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.