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Acceptance in Advance

Problems defined my life before I stumbled through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous. I had relationship problems, financial problems, career problems, health problems and all other kinds of problems large and small. As my drinking increased, my problems multiplied. I had only one problem-solving tool, a rusty old hammer of self-will. I pounded on my problems with that hammer day and night. My life was like Whack-a-Mole. I’d beat down one problem and another one would pop up. It was exhausting work and it made me very thirsty. Alcohol gave me temporary relief, but real peace of mind was impossible.

In AA I learned that until I was able to accept my alcoholism, I couldn’t get sober. In the same way, until I can accept the problems in my life as gifts from God, I can’t hope to live with peace and joy. Today I know that problems are in my life not to punish me, but to help me grow. There is a lesson especially designed for me in the center of every problem I encounter. The problem keeps reappearing in my life until I learn the lesson. Usually that lesson is about letting go of someone or something.

Recently, I’ve been practicing acceptance in advance. Whenever I sense I have an expectation of a specific outcome, I remind myself up front that God may have another plan. I accept in advance whatever the outcome is without even knowing what it is. I have the faith that if it doesn’t go my way, there’s something better in store for me. This has worked beautifully during my recent travels in my RV camper, Acceptance. During every trip some mechanical challenge pops up that I can’t handle. In the beginning I was frustrated when something did not work properly. Today when I experience a problem, I have a Plan B. Instead of gnashing my teeth and pointing my finger, I accept I have a problem and rely on intuition for a solution. Usually the solution is to ask for help. I’m totally amazed how easy life is when I live in the solution instead of the problem.

Must Hit Bottom First

“Why all this insistence that every A.A. must hit bottom first?”

I bounced along the bottom for years as relationships, jobs, finances and health disintegrated. I tried therapy, fire-walking, and reading spiritual books but nothing changed the downward trajectory of my life. I was unemployed and running out of borrowed money. I was getting drunk twice a day, but the thought of quitting drinking never entered my mind because denial had me believing that a new big paying job would solve everything. Yet, I seemed to be paralyzed to take any actions to look for work. For months I trudged through every day with an ache of fear in my gut. Apparently something inside of me let go.  Then grace happened.

In a moment of clarity I was allowed a tiny glimpse of truth about myself. I was shown that there was a better way to go through life than the way I was going. Grace gave me the strength to get off the couch and ask a therapist for help. A little while later I walked into my first AA meeting floating on a pink cloud. From the very beginning I wanted what you had and was graced with a willingness to do what you did.

My higher power waits patiently for me to run out of my old ideas before showing me an easier softer way. It seems that ego needs to be beaten to a pulp before it takes a step back and makes way for spirit to enter my life. I found this to be true, not only with alcohol, but with every other defect of character. I have to become sick and tired of being sick and tired to be willing to let go of my old ideas and be changed. I still have many of the character defects I walked through the door with. The simple reason is because I haven’t yet hit bottom with them.

I learned that bouncing along the bottom is not the same as hitting bottom. A good example is my relationship with caffeine. I’ve been bouncing along the bottom with coffee for most of my adult life. I don’t sleep well if I drink coffee after about 12 o’clock in the afternoon. If I don’t sleep well the next day I’m tired and cranky. I’ve suffered hundreds restless nights and tired and cranky days. Yet every so often I still reach for a cup thinking this time will be different. When I was new I remember complaining to my sponsor about drinking too much coffee. He said, “Well, at least they won’t put you in jail for drinking too much coffee.” Maybe someday I’ll truly hit a bottom with coffee. Then God can come in and remove the insanity of believing I need coffee to live.

The Trap of Specialness

When I was new the old timers told me to identify with the others in the room, not compare myself to them. Easier said than done! One of the old ideas I came through the doors with is the belief that I have to be special to get all the goodies life has to offer. My egoic need to be special requires me to constantly compare myself with others—to see where I stand. The process of comparing myself with others separates me from life because I am always better than or less than, but never equal to. As long as I hold onto this deep seated need to be special I cannot be a worker among workers or a friend among friends. I stand alone outside the circle of life with my nose pressed up against the window wondering how to get in.

What I don’t realize is that I am already inside. In God’s eye I am already special, unique and different. I don’t realize this because I’m blocked by self-centered fear. When I identify with you I connect with the truth of what I am. Our drunk-a-logues may be different, but the feelings we suffered to reach our bottoms are exactly the same. I know all about your anxiety, your self-hate, your frustration and your confusion because I’ve felt the very same way. I identify with your moment of clarity. How life whispered to you that there was a better way to go than the way you were going. Finally, I identify with your courage to walk through life without the crutch of alcohol, drugs or other addictions. I know how hard this can be.

I have not entirely freed myself from the trap of specialness. But today I’m more aware when I separate myself from you. When I catch my frightened little ego judging, comparing, and struggling to win your approval, I realize I’ve strayed away from the herd. I reach into my toolbox to take some actions to bring me back into unity with what is, one drunk at a time.

Hindus have a cool way of greeting each other. They clasp their palms together in front of their hearts, bow their heads slightly and say “Namaste.” Namaste translates “the God in my greets the God in you.”  Wow. This is real identification, real connection.

Namaste

Life on Life's Terms

One of the many self-help books I read before I got sober suggested I live a God-centered life. I tried to incorporate the author’s suggestions, but I lacked the discipline to practice them consistently. It wasn’t long before I gave up. The book joined all the others on my bedside table gathering dust.

Twenty plus years later, I still don’t know how to live a God centered life, but I do know how to live an AA centered life. I put myself in the center of Alcoholics Anonymous taking the suggested actions over and over again. There I find God working non-stop miracles in my life.

A year or so before I got sober, I flew to Florida from California every other weekend for the last few months of my mother’s life. I remember feeling totally useless during these trips. I couldn’t care for her physically or support her emotionally. I certainly could not provide spiritual comfort since I had none myself. The best I could do was to sit by her bedside and drink. Sometimes I wished I didn’t have to be there.

Fast-forward through 20 years of recovery. With God firmly in the center of my life, I had the honor of care taking my wife during the last year of her life. Besides daily care there were 911 emergencies, two major surgeries and long stays in hospital. I learned way more than I ever wanted to know about nursing, doctors, hospitals and cancer. I never would have volunteered, but it turned out to be the best experience of my life. I had no choice. We had just returned back to the US from China and there was no one else. God had me right where he wanted me.

Sure there were stressful, painful, disappointing times, but happiness was present through the whole experience. Apparently I tapped into a deep reservoir of spiritual power I didn’t know was there. I suited up and showed up every day 24 and 7 with a great attitude. My wife and I became closer than ever. She died peacefully with a smile on her face.

I’m convinced that my recovery is nothing I do and everything God does. Without God in the center of my life, it is impossible for me to experience the joy that comes from living life on life’s terms with balance, order and harmony. I think I’ll keep coming back.

Spiritual Fitness

A few months ago I received a free gym membership as a benefit of new health insurance. Since then I’ve been to the club a grand total of three times including the first visit when I signed up. My muscles are flabbier and my joints are tighter, but I can’t seem to find the motivation to take the action. I know from past experience I feel better when I work my body, but ego keeps saying “You’re fine, Jeff. Take it easy.” It’s very much the same with my spiritual fitness program.

It is impossible for me to live to good effect one day at a time if I am not spiritually fit. Without a solid connection to the God of my own understanding, ego continuously catapults me into the future where my mind goes round and round searching for solutions to problems that don’t even exist. Or it drags me back down memory lane in morbid reflection, pointing out all the times I was a jerk and all the things I could have done better. The net result of living in the past and future is that I miss the joy of living today. I missed big chunks of life for more than thirty years before I stumbled through the doors to Alcoholics Anonymous. The obsession to drink was removed from me in the first week. Yet, I know it can return if I take my foot off the gas and let down on my program of action.

AA provides me with a spiritual fitness program, but like a physical fitness program, I have to get off the couch and take the actions. Along with meetings and sharing with other alcoholics, I find Steps 10, 11 and 12 -- the maintenance steps -- to be an effective daily exercise program. It’s easy and takes very little time.

Step Ten simply asks me to recognize when I’m feeling disconnected from life and to inquire about the cause. Have I been fearful, dishonest, selfish? I don’t need to figure it all out with my mind. Just be aware of what’s going on. In Step Eleven I ask God for help. I tune into the power and receive the intuition to handle whatever challenges the day holds. Step Twelve reminds me I’m alive to be of service. Not only to other alcoholics, but to the world at large. When I take these steps every morning as part of my quiet time, living in the present moment is no problem.

Like our book says, it all boils down to willingness. When I am willing to take these simple actions, life is unbelievably good. When I’m not willing to go to the gym and sweat, it gets harder to bend over and tie my shoes.

A Great Way to Live

Recently I had lunch with a couple of friends I hadn’t seen for many years. We talked about our lives. They asked me how I was keeping busy since my wife died. I said, “Well, I’m very active in my AA program. I go to a meeting almost every day.” They both gave me looks that said, “How sad,” like my life was pretty much over.  It wasn’t the first time I received these looks. Normies have no way of knowing how wonderful life is for us in the center of Alcoholics Anonymous where we enjoy unlimited opportunities to help others recover.

Groucho Marx said he would never join any club that would have him as a member.  I wasn’t a joiner either. Yet, as I sat in my first meeting amid the laughter and the honest sharing, it felt like I had just found my way home after a long painful journey. I really wanted to be a member of the AA club and I was graced with the willingness to take the actions that put me in the center of the group. It was there I discovered a God of my own misunderstanding and our relationship has been growing ever since.
I was 90 days sober when my home group elected me “Doughnut Guy.” It felt like I had just won the Nobel Prize. I had my first chance to sponsor at a year and a half sober. I’m not sure that he made it, but I’m awfully grateful he asked me. I learned the healing power of sponsorship.

Then, at three and a half years sober, God sent me to communist China to carry the AA message. There were only four other recovering alcoholics in the city of 23 million when I arrived. We met in each other’s homes for fear that the public security bureau was watching us and wouldn’t appreciate us meeting in secret and talking about God. During my 16 years in Shanghai I had many wonderful opportunities to sponsor and otherwise be of service. In 2010 a few of us pooled our resources and opened the Shanghai Alano Club. When I left Shanghai two years ago the club was hosting 23 meetings a week serving approximately 150 active members and visitors from all over the world. It is still going strong today.

I believe Alcoholics Anonymous is built on the principle of enlightened self-interest. Everything I do in AA I do for me, for my recovery. But I can’t recover without helping others recover. So everybody wins. It’s simply a great way to live.

Freedom from Anger

I never realized I was locked in a prison of self-centered fear until I got my first taste of freedom in Alcoholics Anonymous. I had been running as fast as I could through life, trying to outrun the fear that followed me everywhere. It was like trying to outrun my shadow. As soon as I stopped and rested the the fear returned. I lived in a constant state of dis-ease, but I thought this was just the way life was. I struggled and suffered, but I never thought to question it. Alcohol made life bearable for me, even “happy” sometimes. But then the fear would return and one more time I needed the sense of ease and comfort a few drinks would bring.

I came in out of the cold when I stumbled into my first meeting and began my journey back to life. Through the years, thanks to meetings, steps and service, HP has continued to remove old, false ideas that keep me in prison, separate from life. Today I enjoy many freedoms. I am free from needing to change the way I feel with alcohol and other things. I am free from alcoholic loneliness -- that feeling of a hole in my gut that the wind whistles through. I am free from guilt and shame that kept me chained to yesterday. I am free from the war of self-hate I waged against myself for more than forty years. Yet, I still carry remnants of old, fearful ideas that cause me to suffer from time to time.  This past weekend is a good example.

I was camping in my RV in the California desert near Julian, and hour or so east of San Diego. The campground was almost completely empty. I enjoyed wonderful solitude for six days. Then, on my last day, an RV parked right next to me even though there were a hundred other empty spaces. That evening my new neighbors had a bonfire party. Four of them sat around the fire talking loudly, laughing and generally whooping it up. One woman had a piercing laugh I was sure could penetrate steel-reinforced concrete. By 9:00 PM my serenity was completely shattered. I wanted to sleep but the party was going strong. I tried putting a pillow over my head. I tried putting on my earphones and drown them out with music. I tried repeating the serenity prayer. Nothing worked. I could feel the anger growing inside of me like a volcano ready to erupt.

Finally, after suffering outrage for three hours, I reached into my AA toolbox and came out with a simple prayer: “Please God save me from being angry.” I began repeating this prayer silently like a mantra. After five minutes I began to feel some relief. After another five minutes my serenity begin to return. After another five minutes a curious thing happened. I began to feel glad that my neighbors were having such a good time in the desert. They called it a night a short time later and I fell fast asleep.

Perception

I heard that trying to "get spiritual" is like standing in water up to my neck trying to get wet. I can't become spiritual because I already am 100% spiritual. I just don't realize it much of the time. I get so caught up in the things of the world, in illusions, that I lose contact with what is real.

It helps me to imagine that I am watching a movie. I sit in the theater with my super size soft drink looking up at the screen. The movie seems to be about me because I see glimpses of myself and people I know. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out the plot and if the the other people in the movie are "good" or "bad." I sit on the edge of my chair worried about how the movie will turn out. I hope it will have a happy ending but I'm not so sure.

After sitting through thousands of screenings of the movie, I finally came to realize the movie is not about me. I am not the movie. I am the light coming out of the projector. The light is real. The movie is not real. The movie is not real because the light from the projector passes through the filters of my beliefs, attitudes, and programming before it reaches the screen. Thus as my attitude changes so does the movie I see. The movie is still not real. It is still just a dream, but it is a much happier dream.

My "whole attitude and outlook" has changed since I begin my spiritual journey in Alcoholics Anonymous. When I look up at the movie screen today the movie I see is filled with promise, happiness, peace and many kind and loving people.

Growing Up

I had been drinking alone in my darkened apartment for eight months. I was unemployed yet I couldn’t find the energy to look for work. As my checking account dwindled, I awoke every morning with a growing ache of fear in my gut.

I went to a therapist for some help getting back on track. I took thirty minutes to explain what was going on with me. I expected her to commiserate with my situation, to tell me it’s not unusual for men to go through these kinds of changes when they hit fifty. I expected some insight and practical suggestions. Instead she dropped the hammer.

Her exact words were, “I don’t think I can help you, Jeff. I don’t think you have an ounce of humility in your whole body. Your brain is so cloudy from your daily drinking that you can’t hope to get any clarity on your life. And you have the emotional maturity of a thirteen year old.” I was shocked. The voices in my head were screaming, “You can’t let this bitch talk to you this way!” Somehow I kept my mouth shut and just looked at my shoes. She went on, “You are welcome to come here every week, pay me $80, lie on that soft leather couch and we can talk about your life, but I don’t think it will do any good. I suggest you consider the treatment center up the street.”

Today, as I relive that morning with the therapist so many years ago, I am so grateful she told me the truth about myself. I’m also grateful that I hurt enough to listen and take her suggestion.

Her inventory of me was exactly right. Humility is still hard to come and I still get cornered occasionally by stinking thinking. But, thanks entirely to the program and the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, I’ve grown up. I’m no longer that scared 47 year old child, filled with self-hate, who walked through the doors more than twenty two years ago. I actually like myself today. I finally feel worthy. How sweet it is!

Attitude of Forgiveness

I resented my father all my life for his cold and critical treatment of me throughout my life. His name was right at the top of my resentment list during my first fourth step. My ego had me believing my father had a choice — that he didn’t have to treat me the way he did, that he should have treated me with more love. As I discussed my resentment of my father with my sponsor, he pointed out this passage in our book:

“This was our course: We realized that the people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. Though we did not like their symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves, were sick too…”

As soon as I fully realized my father was spiritually sick just like me — that he was driven by the same demons that drove me — the resentment began to dissolve. Today, without anger distorting my memory, I can to focus on the things about him which were positive and loving.

Today I see that my father didn’t have a choice.  Like me, he carried a lot of unprocessed guilt, shame and fear that created inner turmoil. Like me this inner turmoil trapped him in the madness of his own life. Like me this madness erupted from time to time and caused him to hurt others, especially those closest to him.

The program of Alcoholics Anonymous offers me a way out of my personal madness into an attitude of forgiveness. The good doctor in his opinion called this process an entire psychic change. Attending meetings and hearing truth, doing inventories, reading our literature and other spiritual books, praying and meditating and being of service are all ways I demonstrate my willingness to be changed at depth. In a way, everyday I stay sober is an act of forgiveness of both myself and others.

Finding My Part

My last major resentment was a real doozy. Two years ago, on the day of my wife's funeral, my Chinese mother-in-law made a stink about Lola’s will. We had just buried my wife and her daughter and she’s complaining about money! I was outraged.

For a week I complained about my mother-in-law to anyone who would listen. Finally, a sobriety buddy suggested I work a fourth step around  my resentment. When I resisted, he pointed out that holding a resentment while negotiating my wife’s estate with my parents-in-law was not a good idea. I certainly didn’t want to try and forgive her, but I realized he was right, so I put pen to paper.

I enjoyed taking my mother-in-law's inventory in column two. I judged her insensitive, money hungry, cheap. When I got to the third column, “how it affected me”, I had a startling revelation. When I asked myself what I was really feeling below my anger, I saw I was hurt. I discovered that the source of my anger was not my mother-in-law’s coldness or her Chinese values toward money. I saw I had expected her to show appreciation for all I had done as Lola’s primary caretaker for the eleven months before she passed away. The resentment was not about my mother-in-law at all. It was about an unfulfilled expectation I carried. Once I saw my part, the resentment evaporated like the mist when warmed by the morning sun.

I was free.

Life Prayer

When I was new I heard the lady pastor of a new age church say our prayer-life is important, but equally important is our life-prayer. Step Ten for me is paying attention to my life prayer — staying aware of the thoughts, words and deeds I put out into the universe as I go about my day. Every prayer is answered. I pray for misery if I consistently think judgmental, resentful, and negative thoughts and then turbo-charge these thoughts with unkind words and deeds. I pray for serenity when my thoughts are kind and I treat everyone in my life with love and, if not love, at least tolerance. If I want to continue to grow and change, I ought to watch myself like a hawk and when I screw up, I ought to muster the courage to admit it.

This step is challenging for me. I was spiritually asleep for the better part of fifty years before I began my journey in Alcoholics Anonymous. I went through life restless, irritable and discontented because I didn’t know there was any other way to live. Waking up to the truth — seeing myself as I really am — is no easy task. Part of me would much rather stay in my nice warm bed of illusion, believing my life will improve as soon as I learn to manage it better. Fortunately I’ve seen what happens to members who get stuck a comfort zone and stop growing. A dry drunk is not a pretty picture.  I speak from experience.

Some members call steps ten through twelve the maintenance steps. If I am willing to take these three steps every day to the best of my ability, I maintain a fit spiritual condition, I continue to grow along spiritual lines and I am safe from that first drink. Of course I don’t do any of this perfectly. Usually it takes some discomfort for me to realize I’ve let up on my program of action.

My life prayer is much more positive than it was before I stumbled into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, Back then I’d sit in the bar and often say to anyone who would listen, “If you had my life, you’d drink too.” Today I say, “If you had my life you wouldn’t drink either.”

The Middle Way

The first time I heard the Four Absolutes — absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness and love — I had the same reaction as when I first read the St. Francis Prayer: “Great, here are some more ideas I can use to beat myself up.” The Four Absolutes sounded way to much like the Ten Commandments to me. My guilt over repeated violation of the commandments simmered deep inside me. I drank at this guilt for thirty years.

Like most all of us, my self-esteem was not at a high point when I stumbled through the door to my first meeting. Beating myself up over perceived shortcomings was a specialty of mine. At one of my regular meetings there was a long time member who greeted me with a hug. She always asked, “Did you check your whip at the door, Jeff?”

Befriending myself has been a long process. It started with the folks in meetings.  I learned I didn’t have to pretend to be large and in charge. You guys loved me warts and all. But it took many years before I could begin to love myself. Being of service and sponsoring others is the key. Two years ago I had the honor of care-taking  my wife for eleven months until she died. While I wouldn’t have signed up for this experience, it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. Sure it was painful and sad, but in the end I finally felt worthy. I became comfortable in my own skin and life took on a whole new meaning.

The Buddha prescribed the middle way to alleviate suffering. “If the strings of the lute are too tight, they will break. If the strings are too loose, it won’t play.” Just for today the tension in my strings is just right.

Where's the Juice?

I was a couple of months sober when an old timer in my home group asked me how it was going. I said, "To tell you the truth, I'm a little bored." He looked at me with a knowing smile and said, "That's not boredom you're feeling Jeff, that's Serenity!"

Serenity is boring to my ego. Stumbling through life in drunken delusion. Now that's exciting! Making stupid decisions; telling lies to cover up lies; pretending to be something I wasn't; manipulating others to get my way; alcohol fueled arguments; driving with my hand over one eye to see one white line instead of three; the list goes on ad infinitum. Non-stop struggle and drama characterized my life for as long as I could remember. Yes, there was pain and stress, but I figured this was just the way life is so I just sucked it up.

I didn't know any other way to live until I stumbled into my first meeting. Almost immediately the obsession was removed.  I floated on a pink cloud. Like any good alcoholic, I wanted more. I wanted the peace I saw in the eyes of the old timers. You said if I wanted what you had, I ought to do what you do. I began to take suggestions. Slowly, slowly I experienced moments of feeling a part of instead apart from. Ego resisted because ego wants no part of God, spirituality or Alcoholics Anonymous. Ego tries to convince me to go back to the "good old days." Ego wants me to believe in AA I am resigned to a life that is boring and glum. Ego keeps asking, "Where's the juice?"

Participation in Alcoholics Anonymous keeps life juicy for me, especially working with others. I get a kick out of walking with another man through the steps, seeing the light come on in his eyes, and watching him grow and change. Like it says in our book, it's an experience I'm glad I didn't miss. But there are a number of other things I do to keep my life fun, interesting and rewarding. I attend different meetings; read and study spiritual literature; and travel regularly to scenic spots in my new camper, "Acceptance," to hike alone in nature. Since I am no longer chased through life by the demons of guilt, shame and fear, my life is better today than ever before.

I heard once that the secret to a fulfilling, happy life is having someone to love, something to do that your really enjoy, and something to look forward to. Alcoholics Anonymous gives me all three. Perhaps my life today is not as heart pounding exciting as my life when I was drinking and living on the edge, but I don't miss it. Today I stay pretty close to the middle. No high highs, but no low lows either. Just even.

Emotional Sobriety

I listed the name "Danny" near the top of my  resentment list on my first fourth step. Until a few years earlier, he had been a life-long friend. He even served as best man at my wedding. In the second column I wrote "He's a jerk, he snubbed me." Under "How it affected me", I wrote: self esteem, fear, insecurity. I simply could not see I had any part so I left the fourth column blank. During my fifth step my sponsor asked for details on what Danny had actually done to me. I said, "He became a very successful lawyer and made a ton of money." My sponsor looked at me kind of funny and asked how Danny's success had harmed me. "It made me jealous", I said.  "How is making you jealous harming you?" I didn't have an answer so I reluctantly scratched Danny off my resentment list.

I was taught to refer to column three as the "Three Esses" - sex, society and security. Security has two components: physical security and emotional security. I didn't really understand the importance of emotional security until I read Bill Wilson's essay, Emotional Sobriety, a few years later. This paragraph jumped out at me:

"Suddenly I realized what the matter was.  My basic flaw had always been dependence - almost absolute dependence - on people or circumstances to supply me with prestige, security and the like.  Failing to get these things according to my perfectionist dreams and specifications, I had fought for them, and when defeat came, so did my depression."

Part of me still wants you to love me the way I think you should - to make me feel all warm and fuzzy. But a larger part of me understands that serenity comes not from dependence on others but from independence of spirit. I gain this independence by allowing the other people in my life to be exactly who they are. This is a daily challenge for me because there is so very much I could do to fix them (Smiling).

Emotional security means I no longer depend on anyone or anything for my happiness and well being. Instead I grow to trust my Higher Power with every detail of my life. I'm not quite there yet, but I'm closer than ever.

Reality

In some ways, my recovery means the same things to me that drinking did: release from care, boredom and worry; intimacy with friends and the feeling that life is good. But my drinking experiences, while pleasant at times, were nothing but illusions. Pipe dreams that evaporated shortly after the bottle was empty.  Now that I am no longer running away from life, I suit up and show up and face whatever the day has in store for me. I am graced each day with the strength to live my life the way it is, not the way I’d like it to be.  God, as I misunderstand God, makes this possible. I met this God in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and our relationship has been growing ever since. My recovery today means I have a God in my life I can do business with.

When I was new I identified with the part in the big book about God being my new employer. Relating to God as my employer makes sense to me. I do my part as a loyal and faithful employee. God, a gentle and understanding boss, provides everything I need, not only to survive, but to thrive. My job is simply to show up each day and do the footwork. God takes care of the results and I enjoy outcomes better than anything I could imagine. We communicate freely with each other. The door to his huge corner office is open to me, 24 and 7. When I am willing to withdraw from the world for a few moments in silence, God provides the intuition I need to handle anything life throws at me.

I know much less about God today than I did when we first met, but I am more grateful for my job than ever. I enjoy lifetime employment, fabulous benefits, and work that I love. In God’s employment I live a real life, not a facsimile. I go through each day with peace of mind that comes from knowing I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. It's simply a great way to live.

NOW

Buddha called ego “the little house-builder” for it’s uncanny ability to grow a simple concern into a crushing fear.  A sideways glance from my boss means a pink slip is on the way. An abnormal number on my physical report means I’d better get my affairs in order. An unexpected bill in the mail has me living on the street. The little house-builder wakes me up in the middle of the night to review all the things that will probably go wrong and, of course, how everything is my fault.

On the other hand, it is natural to have concerns. Concerns focus my attention and prompt me to take positive action - to do the next indicated thing. Certainly I’m concerned about the welfare of my friends and family, concerned about my health, concerned about my finances and concerned about the state of the world today. But I suffer when a concern morphs into worry or dread. When that happens I am cut off from spiritual guidance, I short circuit my intuition and I’m baffled by situations instead of handling them. Without my internal guidance system, I’m liable to make matters worse by seeking relief. I don’t have to drink, but there are many other unhealthy ways to distract myself from the fear.

The key for me is to realize that one more time my magic magnifying mind has catapulted me into the future. Every single thing that can possibly go wrong will go wrong tomorrow, next week or next year. The program of Alcoholics Anonymous has given me tools to get back to the present moment. Sharing about what’s going on with another alcoholic, calling a newcomer, and getting my butt to a meeting all work to get me back to NOW — the only time I can connect with my HP. Today, right now, in this moment, I’m OK. I’m safe. Sure I have concerns, but because the termites of fear are not gnawing silently away at my peace of mind, life is good. Very good

Living in Acceptance

A few months ago I purchased a small travel trailer. A program friend gave me a brass plaque engraved with the Acceptance Prayer. I mounted the plaque in my trailer and  named her "Acceptance." I take her out each month into the So Cal mountains for a week of camping and hiking. I love these get-a-ways when I can say I'm literally living in Acceptance. It may just be coincidence, but recently I've noticed a major breakthrough in my ability to maintain my serenity through some very challenging experiences.

Being brand new to towing a camper, I have had many troublesome issues small and large. On my last trip the trailer actually became disconnected from my car while I was moving! Had it happened on a freeway it might have been tragic, but luckily no one was hurt. I amazed myself at how calm I was when the accident happened and through the whole process of negotiating the major repairs to the trailer and my car. Somehow I quite easily accepted what happened and began looking for a solution instead of wasting time blaming myself or others. I seem to have a new-found ability to ask calmly for what I want instead of demanding it. This may not sound like much, but for me it is huge. It is living proof that the program works. It really does!

One of the keys to acceptance for me is becoming allergic to the word "should." (As in, "The dealer should have given me better training; the trailer manufacturer should have included a warning in the manual; I should have done a better job securing the trailer to the tow hitch.) When I catch myself saying or thinking the word "should" I know I'm not accepting life as it is. I remind myself that life is unfolding exactly as it is supposed to. If life were supposed to be different at any given moment, it would be. Whenever I think things should be different than they are, I am arguing with reality.  I've learned the hard way that judging what others should or shouldn't do leads to blame and resentment. Better I learn to accept what's happening and see if there is any lesson for me rather than to think I know better than God how life is supposed to work. Living in acceptance is definitely the easier, softer way to go.

The Gift of Faith

Today, as a result of consistently living the AA way of life, I enjoy a faith that works in all conditions. This does not mean my life is problem free, but today I have a sense I can get through whatever life has in store for me. This is not blind faith, but a faith born of my living experience in Alcoholics Anonymous. Armed with faith, I've walked through job loss, financial uncertainty and the death of my wife. Today I can hardly remember the man who spent the day drinking alone in his darkened apartment paralyzed with fear.

Kenny Rogers sings, "You got to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em." Faith for me is intuitively knowing how to handle situations which used to baffle me.  Faith is spiritual intuition.  Today I am much better at listening to the small voice within that guides, directs and protects me. I sense when it is better to speak up and when to keep my mouth shut. I have a clearer idea of when to accept what's happening and when to muster the courage to try and change. Faith is non-stop guidance that not only keeps me out of most trouble, but guides me out of every mess I get myself into. My part is simply to get quiet, listen and be willing to follow the guidance I receive. This isn't always the case. Like Frank Sinatra, my ego still wants to do life "My Way."

The biggest dividend of faith is less fear. I can't be in faith and fear at the same time. I create every problem in my life when I react in fear instead of responding in faith. When I am in fear I block spiritual intuition. Then I'm back to running on Jeff's old ideas with predictable consequences. Without fear running my life I am comfortable in my own skin. I run toward life instead of trying to run away from it.

Living in faith, I've found a new freedom and a new happiness. All I have to do to receive the gift of faith is continue to take the actions you suggested in my first week: trust God, clean house and help others. It's a hell of a deal.

The Gift of Willingness

I did not have a white light experience when I took the third step with my sponsor, but, looking back I can see it was absolutely vital to my recovery. I learned I’d been given the gift of willingness. A gift that has kept me coming back and active in Alcoholics Anonymous consistently for more than twenty years.

I was two months sober after a lifetime of self-sufficiency. I had been force-fed the idea that I must run my own life, that asking for help is a sign of weakness. But there I was down on my knees holding my sponsor’s hand, repeating the prayer.  Frankly the whole experience felt weird.

It had been forty years since I last prayed on my knees — “Now I lay me down to sleep…” Holding my sponsor’s hand felt way too intimate for me.  And, as I stumbled through the prayer, it felt like I had my fingers crossed behind my back. I didn’t believe a word of it. Yet, I really, really wanted to be a member of the AA Club and guessed that this was part of the initiation rite.

I wasn’t a joiner. Before AA, the Cub Scouts was the only group I ever wanted to belong to.  I was not a member of the Rotary, the Elks Lodge or the Save the Whales committee. I joined business organizations only because it was expected of me. Yet when I walked into my first meeting, I sensed there was something special going on. I had no idea what it was but I wanted more. You said if I wanted what you had, I should do what you do. I figured everyone took the Third Step this way.

When we finished, my sponsor gave me a hug and said he loved me. Looking back, going through the discomfort of taking step three with my sponsor was exactly what I needed to prepare me  for the rest of the steps, especially step five. Through the years  I sponsor the men in my life the same way I was sponsored. We take the third step together just like Larry and I took it all those years ago. I’m still slightly uncomfortable getting down on my knees with a new man holding his hand and saying the prayer, but I do it anyways. It’s part of the deal.

Spiritual Mystery

The obsession to drink was lifted clean out of me four days before I walked into my first AA meeting. I was getting ready for bed and I became aware I hadn't had a drink or a thought about a drink all day. I found this curious since I drank mostly every day for thirty years. I didn't realize this was a big deal until I read about the double-edged sword in the Doctor's Opinion and listened to countless alcoholics struggle with cravings and relapse. Today I know something of great importance happened to me.

Through the years I've wondered why the compulsion was removed before I attended a meeting, before I had a sponsor, and before I worked the steps. Earlier that day I had signed up for treatment even though I wasn't sure I was alcoholic. Could this be the reason I was set free? Maybe I was just "ready". I don't know. Since I cannot come up with any satisfying explanation about why the obsession was removed, I've come to regard this experience as a spiritual mystery. I chalk it up to Grace, a priceless gift I did nothing to earn.

This first sweet realization of God doing for me what I could not do for myself became the foundation of my faith in a power greater than me. My faith took root in Alcoholics Anonymous and continues to grow in the fertile soil of meetings, steps and service. I've come to realize not only my sobriety, but my entire life is nothing I do and everything God does. Today I believe that God will get me out of any mess I get myself into. I've stopped trying to figure out how or why the obsession was removed, but I give thanks every day that it was. The ability to live comfortably in my own skin without the need to modify reality with alcohol or drugs is simply a great way to live.

Judge Ye Not

When I was new one of my favorite old timers always ended his shares with, "I came for my drinking, but I stay  for my thinking." I haven't had a drink for a while, but I still have the "ism." -- the distorted, irrational  thinking that's etched on my psyche. The ism continues to show up in my life every day, usually in the form of  judgments. I seem to be powerless to stop judging others. Judgments just pop into my head uninvited.

I separated myself from life long before I walked into my first AA meeting. I judged myself better than the bad  people and not as good as the good people. Thus, I felt totally alone even in a crowd of people I knew. This is  a loneliness I believe only an alcoholic truly understands. My recovery journey seems to be about reconnecting  with life and the people in it, but my ego fights to stay separate. Judgement continues to be ego's number one weapon.

Whenever I send out a judgment against another, I not only separate myself from that person, but I separate  myself from  God. My life is unmanageable without God in it. Oh, I probably won't do anything I might get arrested for, but without spirit running my life, happy, joyous and free is out of the question. Suffering on some level is inevitable.

I'm better about this today. Sometimes I can identify with the fear and pain people carry underneath their masks. I'm  learning compassion albeit at a snail's pace. The good news is that judgment no longer feel good. That sense of false superiority is is fading away.  I long to be equal with everyone else in the room -- a worker among workers; a friend among friends. To finally realize,  as one old time used to say, "I'm just another bozo on the bus and I'm not the driver."

Detach with Love

Years ago I remember seeing an interview of George McGovern by Barbara Walters. McGovern was a former presidential candidate. He had five beautiful daughters. One had our disease. Despite numerous treatment centers and attempts at sobriety, she passed out drunk in the snow and froze to death. McGovern had tears in his eyes. He said he just never knew when to be tough and when to be soft. I can identify.

Ala-non teaches detachment with love. This has to be the most difficult thing a human can do. We are asked to watch people we care about make self destructive choices putting themselves in harms way while we sit on our hands. Yet that is exactly what is asked of us.

As soon as I put myself between the alcoholic and the consequences of his thinking and actions, I am trying to do God's job. The best thing I can do is let the person know I am available to help if and when he wants what I have. Whether anyone "gets it" or not is none of my business.

Step Three

I immediately identified the first time I read Step Three in our book. The well-meaning actor driven by a hundred forms of fear who felt compelled to control every aspect of his life and the lives of everyone close to him. I was that guy! I felt like a juggler with a dozen balls in the air, scared to death to take my eye off the balls for one second. It was a miserable way to live, but I didn’t know any other way. It was the way my father lived. Alcohol made the high anxiety bearable for both of us.

I held it together for thirty years. Then one by one each of the balls began to hit the ground. First it was my first marriage, then my job, then my finances, then my friends, finally my interest in life itself. At the end I was a dead man walking — living in the delusion that a new job would fix everything, but I had no real energy to even send out a resume. I didn’t realize until many years in recovery alcohol and drugs were not the problem. My fearful need to control was the problem. I learned control in any form is spiritually deadening. Even the need to control my drinking!

I signed up for treatment because I didn’t know what else to do. A day later — before my first meeting, before I got a sponsor, before I worked any steps — the obsession to drink was removed. I had no idea how this happened. Apparently I was ready. I was lifted up on a pink cloud. My first taste of freedom was delicious. Like any good alcoholic I wanted more so I began a vigorous program of action that continues today.

Turning my will and life over to my HP seems to happen naturally as self-centered fear continues to dissolve in the light of the twelve steps. Sure I still want to get my way, but I rarely get upset when I don’t. I’ve learned that if it happens, it’s God’s will. Every time I argue with reality, I lose. I’ve come to believe God has my best interest at heart. God’s will for me is abundance, peace, enjoyment and creativity. I experience none of these things when I’m trying to force my will on life. God is ready, willing and able to continue to lavish me with these gifts. All God asks in return is for me to love more.

Step Six

In his opinion, the good doctor states that unless I experience an entire psychic change (spiritual awakening), there's a good chance I will drink again. He goes on to say that "something more than human power is necessary to produce the essential psychic change." I've come to believe the dynamic action of the twelve steps deflate ego and make space in my being for HP to enter consciousness and change me at depth. This process does not happen without my cooperation. I must show the universe I really, really want to be changed by continuously practicing AA's simple program of action. I don't get to pick and choose which suggestions I want to take. I need to work every part of the program - meetings, steps and service-if I sincerely want to be changed.

Because Step Six asks me to aim for perfection, the practice of this step is a powerful indication of my willingness to be changed. When I practice Step Six I grow in awareness. I get a glimpse of the truth about myself. I wake up from the dream of me to the reality of We. Yet, the practice of Step Six is the easiest for me to leave in the dust when my life is good.

I let up on my Six Step practice when I begin to enjoy a few crumbs of happiness.  I stop paying attention to myself, witnessing my character defects and becoming ready for their removal. Taking my own inventory is a downer (I'd rather take yours). Besides, now that the heat is off, I've got more important things to do. Like building up the balance in my 401K. I've experienced this myself and I see this tendency in the returnees in almost every meeting I attend. It seems to be in our nature to slack off when things are good. When life becomes sweet I come to the dangerous conclusion that I've changed enough, that I'm OK. Then I try to hang out in a comfort zone, but this doesn't work for long. Ego reconstitutes itself. I push God out of the driver's seat and once again begin to steer my ship. Sooner or later most of us crash on the rocks.

Gold Nuggets

The anxiety grew as I approached the final page of my fifth step. I knew my most embarrassing secret was written there, waiting for me to read to my sponsor. This was the one I would take to the grave. I thought for a moment about skipping it, but an unseen power gave me the courage to turn the page and read. When I had finished reading, Larry said, “Oh, did you do that to?” Bingo! The embarrassment dissolved and I was twenty pounds lighter. Since that day I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to share my experiences with many men. The painful stuff, the embarrassing stuff, the stupid stuff I did drunk and sober. When I share them with another alcoholic my past experiences are transformed from lumps of coal into gold nuggets.

In our Eleventh Step prayer, St. Francis asks God to make him a channel of peace. I open the channel to my Higher Power when I share my experiences (not my advice) with another alcoholic. Our drunk-a-logs may be completely different, but our problems are all the same. I connect with you when I share about job losses, failed relationships, financial insecurities and the death of loved ones because you’ve been there and done that. When I tell you what happened, what I did and what it’s like now, it may make your path easier. One alcoholic sharing with another is a win-win.

Somewhere along the way, in my relentless pursuit of fame and fortune, I became separated from Life, God, and Good. Without Good Orderly Direction, my life became a living nightmare. A moment of clarity led me to Alcoholics Anonymous and I began my journey back to the Garden. Gratefully, those who came before me in Alcoholics Anonymous left a trail of tiny gold nuggets — their experience, strength and hope — to help me find my way home.

The Oasis of Sobriety

Recently I spent a week hiking in Joshua Tree Monument in the Mojave desert. One of the hikes I took is called 49 Palms Oasis.  I tramped through the desert for a couple of hours before the oasis came into view. The towering palms and lush vegetation looked out of place in the middle of miles and miles of mostly lifeless desert - like a bright green emerald had fallen out of God’s pocket into the sand. I rested and relaxed in the cooling shade. I left the oasis feeling renewed. Sobriety for me is like a peaceful oasis in the middle of the desert of alcoholic insanity. I doubt I could explain this magical place to anyone who hasn’t experienced it themselves.

I lived in the desert all my life until a moment of clarity led me to Alcoholics Anonymous.  Life in the desert is hard, but I didn’t know anything else. I was programmed by parents, teachers and society who had never left the desert. So, like them, I clawed and scratched under the rocks in the hot sun to find tiny bits of pleasure which I mistook for happiness. I was always on edge in the desert—afraid I won’t get the love I needed to survive. Along with booze, I tried everything to find some relief from the constant anxiety: drugs, money, sex, and work, Nothing worked for long. The fear and stress always returned, more painful then ever. Finally, after wandering lost in the desert for forty-seven years, something inside of me cried out for help. I was shown a path to the oasis. It turned out to be only Twelve Steps away!

As I approached the oasis, the God of my own misunderstanding rushed out to greet me and has walked with me ever since. The oasis is still and silent. I can finally rest and be free. I thrive by being, not doing.  Life is abundant. Since all my needs are met, I live with a sense of ease and comfort. Oh, there are still challenges, but in the oasis I have faith God will get me out of any mess I get myself into. So why worry? I still venture out of the oasis occasionally, but I don’t tolerate desert life very well so I rush back to the peaceful oasis.

I cannot find the oasis with my mind. It is a journey of the heart. I never would have attempted this journey without having a disease that was killing me. I am so grateful to be alcoholic. Otherwise, I would still be wandering around in the desert. A dried out, brittle, angry man.


Faith that Works

I didn’t realize I was encrusted in self-centered fear as I sat in my easy chair day after day drinking, smoking pot and watching TV. I thought I was a pretty nice guy. Not having a job wasn’t the problem. Running out of money was. I had been at the top of my career a few years earlier. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t find any energy or enthusiasm to look for work or for anything else for that manner. Since I wasn’t suffering consequences, I never considered my drinking to be a problem. By then alcohol was medicine I had to take twice a day to try and stay even.

Finally, a moment of clarity — a gift I did nothing to deserve — led me to ask a therapist for help.  A few days later I enrolled in an out patient treatment program. That night, three days before I walked into my first meeting, the obsession to drink was lifted clean out of me. I floated on a pink cloud. I have no idea how this happened. This experience proved there was a power I did not understand that had my best interest at heart. My faith was born.

Since that night twenty two years ago, faith has never failed to do for me what I could not do for myself. Faith gave me the courage to walk through many scary and painful experiences without a drink or a drug. Faith allowed me to suit up and show up through job loss, move to China, start my own company, and most recently walk hand and hand with my young wife through the end of her life. I’ve come out the other side of all these experiences stronger and more faithful than ever.

I nurture my faith by continuing to do all that is suggested in Alcoholics Anonymous. I show up regularly at meetings where I learn how you guys walk through your fear and realize I can too. I’m no longer afraid to ask for help. When I’m feeling even a tiny bit shaky, I talk to another alcoholic about it. I work with others — giving away what was so freely given to me. I keep my connection with my HP strong by spending time each day in silence. Today I know without really knowing that I can get through whatever God has in store for me. This is a great way to live!

AFGOs

When I first got sober there was an old timer who was a regular at one of the meetings I attended. He used to call his problems "AFGO's." "I'm having an AFGO," he would say. Another F**king Growth Opportunity. I'm coming to see this truth -- that problems are really opportunities to grow in disguise. The problems I have in my life today are present to wake me up, not to punish me.

Health, finances, job, relationships, deaths of loved ones, you name it, I've had my share of problems in every aspect of life. Like the game "Smash the Gopher," just when I think I have one problem solved, another pops up. I'm learning that thinking I can create a problem-free life is childish fantasy. No matter how good my life gets, someone will always come along and spill gravy on my new carpeting.

Before Alcoholics Anonymous, I tried to my solve problems by drinking at them, sweeping them under my mental carpet, thinking that in time they would go away. I no longer believe this today. Just like my character defects, my problems don't go away by themselves. They go underground for a while and show up later in different costumes. I cannot out run my problems anymore than I can out run my shadow. The problem grows and grows and gets more painful and more painful until I finally have no choice but to turn around and face it.

I am coming to believe problems are in my life for my highest and best good, but I only grow if I'm willing to walk through a problem, not avoid it, ignore it, or dance around it. Every time I get to the other side of a problem, my faith is just a little bit stronger. Every time I stand up to my ego, my ego becomes just a little bit weaker. It takes courage to walk through the dark tunnel of fear and face problems head-on. I find the courage in Alcoholics Anonymous. By watching you guys walk through your problems, I learned I could too.

Is being an alcoholic a problem? I suppose if you asked, most "normies" would say that being an alcoholic is a problem. I see my alcoholism differently. Without having this disease that was going to kill me, there is no way I would've been willing to take the actions suggested by the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Then the beautiful promises of our program would be nothing more than a pipe dreams. I'm grateful to be an alcoholic. It is a major blessing for me.

AA Birthday

Today is my twenty-second AA birthday. What a terrific journey it has been!

Looking back I can see I was dying when I walked through the door to my first meeting.  Dying not only from alcoholism, but also from terminal seriousness. I had flat-lined emotionally years before. I had no energy or enthusiasm for anything except getting high. Prozac helped, but alcohol was my real medicine. I drank for Technicolor, but the colors were fading like the colors on an old tee shirt that had been washed a hundred times. I had no job or real interest in finding one. I hid from life in my darkened apartment with empty pizza boxes on the floor. A moment of clarity sent me to a therapist who said she couldn’t help me, but maybe the treatment center up the street could. I took my last drink yesterday, April 28, 22 years ago. When I woke up the next morning something in me had changed. I can’t explain it. All I know is that I spent my last $3,700 of Visa credit signing up for an out-patient treatment program. I walked into my first AA meeting three days later.

The magic continued in that first meeting.  I think it was the laughter that hooked me. I remember laughing, really laughing for the first time in years. I identified with all your wacky solutions to the problems of life because I had tried every one! After the meeting some of the men surrounded me in welcome. I was invited to breakfast. An unseen hand pushed me to go. Driving home from breakfast, I tried to make sense of what had happened. I couldn’t. All I know is it felt like I had finally found my way home after a long, painful journey. I was hooked.

I was unemployed--unemployable really—during my first year. I hid out in Alcoholics Anonymous. I went to meetings daily—sometimes two. I worked through the steps with my sponsor. I hung out with sober alcoholics.  When my home group elected me dough-nut guy, it felt like I had just won the Nobel Prize.  My recovery went into overdrive when a man ask me to sponsor him. I suffered a painful job loss at three and a half years sober, but I didn’t drink. I worked the steps around the job loss and, a short time later, I received an exciting job offer in Shanghai, China.

It was 1997 and, as far as I could tell, there was no AA in Shanghai. The International Directory listed a phone number for one sober woman, but every time I called from San Diego a Chinese woman answered. I shared my fear about lack of AA support with an old timer who said, “Don’t worry about it. God wouldn’t send you to China if you weren’t ready to go. God didn’t get you sober to sit on the curb. It’s time for you to get off the curb and live your life.” Sure enough as soon as I arrived in Shanghai, I hooked up with a sober man who introduced me to the other three AA’s in Shanghai.

We had three meetings a week in each other’s apartments. Compared to hundreds of meetings and thousands of alcoholics in San Diego, it was definitely an AA “lite” program for me. But it turned out to be just enough. Despite the pressures of a new job, the frustrations of not speaking the language and the crappy weather, I did not drink. Instead I carried the message to newcomers in our budding Shanghai fellowship. When I left Shanghai a couple of years ago, Shanghai AA had an Alano Club offering twenty-three meetings a week to more than a hundred recovering alcoholics. Our website makes it easy for visitors from around the world to find meetings.

Today, I continue to go to meetings mostly every day. I go not because I’m afraid to drink, but because I really enjoy them. AA meetings are better than TV. Seeing the light come on in a newcomer’s eyes is still my greatest pleasure. My participation in Alcoholics Anonymous has been a constant in my life. It has supported me through many wonderful and a few painful experiences. In the process I have grown and changed. Today, thanks to all of you, I’m pretty happy with the man I see in the mirror.

Hide and Seek

 I was taught anonymity means giving all credit to God, taking no credit for myself-- for anything. This idea is clearly stated in the other big book where it says “of myself I am nothing, He does the works.” I’m coming to believe there is not me and God. There is only God. Growing spiritually is about me disappearing.

At best I’m just a channel for God like it says in our Eleventh Step prayer. I practice the steps. I empty myself out of old, mistaken ideas about me and how life works. I become an ever fuller expression of God. Struggle and suffering fall away as I stop believing the crap in my head. I experience moments of bliss as God’s peace, love and power flows through me.

I did not come by this realization quickly.  In fact, God is so anonymous He has me continuing to believe I am doing the work. After all, don’t I decide to go to the meeting? Don’t I drive myself there? Don’t I put my hand out to the newcomer? I want to take credit for this stuff, but then I remember How It Works. “There is One who has all power. That One is God.” All power. Not 99% of the power.

My ego asks, “if everything were God and God is Love, then why would there be starvation, disease and wars and killing? The only answer I can come up with is that God doesn’t will these things to happen, but He allows these things to happen for our highest and best good. In the same way God graced me with alcoholism. I could not have traveled from where I was to where I am today without having a deadly disease that was going to kill me unless I treated it spiritually.

God and I play a continuous game of hide and seek. God tries to stay totally anonymous, but I see God every time I am willing to seek God. God hides in plain sight, everywhere I look. Our book asks me to choose. Is God everything or nothing? I have seen way to many miracles to believe nothing.

Staying in the Center

I didn't realize I was spiritually sick. I knew my life wasn't going well, but I thought a new job and a new glamorous girlfriend would fix everything. But I couldn't seem to muster the energy to look for work. As my bank balance plummeted, I woke up every morning with an ache of fear in my gut. Mostly I felt empty inside. I drank for relief from the grayness of my life, for some Technicolor.

I searched for answers in self-help books. Almost every week I'd walk to the Crown Books near my apartment and browse the New Age section looking for the solution to my life. I'd carefully select a book, take it home, pour myself a tumbler of wine, and excitedly begin to read. I read titles like Think and Grow Rich, Psycho-cybernetics, and Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. One of the books suggested I lead a God-centered life. This idea resonated with me. I committed to take some of the author's suggestions, but I failed to follow through and nothing changed. A few days later I was back in Crown Books looking for another solution.

It took a while in AA to discover why none of these wonderful books helped me. First I didn't know what my real problem was - alcoholism - and second I learned the ideas in my head can't solve any of my problems because the ideas in my head are the source of ALL my problems. You guys taught me AA is a program of action, not a program of thinking. I got that, but how much action is enough?

I was a week or so sober when our counselor at the treatment center gave us newbies a little exercise. She asked us to estimate the average amount of time we drank and used each day. Generally I started cocktail hour at four thirty and drank until I staggered off to bed at 10:30, so I estimated six hours. I thought this sounded high, so I didn't include weekends and holidays when I often drank all day. Once we had completed our estimates, she said, "Now if you really want to stay sober, you have to spend more time taking recovery actions than you did drinking." I committed to six hours and
fifteen minutes of recovery activities each day. It wasn't as difficult as my ego would have me believe. I was firmly in the center of Alcoholics Anonymous when my sponsor gave me my 90 day chip. I've stayed in the center ever since and life continues to be increasingly wonderful.

An Inside Job

It was 1988, six years before I staggered into AA, and my first marriage was on the rocks. We sat in the therapist’s office complaining about each other. I really didn’t want to be there. My memory is sketchy, but I do remember one comment the therapist made that shocked me to the core. I said I felt betrayed by my soon-to-be ex-wife because she didn’t make me happy. The therapist said, “It’s not Christina’s job to make you happy, Jeff.” I pretended like I knew this all along, but it was a stunning revelation. If not to make me happy, why did I marry her in the first place? I thought making each other happy was the whole idea of marriage.

For most of my life, even well into sobriety, I believed happiness was caused by something outside of me — a raise at work, a new car, the love of a good woman. I didn’t know I had been confusing happiness with excitement and pleasure. I learned I can never be free as long as I depend on people, places and things for happiness. I don’t have to do anything to be happy. I’m already happy. I just don’t realize it some of the time.

You guys taught me happiness is an inside job. I may not feel happy all the time, but happiness is always there.  Just like I may not feel the warmth of the sun on a rainy day. The sun is always shining even though I can’t see it. Just like the dark clouds, my old, dark ideas — self centered fears — block my experience of happiness. The program of Alcoholics Anonymous — meetings, steps and service — dissolve the cloud cover and happiness naturally shines through. AA for me is not about learning anything new. It’s about unlearning everything I think is true.  The Twelve Steps have proven quite handy for this work.

I had real proof of the eternal nature of happiness when I walked with Lola through the last year of her life. It was excruciatingly painful. Yet through it all I sensed happiness was always present. As a result of demonstrating my willingness to do all that is suggested, my insides feel cleaner, lighter. Since I no longer depend on anyone or anything for my happiness, I am free.

Passing It On

I was a couple of week sober as I sat in group therapy in the treatment center whining about not having a job and running out of money. The woman who ran the center gave me a look of disgust. “You’re so full of crap, Jeff. Why don’t you make recovery your job?” This woman had a mean streak and I knew better than to challenge her, but the idea of making recovery my job stuck with me.

A couple of days ago I was sharing with a new guy who was struggling. He said he was so worried about not having a job and running out of money that he was paralyzed. He said he hadn’t been to a meeting and wasn’t taking any other recovery actions.  All he could do was sit on his couch. I said, “Why don’t you make recovery your job?” It’s funny that what sounded completely silly to me twenty years ago makes perfect sense today.

I asked him —if he had a job— what would happen if he called his boss and told him he didn’t feel like coming into work today. “I’d probably get fired, he said.” Right. Only in our case if we don’t work at enlarging and perfecting our spiritual condition we won’t get fired. We will get drunk.

My first time through the book, I related to the idea that God was my boss. “We had a new Employer. Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed His work well.” My job objective is to trust God, clean house and help others. I accomplish these objectives by taking the recovery actions suggested in my first week: meetings, steps, service.

Looking back I can see that being unemployed when I was new was an absolute gift. I had the time to build a great foundation in Alcoholics Anonymous. I went to more than 400 meetings in my first year. I worked my way through all twelve steps with my sponsor and did everything else suggested, sometimes grudgingly. I began a relationship with a God of my own understanding that has served me well throughout the years. Oh, I was still concerned about finding work, but I was not paralyzed in fear. I suggested to the new guy that he be grateful he was not working so he could devote unlimited time to his recovery. I’m not sure he was convinced, but you never know.



Big I and little me

Recently I was reminded of an old timer who attended my home group meetings when I was new. He shared frequently about being in the middle between the “big I” and the “little me.” I didn’t understand it at the time, but today I think I know what he meant. I cannot live to good effect without the power of God in my life. Nor can I live without ego pushing me to succeed in the material world. I am right-sized when I’m right in the middle between the God of my own misunderstanding and my illusionary ego.

Certainly, God has all real power, but ego has the power of self-will. I lived a pretty darn good life on ego power. Self-will carried me for 47 years before it finally failed me. Just like the prodigal son, I woke up in the pigpen and turned to God as a last resort. Self-will played a big role in my early days of recovery before sobriety became a habit.

I feel drawn into the spiritual mystery, but I am no saint. I’ve not shaved my head nor have I dropped out of life and moved to an ashram in India. I call on God to get me out of every mess created by my ego. Yet, without ego, I’m not sure I would ever leave my couch. Ego seems to be part of my human makeup. It is a valuable force within me as long as it doesn’t overstep its bounds. When ego gets too puffed up, it blocks God out of my life. I suffer as a result.

Our literature says somewhere that the ego must be smashed. I’m coming to see ego is not a vicious monster, but a little wounded child within me that I rejected as I grew. This frightened little child feels he has to do everything perfectly or else he won’t get the love he so desperately needs. Instead of smashing my ego, I am better served by embracing the frightened little child within. I began this process of self-forgiveness when I completed my first fourth step and started to forgive the people on my resentment list. This forgiveness process continues today.

It is quite challenging for me to find the middle ground between the big I and the little me. I know I’m close when I go for long periods with peace of mind, when my life feels useful and contented, when I am able to laugh at all the silly crap I think and do.

Spiritual Sanity

The first time I read Step Two on the wall I wondered about the meaning of “restored to sanity.” Was God going to restore me to the way I was before I started drinking? I really didn’t want to go back to my painful, awkward childhood. I didn’t think restored meant God was going to make me a “normal” human being. That made no sense because normal human behavior — wars, killings, starvation, man’s inhumanity to man — is insane. I couldn’t wrap my head around the definition in our book — soundness of mind. My mind was sharp as a bell. After all, I could still do the crossword in the morning paper in record time. Nor could I relate to the idea I heard in meetings that insanity was doing the same things over an over again expecting different results. When I drank I got the same result every time. Drunk.

It took me a while in AA to realize that “restored to sanity” meant God was going to restore me to fit spiritual condition like I was before I left the home office to begin my life on earth. Today I think of sanity as order, balance, and harmony. When I’m paying attention I can see the absolute perfection of creation. I see that day follows night; the planets in perfect alignment; the tides right on schedule. I figure that any power that can keep the universe in perfect harmony can certainly handle my puny little life. If order, balance and harmony is my true nature, why don’t I experience my life this way?

I hear the reason read at every meeting: “Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.” Today I know if I am struggling on any level I am holding on to an old idea based in fear. I am believing something about God, you and life that is not true. By taking the rest of the steps to the best of my ability, I become aware of the old ideas that cause me to suffer and I demonstrate my willingness to be changed at depth. Then the power begins. The mighty power of love.

Willingness

I sat in my command chair with a tumbler of wine. I recalled what the therapist told me earlier that day. She said she couldn’t help me, but maybe the treatment center up the street could. Did I want her to make arrangements for an orientation? I said I’d get back to her.

I had admitted to her I needed help, but giving up my drinking seemed a little severe. After all I was forty-seven years old. Hell, my life was almost over. Why quit now? Besides since I drank alone at home, I wasn’t experiencing consequences. I hadn’t been in jail for drunk driving for almost nineteen years! I was a little concerned I had no job and running out of money. But like Bill, I had been winning the game of life and would again. I was just going through a bad patch is all. Denial is not a river in Egypt.

Yet, when I awoke two days later something had changed in me I cannot explain. All I know is that I called the therapist and arranged for an orientation at the treatment center. Five days after that I walked into my first AA meeting. It felt like I had finally found my way home after a long painful journey.  I wanted what you had and discovered my bags were packed with willingness. I took all the actions to put myself in the center of Alcoholics Anonymous and have remained there ever since. Today I can see that my willingness to take the actions is not a result of anything I do. It is a gift from God with no strings attached.

Through the years I’ve worked with many men who try middle of the road solutions. Virtually all fall by the wayside. Yet I  believe that no effort is wasted. Every time we try and fail we get a little closer to the willingness to come all the way in.

The Gift of Grief

In 1993, one year before I joined AA, my mother lay dying in Florida. Toward the end I made a number of trips from LA to spend time with her. By then she was on liquid morphine and out of it most of the time. I’m glad she wasn’t lucid because all I could do during those trips was to sit by her bed and drink. I couldn't cry. I couldn't tell her I loved her. I couldn't make my amends. My parents both died on the same day. Dad helped mom die, then took his own life. I never fully grieved their loss. I had been running from feeling anything, except anger, for thirty years.

What a difference twenty years in recovery makes! My beautiful, young Chinese wife, Lola, died on November 30, 2013. I was graced with the opportunity to serve as her primary caretaker. I walked with her through her final bout with cancer — through all the pain, frustration and disappointment. I stayed by her side 24 and 7 for eleven months. I cared for her in a way I had never cared for anyone before. Some of our friends said I was a saint for the way I cared for her.  I didn't have a choice really. Alcoholics Anonymous made me a stand-up guy. You  guys taught me by example to be responsible, to suit up, show up and to trust God with outcomes. I watched you guys walk through tough life stuff and I knew I could too. I never would have signed up for this experience, but today I am so very grateful for it.

Lola's illness and death was the most excruciatingly painful experience of my life. Yet, in a way I can’t explain, it was also the most beautiful. My heart opened as the waves of sadness crashed over me.  We became closer than ever before. We prayed together--she to her beloved Jesus, me to the God I discovered in Alcoholics Anonymous. We laughed together. I held her hand as she took her last breath while the women from her church sang hymns in the background. Today I am more connected to my Higher Power than ever before.

The hole in my heart will never completely heal. Yet, thankfully, my memories of Lola are mostly happy. Chinese New Year is just wrapping up. During Chinese New Year we had the habit of going onto the rooftop of our apartment building in Shanghai and watching the non-stop fireworks that exploded 360 degrees in every direction from where we stood. I see her there now on the roof top. Joy lighting up her face.

Saving the Day

Bill was not trying to save Dr. Bob’s ass when he picked up the phone in the hotel lobby. He was trying to save his own. The disease was clawing at him. The demons were going nonstop in his head about what a loser he was. He needed relief or else he would drink again. Boy can identify!

I was three years sober and had just lost a job I thought was much too good for me. The committee in my head were all yelling at me at the same time. Then the chairman called for a vote. They went around the table: guilty, guilty, guilty…! It was unanimous. I was a worthless piece of crap. I had no right to a good life. It was as close as I have ever come to picking up a drink.

The same thing that saved Bill, saved me. I picked up the phone rather than picking up a drink. I certainly wasn’t thinking about how many alcoholics I could save.  I was only thinking about making the pain go away.  I called my sponsor. He instructed me to go to the noon meeting and share about my job loss. I really didn’t want to do that. But by then I trusted my sponsor with my life and reluctantly went and shared. Then he said I should call three other alcoholics and talk about them. I was not to mention my job loss. I did that too. Finally, after working steps one through nine on the job loss issue, the fear dissolved completely and I was lifted up onto a pink cloud.

This powerful experience is at the very foundation of my faith in our program. Work with another alcoholic always saves the day!

Belief vs Trust

There is a wonderful old-timer who attends one of my regular meetings. He always ends his share by saying, “There is only one sin. Limiting God. Don’t!” I’ve seen way too many miracles both in myself and others not to believe anything is possible. But I learned there is a difference between belief and trust. While I believe God can do anything and everything, I don’t yet completely trust God to handle all of my life. I continue to limit God.

Our book says in How It Works, “There is One who has all power, that One is God.” This says to me that God has 100% of the power. Not 99% of the power, but all the power. I fully trust God to handle the stars, the sun, and the change of seasons. Yet I continue to give power to fear, to money, to illness and sometimes to other people. I’m better today, but I often wonder what life would be like if I could turn every single aspect of it over completely to the care of God, as I misunderstand God.

St. Francis prays to become a channel of God’s peace. What I think of as my peace of mind, my strength, my joy is not mine at all. It is 100% God’s. My job on earth is to become an ever more fuller expression of God by channeling God’s attributes out into the world. I keep my channel open and flowing by continuing to do all that was suggested in my first couple of weeks in Alcoholics Anonymous: meetings, steps, service, and putting my hand out to newcomers. I connect with my Source through daily quiet time. Sometimes I pray, sometimes I meditate, sometimes I write, sometimes I just sit. I also try to get into nature alone. I aspire to a connection with my Higher Power that is so intimate that I finally realize we are, in fact, One.

During his awakening experience, Bill talks about being catapulted into the fourth dimension of life. A while back I heard a lady pastor talk about the “cloud of un-belief” that settled over the world beginning in the time of Aristotle. She said that she believed there were 13 unseen dimensions of life. I felt my mind close up when I first heard this, but after meditating on it for a while I have come to believe that absolutely anything is possible in God’s world.


Faith Builders

Before AA about the only faith I had is that if I took a few drinks I’d feel better. Alcohol worked for me for thirty years. Then it stopped working. Oh, I still got drunk all right, but it stopped taking the fear away. During my journey in Alcoholics Anonymous, I’ve walked through a number of painful life events sober. Each time I’ve come out the other side with a greater ability to love and trust.

I was ninety days sober when I completed my fourth and fifth steps with my sponsor. I let go of a life-long resentment against my father. It felt like magic. At three and a half years sober I lost a job that I thought was much too good for me. The demons in my head raged non-stop. I needed relief or I would drink. Thanks to a solid foundation in AA I reached out for help. I picked up the phone instead of picking up a drink. I worked through the steps focusing on my job loss with another alcoholic. I saw my part, wrote letters of apology to those I had harmed. Thirty days later I was on my way to China for a fabulous new job and an adventure of a life time. I never would have signed up for the job of care taking my wife during the last eleven months of her life, but it turned out to be the most beautiful experience of my life. Despite many painful moments, my heart opened and joy flooded in.

Blind faith never worked for me. My experiences have given me the faith that everything that happens to me is meant for my highest and best good. Life doesn’t send me tragic events to punish me, but to help me grow. Inside every painful situation is a little doorway to freedom. I know today that as long as I am willing to pick up some tools, I’ll be given the strength I need to walk through any situation, no matter how painful.

The Whole Package

I wasn’t looking for a brand new life when I reached out to a therapist for help. I certainly wasn’t looking to quit drinking because alcohol was not my problem, it was my solution. Besides, I hadn’t been arrested for drunk driving in nineteen years. No, all I was looking for was a job. I lived in the delusion that a job would fix everything. With some money coming in, I would stop waking up paralyzed with fear, the creditors would stop calling and I could finally afford a new glamorous girlfriend. Looking back I am so grateful for the pain that drove me to the therapist for help. Otherwise, I might have missed what Father Bill called the whole package—sobriety, sanity, and serenity.

I whined to the therapist for thirty minutes about not having the energy to look for work. Fortunately, she saw right through me. She told me some unpleasant truths about myself. She said that I didn’t have an ounce of humility in my whole body; that I had the emotional maturity of a thirteen year old; and that my brain was so cloudy from my daily drinking that I couldn’t hope to get any clarity on my life. She said she couldn’t help me, but maybe the treatment center up the street could. Even though I didn’t consider myself alcoholic, three days later I enrolled in an outpatient treatment program and three days after that I walked into my first AA meeting.

I floated into my first meeting on a pink cloud. Nothing in my outward life had changed. I was still unemployed and running out of money, but something inside of me had shifted. I sensed I was exactly where I was supposed to be and it felt great. I laughed, really laughed, for the first time in years. I reconnected with life at that first meeting and my connection has deepened throughout the years as I continue to take the actions you suggested in my first couple of weeks.

Today, thanks to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous that connects me to the God of my misunderstanding, I am an almost entirely new person. I no longer have the slightest desire to change the way I feel with alcohol and drugs. I live an orderly, peaceful life. Most of the time I am in harmony with what is. I feel useful and contented. My life today is 180 degrees different than what it was before I walked into my first meeting. It’s nothing I did and everything God did.

My First Meeting

I made my way up the back stairs to the meeting room in the La Jolla Presbyterian Church for my first AA meeting. It was May 3, 1994. A few days earlier I had spent my last $3700 of Visa credit to enroll in an outpatient treatment program recommended by a therapist. I had just attended my first group session. The woman who ran the program, an ex-heroin addict from New York, told us that to graduate from the program we were required to attend a minimum of three AA meetings a week. Then she looked at me and said, “Except for you Jeff. Since you are unemployed you are required to attend a meeting every day.” I didn’t like being singled out, but something told me arguing with this woman was useless. As it turned out going to a meeting every day in that first year was the best thing that could have happened.

I was early for the noon meeting. Secretary Will C. (still the most humble man I’ve ever known), greeted me warmly. His face lit up when I told him I was new. He started loading me up with pamphlets  all the while telling me how glad he was I was there. He introduced me to each member of the group as they arrived. Each welcomed me warmly in turn. During the meeting they passed around the San Diego meeting booklet. Everyone put their name and phone number in the space provided in the back of the booklet. I used those phone numbers a lot a month or so later when my sponsor "suggested" that I call three other alcoholics every day.

There were probably a dozen or so of us when the meeting began. Big Al was the first one to speak. He said he was so mad he could kill. He had just learned that his daughter’s therapist was trying to convince her that Al had molested her as a child. I was 47 years old and never heard anyone speak like this—the language of the heart.

When it was my turn to share, an unseen hand pushed me to stand up in front of the group and, for the first time, say, “My name is Jeff and I’m an alcoholic.” Driving home from the meeting, I remember feeling like I had just found my way home after a long painful journey.

Love and Service

I am absolutely convinced from the center of my being that without spiritual help, I do not have the power to stay sober and live life to good effect. Despite what my ego would have me believe, I don’t have the power to love, understand or forgive. I don’t have the power to form true partnerships with others. I don’t have the power to create beauty. I don’t have the power to free myself from the bondage of my stinking thinking. I don’t have any real power at all. Like our book says, God has all the power. Not 99.9% of the power, but all of it.

The program of Alcoholics Anonymous has the solution for powerless people like me: Work the steps to the best of my ability, practice them in my daily life, and pass on to others what has been so freely given to me. If I am willing to do these three simple things over and over again, I connect to the power of the universe. With spiritual power flowing through me, I am better able to practice love and service both in and out of the rooms.

I connect with the power whenever I share with another alcoholic whether in a meeting, on the phone or face to face. The power seems to be supercharged when we go through the steps together. When I am focused on helping another alcoholic, my petty little worries and concerns seem to disappear. My spiritual understanding deepens. Sometimes, I hear myself saying things I didn’t even know I knew. I know today that God is not in me or in you, God exists in the place where we meet.

I’m coming to believe that every opportunity to practice love and service is a gift from God. I’ve had the great good fortune of enjoying many positive life experiences, but seeing the light come on in a newcomer’s eyes is without a doubt the source of my greatest happiness. If I had to guess what God really wants from me, it would be to learn to love more. Carrying this message to other alcoholics opens my heart. I heard once that there is enough love in one human heart to power the whole universe. Wow.