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.