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Resolutions

A little voice has been nagging me to get some resolutions down on paper for 2016. Specifically, the voice wants to know what I will do to improve my connection with my HP, better carry the message and practice more love and tolerance in my life. Right now 2016 is a clean canvas. What do I want my life’s painting to look like a year from now?

Like any good alcoholic, I want more — more abundance, more creativity, more joy. I want a richer, fuller, more peaceful life. I want to deepen my connection with others, both in and out of the rooms. I do not have the power to bring about these changes myself, but God does. I know from countless experiences when I turn up the volume of my program, I get closer to God and change happens naturally.

Just thinking about the changes I’d like to see next year and writing them down sets the wheel in motion, but the key, as usual, is willingness. What am I willing to do to continue to grow along spiritual lines? Is it time for another run through the steps? Might I increase my number of meetings? Try out some new meetings? Take a service new position? Should I spend more time in prayer and meditation? Focus on becoming more aware of some of my pesky character defects? I know that positive changes result whenever I demonstrate my willingness to grow. Nothing is wasted in God’s world.

Right now my life is pretty darn good. It’s easy for me to get caught in the comfort zone when things are going my way. But like you told me when I was new, “If you are completely comfortable in Alcoholics Anonymous, you are doing it wrong.” I intend my resolutions for the coming year to keep me out of the comfort zone and bring about the changes that allow more goodness to come into my life and the lives of those around me.

Asking for Help

I didn’t realize I was asking for help with my alcoholism as I sat in the therapist’s office listening to her outline her no smoking treatment program. Drinking wasn’t my problem, but I really hated smoking cigarettes. The therapist had developed a program that combined no smoking techniques with weekly therapy. One of the first things we discussed were my triggers. She asked if I drank. When I answered that I did, she asked if  I smoked more when I drank. “Maybe a little more,” I lied. She suggested that perhaps it would be a good idea to cut down on my drinking while I was trying to quit smoking. I remember reacting like she had pulled a gun on me. “My drinking is okay the way it is, I snapped at her.” My life was going to hell in a hand basket, but drinking couldn’t be the problem because drinking was all I had left. After all, I hadn’t been arrested for drunk driving for almost 19 years. No, I didn’t need any help with my drinking thank you very much.

I was able to quit smoking with her help and a fierce addiction to Nicorette gum. But my life didn’t get any better. I was unemployed, running out of borrowed money and waking up every morning with a growing sense of hopelessness. I still had no idea that getting drunk twice a day had anything to do with my life problems, but I went back to the therapist because I didn’t know what else to do.

She said she couldn’t help me. I was welcome to visit with her every week, but she didn’t think it would do any good. “Why not?” I asked. Her exact words were, “from what I know about you Jeff, you don’t have an ounce of humility in your whole body, you have the emotional maturity of a 13-year-old and your brain is so cloudy from your daily drinking but you can’t hope to get any clarity on your life.” Needless to say I was shocked at her words. Then she looked into my eyes like she was looking directly at my soul and said, “you’re in trouble aren’t you, Jeff?” The voices in my head screamed that I shouldn’t answer this question. I looked down at my shoes for a long moment. Finally I whispered, “maybe”. I know today that “maybe” was me working the first step. Unknowingly, I had just admitted there was something I couldn’t handle myself—that I needed help.

A week later I signed up for treatment and a week after that I walked into my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. It felt like I had finally found my way home after a long painful journey. I loved everything about Alcoholics Anonymous on that first day. And my love has continued to grow throughout the years.

Intuition

My struggles today are not nearly as painful as they used to be, but struggle continues to show up in my life regularly. Petty annoyances, frustrations, disappointments, and resentments throw my life out of harmony. If I don’t address these issues when they arise they take hold in my mind and push God out of the center of my life. My intuition tells me what I have to do to free myself from struggle. I have to talk to another alcoholic.

Any drunk will do. I don’t have to sit at the feet of a wizened old timer. I don’t need to be directed to the exact page in the Big Book that addresses my particular problem. Hell, I don’t even need sage advice. Nope. All I need is an alcoholic, any alcoholic, who is willing to sit and listen and share his own experience. Somehow by telling another alcoholic exactly what’s going on with me, the problem begins to melt away.

Pride keeps me stuck in the problem. Pride keeps me from picking up the 500 pound phone and asking for help. Pride wants you to believe I am special, unique and different. Pride has me pretending I have it all together—that I can solve any problem. Even though I find it hard to ask for help, I force myself to do it anyways. I’ve learned the hard way that if something is bothering me and I don’t talk to someone about it, then ego wins. And every time ego wins, ego gets stronger. Talking to another alcoholic about what’s going on right-sizes me and invites God back into the center of my life.

Looking Back

I often hear members share: “if you had asked me to write down the very best life I could’ve hoped for when I was new, I would’ve sold myself short.” This is true for me. It’s almost inconceivable that I could’ve traveled from where I was 21+ years ago to where I am today. It’s only in looking back down the hill that I can see the tremendous changes I’ve experienced through the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

I wasn’t looking to be changed when I staggered into my first meeting. I just wanted a job. Any job. It didn’t have to be a fulfilling job. Just enough to pay the rent and make the fear go away. I had no interest or enthusiasm for life in general. I was hopeless and didn’t know it. As I sat in my command chair with my big bottle of wine, bag of pot and the remote control, I considered a therapist’s suggestion to go to treatment. I remember thinking “I’m 47 years old. My life is almost over. Why should I quit drinking now?” But I went into treatment because I didn’t know what else to do. Almost immediately my life began to change.

It was easy for me to begin a relationship with God because God loved me first. God remove the  obsession, guided me to a great home group, and a loving sponsor. God provided me the willingness to do what was suggested and I was gently pulled into the spiritual mystery. I experimented with many different types of spirituality over the years, but I always return to the  simple wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous -- one alcoholic talking to another.

My insides began to change as I made my way through the steps. As self-centered fear dissolved a new world opened up to me. Before AA my whole world was the size of my messy apartment. At three years sober I was sent to the other side of the planet where I enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. I reestablished my career, repaired financial wreckage, and married a beautiful young Chinese woman. I was honored to be one of the first members to carry the AA message to mainland China. Growth is often painful. The Chinese people don’t do life the way I want them to. I fought against their backward ways until a few years ago when peace of mind became my most important possession. Slowly I'm learning to stop giving away my serenity over things I can not change.

Before I began my trek up the hill, I ran from uncomfortable feelings through the bottle. Today I face those feelings head on and always grow from doing so. I continue to experience great sadness over the death of my wife, but I’m also aware that happiness is right there behind the sadness. Today my life feels useful and content and I’m confident it will remain so as long as there are other alcoholics to help

Like Chuck C., I’ve been given what amounts to a new pair of glasses. Nothing, virtually nothing looks the same as it did at the bottom of the hill.

My Favorite AA Slogan

Our slogans are like hundreds of shiny threads woven into the fabric of our recovery. One of my favorites is “I came for my drinking but I stayed for my thinking.”

After the therapist listened to me whine about my life for 30 minutes she said she couldn’t help me. Her exact words were “your brain is so cloudy from your daily drinking that you can’t hope to get any clarity on your life.” (And this was after I had lied about how much I was actually drinking!) She said she couldn’t help me but maybe the treatment center up the street could. Even though I wasn’t sure I was alcoholic, I didn’t know what else to do.

I caught alcoholism in my first AA meeting. One man shared that when he had a couple of drinks he couldn’t stop. I thought to myself, “Wow, I can’t stop either.” But that wasn’t the main reason I kept coming back. Something inside of me sensed there was something special going on. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I wanted more so I kept coming back.

Successive fourth steps revealed an ugly collection of character defects. I was negative, cynical, judgmental, and resentful. I seemed to have no capacity to treat anyone with love and kindness unless there was something in it for me. I had been this way for so long, it felt normal to me. I learned I was loaded with guilt, shame, fear, and anger. Just not drinking was not going to fix me. Like the good doctor said in his opinion, I needed to experience an entire psychic change —  To let go of all of my old ideas —the stinking thinking — I’d been carrying around all my life.

Progress has been slow, but the dynamic action of the 12 steps has worked to dissolve much of the self-centered fear I walked in the door with. My thinking has been placed  on a much higher plane. I usually see the glass half full today instead of half empty. More and more I experience the impersonal love we alcoholics have for one another. Thank God I’m alcoholic. There is no way I could have traveled from where I was to where I am today without having a deadly disease that was going to kill me if I didn’t treat it spiritually.

Finding My Part

Finding my part in a resentment is like discovering a tiny doorway that leads me out of suffering and back into harmony with life.

I was fifty years old, not quite three years sober and had just lost my job. It had taken me a year to find this job and now, after only 15 months, I was out on my ass. It was all my sub-ordinate’s fault. I had yelled at her a couple of times, but if she had been doing her job properly, I wouldn’t have had to criticize her. Afraid she would sue, my employer took the easy way out and asked me to resign. I burned with resentment.

I didn’t sleep for five days. The voices of the demons in my head screamed nonstop about what a loser I was and how I would never work again. The fear was overwhelming. I went to meetings and shared about the job loss, but the voices continued unabated. Finally, an older member suggested that we work through the steps around the job loss issue. At that point I would have done anything to get some relief.

When I arrived at the fourth step, I followed the instructions outlined in our book. I listed those people at the job who had harmed me; what they did; and how their actions affected me. As I completed the fourth column, my part came into view: I was driven by the fear that my subordinates’ mistakes would reflect poorly on me. Not only did I see my own perfectionism, I saw that I expected everyone around me to be perfect too.

I found this sentence in our book that described my management style: “And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?”

Almost immediately after finding my part I was lifted up onto a pink cloud. The universe took over and in less than a month I was on my way to China to a brand-new career, three times the money, and an adventure of a lifetime. I am absolutely convinced there is no way this could have happened with ego running the show.

A Faith that Works

I didn’t know alcoholism was killing me from the inside out. All my life I believed that as soon as I had all my ducks in a row the pain would go away and I could finally rest. But my ducks kept getting drunk and wouldn’t line up properly. The drunker they got, the more painful my life became. I always believed in God, but I had absolutely no faith God would do anything for me. Certainly I never thought to ask God to help me clean up the mess my life had become. Then, at age 47, God did for me what I could never hope to do for myself.

I have no idea what happened. I can’t explain it logically. All I know is that a few days before I walked into my first AA meeting, before I had a sponsor, before I worked any steps, the obsession to drink was lifted clean out of me. All I had done that day was to pay $3,700 — the last of my Visa credit — as a down payment for an outpatient treatment program for alcoholism. I wasn’t even sure I was alcoholic. I just didn’t know what else to do. This miracle is the bedrock of my faith. Many more miracles followed and my faith has been growing ever since.

Today I believe that a loving universe has my best interest at heart — that God will get me out of any mess I get myself into. There’s only one catch. I must get out of the way. Our twelve steps seem designed for exactly this purpose. For me, the steps are not about learning anything new. They are about dissolving ego, uncovering the truth already inside of me and letting it flow out into the world. As I practice the steps to the best of my ability, I no longer feel separate and apart from life. When I’m paying attention I realize I’m connected to the whole universe.

It has been almost two years since I left Shanghai. I am back here wrapping up my wife’s estate, selling our apartment and deciding what to ship back to San Diego. It’s been a little weird without Lola. But on some level I know she is still here. There were perhaps 15 of us at yesterday’s meeting at the Shanghai Alano Club. I had seen about half of these folks on their first day and worked through the steps with a number of them. As I looked around the room, listening to the shares, I had the feeling I have always been exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

Wanting More

I was not a joiner. I didn’t belong to any professional or civic associations. I was uncomfortable at parties. I couldn’t make small talk until I had a few cocktails. As my disease progressed, I chased everyone else out of my life. Which was just fine. Other people had always been the problem. But now, a week sober, I had no choice but to come out of isolation and attend these damn AA meetings to get my little card signed.

I sat in the rec room of the Mt. Soledad All Hallows Catholic Church waiting for the meeting to start. It was almost nine o’clock on Saturday morning. The seventy other men, a good mix of the hip, slick and cool and sage old timers, talked and laughed among themselves. They seemed a little too “up” for me so early in the morning.

When I raised my hand as a newcomer, the men sitting around me, including the man who would become my first sponsor, extended their hands in welcome. I hadn’t been welcomed anywhere in many years, but these guys seemed genuinely glad I was there, even before I put on my people pleasing act!

Still toxic, I don’t remember too much about what was said during the meeting, but I do remember the laughter — the lighthearted seriousness of it all. During the birthday celebrations I caught myself singing Happy Birthday off key. I remember the men who spoke that day used the word “grateful” a lot. When the basket came around I put in a buck and wondered where the money went. We closed the meeting in a large circle, our arms wrapped over the shoulders of the men on either side and said the Our Father. It felt like I was thrown into the deep end of the pool.

A group of men surrounded me after the meeting with hardy handshakes, pats on the back, and exhortations to “keep coming back.” I was invited to breakfast and an unseen hand pushed me to accept. The laughter continued through breakfast. My spirit lightened up.

As I was driving home that day I sensed something special had happened to me. I had no idea what it was, but, like any good alcoholic, I wanted more.

Meetings, Steps, Service

I learned everything I needed to know about how to stay sober and grow along spiritual lines in my first couple of weeks. You taught me there are no secret handshakes or complicated spiritual theories to master. You said I can enjoy a life beyond my wildest imagination if only I would take a few simple actions over and over again. Go to meetings, work the steps, be of service.

I believed you when you told me that consistency is the key, that I must take the actions despite whatever else is going on in my life. Meetings, steps and service has been the cadence of my life through job loss, through serious financial set-backs, through the frustrations of living in China before AA was established and most recently, through the death of my beautiful, young wife.

I don’t take credit for any of it. My recovery is nothing I do and everything God does. I was graced with a spark of desire to grow into a new fuller expression and with the willingness to take the suggested actions. I sense a gentle hand is pulling me toward wholeness. My job is simply to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to keep trudging: meetings, steps and service.

When I was new I noticed many newcomers at my home group and a goodly number of old timers, but there seemed to be a gap in the 10 to 20 year range. I asked my grand sponsor about this one day. “Do all those people go out and drink?” “Maybe some do,” he said, “but some probably have enough recovery to live sober lives without meetings.” Then I asked him why he kept coming back after 30 years. He said, “Let me put it this way… Some people are satisfied with one bite of the cake, some people are satisfied with a slice of the cake. As for me, I want the whole damn cake.”

I might be one of those who can stay sober without Alcoholics Anonymous, but why would I want to try?  I  want the whole damn cake too.

The Best Medicine

I was dying of terminal seriousness. I was an empty suit, stressed to the max and stiff as a board. I looked out at life through crap colored glasses. I couldn’t laugh, not deeply. Even when I was drunk and stoned the best I could do was titter from inside my head. I didn’t realize I had a disease that was killing me from the inside out.

I was frozen when I walked through the door to my first meeting. I laughed, really laughed, for the first time in years. It was the laughter that connected me to the men in the room. The laughter drew me into the center of the herd. I began to thaw. I became a part of.

We are a wacky bunch, aren’t we? The beautiful thing about Alcoholics Anonymous is that were not afraid to put our wackiness on display when we share. An old timer told me, “We’re not laughing at you, Jeff. We’re laughing at your solutions because we’ve tried the same damn things ourselves.”

I remember reading somewhere that if I can learn to laugh at myself, I’ll never be at a loss for material. I’ve begun to notice I’m becoming increasingly more forgetful. There are 18 steps up to my condo. It’s rare that I don’t have to walk back up those damn steps at least once for something I’ve forgotten. I used to worry about it. Today I think it’s hilarious.

Laughter is definitely the best medicine for this alcoholic.

Experiencing God

The St. Francis prayer asks God to make me a channel of peace. I picture a pipe running through the center of my being that connects me to a mighty reservoir. When my pipe is open I experience love, wisdom, and abundance. When my pipe is blocked I experience restlessness, irritability and discontent. The twelve steps are like Drain-o for my spiritual pipe. The steps deflate ego, melt away self-centered fear and allow the cool, clear peaceful water to flow through me out into the world. Being of service, both in and out of the rooms, keeps my channel open and flowing.

God for me is an experience, not an idea. With my channel open I experience God in many moments throughout the day. I see the light come on in a new comer’s eyes. I watch a hawk floating above the hills where I hike. I’m caught by the the boundless joy of the little three year old girl who lives next door. I experience God when I get to the other side of a fearful experience and see that God was right with me the whole way. With my channel open, I become God’s expression -- a force for good in the world.

If I don’t feel connected to my HP, it isn’t God who moved. It’s me. God, as I misunderstand God, works in my life 24 and 7, but I forget God is present right here and now. Thankfully you guys have given me a whole bunch of tools to clean out my channel and keep the power flowing.

A Work in Progress

I spent most of my life — even well into recovery — rejecting those parts of me that I judged unlovable. As a kid, I burned with guilt over behaviors that violated commandments and the anti-social thoughts I kept locked up in my head. As the light of innocence fell away, I beat myself unmercifully for every mistake.  Early on you told me to check my whip of self-hate at the door, that I can't hate myself into recovery. It took many years and many trips through the steps to realize I am a work in progress. You guys accepted me way long before I could accept myself.

I still have most, if not all, of the character defects I walked through the door with. My defects have not disappeared, they have simply rearranged themselves over time. It helps me to realize my character defects, like my alcoholism, are not my fault. I didn’t choose to become a liar, a cheat and a thief. My character defects developed automatically as I tried to find inner security in a fearful world. Continuing to beat myself up for not being better than I am is just pride in reverse. Today I know I could not have changed to become the person I am today without my character defects. I no longer worry too much when I act unloving or intolerant. I get into action and use my amends tools to clean up the mess I’ve made.

I like the idea that humans are like mountains.  Mountains have a sunny side and a shaded side and so do we. I must embrace both sides of myself if I am to be restored to the wholeness promised in Step Two. I can’t imagine how boring life would be if we all went around like perfect angels.

I’m coming to believe that I’ve been exactly where I was supposed to be in every moment of my life. If I was supposed to be further along in my spiritual journey, I would be.

Near Death Experience

I had no idea I was dying an alcoholic death. Only in hindsight can I see how far down the scale I had traveled. I was an empty shell of a man without energy or enthusiasm for anything other than drinking. I had no job, no hobbies, no interests. I had no friends and no one to love. There was no light inside of me. By then booze was medicine I needed every day just to feel even. Drinking was not my problem it was my solution to boredom, loneliness and the dull ache of fear I awoke with every morning. Alcoholism had eroded my spiritual center. It was killing me from the inside-out, but I was paralyzed to change.

I wasn’t looking for a spiritual solution when I sought help from a therapist. My best thinking was life would be peachy again as soon as I found a new, high-paying job. Thank God for denial. Who knows what I might have done to myself if I could see how pathetic my life really was? I think denial saves a lot of us alcoholics from the ultimate mistake. Unfortunately, it did not save my father.

When I was new I heard an old timer say if an alcoholic kills himself before he works through the steps and has a spiritual awakening, he has killed the wrong person. If I had killed myself before I began my journey in Alcoholics Anonymous, I would not have killed the real, eternal me, only the false, fictional me, ego. There is nothing real about ego. It is only a collection of old ideas, images, and memories held in place by self-centered fear. Ego is the voice of self-hate. Ego demands I try and control the people and events in my life so it can feel safe. Ego keeps me in everlasting conflict, because ego can’t survive without conflict. Ego blocks out God just like the morning clouds on the Southern California coast blocks out the sun. The sun is shining, but since I don’t see it, I think it is not there.

The dynamic action of the twelve steps has deflated ego and allowed God to work in my life. The work is far from complete, but I'm not at all like the person I was when I started on this journey in Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s gloomy outside today, but the sun is shining in my life and I am grateful.

Eleventh Step

Will C. was the most humble man I’ve ever known. He loved Alcoholics Anonymous and he loved alcoholics, especially newcomers. His eyes lit up when he heard it was my very first meeting. Will rarely shared but his gentle demeanor spoke volumes. When Will shared he always ended with “I came for my drinking, but I stayed for my thinking.”

I believe God wants me to be happy, joyous and free, just like it says in our book. I’ve found this beautiful life  impossible for me as long as fearful, angry thoughts spin around in my head. I practice the Eleventh Step, not so much to figure out God’s will for me, but to quiet the disturbance in my mind.

Prayer and meditation dissolve negative thought energy and open up my channel to God. With peace of mind restored, I can do the next indicated thing and let go of results. Life is sweet when I don’t feel the need to try and control the outcome of my actions. When I can finally let go.

The centerpiece of my Eleventh Step practice is hiking alone on my sacred mountain near my home. It’s really more of a hill than a mountain, but I feel more connected, more serene, there than anywhere else. My senses come alive: I hear my heart pounding  the air feels fresher, the sky bluer and the sunshine brighter. I take my fear, anger and worry up to the top of the hill and leave it there.

Suddenly Realizing

I have experienced a few large and a number of tiny “aha” moments in my sobriety, but the first one—the moment I realized that my thirty-year obsession with alcohol had been removed--became the foundation of my entire recovery program.

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 all day. I found this quite curious as I had been getting drunk twice a day for the past eight months while unemployed. I had no idea what had happened, but I sensed it was something magical. When I read the Doctor's Opinion a few weeks later I realized my obsession to drink had been removed -- that God was doing for me what I could not do for myself.

With the obsession removed I had tangible experience that proved God was real and personal to me. I was pulled into the mystery of life. I saw that all I needed was to demonstrate a little willingness and great things would come to pass. Armed with this faith I was able to dance through the 12 steps enthusiastically expecting miracles in my life. What started out as a trickle became a non-stop stream of miracles that continue until this day.

Since the moment the obsession was lifted out of me, I have never seriously considered taking a drink or using any kind of mind altering substances. It’s been more than twenty-one years now. Like it says in our book, God has placed me in a position of neutrality as far as alcohol is concerned. I don’t want to drink and I don’t want not to drink. It’s a non-issue. During my wife’s illness our home was loaded with all the best kind of pain drugs including liquid morphine, OxyContin,and others. I was never once tempted despite the excruciating emotional pain.

I have great compassion for those members who share they are still struggling with the obsession even well into their sobriety. I am extremely grateful that God removed the obsession for me at the beginning of my journey. I’m not sure I would have made it otherwise.

Spiritual Love

When I was new I often heard my grand sponsor share in meetings about the spiritual love we alcoholics have for one another. I knew you guys were loving me back to life, but it took quite a few years before I began to experience spiritual love.

The only love I knew back then was the sticky, romantic love that I saw in the movies — emotional, hormone driven, exciting. This love is held together by the unwritten promises we make to each other. If you put me first in your life and make me feel special, I’ll do the same for you. All my relationships, even well into recovery, were based on this exchange of benefits model. Most started sputtering after the romantic period and I remember feeling betrayed each time, like the woman didn’t keep her promise.

The love I feel for other alcoholics is born of compassion, not desire. You walked through hell and so have I. I’ve learned that spiritual love is impersonal, makes no demands and expects nothing in return. It does not play favorites. We are all equals in the rooms. Spiritual love does not begin or end with me. It flows through me out unto the world. The twelve steps opens the channel for spiritual love to flow out of me. It’s nothing I do and everything God does.

I experience spiritual love at almost every meeting I attend. I see the light come on in a newcomer’s eyes, I hear of broken families mended, I witness one of the people I’ve worked with begin to give it away to others. I'm surrounded by spiritual love in meetings. Now I'd like to do a better job of taking it to the street.

Freedom from Bondage of Stuff

I was walking through the mall the other day and the thought came over me that I didn’t want one thing in this whole mall. No new clothes, no new electronic devices, no new kitchen gadget. No nothing. In fact, the thought of having more stuff actually felt a little repulsive.

This is stark contrast to my life before AA. Like most Americans I bought stuff I didn’t need with money I didn’t have. I made minimum payments on my credit cards until I declared bankruptcy after a couple of years sober. I realize today that I bought most of the stuff, not because I needed it, but to try and fill up the emptiness — to feel better about myself. Today, thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous, my life feels useful and contented. I no longer need to be filled up because I already am.

I no longer worry about there not being enough to go around. I no longer have to fight for more than my share. I have the faith I’ll be given what ever I need to thrive today. My daily bread might come in the form of strength, money, or an intuitive thought — what ever I need. God doesn’t give me enough bread to last me the rest of my life, only enough for today’s journey. God has never failed to provide what I need, even in the depths of my alcoholism.

As I continue to grow in AA I am learning to live with less. I no longer suffer the constipation of too much stuff. I sense I have just enough of everything, not to little, not too much. Just enough. I heard that a spiritual person is someone who owns two shirts, sells one for a dollar and uses the dollar to buy a flower. I’m not there yet, but I’m heading in that direction and it feels great.

Connection

I plodded through life feeling like a wind-up alarm clock that had been wound too tight. Innocently, without knowing it I had accumulated a whole collection of false beliefs that separated me from you, from God, and from everything good and real in life. I drank against the pain of feeling separate and alone for thirty years.

I saw therapists, took antidepressants, and read countless self-help books but nothing worked. Only alcohol provided any relief, but toward the end even my best friend abandoned me. Instead of a sense of ease and comfort, the booze made the fears worse. Finally grace allowed me to see there was plenty wrong with me that a new job wouldn’t fix. Something inside of me cried out for help and I was led to Alcoholics Anonymous. I've been seeking help in AA ever since.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I began my journey to wholeness at my first meeting, when I put up my hand and said, “I’m Jeff and I’m an alcoholic.”  I jumped into recovery with both feet. I began to practice the principles contained in the twelve steps, I experienced the psychic change described in our book, and a whole new world was born.  I am growing away from the false sense that I am separate and alone in a cold cruel world toward the certainty that I am inextricably connected to all of life — to you, God and good.

It’s early yet, but I believe today will be a pretty good day. I don’t have anything special planned. Yet I sense there will be special moments. I’ve enjoyed a succession of pretty good days in the past few years. Sure there have been challenges and heart aches. They seem to go with the territory. But these low spots are greatly outnumbered by days filled with peace, happiness and freedom. It’s a good bet today will be a good day because I plan to get to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and connect with friends on our program. This, I’ve learned is the formula for a useful and contented life.

Grateful for the Pain

I had just lost my first job in sobriety and my ass was falling off. At my sponsor’s suggestion I shared about it at my Wednesday noon meeting. After the meeting an old timer came up to me and said, “Some day you will be grateful for this pain.” I nodded like I understood, but I really didn’t. It has taken many years, but today I know what he meant. Besides all the good things in my life today, I am grateful for the painful experiences both before and after I quit drinking. I needed every single one to get to where I am today.

It wasn’t only the drunk driving arrests, the divorce, and the bankruptcy that brought me to AA. It was the chronic suffering of an unfulfilled life that I had no power to change. It was the pain of pretending my life was great knowing the whole time it was all a lie. It was the paralyzing fear of financial ruin and my inability to get up off the couch and look for work. It was the feeling of loneliness in the center of my gut because everyone close to me had run for the hills. It was the guilt and shame over the harmful things I said and did and the sick secrets I carried. The cumulative effect of all this deep pain brought me to my bottom and, finally, something inside called for help.

My painful experiences became my greatest assets in Alcoholics Anonymous. I connect with other alcoholics when I share my pain. Even though our drunk-a-logs may be different, the feelings of self-hate, frustration and fear are all the same. If you identify with my feelings, you may connect with my solution. Then we all win.

I heard there are only two ways to grow — either we see the light or feel the heat. For most of my life and recovery it’s been pain that’s motivated me to open my tool box and get back into action. The steps are slowly but surely turning my character defects into solid principles I try to practice in my life. I’m growing from fear to faith; from isolation to connection; from ego centered to God centered. I’ve learned mostly all I can from pain. Now it’s time to see what joy can teach me.

Good Orderly Direction

I’m coming to believe my HP is bombarding me with nonstop directions about how to live a loving and fulfilling life. When my mind is noisy I don’t hear the directions nor do I always follow the directions I receive. But when I take the actions that put me in the center of Alcoholics Anonymous, the HP’s voice comes through loud and clear.

God speaks to me primarily through other people. Virtually every person in my life has been put there to help me grow if I’m only willing to listen and learn. Like it says in our book, I had to get pretty close to death before I became willing to listen. The first voice I paid any attention to was my sponsor, because I sensed he had my genuine best interest at heart. I listen to the old-timers in the rooms because they have what I want—peace of mind. The hardest people for me to learn from are the ones that push my buttons. I still don’t like it when somebody touches an unhealed place inside of me. When I awake, it's like every person in my life carries a sign. Some signs, like the ones my close sobriety buddies carry say, “go this way, follow me.” Others, like the sign my alcoholic father carried, said “don’t follow me or you’ll be sorry.” Today I am better reading the signs than ever before.

God also directs me through well-placed “aha” moments. Out of the blue I realize I am changing.for the better. My first aha moment in recovery was when I realized that the obsession to drink had been lifted clean out of me. I have  frequent aha moments when I read the Big Book and other spiritual literature. Words and phrases literally jump off the page at me with new meaning. I had a major aha moment when I was care-taking my wife before she died. I suddenly realized that there was no way I could be doing what I was doing. It became clear God was doing for me what I could never hope to do for myself. I liken these little aha moments to a trail of white pebbles leading out of the dark forest of alcoholism. Just as I begin to lose my way I spot another little white pebble on the path ahead. Another God shot that reassures me I’m heading in the right direction.

I liken my intuition to a cosmic radio receiver. When I am honest, open-minded, and am actively demonstrating my willingness, the directions come in loud and clear. I see solutions to problems I had never seen before. When I am selfish, dishonest and resentful, I am blocked off from the sunlight of the spirit, I am forced to react rather than respond to life’s challenges.

The disciples asked the guru, “Master, tell us how to live a spiritual life.” The guru simply smiled and said, “if you are hungry, eat; if you are tired, sleep.” Can life really be this simple? I think it can as long as I continue to show up, pay attention, do the next indicated thing, and stay out of results.

The Gift of Willingness

I’ve received countless gifts in sobriety beginning with the moment of clarity that led me to you, but I believe the most important gift I’ve received is the gift of willingness. Without willingness, I would not have continued to take the actions necessary for all the other gifts to materialize in my life.

I received the gift of willingness in my first meeting. I wasn’t sure I wanted what you had, but I was really, really sure I didn’t want what I had. I sensed there was some kind of magic going on in the room that day. I had no idea what it was, but I was willing to go back and find out. It didn’t take long for me to realize that AA offered a way out of my pitiful life. I was so grateful, I would have been willing to stand on my head in the corner of the meeting room and recite the Serenity Prayer if you had asked me to.

I was afraid I would lose interest in AA halfway through. This had been my pattern throughout my life. I read countless self-help books as I bounced along the bottom. I remember feeling very excited when I cracked open a new book. I just knew I would discover the answer for my life somewhere in the pages. But I lacked the willingness to take the prescribed actions and the book ended up with all the others — gathering dust on my bedside table. I started countless diet and exercise programs. I joined gyms. But after a few months you could find me vegetating on my couch. And I still cannot quite figure out how I ranked in the top third of my class halfway through my freshman year and still managed to flunk out in my sophomore year. I was great at starting things, but lacked the willingness for sustained effort.

I call on a hidden reserve of willingness every time I have to take actions that are uncomfortable. I really didn’t want to share my secrets with my sponsor during my first fifth step, but I did anyways. Somehow I was graced with the willingness to face a hotel manager and admit I had stolen money from his hotel twenty years earlier. Recently I demonstrated my willingness to forgive by using the tools to let go of a couple of sticky resentments even though it felt so good to hold onto them.

Today I enjoy peace of mind most of the time. My life feels useful and contented. It’s true I’ve taken the suggested recovery actions, but God supplies the fuel—willingness.

10th Step Promises

I guess I must be a real slow learner. The promise that I will stop fighting everyone and everything has not come true for me. I’m better today but I still need to be right much of the time. I continue to have trouble with that restraint of pen and tongue thing. But I’m not complaining. Despite ongoing struggles with a variety of pesky character defects, I’ve had no desire to drink for more than 21 years. The fact that the obsession was lifted clean out of me is the foundation of my recovery. I still can’t explain how it happened.

Six days before I walked into my first AA meeting, I was getting ready for bed when I noticed I hadn’t thought about a drink all day. I found this surprising as I had been getting drunk twice a day for the past eight months while pretending to look for a job. I had been bouncing along the bottom for the past five or six years. Denial kept me from the truth about my alcoholism. I actually believed that living all alone with no one else in my life was a wonderful way to live.

A few days earlier I had been to a therapist to find out why I couldn’t muster the energy to look for work as my checking account plummeted. She told me some very unpalatable truths about myself. Her exact words were “You have the emotional maturity of a 13-year-old, you don’t have an ounce of humility in your whole body, and your brain is so foggy from your daily drinking that you cannot hope to have any clarity on your life.” Then she looked deeply into my eyes, like she was looking at my soul, and said “you’re in trouble aren’t you, Jeff?” The voices in my head screamed not to admit anything to this woman. I stared down at my shoes. After a few moments, I whispered, “Maybe”. I am coming to believe that, without knowing anything about Alcoholics Anonymous, I had just taken the first step.

Like the promise says, I have been placed in a position of neutrality regarding alcohol. I don’t want to drink. I don’t want not to drink. I don’t even think about it really. It feels like I am bulletproof as far as alcohol is concerned. But I’m not taking any chances. I’ve seen too many bulletproof alcoholics go out and get drunk. So I continue to take all the actions you suggested to me in my first two weeks. But I don’t take these actions because I’m afraid of drinking again. I go to meetings, work the steps, put my hand out to newcomers and sponsor because it gives my life a sense of meaning and purpose. The program of Alcoholics Anonymous is simply a wonderful way to live.

A Family Disease

When I was new I attended a few Al-anon meetings at the suggestion of my sponsor. I went to work through the resentment of my father who showed up at the top of my fourth step resentment list. I learned that alcoholism is a family disease. I learned you don’t have to be a problem drinker to suffer from alcoholism — at least from the ism. We all became ill, but the disease manifested in each of us differently. My father became more and more controlling as the years went on. I crossed the line into active alcoholism and all that entails. My sister, needed to have everything perfect in her life. She was a straight A student. I remember her crying when she got a “B” on her report card. My mother was consumed by bitterness, but suffered in silence. She never complained, but the pain was etched on her face. I didn’t know my family suffered from alcoholism. I knew we were not like a TV family, but for most of my life I thought we were pretty normal.

My sister and I left the craziness of our family home as soon as we could. I ended up in California and she moved to Boston. During the next twenty years, until my parents died in 1994, we made the pilgrimage home to Florida for a week at Christmas. Invariably, at least once during the week of our visit, there was a family blow-up fueled by my father’s drinking that doomed our family Christmas. It usually started with dad deciding to have his fourth drink before dinner. All was well as long as he stayed at three, but once he took the fourth all bets were off. Mom knew this best of all. I remember her standing behind him with an angry scowl as he sipped his fourth drink. Looking back I sensed they must have had many arguments about dad taking that fourth drink. At some point during dinner, dad would make a comment — a veiled attack on either my sister or me. So sensitive were we to his life-long criticism and control, so sick were we ourselves, we just couldn’t let it pass. The argument started as soon as we spoke up for ourselves and another beautiful family meal was ruined. I don’t believe dad was trying to start an argument but, like me, he just couldn’t let anything go. He found something not to his liking with one of us and he just had to tell us about it. The dinner ended half way through with my sister in tears and my mother choking on bitterness. I stormed away from the the table angrily vowing never to return. We made believe we patched things up before we left, but the week left us bruised and battered.

Like clockwork we received a letter from dad a week or so after we returned home. He always typed them, single space on his old Remington manual typewriter. In carefully worded paragraphs he apologized for his part, but was quick to point out where we had been at fault. He defended his drinking. He justified taking the fourth drink saying he felt free to drink a little more while my sister and I were there. He announced, despite everything that happened, he was not ready to quit. I don’t know if my father ever sought help from his drinking. I do know that his need to be right, his frustration about life and his inability to keep his mouth shut resulted in him becoming estranged not only from his wife and children, but from friends and relatives. The reason I know this is because I became just like him before I was graced with a moment of clarity that led me to Alcoholics Anonymous.

Forgiveness

When I was new you taught me to identify, not compare with others in the room. You said when I identify, I connect. When I compare I separate myself from life. You taught me that forgiveness heals the sense of separation between us  and reconnects me with my Higher Power. I’m learning that I cannot forgive until I am able to see myself in the other person.

My father was at the top of my first fourth step resentment list. He was cold and controlling, and doled out harsh punishment when I stepped out a line. I didn’t hate my father, but I resented the way he treated me. This resentment kept me from the desire to have any kind of meaningful relationship with him. My ego erected a wall between us.

I joined AA and began to make my way through the steps. When I came face to face with my character defects I saw I was guilty of the very things I judged him for. I was cold, controlling and angry when I didn’t get my way.  Today I know that my father suffered from untreated alcoholism. I realized he was driven by a 100 forms of fear just like me. I feel compassion for him and the suffering he must have endured. I regret that my father died before I could see this truth.

God puts other people in my life to help me grow. They hold up mirrors so I can see the truth about myself. Most of the people in my life today reflect good qualities. But every now and then a button pusher appears to help me see I’ve got work to do. Seeing my character defects in others doesn’t feel good, so I often turn away, but then another person shows up with the same reflection. Funny how that works.

The key of course is willingness. I continue to grow along spiritual lines, if I have the willingness to look in the mirror when it’s standing right in front of me. Some days I have this willingness. Some days I don’t.

Life on Life's Terms Sober

In 1993, one year before I got sober, my mother was dying. I flew across the country every other weekend to my parents home in Florida. By then mom was on hospice care and hooked up to a morphine drip. I found it excruciatingly painful to talk with her during these trips. I was so uncomfortable all I could do was sit by her bedside and drink. When she died I drank against all the feelings that tried to arise, pushing them down below the level of consciousness. Last year, my wife of 18 years became very ill and eventually died at the end of November. Now, without alcohol and drugs, I had no choice but to walk through the painful feelings sober.

I ran the whole gamut of emotions after Lola died. I was glad she no longer suffered. I was angry because she was 23 years younger and I was supposed to go first. I was afraid about what life would be like without her happy spirit. But mostly I felt sad. I wasn’t sad all the time, but out of the blue sadness crashed over me like a wave. Today the sadness is still there, but it feels more like ripples than waves.

The most troubling feelings for me have been feelings of loneliness, thank God AA provides me a solution. In the middle of February my HP tapped me on the shoulder and suggested I get connected with Alcoholics Anonymous here in North County, San Diego. I committed to 90 meetings in 90 days. As of yesterday I have attended 91 meetings in 84 days. I have made new sober friends and have even hooked a willing newcomer. As it says in our book, my whole outlook and attitude has changed. I still feel pangs of loneliness, but they are nowhere near as painful as they were three months ago.

I miss my wife terribly. Yet, I am not suffering. Instead I feel grateful for the time we had together. I consider it a huge honor to have been chosen to walk with her until the end. I am so grateful to Alcoholics Anonymous and what I learned from people like you about living life on life’s terms.



It's All Grace

If nothing happens in God’s world by accident, then every single experience is meant for my highest and best good. The so-call good experiences and the so-called bad experiences are all grace - undeserved gifts designed to help me grow into full expression of my true nature which I believe is divine love.

I look at my alcoholism as a blessing. I could not have traveled from where I was twenty-one years ago to where I am today without having a disease that was going to kill me unless I treated it spiritually. My alcoholism turned out to be my ticket out of bondage of self into a life of beauty and meaning.

Last week I ran into a newcomer at a meeting I hadn’t seen for a few months. The last time I saw him he had just had his second drunk driving arrest and his attorney suggested he attend AA meetings to look good when he went in front of the judge. I caught up with him after the meeting and asked him how it was going. He said he had his day in court and was sentenced to a year and a half of AA meetings. He was happy he was having a Breathalyzer installed on his car so he didn’t have to ride his bicycle everywhere.  I asked if he had a sponsor yet. He said no. In fact, he was taking “a few drinks now and then and was doing OK.” I said that maybe he wasn’t alcoholic and suggested he try the controlled drinking experiment described in our book. He seemed interested so I outlined the procedure. He said, “Yeah, I probably should try that.” I said, “I hope you convince yourself that you are an alcoholic.” He looked at me kind of funny. Like me, there is no way Matt could possibly imagine that alcoholism could be a good thing. 

My wife fully understood when I told her I felt my alcoholism was a blessing. She said she felt the same way about her cancer. She shared that every time the cancer recurred she drew closer to her beloved Jesus. She shared she felt guilty because after she fully recovered from her surgery she slipped slowly backward into a life of materialism. I am so grateful there is no cure for the disease of alcoholism. I can’t imagine life as a normie.

I am grateful to be an alcoholic. I pray that all the Matts in the world receive the gift of desperation, the gift of clarity and the gift of willingness so they can experience the wonder and excitement of recovery like I have.

Character Defects

The longer I hang around this camp, the more I become convinced that I still have every one of the defects of character I walked through the door with. They just go underground — hibernate — until the right situation arises. Oh perhaps mine have softened over time, but they have not been removed. Recovery for me is staying aware of my character defects, accepting them like I first had to accept my alcoholism and trusting that they will be removed when the time is right.

Impatience, cynicism, self-righteousness, a sense of entitlement, and a short fuse all add up to one thing: I can act like an asshole at times. There’s no better word for it. A couple of days ago I called AT&T to change my TV plan to a less expensive option. I know from a wealth of experience I don’t do well with customer service reps and computerized call centers. So, as I dialed the customer service number, I prayed: “please help me be patient and kind.” I started to feel anxious after about fifteen minutes on hold, listening to a recording about how much AT&T appreciated my business. Finally I was connected to a Filipino rep who I did not clearly understand and there was so much noise in the background of his call center that I had to repeat every sentence. I carefully explained what I wanted — a different plan at a lower price. He suggested a new plan and painstakingly reviewed all the features. I became excited until he finally told me that the new plan was more expensive than the plan I currently have. In less than two seconds my opinion of him changed from fellow human being to complete idiot. My tone became sarcastic and mean as I pointed out how he had wasted my time. I didn’t yell or swear at the guy (progress!) but after we hung up, I’m sure he said to himself “what an asshole that guy was!” I was still angry after I hung up the phone. Then I realized the anger didn’t feel good. Instead of justifying or rationalizing my treatment of the AT&T guy, I saw clearly that I was suffering at the hands of my character defects. This is major recovery for me.

It says in our book that we have stopped fighting anybody or anything, but it doesn’t say we stop fighting all at once. I still want to fight. I guess I’ll stop fighting when I get sick and tired of being sick and tired, just like with my drinking. The Doctor’s Opinion says I need what he calls “an entire psychic change.” Step Six says I have to become, “entirely ready.” Today I’m OK with not being “entirely” ready. I see myself as a work in progress on God’s schedule, not mine.

Recovered or Recovering?

Thankfully, like our first 100 members, I have recovered from a hopeless state of mind and body, but I do not think of myself as a recovered alcoholic. Recovered sounds too much like my spiritual work is complete, like I can sit back and rest on my laurels. My recovery is hardly a permanent, static thing. It is a living, breathing experience of life that changes moment by moment. It is at once a celebration, a grand adventure into the mystery and a reconnecting with the oneness of life and the divine energy that holds it all together. Since I don’t believe the spiritual journey has a finish line, I’ll continue to be a recovering alcoholic until my time is up.

When I first read Step Two on the wall I was confused. (I was confused about a lot of things back then.) Sure I did many stupid things through the years both drunk and sober, some of them more than once, but I certainly wasn't insane. I doubt they would have accepted me in the nut house. Compared to the rest of the world I was pretty normal. Insane? No way. Then it was explained to me that sanity in Step Two is not simply psychological sanity. Sanity in Step Two means spiritual wholeness. Recovery, then for me is the process of being restored to the truth of what I am -- a tiny spark of life before the world got a hold of me. Restored to sanity means that my HP returns me to my original spiritual condition -- the way I was before I left the home office.

I think of recovery as an ongoing process of growing from ego-consciousness to God consciousness. It is the recognition that I am not simply a shivering, fearful human grasping for security, but a full and complete expression of life itself. Standing in the way of my total recovery are hundreds of “old ideas.” These are the false beliefs I inherited from ancestors and those force fed me by my parents, teachers and society as reported on the six o’clock news. These old ideas cause me to believe I am separate from you and God. As a separate self I have no choice but to respond to life fearfully. The Twelve Steps help me become aware of these old ideas, realize the pain they cause myself and others and finally to see they are not true. I suppose it possible for some to achieve a state of complete freedom from these old ideas, but I’m not there yet. Like Bill said in our book, this is not an overnight matter.

My first home group had goodly numbers of newcomers and old timers, but I noticed there as a gap of men with ten to twenty years. I asked my grand sponsor about this one day. “Did they all go out and drink? "Well, some probably do, he said, “but I suspect most feel they are well enough to do life without AA." I asked him why after 30 years he kept coming back. With a twinkle in his eye he said, "Some are satisfied with one bite of the cake, some are satisfied with one slice of the cake. Me, I want the whole damn cake!” I want the whole damn cake too so I think I’ll keep coming back.

My Number One Job

I sat in group in the outpatient treatment center. When it was my turn to share I  complained about not having any luck in my job search. The five or six other newbies in the circle had heard this complaint before. I had been sober for three weeks now. I was feeling good. I figured I had this little alcohol problem solved and it was time to get on with my life. The bowling ball-shaped woman who ran the program — an ex-heroine addict from New York (who had a sign on her desk that read, “Be careful! I go from zero to total bitch in 2.0 seconds.) stared at me for a moment and said, “You are so full of crap, Jeff. Instead of wasting our time whining about not having a job, why don’t you make your recovery your job?” I clammed up. I had been around long enough to know better than to challenge anything this woman said, but looking back I can see that’s exactly what happened. Recovery became my job almost twenty one years ago and remains so today.

It would be more than a year before I rejoined the work force. During this time I served my apprenticeship in Alcoholics Anonymous. I loved the meetings and the people so I went every day. I took all twelve steps with my sponsor, allowed the folks in my groups to get to know me and took on service positions. I began putting my hand out to newcomers. I was firmly in the center of Alcoholics Anonymous when a man asked me to sponsor him. Sponsorship added a whole new dimension to my job in recovery.

I was three years sober when I moved overseas to China for work. During my first few years in Shanghai there were very few qualified sponsors. So I became the go-to guy by default. I had the remarkable opportunity to sponsor many men that I would not have had here in San Diego where there are tons of qualified sponsors. Many fell by the wayside, but I continue to work with a couple of these men today. I have history with these men and it is precious to me.

I was new to North County San Diego when I arrived here with Lola at the end of 2013. Then she became ill and I never got connected to the groups here. In the middle of February HP gave me a shove and I committed myself to 90 meetings in 90 days. I am a little more than half-way through and I can really feel the difference. I’ve taken a few service positions and I’m getting to know people by name. I have new sober friends and I call newcomers regularly.

Sponsorship is the most rewarding part of my job in recovery. The opportunity to give to others what was so freely given to me, is what gets me out of bed in the morning. I know by now that being active in AA and sponsoring others is the key for a useful and contented life. I am grateful to have this job.

It's All About Me

I believe Alcoholics Anonymous works on the principle of enlightened self-interest. I benefit every time I share. If anything I say helps another alcoholic, it’s icing on the cake. I can’t get anyone sober, but sharing with others is absolutely necessary for me to stay sober and grow. It’s all about me.

I try to share what it was like, what happened and what it’s like today.  I pass on the touchstones of my recovery. I share about the first time I admitted I needed help, about my moment of clarity, about what my pink cloud felt like. I share about the relief of having the obsession lifted clean out of me. I share about my first meeting -- about feeling like I had finally found my way home after a long journey. I share that I wasn’t sure I was an alcoholic until a man said that once he took that first drink he never wanted to stop. I thought, “Yeah, that’s me. I never want to stop either.”

I was taught to start out talking a little about my drinking and my feelings of guilt, shame and remorse about the people I hurt with my drinking, including myself. Some say that the most important word in the Big Book is “Remember.” I never want to forget what it felt like to be me in those last few years as the disease dragged me down. The frustration of failed relationships, the terror of running out of money, the insanity of believing a new job was going to fix everything. I share about feeling paralyzed to take any positive actions to look for work or even to clean my apartment.  I don’t drone on and on in a never-ending drunk-a-log, but the newcomer needs to know that I drank alcoholically, suffered consequences, but kept on drinking anyways. Unless an alcoholic can identify with my drinking, he or she won’t pay attention to my solution.

I try to keep it light. As an alcoholic who suffers from terminal seriousness, it was the laughter in the rooms that kept me coming back in the early days. I try to share at least one humorous episode about the insanity of my drinking. Like how shocked the California Highway Patrol officers must have been when they saw me driving directly toward them going the wrong way on the Golden Gate Bridge. If  we can get a newcomer to laugh, there’s a good chance he’ll come back. If we can get him back to the meeting day after day or week after week, God will do the rest.

Most newcomers have been beating themselves with the whip of self-hate for years before they find their way to AA. I know I did. I share about what I learned on the first day in the treatment center: Alcoholism is a disease like cancer, liver or heart disease. It’s not my fault if I have it, but now that I know I have this disease, it’s my responsibility to treat it. If I fail to do so, my life will become a living hell. I suggest they check their whip at the door and use the energy to treat their disease by taking the actions prescribed in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

I talk about willingness. I put myself in the center of AA by demonstrating willingness. Willingness to me is not simply “go to meetings, get a sponsor and work the steps and don’t drink.” Equally important to me is demonstrating willingness by asking for help, allowing people to know me, putting my hand out to the new person and being of service to the group. By demonstrating willingness, I put myself in the center of the AA herd where I am safe. If I try to hang out on the outside with half measures, I’m fair game for the disease to have its way with me.

I firmly believe anyone can keep sober, grow spiritually and enjoy a beautiful fulfilling life if they are willing to go to any length. What is any length? Like what was suggested to me when I was new, I recommend a newcomer spend more time taking recovery actions each day than he or she did drinking and using. This equaled six hours of recovery a day for me. When I suggest 90 meetings in 90 days I watch the newcomer’s eyes roll back. I know he is thinking “you’ve got to be kidding me!” Most won’t commit, but those who do seem to have a much better chance.

Today my life feels useful and contented. I enjoy peace of mind much of the time. I have a newfound capacity to stay balanced regardless of how fast life is spinning around. I continue to take the actions that keep me in the center of Alcoholics Anonymous, not because I’m afraid I’ll drink, but because my life feels so much better when I do.  My HP doesn’t play favorites. My message to newcomers is you can have what I’ve got if you’ll do what I do.

Real Feel Good

Thankfully God led me to AA before I tried  crack cocaine. I have such an addictive personality that a couple of crack sessions would probably be enough to make me sell my blood to buy more. I tried everything to outrun the fear: making money, exercise, relationships. Nothing worked for long. Almost 21 years ago booze was failing me too. Oh I still got drunk all right, but the fear shadowed me wherever I went.

A therapist told me some painful truths about myself and recommended treatment. I wasn’t even sure I was an alcoholic, but I was out of ideas. When I committed to treatment, something inside of me let go. My thirty-year obsession to drink was lifted clean out of me. I didn’t realize at the time that God was doing for me what I could never do for myself.

I floated into my first AA meeting on a pink cloud, feeling like a two hundred pound bag of cement had been removed from my shoulders. I was welcomed with open arms. Still toxic and spinning, I don’t remember too much about what went on, but I do remember I laughed, really laughed, for the first time in many years. It felt like I had finally found my way home after a long painful journey. Hope flooded in. Like any good addict, I wanted more. You promised the good feelings would continue if I was willing to take a few simple actions. I took the suggested actions not because I was afraid of drinking if I didn’t, but because I wanted what some of the old timers in the room seemed to have -- peace of mind.  

I can’t find my HP hanging out on the outside of the program. God comes alive for me when I’m in the center of Alcoholics Anonymous. If I really want to enjoy my recovery and my life, I must take the suggested actions day in and day out, rain or shine. I don’t do this perfectly, but my life feels useful, content, and exciting when I do.

We arrived in the area at the end of 2013 for what was to be a two month winter vacation. Almost immediately Lola became very ill. As her caretaker I did not have time to get to many meetings last year. After she died I realized I needed to get connected. A month ago I committed myself to 90 meetings in 90 days. My ego would much rather hang out in Cheers (where everybody knows my name) than to walk into new meetings and introduce myself to a bunch of strange alcoholics for the first time, but I knew there would be a payoff if I did. As of yesterday I’ve been to 34 meetings in 31 days. Already I’ve discovered a number of new enjoyable meetings and made some new recovery pals. My life is beginning to feel full once again.

Love and Tolerance

A year ago, just after we arrived back in San Diego, I was asked to lead the noontime meeting near my home. During the meeting a newcomer raised his hand to share. He said that his main problem was drugs. He asked if it was OK if he shared. I paused for a moment waiting for the meeting secretary to intercede, but when she didn’t, I said, “Sure.” After we said the closing prayer, the meeting’s self-appointed sheriff came up to me and said I shouldn’t have allowed him to share. He said the group had taken a group conscience about the issue that stipulated only alcoholics could share at the meeting. His criticism stung. This incident caused me to consider this issue at length. I concluded that, if the same scenario occurred today, I would respond in the same way. I believe love and tolerance takes precedence over the group conscience, but I must also love and tolerate those who hold opposing views. I think this is the way Bill W. would see it if he were around today. 

Years ago in China, before NA meetings were firmly established, a newly sober man asked me to work with him. I declined because he introduced himself in our AA meetings as a drug addict. I told him I thought drug addiction and alcoholism to be two separate diseases. I pointed out that, while we both had mental obsessions over our drugs of choice, I had a physical allergy to alcohol that he didn’t have. Besides, the literature is different, the meetings are different, even the wording of the Steps is different. He still didn’t fully understand why I wouldn’t try to help him. Today I don’t understand either. I regret not agreeing to work with this man. I got  caught up in our differences and lost sight of our similarities: the hopelessness we felt, the never-ending fear, the self-hate. I do feel that drug addicts are best sponsored by drug addicts, but if God ever drops another drug addict on my doorstep, I’ll gladly take him in. God doesn’t give to one and withhold from another. Why should I?

In my view, AA is growing and changing, becoming a ever more solid force for good in the world. I have a choice. I can either go along or resist these changes. I’m learning that anytime I resist change I suffer. It’s hard for me to identify with young people who have completely screwed up their lives in five years -- a job that took me thirty, yet, it seems that is exactly what I’m called upon to do.




Language of the Heart

I couldn’t put it off any longer. I was running out of things to read to my sponsor during my first fifth step. The tension had been building for an hour as we discussed my resentments and fears. I really, really didn’t want to share my secrets with him. After all, what would he think of me? These were the icky things no one was to ever find out about me. They were so embarrassing, I tried not to look when I wrote them down. Now I had no choice. Somehow I summoned the courage, held my breath and plowed ahead. It didn’t take long to read my secrets to my sponsor. The last one was particularly painful to share, but when I finally admitted what I had done, he said, “Oh, did you do that too?” Then he went on to share a couple of his secrets and my anxiety immediately vanished. Through the years I’ve shared these very same secrets with a number of other alcoholic men without a twinge of anxiety. I learned that my painful life experiences are like gold, sharing them with other alcoholics enriches us both.

I share not only the stupid, embarrassing, hurtful things I did when I was drinking. I also share sad, angry and fearful experiences. We had a first timer at our meeting on Wednesday who broke into tears when he shared that his wife had passed away a few months earlier. I gave him my number after the meeting and he called me the next day. I shared with him about my experience losing Lola and he shared his feelings about losing his wife. He said he felt better after chatting with me and promised to stay in touch. I don’t know if he will call me again, but I felt glad that my grief over losing Lola had been put to good use.

AA’s official start date is not the date Bill W. got sober, but the day Dr. Bob got sober. The whole foundation of our program is not lofty spiritual ideas, but simply one alcoholic sharing honestly with another alcoholic.  This is the language of the heart.

Spiritual Malady

“Selfishness-self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.” Pg 82

It took many years in AA to realize that drinking isn’t my real problem. Like our book says: “Bottles were only a symbol.” My real problem is self-centeredness. The alcohol sickened my body and mind, but it is self-centeredness that blocks spirit from flowing into my being. I know today that regardless of the name I give it -- God, awareness, consciousness, recovery-- spirit is the vital life force. It’s what moves me and breathes me. It’s my connection to the power of the universe. When this life force is blocked, I become bodily, mentally and spiritually sick. I am powerless to act in my own best interest and my life is unmanageable.

It’s not my fault I’m self-centered. Like all of us, I was born this way. My first baby word was “me”; my second word was “mine”; my third word was “more”. As I grew my selfishness grew. Self-centered fears -- the fear that I won’t get what I need to live comfortably or the fear I will lose something I can’t live without -- began to dominate my life. I compensated for this insecurity by grasping for more. Always there was never enough of anything. I needed more. More respect, more love and more stuff...much more stuff. The more I grasped the more painful life became.

“Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us!”

Looking back I can see I was much closer to death than I realized. I had been unemployed for eight months by now. I was running out of borrowed money and waking up every morning with an ache of fear in my gut. I gobbled Prozac but couldn’t seem to find the energy to send out a resume, clean my apartment, or take any other positive action. It felt like I was walking through life with cement shoes on. The only time I felt a twinge of excitement and sense of well-being was when I was drinking. Little did I know that forty-seven years of selfishness had reduced the flow of spiritual energy to a trickle. My life became very small. My whole world fit inside my messy apartment. It was in this sad state that I was graced with a moment of clarity that led me to Alcoholics Anonymous.

Today I look at my alcoholism as a blessing. Thank God I was graced with a disease that was going to kill me if I didn’t treat it. Thank God I have been given a set of tools to reduce self-centeredness and allow spirit to flow into my being. I am really, really grateful to be a recovering alcoholic today and grateful for all of you who walk this path with me.

Spiritual Partnership

"The primary fact that we fail to recognize is our total inability to form a true partnership with another human being."  12X12 Page 53

A spiritual partnership is not a two way street. Before AA all my relationships could be categorized as an “exchange of benefits.” You do stuff for me and I’ll do stuff for you. This arrangement is flimsy because it requires almost perfect balance. Once I do more for you than you do for me, I begin to feel uncomfortable. I can’t stay in this “one down” relationship long before I become dissatisfied and want to get out.

A spiritual relationship is all about giving, expecting nothing in return. I had no experience with a spiritual relationship until I joined AA. The message I received is “we don’t care where you’ve been or what you have done. We are going to love you back to life and we don’t care if you love us back.” This is the message I try to carry. I fail often.

This doesn’t mean I don’t receive anything in return. I do. Only it’s not your love and affection, or even your friendship. My payoff is in good feelings. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing another alcoholic “get it.” Watching as tears of gratitude stream down their faces. I’ve been lucky enough to witness these miracles many times throughout the years. This payoff is more than enough.

St. Francis prayed to become a channel of God's peace. I imagine an infinite reservoir of love with billions of little channels. When my channel is open, cool, clear spiritual water flows through me out into the world. My channel was blocked off for most of my life with fear, anger and guilt. Just like the gunk that clogs my bathroom sink. The Twelve Steps are like Drain-O for my spiritual channel. Slowly, slowly by taking the steps to the best of my ability, my channel is becoming unblocked allowing spiritual love to flow through me. Only then can I experience a true partnership with another.

Last year I served as my wife’s primary caretaker through extensive illness until she died. It was the most painful year to date, but there was also much joy. It’s clear the joy was because my channel was open. I was of maximum service to her without expecting anything in return. I just did the next indicated thing and let the spiritual love flow through me. I certainly would not have volunteered for this experience, but in some weird way, it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me next to getting sober. I know some of you will understand.

Control

Like the actor in our book who tries to run the whole show, my preferred life-management style is control. If you looked up “control freak” in the dictionary you might find a little picture of me. I’m better today, but I’m a long way from “live and let live”. I continue to try and control the people and events in my life because I still believe that if I do, I’ll get the life I want.

I’m learning that control in any form is spiritually deadening. Whenever I impose my will on people or events, I cut myself off from the sunlight of the spirit. An expectation is a form of control. Anytime I have an expectation I am imposing my will on reality. It matters not if my motives are good or bad. I establish an outcome I want, disregarding the outcome God wants. Not only that, but controlling other people never seems to work. “My way or the highway” turns people against me and I’m the one who ends up suffering.

Recently I’ve been working through a resentment of my parents-in-law over some financial issues with my wife’s estate. They are not acting like I expected them to. The resulting anger was like fuel. It gave me the energy to plot and plan how I would get even. This went on for a good two weeks before grace happened. Another member suggested I do a four column fourth step on my parents-in-law. Once I became willing to find my part, the resentment began to evaporate. Oh my mind still digs up the bone occasionally, but the anger is no longer clouding my judgment and my life is much more peaceful.

I often wonder how beautiful life will be when I finally let go of my old ideas, absolutely. When I can completely turn my will and life -- all expectations and all outcomes -- over to the care of my HP, there will be no need to try to control anyone or anything. I simply allow whatever happens to happen without argument or resistance. I accept in advance whatever life wants for me. Is this an extravagant promise? As long as I continue to take the actions suggested in my first week, I think not.

No Regrets

Recently I shared with a man who was beating himself up for making some mistakes at work. I suggested he take it easy on himself. He said, “if I take it easy I’ll probably do it again. If I’m tough on myself I may remember.” Boy can I identify! I beat myself with the whip of self-hate over the smallest mistake most of my life, even well into sobriety.

I’m not proud of the things that I did, both drunk and sober, that hurt others, but I don’t regret them either. I don’t believe I had a choice. Not really. I needed to drink every drink and tell every lie. I needed to hurt the people I hurt. I could not have become ready to receive the miracle with one less of anything. Blaming myself for my character defects, for my fears, is just more self-centeredness. Today, guilty feelings have only one purpose -- to tell me I ought to be making an amends to someone I’ve hurt and then let it go.

I believe I was born self-centered, just as I believe I was born alcoholic. I became addicted to me early on. The fear that life would not give me what I wanted caused me to lie, cheat and steal -- to hurt others. My dishonesty created ever-increasing painful life experiences and a million and one reasons to drink. My life spiraled down for many years before I was graced with a moment of clarity that led me to Alcoholics Anonymous.

In AA my past turned into my most priceless asset. I cannot connect with another alcoholic without the “what it was like” part of my story. If I can’t connect, I can’t recover. It’s not your drunk-a-log that gets my attention, but your feelings of “incomprehensible demoralization” as you struggled to find your bottom and surrender. I am doomed if I forget about where I’ve come from.

Father Bill W. said we humans are wanting people. We want what we want when we want it and we can’t stop wanting by wanting to. It’s taken many years but today I know the only solution to self-centeredness is to want what God wants. It is becoming clear that what God wants is not complicated. God simply wants me to learn to love more. 

A Faith That Works

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t grow up in a family where we discussed our fears. I never went up to one of the kids in the neighborhood and said, “I’m feeling a little fearful today.” I learned to keep my fears a secret from everyone, even lovers and best friends. I tried to outrun my fears by doing more, making more, having more. The fear of failing created more fear, but instead of feeling my fear, I drank against it. The more fearful I felt, the more I drank. Toward the end I was getting drunk twice a day to keep the fear at bay.

Then the worst possible thing happened. The anti-fear medicine stopped working. Oh I still got drunk alright, but the booze no longer took the fear away. I felt the fist of fear in my gut even sitting in the bar with my lower companions during “happy” hour. For a few months I woke up in fear and turned out the light in fear until something inside of me let go. I experienced a moment of clarity and a few days later I stumbled into my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I was taken by the honesty of the people who shared. I identified. I felt safe. I didn’t know it at the time, but my journey from fear to faith officially began that day.

My sponsor was the first person in my life I fully trusted. My faith took a giant leap forward when I took my fifth step with him. Until then, my desire to recover was largely theoretical. Certainly my ego fought against honestly admitting my faults, my resentments, my fears and my icky secrets, but I really wanted to be a member of the AA club and taking the fifth seemed to be a requirement for permanent membership.

At three years sober I was asked to resign from a job I thought I couldn’t live without. The voices of the demons that lived in my head screamed about what a loser I was and how I’d never work again and how all these AA meetings I’d been attending were a waste of time. I called my sponsor who suggested I go to the noon meeting and share about it. Boy, I really, really, didn’t want to do that. But because I trusted this man, I went to the meeting and shared honestly about what was going on. I didn’t get much relief from the fear but I didn’t drink.

The fears continued unabated until another alcoholic suggested I work the steps around my job loss beginning by admitting I was powerless over the fear in my head. The fear began to lift when I discovered my part in the resentments I held against the folks at my workplace. The fear receded even more when I identified the major character defects that led to my job loss. The fear was lifted completely out of me after I wrote letters of apology to my boss and a few of my subordinates. I was lifted up onto a pink club, filled with the sense that somehow everything was going to be OK, even though I had no idea how.

The most important instruction in the Big Book to me is “ask him in your morning meditation what you can do for the man who is still sick.” I’m often relieved of fear just by picking up the phone, calling another alcoholic and talking about them. Today I have a small group of AA friends who I love and support. I make it a point to stay in touch. My peace of mind depends on it.

If a perfect faith casts out all fear, my faith is not yet perfect. Fear still creeps in when I contemplate the end of my life. Yet for twenty plus years I’ve watched other alcoholics walk through terminal illnesses, deaths of love ones, financial ruin and all manner of other catastrophic life events -- all without picking up a drink. By watching my AA brothers and sisters live life on life’s terms I gained the faith that I can too. This faith carried me through many dark, fearful days during my wife’s year-long illness and recent death. Today, by taking the actions suggested, I have a faith that works under all conditions. I owe it all to Alcoholics Anonymous.

Closer Than Ever

My Higher Power has a knack of taking the worst possible thing, like my alcoholism, and making something beautiful out of it.

My wife lost her almost twenty-year battle with cancer recently after a year-long struggle that included two major surgeries, seventy-seven total days in hospital, seven trips to the ER, countless procedures and an ineffective clinical trial. Since we were far from home and her parents, I served as her primary care-giver for most of this time. God showed up in my life more intensely, more lovingly during this past year than ever before.

I learned how to be a stand-up guy in Alcoholics Anonymous. Instead of running away, I showed up every day for her, twenty-four and seven, I did the next indicated thing and stayed out of results. I lived in the present moment because tomorrow didn’t exist. It was the worst when she suffered, either from an uncontrollable pain spike or when we received news that nothing was working. Looking back I can see God was right there in the middle of those darkest moments.

Our love for each other grew dramatically during those last few months. We prayed together every night holding hands just before turning out the light. She prayed to her beloved Jesus and I prayed to the God I discovered in Alcoholics Anonymous -- One and the same. We prayed for others, we prayed for healing, but mostly we gave thanks for the day we had just spent together. Now, every moment was precious.

I had to be strong, but often I didn't feel strong. I couldn't let her know I was afraid.  Our condo was loaded with all kinds of strong pain meds, but I was never once tempted. I was connected to something much more powerful. When fear and exhaustion tried to have their way with me, the strength to make it through another day magically showed up.  God appeared as loving friends, family members, and caring nurses and doctors.  Neither of us ever once gave up, but both of us slowly loosened our grip.

I feel closer to my HP than ever before, closer to my humanity and closer to the truth of what I am. I have been opened up to deeper emotions than I’ve ever felt. Surely I grieve. There’s a hole in my heart that will never fully heal. I miss her smiling happy face, but I know she hasn’t really gone anywhere. She’s just in the next room.

What's In It for Me?

Before I stumbled into the rooms I had been too busy looking out for number one to care about anyone else unless there was something in it for me. It took me a few years to discover that -- lo and behold -- there is something in it for me. By caring for the common welfare of Alcoholics Anonymous, I have been able to stay sober and to enjoy a life beyond my wildest imagination.

My journey from a separate, frightened ego to a friend among friends is an ongoing process. I believe it started in my first meeting. I sensed you guys had something I wanted. You told me if I wanted what you had, I should do what you did. You suggested I ought to identify and not compare with others in the meetings. Recovery, you said, starts when I begin to overlook our differences and see our similarities. This is perhaps the most difficult lesson of all for me.

My mind seems to automatically default to judging you instead of accepting you exactly as you are. I cannot see our similarities if I am looking through the eyes of ego. I cannot really care about the common welfare of AA as an ego. As the 12 Steps continue to grind away at my self-centered fear, my sense of unity is growing. Each time I hear, “There is One who has all power”, I’m reminded that we are all joined in Spirit. One. Like a good friend of ours used to say, “we are all bozos on the bus and none of us are driving.”

I connected with the truth of life through Alcoholics Anonymous. I’m better today only because you guys loved me first. You didn’t care about where I had been or what I had done. You handed me the keys to the kingdom. I am responsible for passing them on to others.


Fellowship of the Spirit

I became a member of Alcoholics Anonymous as soon as I said, “My name is Jeff and I’m an alcoholic” and honestly believed it, but I did not connect with the Fellowship of the Spirit until I began the ego-deflating process of the Twelve Steps. Spirit is broad, roomy and all-inclusive, but egos can only stand outside the circle and look in.

I felt my first connection with Spirit after I completed my fifth step with my sponsor. I dropped a ton of guilt and shame in the process. I spoke honestly to another human being for the first time in my life. I had demonstrated my willingness to go to any lengths. I felt like a full-fledged member of the AA club.

During my ninth I made amends for stealing money from a hotel where I had tended bar 20 years earlier. I wrote letters to my deceased parents asking for their forgiveness for a variety of harms. I cleaned up my side of the street on a fairly long list of resentments. I began to put my hand out to newcomers and my life took on new meaning and purpose. Alcoholics Anonymous became an enjoyable way of life.

I don’t believe I have abandoned myself to God by any stretch. My journey from ego consciousness to God consciousness has not been without challenges. Old cunning, baffling and powerful continues to try and run me off the road. Sometimes I end up in a ditch, but you guys are right there to pull me out and I continue on my way to my happy destiny.