I’d like to report I’ve eliminated most of my character defects, but an honest inventory shows I’ve still have just about every one of them I walked through the door with. They have simply rearranged themselves through the years. I guess I still need them to grow because God hasn’t seen fit to remove them yet. The difference today is I know they are there. Recovery for me is not about smashing my ego into smithereens. It is about having the willingness to learn the truth about myself -- that I’m an imperfect human being and I’ll always be imperfect.

I was working with another member when we were decorating our Alano Club in Shanghai. Dirk is good with his hands and besides, he was the only one of us who had his own tools. We were running out of time before the opening of the club. My need to control came out in a series of petty instructions. Finally I barked at him to do it my way. “You’re an asshole! Dirk said. Without hesitation I said, “I know.” It may not sound like much, but I look to this moment as a major turning point in my recovery. I didn’t get defensive and argue or stomp away in resentment. I simply admitted it was true--that I was acting like an ass. I recover when I have the willingness to look into the mirror when it is handed to me. People hold up mirrors for me every day. Some days I have the willingness to look at myself. Some days I only see the jerk holding the mirror.

The counselor in the treatment center told me that being an alcoholic wasn’t my fault just like it wouldn’t be my fault if I had cancer. Like my alcoholism, My character “defenses” are not my fault either. They developed as my way of trying to be comfortable in my own skin. I’ve learned to be gentle with myself over my character defects. I don’t use the whip of self-hate as much these days. Beating myself up for not being perfect is just one more character defect.

There was a book written in the 1970’s called, “I’m OK, You’re OK. ”I heard a speaker say he would rewrite this book and change the title to “I’m an Ass and You’re an Ass, so what’s the problem?” I’ve got the “you’re an ass” part down pat. It’s the “I’m an ass” part I have trouble with. I’m no saint.

Suit Up and Show Up

I have no idea how I practice spiritual principles. I just continue to do what you taught me in the first week or so -- suit up and show up and try to be the best me I can. I fail often. I'm no saint.

In the beginning I showed up to meetings because it was a requirement of the treatment center. I had to get my little card signed. But pretty quickly I sensed that you folks had something I wanted. I had no idea what it was, but I kept coming back to find out. When I was 90 days sober the men in my home group elected me “doughnut guy.” Now I had to show up. Seventy men depended on me for their sugar fix.

I kept showing up and my life began to change. I made my way through the steps with my sponsor. I learned that I wasn’t the bad person I thought I was. I saw that my resentments were hurting only me. In the process of taking the steps self-centered fear began to dissolve, making room for spirit to work in my life.

I began suiting up by spending a few minutes of quiet time each morning in prayer and meditation. I went for walks in nature. I read the Big Book and other spiritual literature. I was drawn toward the mystery of recovery. I began to try to do the next right thing even if I don’t feel like it.

The process of suiting up and showing up to life though the years has somehow made me a stand up guy. Today I am a friendlier neighbor, a more patient driver and a more loving husband. Earlier this year my wife had a serious medical challenge -- 60+ days in four different hospitals, an eleven hour surgery, and a battle with depression.

I spent eight to twelve hours in hospital every day, helping where I could. Thankfully, she is almost back to her normal happy self, but it was touch and go for a while, an emotional high-wire, but I didn’t get paralyzed in fear and I didn’t drink. I wasn’t thinking about spiritual principles. I just suited up and showed up and everything seems to be working out OK. Like it always does.

Asking for Help

Three days before I walked into my first AA meeting I was getting ready for bed when I realized I hadn’t thought about a drink the whole day. I found this strange because I was unemployed and had been getting drunk twice a day for the past eight months. I had been drinking for the better part of thirty years, yet the thought of a drink seemed to be the furthest thing from my mind. What had happened?

Earlier that day I spent my last $3700 on my Visa card to enroll in a treatment program recommended by a therapist. But the program wasn’t to begin for two days. No one suggested that I quit right away, but I was one day sober as I laid my head down on the pillow and turned out the lights. It was April 29, 1994.

I enrolled in the treatment program because I didn’t know what else to do. Life had been leaking out of me for many years. I had no interest or enthusiasm in looking for a job or anything else besides watching lame daytime television with a big tumbler of cheap red wine and my overflowing ashtray. There was no technicolor in my life, only shades of gray. I wasn’t really sure alcohol was the problem, but I was out of ideas. I had to try something -- anything.

In AA I learned I received grace -- a free gift I did nothing to earn. In removing the obsession, God did for me what I could never hope to do for myself. Apparently, without know it at the time, I asked God for help when I went to the therapist and enrolled in the treatment program. Help is what I needed twenty years ago and its what I need today. I ask for help every time I show up at a meeting, work a step and connect with another alcoholic. If I want to stay sober I must continue to ask for help by taking the actions that were suggested in my first week.


Looking back I can see that I didn’t do what I did in AA out of a sense of obligation or responsibility or worry about the new people twenty years from now. I did it because it felt good then and it continues to feel good today. It is self interest, pure and simple. It’s icing on the cake if someone else benefits from the time and attention I give to Alcoholics Anonymous, but I’m doing it for me. My participation in AA in meetings, in service positions and sponsoring others gives my life a growing sense of purpose and contentment I never had before. 

When I was new I saw that the happiest folks in the room were the ones doing service. I wanted what they had, so I did what they did. I listened when you told me that grateful drunks don’t drink and that gratitude was a verb not a feeling. If I was grateful for my sobriety, you said I should do something to show it. I arrived early and set up the chairs, picked up cigarette butts in the parking lot and swept out toilets. When I was 90 days sober the 70 men in my home group elected me doughnut guy. It felt like I had just won the Nobel Prize.

I moved to China when I was three years sober. I was graced with the opportunity to help establish AA in Shanghai. We grew from four alcoholics and three meetings a week in 1997 to more than 120 regular members and twenty-three meetings a week today. I held the Monday night meeting in my apartment for years, then five years ago we opened the Shanghai Alano Club. I served on the board as the Club’s treasurer for four years. It’s easy to hit bottom in China. Fortunately for me there has been a steady stream of newcomers to sponsor. I simply pass along what I had been so freely given. I returned to the states a few months ago and already I've taken on the secretaries job at one of my local meetings.

It is none of my business whether or not AA survives in the future. That's God's business. My job is to suit up and show up and help where I can. Short of the total destruction of the planet, I can't imagine AA not surviving in the future. It is a force for good that is divinely inspired. I suppose it’s possible that science will one day invent a pill that will allow us all to drink moderately and think lovingly. Then instead of AA, all us drunks would walk around like Moonies with goofy-looking smiles plastered on our faces. I wouldn’t take that pill.