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.


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!