to hold myself and others with more compassion when I remember we are all doing the best we can.

I'm coming to believe that the Steps are not a formula to achieve enlightenment or a state of never-ending spiritual bliss. The Steps are a way of life. Step Three is a daily reminder of my decision to practice the rest of the steps.


When I'm really paying attention, it often seems like my life is a never-ending struggle. Like a daytime soap opera that goes on year after year. New crises pop up and new characters come and go, but it's always the same cheesy melodrama. The plot question never changes -- What do kind of crap do I have to wade through today to live happily ever after beginning tomorrow? Struggle has defined my experience for as long as I can remember.

We talk endlessly about how we struggle in AA meetings. Some of us have built whole identities around our drunk-a-logues. It's not only us drunks that struggle -- it's seems to be most everyone on the face of the planet. I can't read the paper or watch TV without being confronted with human struggle on a mass scale. The heroes of the books I read and the movies I see all struggle before they win the prize in the end. Struggle seems to define human life.

If struggle could be somehow magically removed from life a number of amazing things might happen. I would experience a natural sense of ease and comfort. Then there would be no need to get drunk, overeat, shoot drugs in my arm, watch too much TV, pray too much, or jump out of airplanes. Without struggle, every twelve step program would disappear overnight. Since struggle leads directly to suffering, all war, disease and poverty would fade away too. Flowers and trees don’t struggle. Animals don’t struggle. It's just us.

Why do I and the rest of the world keep struggling? I can come up with two reasons. The first is that I believe on some deep level that it is admirable to struggle. Nothing worth while can be achieved without first struggling for it. The second faulty belief is that I need to be on center stage of my life. I need to be special, unique and different. If I were to stop struggling, stop my incessant preoccupation with myself, what would be the point of life?

AA tells me the point. I must be willing to grow along spiritual lines. If I am willing to take the prescribed actions, the time will come when I let go of these old ideas absolutely and enjoy a life filled with never-ending peace.

Tiny Bubbles

I stopped drinking when my first marriage broke up. Since our nightly pastime was to get drunk and argue, I felt that alcohol might have something to do with the breakup, so I decided to quit as kind of an experiment. It was during this period that I had my first experience with meditation. There was a beautiful meditation center near where I lived in Santa Monica, so I signed up for a course.

I began to practice meditation. They instructed me to think of my mind as a glass of water with tiny bubbles at the bottom of the glass. With my eyes closed I was to visualize the bubbles floating from the bottom of the glass up to the surface of the water and disappearing. These bubbles were my thoughts. I tried this for a couple of weeks but didn't feel like it was "working." But I realized the problem was -- I didn't have the right equipment. So I went out and bought myself a meditation cushion, a meditation shawl, a gold framed picture of the guru, some sandalwood incense and some meditation music -- the same music they played at the center. I memorized a mantra.

I set up inside my walk-in closet. I propped up picture of the guru on a little table, sat on my meditation cushion wrapped in my mediation shawl, lit the incense and turned on the music. I remember feeling very "spiritual." I closed my eyes and began to repeat my mantra and watch the tiny bubbles rise to the surface, expecting at any moment to be overcome with wave after wave of bliss. You can probably guess what happened. Nothing. Well, that's not entirely true -- all the clothes in my closet smelled like sandalwood for months. Shortly thereafter I went back to drinking.

It helps me remember that there is no goal in meditation, no special feeling to achieve. I already am the peace I am seeking. No amount of equipment, technique, or Hindu mantras can take the place of just sitting down and being quiet.

Lying, Cheating, Stealing

When I was new I remember hearing a guy say "the more sober I get, the better people treat me!" I didn't really understand it then, but it seemed to be logical so I've been repeating it throughout my sobriety.

Recently I have come to believe that more than logic is involved. It's one of those spiritual laws or "axioms" that what I put out into the world will sooner or later come back to me as my own experience. It's an exact law. To the very extent that I lie, so will I be lied to. Same with cheating, stealing, gossiping (character assassination), abusing power in a position of authority, and all the other "sins" I have committed in my ignorance.

It's hard for me to see this law at work in my life, because the payback rarely comes immediately, but sometime later. It's a good way for me to explain how "bad" things can happen to "good" people.

Because its a law it works the other way too. I receive love, respect, help, kindness, etc. from others in the same amount that I put out into the universe. By trying to the best of my ability to practice the spiritual ideals of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, I create a better life for myself.

Personality Change

If you say you don't like me, it's my personality you don't like. It's the part of me I present to the world. The dictionary says my personality is the total of my attitudes, interests, behaviors, emotional responses, social roles and other traits. Certainly each one of these has changed for the better in me over the last eleven years and continues to change. If my whole attitude and outlook has changed, how can my personality not change? Won't more nutritious soil produce more beautiful flowers?

I'm sure that my personality is much more agreeable today than it was even a few years ago. Then I was a writhing mass if ISMs: sarcasm, negativism, big shotism, know-it-allism and a whole bunch more... I meant well, but by this time my character defects were in full bloom. I was toxic with a capital "T" and couldn't understand why I was having such a hard time with relationships.

Through AA I learned that there is more to me than my personality. There is a part of me that is divine, sacred and totally loving. When I am coming from this place I experience peace, harmony, unity and abundance. This is my spiritual condition that I pray to be restored to in Step 2.

I realize that this restoration project will not be completed in my lifetime, but as long as I remain willing, open-minded and honest more and more of the beauty of life will be revealed to me.

Spiritual Love

All I ever wanted in my life was to be loved. As a kid my parents and other well meaning adults filled me with ideas about what I must do to be loved: Behave, get good grades, set goals, work hard, don't fight with your sister. I failed at all these things and learned that love was conditional.

I picked up other ideas from movie and sports heroes: be tough, don't cry, never back down from a fight, win at any cost. If I couldn't be the biggest and strongest or the best shot, then I had to be the smartest or the most ruthless. Perhaps the most damaging idea was that I should be self sufficient. I had to figure out all my problems myself and not ask for help under any circumstance.

Later on society bombarded me with the idea that I would be loved if became a success in business, make a lot of money, buy the right house, vacation in the best spots use the right deodorant. I had to keep up with the Joneses because it seemed to me that the Joneses we getting all the love. I was keeping up for a while. As Bill says "I felt I was winning at the game of life." But I still felt empty inside. I drank at that emptiness for 30 years and I pretended that I had love even though in my heart of hearts that I was sure I was unlovable.

It took 47 years, but in AA I found out that I had it all backwards. It isn't being loved that brings peace and happiness it is in being loving.

My willingness to be of service both in and out of the rooms is being loving. When I have this willingness I am that channel that St. Francis talks about in his prayer. But I'm not channeling human, emotional love rather the unconditional spiritual love of the Universe, that I call God. This is what you meant when you told me that my job was to love everyone, but I wasn't required to "like" everyone. I try to remember that I don't have to "feel" loving to be loving.

"When you love you should not say, 'God is in my heart,' but rather, 'I am in the heart of God."
--Khalil Gibran, "The Prophet"

Dying to Self

Somehow, perhaps because of coming-of-age in the 60s -- I have always been interested in spiritual ideas. I guess I knew, even back then, there was something wonderful going on that I did not understand. Toward the end of my drinking, as my life spiraled steadily downward, I bought many self-help books looking for the secret that would make me whole. One of the books I bought toward the end was 7 Habits of highly successful people. Then I was unemployed, running out of money and getting drunk twice a day. I spent most of my days drinking alone in my messy apartment watching reruns of stupid TV programs. I don't remember too much about the book. (It's really hard to read when you are stoned) but I do remember one of the Habits -- Live a God Centered Life. Sounds good, but how?

It wasn't until I crawled through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous that I began to see there is nothing I can do to compel God into the center of my life. But when I put AA in the center of my life, God follows naturally. I do this simply by continuing to do the things they told me to do in my first week: go to meetings, put my hand out to others, and tell the truth no matter how painful. As I deepen my practice of the steps, I empty my consciousness of my old false ideas about who I am and how life works. I make space in my being for the God idea to flow in. As this process continues I slowly die to self. Bill raised the bar high when he says I have to let go of these old ideas absolutely. This is the price of a new life. I haven’t let go absolutely yet, but I'm closer than ever.

My First Few Days

My last drunk was not spectacular. By that time nothing in my life was spectacular. My life had gotten so small that it fit nicely into the rut I carved out after thirty years of drinking. I had no job, no friends, and no interests or enthusiasm. I was living off fast food, cigarettes, pot and red wine and worrying only that my borrowed money would run out.

I was dazed and confused, but thank God for denial because I was spared the true vision of how far I had sunk, about how hopeless my life had become. In my mind there was nothing wrong with me that a new high-paying job couldn't fix.

It was in this sad state that I received grace. In a flash I was allowed to see that all the negative events of my life were related -- they all had alcohol attached to them. In the next moment I was making my way up the back stairs of the Presbyterian Church to my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I was warmly and lovingly greeted by Will C and the rest of the "lunch bunch." As soon the first person, Big Al, began sharing I felt a connection to AA that has never left me. It was the language of the heart and I felt like I had finally come home.

I don't remember too much about those first few days in AA except feeling accepted and loved just the way I was. I do remember that sometime during those first few weeks Father Bill chaired the meeting. At that time, Father Bill, who has since passed on, had around 25 years sobriety and 50 years as a Catholic priest. In his beautiful Irish lilt, Father Bill told his story. The "what it was like" wasn't pretty. At the end he said that he learned more about spirituality in Alcoholics Anonymous than he did in all the time he had been a priest. Wow.

Practicing the Principles

I'm pretty sure I was an alcoholic long before I had that first drink. I remember feeling anxious and discontented as a kid I always wanted to be doing something other than what I was doing. Especially if what I was doing was practicing the piano. I hated to practice. It felt like punishment to me. I wanted to be outside playing with all the other kids, or watching TV or doing absolutely anything other than sitting at that piano practicing.

I learned a little bit about music from all the lessons my mom made me take. About notes and chords and middle "C" and I can remember some of that stuff today. but I can't play a song because I didn't practice.

When it says that we're suppose to "practice these principles in all our affairs" I first gotta learn what the principles are and then practice them. Just memorizing and "parroting" what it says in the Big Book about rigorous honesty, surrender, love, tolerance and forgiveness is not gonna get me a life that's a beautiful melody. I must actually practice these principles over and over until they become natural to me.

Trouble is sometimes I forget to practice. Instead I revert back to my old fear based reactions to the people and situations in my life. Then I begin to wonder why I don't feel comfortable in my own skin. If I forget to practice for long periods I slide back into self will and it won't be long until the Universe presents me with a lesson that stings. Not to punish me, just to remind me that I've forgotten to practice.

Self Sacrifice?

If there's one word in the world that doesn't seem like it should follow "self" it's "sacrifice." Self-centered sounds right as does self-righteous, self-indulgent, self-conscious, self-willed, self-serving, self-sufficient
and a whole bunch more manifestations of self, but "self-sacrifice"? No way.

It says in the dictionary that self sacrifice is the "willingness to deprive myself" Not to argue with Bill's choice of words, but I don't think a useful, contented sobriety is about depriving myself at all. I think it's about enriching myself. It's about receiving gifts.

There's a gift waiting for me at every meeting I attend if I am open to receiving it. It could be something as subtle as seeing the light in eyes of another alcoholic or hearing the solution expressed in a way that I can finally understand it.

To me helping other drunks is not self sacrifice. It is a gift and it is a privilege granted to me by my Higher Power. It gives me a great feeling to share what I have been so freely given. How is this depriving myself?

In my experience AA works because of the principle of "enlightened self interest." I get a good feeling when I can be of service to another drunk. If something I say or do lightens another person's load then everybody wins.

No Regrets

I'm am grateful to be an alcoholic. If not for having a deadly disease that was going to kill me, I doubt I would have been motivated to make any serious changes in my life. I'd still be stuck in the quagmire of my own stinking thinking, hoping that somehow things would change, circumstances would change, you would change, but not me dear God. I don't need changing because I'm OK.

I can't be grateful to be an alcoholic and regret the past at the same time. In order to become an alcoholic I had to drink; I had to keep on drinking even after suffering countless unpleasant consequences; I had to drink myself into such a sickness of mind, body and spirit that I was beyond all human help; I had to drink enough and hurt enough to become desperate; I had to drink myself all the way down to that jumping off place. I needed every drink. I couldn’t have done with one less.

My past holds the golden key for my continued healing. A few critical words might dredge up ancient feelings of shame; small slights can ignite a defensive over-reaction (I pull out a bazooka when a squirt gun is all that's required); a problem can generate a resonating sense of guilt even if I wasn't even in the general vicinity when it happened. Whenever I give away my serenity to anger, fear and resentment, I can be sure that some old, unhealed idea and belief from my past is to blame. Without these messages from the past I wouldn’t know what needed healing.

The story of the Prodigal Son from the other big book describes my life perfectly. Alcoholism took me into the pig pen. Like the young man from the story, I didn’t eat what the pigs ate, I ate what the pigs left behind. I needed my own pig pen experience to wake up. Only then could I be reborn into a new life. I don’t regret one bite.

Looking Back

Early in sobriety a member introduced me to spring hiking in the So Cal desert. It became one of my favorite ways to connect with the awe and beauty of nature and my Higher Power. Miles and miles of rocks and sand and cactus and sage brush. Total silence. If there was exactly the right amount of rain the previous winter and if the wind blew exactly the right way to carry the seeds, the desert floor would be painted with splashes of color from tiny wildflowers. This was a special treat.

One thing about the desert is the landscape looks the same. You can walk for miles and feel like you've been standing still -- like you haven't made any progress at all. Occasionally I would glance behind me. The ranger station with the flag pole where we parked out car and started out hike looked tiny in the distance. Only then did I have a sense about how far we had walked.

Recovery is like that for me. If I don't occasionally look back at where I've come from, I feel like I have been standing still. Sometimes my alcoholic life feels like a dream. Thank God for newcomers. They provide a glimpse into what it used to be like. They helped me see how far I've come and I remember to be grateful for the journey.

Fourth Dimension

When I was a couple of years sober I asked my grand sponsor with 30+ years why it seemed that some people with serious time on the program stopped coming to meetings. "Do they all go out and drink?" I asked. He said "Some probably do and some get just well enough to stay sober without the meetings." And then I asked him why he keeps coming back and he said, "some people are satisfied with one bite of the cake, some people are satisfied with one piece of the cake, but as for me... I want the whole damn cake."

The fourth dimension for me is the "whole damn cake." It is becoming totally free of all my old ideas and restored to my spiritual condition -- the way I was when I was hatched, before my mind was filled with all kinds of lies perpetrated by well-meaning but ignorant and fearful human beings living a purely human life. Their programming of me was quite thorough. And although anything's possible, I don't see my rocket ship breaking through to the Fourth Dimension anytime soon.

But I keep coming back anyways. Even though I don't have the excitement of experiencing life in another dimension. I do have a useful and contented sobriety and my life seems to get ever so slightly better each year. I want the whole damn cake too!


It is not possible for me to stay in the present moment if my life is out of balance. When too much of my attention and energy is directed to one aspect of my life to the exclusion of the others I lose the sense of order and harmony and my peace of mind gives way to anger, jealousy and fear. If I am nursing a resentment, caught up in the desire for more, more, more, or if I am afraid of what might happen, or might not happen, tomorrow, then It doesn't matter how many times I say the Third Step prayer, it won't help.

I try to remember that the Third Step is only a decision. I have to work the rest of the steps to see where my instincts for sex, society and emotional and financial security continue to warp me. I share my awareness with another, identify character defects and clean up any mess I've caused. It is this continuous process that restores me to "conscious unity" with my Higher Power. In this state balance returns, I instinctively make better choices and I am once again ready to be of maximum service to others.


When I say the St. Francis prayer I petition God to allow me to be his channel or instrument. If I am properly connected to God I never have to worry that I, myself, don't possess peace, love, forgiveness, and all the other qualities, because I'm connected to an unlimited supply of everything good in the world. But if my ego closes off my channel and the connection is broken, then I'm running on Jeff power, which I have proved to my complete satisfaction is really no power at all.

In my way of thinking, Bill and Bob and all the other old timers did not found and build AA, God did. These folks were just instruments that God used to create a force for good in the world. In the same manner, God worked through Bill and some of the others to create the Big Book, the 12x12, Traditions, etc. It has to be this way. Nothing that is spiritual in nature can be created by man working alone.

In creating the Traditions through Bill God must have realized that folks like me with super-sized egos and unlimited free will would eventually bring the house down. So to me the Traditions are the safeguard of the AA program. The glue that holds our various and sundry egos in check. This is probably just as true today as it was 70 years ago. When the traditions are read what I try to remember is that I'm part of a sacred mission as the true representative of my Higher Power. Anonymity reminds me to give all credit to God because of myself I am nothing.