Sin is forgetting the truth about myself--that I am a pure spiritual being having a human experience. In forgetting this, I also disregard this truth about others. The remedy is remembering. As I grow, I remember more. Or maybe it's the other way around.

On a purely human level I will always fail. I either over-step the mark or come up short. I give too much here and take too much there. I never seem to be right on target. I never seem to find that peaceful place where I can rest.

All my life there was a nagging feeling that something was wrong. I lived in a constant state of dis-ease even when I achieved success by worldly standards. I falsely concluded that the problem was life itself. So I struggled for thirty years trying to escape life through alcohol, drugs, sex, cookies, work, marriage -- you name it, I tried it. "My will not Thine be done." Nothing worked for long.

Fortunately I was graced with the disease of alcoholism. Either I had to become willing to try and live life on life's terms or I die. Something in me chose life. I applied the tried and tested formula of steps, traditions, meetings, sponsorship, and reaching out and connecting with other alcoholics. As my true nature awakened, I began to remember. Today I realize that I don't so much work a program, but the program is working me.

Dancing with God

My first sponsor told me on a couple occasions that spirituality was a gift from God -- there's nothing I can do to "make" God come alive inside of me. It's grace, a free gift that I neither deserve or can earn.

When I practice the principles I deflate my ego and make space in my being for God. As nature abhors a vacuum, spirit seems to rush in and fill up the space. It's like I take one step towards God and he takes two steps towards me. Then when I get caught up in things of the world and retreat -- He steps backwards too. Pretty soon I begin to feel disconnected and without purpose. Finally I wake up and remember what is real and the dance starts again.

God and I have been doing this dance for years. He patiently waits until He senses that I am ready to receive the gift that He wants more than anything to give me.

Fresh Bread

In one of my prayers I ask God to "give us this day our daily bread." Bread may be ideas, intuition, hunches, money and material things. What ever it is I need He provides, but he only provides it for today. It would be easier if God would give me a year's supply of bread, then I wouldn't have to worry, but that's not the way it works. One day's supply at a time.

One thing I try to do is to finish today's work today. If I am doing yesterday's work today, I am living on stale bread. I try to have a clean slate to start each day. This is major recovery for a life-long procrastinator!

It seems I get today's bread by believing wholeheartedly that it is provided for me, by asking for it, and by putting my HP in the center of my life.
Before AA I didn't know how to put my HP in the center of my life. There wasn't room since my ego was firmly in the center.

I just try to do what was suggested in my first few weeks -- Don't drink, put my hand out to other alcoholics, ask my HP and others for help, don't let myself get to hungry, angry, lonely or tired, get to a meeting and a few other simple things -- by putting AA the center of my life I put God there too and I receive everything I need to live one more day in peace and harmony.


I was told when I was new that just saying I was willing was not enough. I had to demonstrate my willingness by doing the things suggested. Today most of what is suggested like going to meetings, socializing with other alcoholics and sharing my ESH doesn't require much willingness because by now these things are comfortable, even fun. I might be able to stay sober on meetings and fellowship alone but I don't believe I can grow spiritually. And if I'm not growing, chances are I'm slowly slipping backwards into the cesspool of my own thinking.

I demonstrate my willingness to grow when I make the effort to see myself as I really am and to become "cleaner" inside. The steps help me do this. I grow when I sit with uncomfortable feelings instead of running away or numbing out. I grow when I try to understand the messages that the fear and anger bring. I grow when I am willing to look honestly at myself, to search for my part in every disturbance, to admit when I am wrong and make amends.

A part of me doesn't want to do these things. A part of me wants to fall back to sleep in the childish illusion that my life will succeed by doing only the things I enjoy. And sometimes I do fall back asleep, I'm no saint. But sooner or later I realize that when I do fall back asleep I just stay stuck and the same lesson will just keep presenting itself over and over until I finally get it. There's no escape.

If I'm paying attention I notice that every day life hands me many opportunities to look at myself and grow. The main thing for me is to be willing to look in the mirror when it is handed to me.


Growing up I never really learned to care about others. I was programmed by fearful parents, teachers and society to place acquiring and achieving way ahead of connecting with others. I was taught many things to help me get "ahead" and be "secure" in the world, but I was never taught how to connect with others, how to care, how to be a friend among friends. Maybe normal people learn this naturally. I never did.

They taught me how to compete, not how to connect. If I wanted all the good things in life, I had to be smarter, faster, better than you. I could not ask you for help. I could show no weakness. I could rely on no one else. Certainly no higher power was going to help me. I became self sufficient.

This idea of self sufficiency nearly killed me. Toward the end, it had me sitting alone in my darkened apartment day after day drinking wine, smoking pot and watching endless hours of stupid television. I was in extreme isolation, but I remember thinking that this was a good way to live. This thought, that it was a good thing that there was no one else in my life, is one of the saddest I can recollect.

I was graced with a moment of clarity that eventually led me to Alcoholics Anonymous. It was there I learned how to connect with and care for other alcoholics. In the beginning my motive was definitely self-serving. I did it to not drink -- to stay alive. Slowly, I became "a part of" instead of "apart from." It took some time, but finally I came in from the cold and allowed myself to be warmed from the fire that burns in our fellowship.

Today I have a spiritual love for all alcoholics. It’s easy to connect with you because we walked through alcoholic hell together. We shared the same pain, confusion and frustration. We are shipmates in the lifeboat leaving behind the wreckage of our old lives and being awakened together into a new life. I don’t like all of you, but I love you all.

I find it difficult to connect with non-alcoholics. Maybe there is no need to, but I am getting the feeling that I should begin to take what I've learned outside the rooms to the other parts of my life and begin to connect -- rather than compete -- with all others who God puts in my path.

Cooking with Gas

Utilizing the twelve steps to live on a spiritual basis is like cooking on my gas stove top. The stove has a tiny flame that never goes out. It also has a pipe that is connected to an unlimited supply of gas. But these two features alone cannot cook the food. There is not enough energy (power) to change raw food into something more appetizing. If I want to cook anything I must turn the knob to open the gas flow.

Similarly, if I want my life to change into something more appetizing -- I turn the knob by going back again and again to the simple wisdom of the Twelve Steps. As I take the actions prescribed by the steps I am released from resentment, fear and guilt. I connect with an unlimited reservoir of abundance, joy and peace.

I "took" the 12 steps to awaken the desire in my heart to be changed. I "work" the 12 steps today because there is no such thing as standing still. If I am not growing, I am slowly slipping backwards into the bondage of self and the cesspool of my own thinking.

Sensitive to Inner Peace

One more time I had reacted in anger that bordered on rage. I said things I regretted. I completely lost my serenity. I ruined another day. I sat in my office fuming as the adrenaline from the argument coursed through me. I noticed it didn't feel good, like I was going to puke. As I began to cool down I started wondering how it happened. I realized that this incident was just part of a continuing pattern of reaction that had gone on as long as I could remember.

I was about nine years sober at the time. I had attended many hundreds of meetings, sponsored a number of guys and had worked through the steps many times. I had shared with sponsors many of the other incidents when I reacted in anger. I would be OK for a while and then, almost out of the blue, someone would do or say something that would trigger a fear in me and I would react in anger. I simply could not help myself. Restraint of tongue and pen was impossible.

That night I reached a bottom. I had become sick and tired of being sick and tired. Right there and then I made peace of mind the number one goal of my life. I put peace of mind ahead of my work, my relationships and my 401K plan. I became willing to go to any lengths to protect my peace. I began to pay attention to my peace of mind. When I lose it I ask myself why in morning inventories. I have discovered many things about myself.

Unlike my compulsion to drink, my fearful reactions were not lifted out of me in a flash. It has been a long slow process, but I'm much better today. I believe I became sensitive to the quality of my inner peace through working the steps. The steps also gave me the tools to look within at causes and conditions and the faith to ask my Higher Power for help in seeing the truth about myself.

Afraid to Let Go

I'm learning that God's grace is not always what I consider a good thing. It says in our book that God is either everything or nothing. If I choose everything then God's grace must also be in wars, sickness, and all manner of suffering in the world I see.

I suppose grace is like a cosmic guidance system. I was graced with a moment of clarity that led me to Alcoholics Anonymous. I was graced with a personal surrender that allowed my ego to rightsize enough to see that you people had what I wanted. I have been graced with an ongoing change of attitudes and beliefs that have freed me from some of the chains that bound me to self. I have been graced with a more sensitive conscience. My internal guidance system has improved. Now there is a little voice that warns me when I'm about to hurt someone with words or deeds. I don't always listen by the voice is there.

God's grace also shows me through pain and suffering where I am clinging, hanging on, afraid to let go. If there was no pain, if I didn't suffer, I would never let go. And never grow.

I was fired from first job in sobriety when I was about three years sober. The pain from the fear was unbearable, but I didn't drink. Instead I shared about it. At one meeting after I shared about how I was suffering an old timer came up to me and said, "one day you will be learn to be grateful for the pain."

Today I know what he meant. I can learn from every one of my life's experiences, even the ones that hurt. Especially the ones that hurt

Getting Real

Bill used many names for God in the big book. I like "the Great Reality deep within." It reminds me that there is only one universal truth. We each have our individual truths -- what is true for us, but our truths are based only on our individual perspectives. What is true for me may not be true for you and visa versa.

It seems to me that the process of growing spiritually is the process of letting go of what I think is true and moving closer to the universal truth that I call God. Standing between me and "the great reality" are illusions: The illusion that money, power and prestige brings me security, peace of mind and happiness, the illusion that the chief aim in life is to get comfortable and keep myself entertained. The illusion that my life will be fine as long as I control it well. The illusion that I am somehow separate from you, that there is "us" and "them." The illusion that if I could just get you to feel good about me, then I could feel good about myself. The illusion that I was put on this earth to achieve something and I'm a failure if I don't. The illusion that because I am an alcoholic I am flawed in some way. As long as I am caught in these illusions, I cannot have a full experience of my Higher Power working in my life.

Getting real to me means that I continuously work on myself, becoming aware of these untruths and seeing how these beliefs and attitudes make my life unmanageable. It doesn't mean that I have to try to be perfect, because that would be a struggle and struggling just causes more suffering. It just means that I make it a priority to begin to notice that each of these illusions is another bar in prison I've trapped myself in.

Practicing the Steps

I am coming to believe that grace is not just the "good" things that happen to me, to you and to the world. It's also the painful stuff, the ugly stuff, and the downright cruel and hateful stuff. Today I'm not the tongue chewing, piss in my pants, wet brained drunk that I was on course to be and that's God's grace for sure. But the countless men and women who do fit this description are also receiving grace. The universe is doing it's best to point them in the opposite direction of the way they are heading. They are getting bombarded with moments of clarity where they can see as I did that there is a easier, softer way to walk through this thing called life. It's part of the great mystery why some of us get it and some of us don't, but it's clear that everyone receives an equal amount of unconditional loving grace.

If not to earn grace, then why do I practice the steps? The simple answer is that I suffer when I don't practice. I fall back to sleep and begin to ignore that small voice inside. The voice that is subtly urging me in the direction of Truth. As it says in the other big book, the trick is to be of the world, but not in the world. Practicing the steps allows me to enjoy the beauty of life but not get caught up in it. Someone once wrote "there's not a shred of evidence that life is meant to be taken seriously"

It always amazes me to remember something I learned in grade school, that each snowflake is unique. There are no two snowflakes alike. If bazillions of snowflakes are all different, it's not too much of stretch for me to believe that I am unique and that I was put here for a definite purpose. By practicing the steps I move closer to finding out who I really am.


One of the by-products of getting sober is that my thinking improved. As the fog cleared I began to see the folly of doing the same things over and over again expecting different results. Today I can sometimes actually catch myself before I say or do something stupid. Not often, but sometimes.

When Bill channeled the Big Book and wrote “restored to sanity” in Step Two, he meant much more that just clear thinking. I believe he meant that I will come to believe I am being restored to my spiritual condition -- just the way I was when I first left the home office, one or many lifetimes ago as the case may be.

God, as I understand God, doesn’t care if I am crazy or sane or whether I’m a saint or a sinner. He is definitely not impressed with my my mind or my intellect. What God seems to care about is that I am free -- free of the chains that bind me to self. Free like the birds and the flowers just as He created me to be. As I am nudged ever closer to God’s sanity, I move into harmony with what is. I experience peace, abundance and freedom. As I continue to experience life in this way, my faith grows.

As it says in “How it Works,” I move closer to God’s sanity by seeking. I seek God by taking the actions prescribed in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. There are countless other ways to seek God, but this is the way that works for me.

It really boils down to how I choose to spend my time. At the treatment center they told me if I wanted to recover, I had to spend as much time taking recovery actions as I did drinking each day. I drank for an average of six hours everyday. Going to two meetings a day, hanging out before and after the meetings, calling my sponsor and other alcoholics, reading the literature and spending quiet time alone equals about six hours. I did this for the better part of a year. I believe it was that this early foundation saw me through some pretty tough times.

Maybe I don't need 6 hours of AA activities everyday anymore, but 6 minutes in the morning just doesn’t cut it. As I look forward to the coming year, I ask myself just how great is my desire to get to know God better? What actions am I willing to take? How much time will I commit? My honest responses to these questions are important. If I’m not careful my sobriety might end up just like all those unfulfilled resolutions I made last year at this time.

Getting Quiet

The true nature of my HP is deep silence. I seek contact with the silence by getting quiet. I practice Step 11 by making time in my day for a period of quiet time. I find that first thing in the morning is best, after I have made my coffee and before the clamor of world starts to intrude. I also seek to connect with this silence by getting into nature alone, however there’s not too much nature here in Shanghai with 22 million people!

As the BB suggests I begin by reviewing the day ahead when it tries to project into tomorrow, I gently return it to today. If a fear arises, I inquire about it’s source. I ask to see what old programming is causing it. If it is a strong fear, I go back to Step 10. Allowing my mind to go where it wants is an important part of my practice. Finally -- usually after 5 to 10 minutes of thinking about today, it kind of “thinks itself out.” Without my mind going a mile a minute I am closer to the silence and my prayers seem more effective.

My prayers are very simple. First I ask my HP to help me to be kind to everyone I meet today and I ask for help -- courage, patience, vision, etc. -- in completing today’s tasks. Then I think about the alcoholics in my life, I think about the last meeting I attended and who is struggling, I think about the newcomers and I think about who I haven’t seen in the rooms for a while. Usually one or two faces show up in my mind. I make a mental note to call them and connect.

Then, as I continue to sit quietly, I listen for intuitive thought. I consider each thought that arises. If no thoughts arise I sit quietly for a few more minutes focusing on the peace within me. When my meditation is over I get up and do the next indicated thing.

This Step 11 practice is the most important 15 to 20 minutes I spend each day. Yet on some days I convince myself that I don’t have time. I guess I am not a saint.

The Train Trip

I am on a train. On two outstretched arms I carry a heavy suitcase filled with the stuff of my life -- my attachments and desires, my worries and fears, and my beliefs and attitudes. Since the train and I and my suitcase will arrive at the destination all at the same time, why don’t I put it down? Because I can’t. I have been carrying this stuff for so long it feels like a part of me.

My arms burn and my legs are wobbly but I can’t put the suitcase down. I wouldn’t know how to be without it. As the pain of carrying the suitcase rachets up, I distract myself by looking out the window and dreaming.

I'm awakened from my dream by the pain. I just can't bear to carry the suitcase for one more second. With no other option, I ask for help. The porter comes, but, instead of taking the suitcase from my arms, he opens it and together we look inside. I notice a few old, musty things I had forgotten about. They are no longer useful and I wonder why I had been carrying them around for so long. I ask the porter to please remove them for me. He does so gladly.

Now the suitcase is lighter and much easier to carry. I tell the porter I won’t be needing his help anymore and continue on my journey. But I was wrong. The suitcase becomes so heavy again that I have to call the porter for help once more. We look again and I see many more useless things I’ve been carrying around. The porter quickly removes them. Again I feel comfortable and believe I can manage on my own. Again I dismiss the porter but by now I have become sensitive to the weight of carrying around useless baggage. I call him back again and again until my suitcase is empty.

As the train nears its destination, I ask him to take the empty suitcase from my arms. I know he will when the time is right.

Admission of Powerlessness

Exactly one week before I walked into my first AA meeting, I lay on a soft leather couch in a therapist's office whining about my life. I had just read -- skimmed actually (it was impossible to read anything of substance when I was drunk)-- a book that detailed midlife crises in a number of men about my age. In total denial about my real problem -- alcoholism, I concluded that this was what was wrong with me -- I was having a midlife crisis. This was the reason I had no energy or enthusiasm for much of anything, why my life was so mechanical and boring and why I could not seem to get it together to find a new job even though I was quickly running out of money. I wasn't so much there for therapy, but to confirm my own diagnosis.

After the therapist listened patiently to my sob story, she said something that shocked me. She said "I don't think I can help you Jeff, you are certainly welcome to come here once a week and pay me $80 to listen to you talk about your life, but I don't think I can help you." I swallowed hard, first because she didn't buy the midlife crisis theory, but mostly because deep down inside I knew I had no where else to go. When I asked her why she couldn't help, she hit me with the truth, right between the eyes. "You have the emotional maturity of a thirteen year old, you don't have an ounce of humility in your whole body, and your thinking is so cloudy from your drinking that your couldn't hope to get any clarity on your life." I was still reeling from her comments when she looked me deep in the eyes and said "you're in trouble aren't you Jeff?" The voice of my ego screamed that I shouldn't admit to anything. I paused for a long moment and looked at my feet. What actually came out of my mouth was a whisper -- "maybe."

It turns out that little "maybe" was just enough of an admission of powerlessness and un-manageability to make space for my higher power to begin to work actively in my life. I have profound gratitude to that therapist who had the integrity to tell me the truth rather than string me along as a patient. And for the grace I received in somehow being ready for the truth when I heard it.

A few 24 hours later I can still act like King Baby on some days and true humility often feels out of reach, but my thinking has, in large part, cleared up and I make mostly responsible choices in my life today.

Waking Up

My ego presents a compelling argument that I cannot be happy without the love and respect of everyone I know, a ton of money in the bank, perfect health and appearance and all the comforts of life that the "have gots" enjoy. My ego convinces me that I have been put on earth to achieve something, to get recognized, to be all I can be and the price I pay for failing is to become a loser -- someone with no value.

The fear of being a nobody motivated me to do everything I could to win at the game of life. I worked my ass off, people pleased, manipulated, lied, cheated and tried to do everything perfectly. I strove to come out on top, to get my picture in the paper. I became a human "doing." I was stressed to the max but I figured this was the price that I had to pay. It's the way I saw my father go through life.

The illusion, of course, is that as soon as I get all my ducks in a row, life will be perfect. Then I can relax and live happily ever after in some kind of warm and comfortable cocoon just like the rich and famous in People magazine. I bought into this dream totally. There were times in my life when I did get a taste of success and the exhilaration it brought, but just as soon as I’d begin to relax someone would come along and spill the gravy on the new carpet of my life. Then I’d be off again trying to outrun the fear that nipped at my heels -- absolutely convinced that life will be just grand someday as soon as I discovered the secret formula.

Fortunately, I became an alcoholic. I have a disease that will kill me unless I awaken spiritually and see the dream for what it is -- an illusion perpetrated by my ego that keeps me in everlasting suffering. Without this malady of body, mind and spirit, I’m sure I would have continued sleepwalking through life, caring only about entertaining myself and staying comfortable, trying to outrun the fear. Instead today I am living a life of simple contentment that gets less fearful day by day.

Working with Others

AA is my church. The sharing of one alcoholic to another is sacred because somehow God has brought us together. Holiness is of little value in the AA church. We connect though our mutual brokenness. We share together not to save each others' souls, but to save each others' asses.

My sponsor taught me to tell the truth by sharing his truth. I learned about his fear, his abandonment issues, and the problems of his life. When it came time for my fifth I had the courage to tell him my secrets, even the icky stuff. I learned by observation that the number one and perhaps only responsibility of a sponsor is to be available. He was busy and sponsored a lot of guys but he always had time for me.

We all need three things from our sponsors: love, discipline and direction. In my own work with others I have tended to slight the love part in favor of discipline and direction. I have tried to manage a sponsee’s recovery rather than play the role of friendly helper. I am learning that this controlling style does not work on most people and it is spiritually deadening for me.

Circle of Recovery

When I look at the AA logo, the triangle inside the circle, I imagine that the circle contains the entire universe -- everything that exists, both seen and unseen. I am reminded that everything inside the circle is interconnected like the threads of a beautiful fabric. Inside the circle I am a human "being." Outside I am a human "doing" - evaluating, comparing and trying to figure everything out, trying to fix things, thinking only about how to get and stay comfortable. Before I was graced with a moment of clarity that led me AA I spent most of my life outside the circle.

The Third Step promises come true inside the circle. In this place life flows naturally without effort. I do not have to strive or compete. I have that sense of ease and comfort I used to get from drinking. I am able to respond rather than react to challenges. My life is peaceful.

‘How It Works" tells me how to place myself inside the circle -- "let go of my old ideas, absolutely." It doesn’t say let go of my "bad ideas" it says "old ideas." I interpret this to mean that I must be willing to let go of every thought, attitude, and belief I have -- I must even be willing to let go of my beliefs about God. When I find myself outside the circle in some kind of pain or upset I can be sure that the cause is an old idea I haven’t let go of yet. The steps provide a clear cut process for becoming aware of these old limiting ideas and having them removed from me.

Of course God, as I choose to call God, is no more a circle than an employer or a director. It’s just one of the ways I try to wrap my tiny, limited mind around the infinite. Frankly I don’t have the foggiest idea who or what God is, but if I had to guess, I would say that God’s nature is love. If God is my employer, then my job description might simply read "let go and love well."

Living from the Inside Out

In my journey before AA I lived almost entirely from the outside-in. I got totally sucked into the idea that my good would only come to me if I were successful in the world. I entered the maze and began the frantic search for the golden cheese. I strove to get ahead, to achieve, to win at all costs. Today I know that it wasn’t money, power or prestige that I searched for, but the holy grail of self-acceptance.

I achieved a measure of worldly success that felt good for a while but it was never enough. There was always the next mountain to climb. As the years went by, I became increasingly disillusioned and cynical. Toward the end of my drinking my life was so heavy, I had trouble finding the energy to show up. It was in this state, at age 47, that I was graced with a moment of clarity that pierced the walls of my denial. I was allowed to see the truth about what I had become. I was not a vision for you.

The doors to AA swung open to greet me. In a very real way AA reconnected me with life itself. I worked the steps and began to strip away the "old ideas" that blocked me from my Higher Power. I got into the habit of spending some quiet time each morning listening to my internal guidance system. I am learning to be of service both in and out of the rooms. Today I know that the good I had been struggling to find was right inside of me the whole time.

Faith, Not Belief

If you saw me at the grocery store during the last eight months of my drinking you probably wouldn’t think anything was wrong. You might have noticed that I was carrying twenty extra pounds of bloat around my midsection and if you looked closely, you might have seen those little red veins were beginning to pop out on the sides of my nose, but you never would have guessed that I was dead inside, just going through the motions pretending to be alive. Actually I didn’t think there was much wrong with me either that a new job wouldn’t fix. I was hopeless and didn’t know it. Such was the depth of my denial.

Then one day something happened. In one second of time -- before I asked God for help, before I had a sponsor, before I worked the steps, even before I attended my first meeting -- my whole life changed. The obsession to drink was lifted right out of me. I have searched ?cannot find any plausible explanation for what happened. It was a moment of grace. Since I was literally raised from the dead, I choose to call it a miracle.

This profound experience is the bedrock of my faith. I don’t believe a benevolent power exists that has my best interest at heart, I know it. Because a belief is a concept of mind, it can easily be shaken by doubt. Mine is a living faith, it is alive in me and nothing can challenge it.

Letting Go of Anger

The first few times I read How It Works, I thought it said we had to let go of our "bad ideas," not our "old ideas." Today I know Bill had it right. It’s all the old ideas I’ve been carrying around for God knows how long that created the dis-ease I drank at for 30 years and the upset that pops up in my life today.

These old ideas are the roots of my character defects that grew up like weeds. If I want to rid myself of a character remove I must remove the root or the weed will just sprout back up. Most of the roots of my character defects are buried so deeply in the recesses of my mind that I don’t even realize they are there. That’s why self help programs didn’t work for me, but AA -- a God help program -- does.

I am way too lazy to look at the root causes of my anger, frustration, fear, boredom and the like unless pain forces me to. I believe becoming "entirely ready" means I have to first hit the bottom. I didn’t become ready to quit drinking until I became sick and tired of being sick and tired. The same is true with my character defects. I simply won’t weed the garden work unless I’m in some kind of pain that keeps repeating itself like bad Mexican food.

I confronted this kind of pain in 2003 when I reached bottom with my anger. After almost nine years of sobriety, I had become sick and tired of giving away my serenity to people and situations that didn’t follow my script. I finally realized that my angry reactions were hurting only me, not the bozos I held responsible. I made peace of mind my number one goal.

I began to pay better attention to myself as I went through my day. When I lost my serenity I tried to remember to ask why. At first I noticed only the big blow-ups, but as the years passed I became more sensitive to little upsets -- the ones caused by the termites of fear that gnawed silently away at my peace of mind. I identified a number of the "moldy oldies" I had been carrying around since I was a kid like: "You should not criticize me in any way. Don’t tell me if I happen to do anything that bothers" (It used to be if you honked your horn behind me in traffic, you were criticizing me, goddammit!) and "you should treat me at all times with courtesy and respect according to my standard of courteous and respectful treatment, not yours." It took a while, but eventually I came to see how irrational these beliefs were. It also became clear I was taking this stuff way too personally.

Today I still get angry when you do or say something that pisses me off, but I have fewer and fewer volcanic explosions. I don’t try to suppress it because that just leads to depression. When I get angry I continue to ask myself why I am angry. The answers I receive always lead me back to some, old worn-out idea that I’m carrying around from my childhood.


I like the expression that a resentment is like holding a burning hot coal in my bare hands with the intention of throwing it at someone. It's only hurting me, but something inside me doesn't feel it right away. It's like I'm wearing teflon gloves. Instead, I get perverse pleasure from rehashing what you did (or didn't do) to me. I enjoy dredging up evidence of your guilt--going all the way back to the beginning of our relationship if necessary--and presenting it over and over again to the judge and jury that live in my mind. The verdict is always the same in my courtroom. Guilty! I sentence you to go without my love and affection for as along as I can stand it.

The penalty phase might last days, even weeks. Since I burn with anger I am incapable of peace of mind and happiness. But just when I want to throw in the towel I think about your offense and I can't resist chewing on that bone for a while longer. Only when the pain is overwhelming am I willing to look for a way out.

Once I see that my desire to punish you is only punishing me, I can get started on the work of letting go of my resentment, not for your benefit, but for mine. First -- and the most fun -- is getting very clear about your guilt. I start writing and end up with a nice long list of all the stuff you've ever done that you shouldn't have: tube off the tooth paste, crappy birthday present, eating the last cookie, failing to return my call promptly in November, 1997, etc. I grade myself on the length of the list I compile. Once, during a resentment against my wife, I came up with three pages single-spaced, and we had only been married for five weeks! A+.

If I'm not looking for my part in a resentment, I won't find it. But again, if I'm in enough pain, as I review my list, I'll reluctantly try to locate the teensy weensy part I played. Usually my part is an expectation I had about some aspect of your behavior towards me. I realize that I had no right to expect you to behave like any normal, rational, loving, considerate human being would behave, but I don't tell you that. What I tell you is that I'm sorry I tried to make you responsible for my feelings. And that I accept you just as you are.

Turning It Over

There is no doubt that I made a royal mess of my life and it is equally clear I need spiritual help if I am to fulfill my potential as a human being. I want to depend totally and completely on my higher power. I really do. But the decision Step Three asks us to make is a bit much, don’t you think?

Step Three asks me to decide to turn all my thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes (my will) and all my actions, interactions, and reactions to people, places and things (my life) over to a Higher Power that I’m just beginning to believe in. Jeez, no wonder I sometimes feel like I have my fingers crossed behind my back when I’m saying the Third Step Prayer!

Specifically, I’m having very little success at turning over other people. Oh, I let my Higher Power handle all the little children (except my wife’s god daughter) and most old folks, but I have trouble letting go of everyone in between, especially those people close to me like my wife, parents-in-law, colleagues, friends and members of my AA group.

If I turn these people over, my Higher Power is just going to allow them to do what they do and be who they are. But what if I don’t agree with what they want to do? What if they don’t love, respect and appreciate me the way I think they should? What if they figure out they don’t need me to “help” them? What then?

The solution of course is to keep applying the Steps in my life in order to achieve the emotional sobriety that Bill talked about in his essay. Only then can I let go of my dependency on people and place my dependency where it belongs—with my Higher Power.

I’ve made very little progress toward emotional sobriety, but I have stopped giving the finger to stupid drivers here in China after I found out they don’t really know what it means.

Q & A

It helps me to remember that there’s already an answer to every question I could ever have. The answer exists in the universe (mind of God), waiting patiently for me to ask the question. It knows not only the answers to the big questions like who should I marry and what should I do for a living, but the small stuff too. It knows what color I should paint my bedroom for the best night’s sleep and what I should eat for breakfast for the most energy. God’s will for me is found in the answers to the questions I ask about my life. Since its will for me is a zillion times better than anything I could think up on my own, I often wonder why I don’t ask more questions or why I don’t hear the answers to the questions when I do ask.

There are many reasons I don’t ask more questions. The most obvious reason must be that I feel I already have the answers--I already have my mind made up. Yet if you asked me if I am open-minded I would say yes. It’s funny how I can fool myself. Another reason is that I don’t want to know the answer is because I haven’t yet learned to take guidance and direction. I want to do it my way. I want to tend to the man who is still sick my way even through there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence that, without God’s direction, my way doesn’t work worth crap.

Even when I’m open-minded and willing take direction, I don’t hear most of the answers because my interior house is too noisy. The voices of anger, resentment, jealousy and self-centered fear drown out the small voice of intuitive wisdom. My drive to achieve takes priority over my natural need to connect. I’m caught in the dream that there’s someplace better than here and sometime better than now. But of course I don’t realize these things unless I am willing to sit quietly. All I have to do is sit down and shut up.

The best thing I can do for the world is to recover. When one of us gets better, everyone everywhere gets a little better. That’s why it feels so good to see the light come on in a newcomer’s eyes. As he or she “gets it,” so do I move a little closer to my own spiritual sanity. Certainly the world dearly needs people to save the rain forest, feed the hungry, and demonstrate for peace, but just now, today, the best thing I can do for all of life everywhere is to recover--continue taking the actions that saved me from the ”hopeless state of mind and body” that is alcoholic hell. Asking questions and listening for the answers are priceless tools for recovery, but I have to remember to use them.

Un-Self Conscious

If I have a hole in my tooth and it's causing me pain, all I can think about is that tooth; you might say I am "tooth centered." If I have a hole in my roof and a big rain is forecast, all I can think about is that roof; you might say I am "roof centered." If I have a hole in my being that's causing me pain, all I can think about is myself; you might say I am self-centered. I stay tooth centered until I get to the dentist. I stay roof-centered until roof is fixed. I stay self-centered until the hole in my being is filled.

In reality there is no hole. It just feels that way. I feel empty because I lack intimacy with my higher power. I'm here on earth being purely human and my higher power is off somewhere in the heavens keeping score. In this state of separation I must be anxious, I must worry about what you think because I sense that without connection to my higher power, I have no power at all.

As I take the steps and begin to identify false beliefs, negative attitudes, and mistaken concepts--old ideas--I make room for my higher power to enter my being and fill me up. As this process continues, I no longer need to think about myself so much, about my little plans and schemes. I don't have to worry so much about what other people think about me (they are just projecting their own insecurities onto me). Eventually I reach a state of un-self consciousness. I no longer worry. I trust. This is the new freedom promised in our book.

Emotional Sobriety

Self centered fear is at the root of each of my character defects -- the fear that I’m going to lose something that I can’t live without or the fear that I’m not going to get something I think I need to live the way I want.

My character defects grew out of this fear like so many weeds growing out of a cesspool. I was afraid that you wouldn’t love me so I became a people pleaser, approval seeker and a perfectionist. I constantly lied in the attempt to make myself look better in your eyes. I manipulated you in a hundred different ways to get what I thought I needed and got angry, indignant and blaming when you resisted giving me what I wanted. I prepared myself for disappointment that I was sure was right around the corner by becoming a negative thinker. I became sarcastic and cynical. While these defenses keep me safe they also keep me stuck, because every time I react defensively I am doing my will not God’s will. I am blocked off from the light and I cannot find my true place. I am out of sync with life.

I cannot be emotionally sober until I muck out the psychic cesspool deep in my subconscious, one bucketful at a time. The steps supply me the tools to "uncover, discover and discard" all the old ideas that keep me in bondage, but I must be willing to do the work. As I get cleaner inside, the character defects seem to magically disappear like the early morning mist on a pond when it is warmed by the sun.

Psychic Change

Before moving to China I enjoyed walks in the Southern California desert to see the wildflowers that grew in the spring. Since the topography of desert floor never changes much, I could walk for hours without feeling I was going anywhere. Only when I glanced backward did I see how far I had traveled. My recovery program is like that. Change happens so slowly, I only become aware of change if I look back to where I came from. It’s surprising to see how different my life is today.

Looking back I see that I struggled in all areas of life. I believed struggle was necessary. I watched my parents and everyone else struggle. Today I know that belief is a lie. I’m surprised at how easy my life is. The peaks and valleys have flattened out.

Somewhere along the way my competitive instinct fell away. I am no longer interested in “keeping up with the Joneses.” I don’t even enjoy competing on the golf course or a game of cards anymore. I don’t like to gamble like I used to. I’m beginning to see through the illusion of winners and losers.

I used to think that the person who dies with the most stuff wins the game of life. Today I know true comfort comes from having just enough. I read that a spiritual person is someone with two shirts who sells one for a dollar and uses the dollar to buy a flower. I aspire toward a life this simple.

I no longer need to figure everything out with my mind – to lay awake at night resenting, planning and scheming. Today I am more willing to accept life as it comes at me, not all the time, but much more often than even a few years ago. I sleep a lot better these days.

I seem to learning how to respond rather than react to life. I more often than not say and do the right things, even when my buttons are pushed. Sure, I still get angry. Stuffing it is not healthy. But I get over it quickly instead of chewing on it for days and weeks on end.

I’m certain that much of my mellowness comes because I’m getting older, but I’ve met enough old bitter people to know that it is more than just old age. The dynamic work of the steps created the space for my higher power to enter my life and change me at depth. My life today is simply a reflection of this “psychic change.”

The Truth of We

I travel through the steps and awaken from the dream of me--my ego’s fearful idea of who I am and how life is supposed to work--to the truth of We. I put my big toe inside the circle of “One” who has all power. I begin to see through the veils of illusion I constructed to be safe in the world. Those flimsy walls Chuck C. called “conscious separation from.” I start to look past our differences and see the similarities. I drop my need to be right since it must make you wrong. My will to compete with you fades because I sense, for the first time, there is more than enough of everything to go around.

I practice Step 12 to keep from falling back asleep, back into the dream of grasping for people and things to keep my fear at bay, back into the dream that life will be great as soon as I learn to manage it better. I connect with truth by holding out my hand to others just as so many reached out their hands to me. I continue to hack away at my character defects knowing that each one leads to a false belief that serves only to keep me from experiencing unity with all that is. When I’m practicing there is no better place than here and no better time than now.

Pain is not Punishment

I'm coming to believe that genuine gratitude goes beyond a sense of thankfulness for my life and all the good stuff that has happened and continues to happen to me. I'm trying to learn that I can extend gratitude to every area of my life -- all the way to the emotional turmoil and upset I experience from time to time. An old timer said to me once that I will become grateful for the pain. It didn't make sense to me then, but I'm coming to see the truth in what he said.

Life doesn't follow my script. In sobriety I've experienced painful job loss, painful relationship problems, painful financial setbacks and the painful frustration of my wife's serious health issues. I've lived much of the time in uncertainty and insecurity. I wish these painful things didn't happen but they do -- they seem to be part of life's terms.

I begin to be grateful for the pain when I remember that the pain is not punishment from an angry God or some penalty I have to pay for screwing up. The emotional pain I experience is a message. It says to me that one more time I've lost my way. I'm holding on too tightly. I'm resisting. It tells me there is a lesson I have not yet learned.

Once I realize the pain is a message and not a punishment. I can begin the process of letting go and letting God. Then I get to be grateful for the pain because I wouldn’t grow without it.


I’m coming to believe the adage "let your conscience be your guide" is a most dangerous moral instruction. It’s clear from all the killing, cruelty and greed in our world that we humans are having real trouble doing the right thing. If the number of wars is any indication, neither do we seem to learn from our mistakes. Our consciences are guiding us alright -- right off a cliff!

When I make a mistake, my conscience sends me some pain, usually in some form of guilt, so I can correct my course. This design looks good on paper, but it doesn’t seem to be working all that well. My ego uses three well-worn tools to allow me to slither off the guilty hook: minimizing, rationalizing and justifying.

My ego presents compelling arguments why, for example, it’s all right for me to cheat on my income tax. It minimizes the consequences of my behavior by telling me "it’s only a few thousand dollars, compared to the national debt, it’s only a drop in the bucket." It rationalizes my actions by drawing comparisons with others "everybody cheats Jeff, don’t be a fool." Finally it searches its extensive Rolodex for the most plausible way to justify my dishonesty "why should you send money to support a war you don’t believe in?" The weaker I am spiritually, the harder it is for me to resist these false arguments.

Before I was graced with a moment of clarity that led me to Alcoholics Anonymous, I was a liar, a cheat and a thief. I roared through the lives of others like that tornado Bill W. describes in the book. I did what I wanted when I wanted for as long as I wanted, totally oblivious to the damage I was doing. I turned denial into an art form. If my conscience did manage to get my attention with pangs of guilt, I would pick up a drink or a drug and the guilt would melt away like nothing ever happened. Little did I know all that guilt accumulated in the center of my being, in fact I drank against this guilt for thirty years.

My conscience has become more reliable, more sensitive, the longer I stay on the path to recovery. I can no longer get away with much of the dishonesty that was common place while I was still drinking. My memory has improved too. I couldn’t come up with too many specific harms during my first trip through the steps, but in each successive fourth step I’ve remembered things my mind had conveniently slipped under the carpet in an effort to avoid the truth about myself.

There are no free rides through life. Sooner or later I must pay for everything I did. That's the law. Instead of sleepwalking though life, it’s better to try and be aware of how my thoughts, words and deeds affect others on the planet. Then when I screw up I can make amends as best I can. It is the only chance I have to be free.

Life Prayer

Years ago I heard the minister of a new age church say, "your prayer life is important, but equally important is your life prayer." I'm beginning to understand what she meant.

My life prayer is my thoughts, words and deeds, in that order. Every thought I think has the creative potential to change my life. It can make my living experience better or worse. A thought can heal and it can destroy. I have millions of thoughts. Most of them are useless, but a few have the power to create. Only thoughts with enough energy behind them are trans-formative. I energize a thought by saying it out loud and then taking action.

Before I cared about growing along spiritual lines, I allowed myself to think all kinds of negative thoughts. Then I gave the thoughts power by saying them out loud. One of my favorite expressions used to be “life is a shit sandwich and it’s always lunch time!” I gave the prayer energy by acting negatively: greedy, resentful, cynical, ad infinitum. With this mind set, is it any wonder my life swirled down the toilet?

I’ve found just saying I’m grateful to be sober, even in prayer, doesn’t do too much. My life changes for the better when I demonstrate my gratitude. I can be of service to my group, put my hand out to a newcomer or put an extra buck in the basket. It’s the same with willingness. It is not enough to say I’m willing to go to any lengths. I must do something that demonstrates my willingness. When I act on my thoughts and words I energize my life prayer. Then the power flows in—a mighty power. And I get to stay sober for another day.


The universe puts other people in my life to rub me the wrong and create friction. It could be a criticism from my wife, a fellow-AA carrying the mess, not the message or the man who cut in front of me in line at the convenience store. It doesn’t matter who or what, only how I react. If this friction causes me to react in some form of anger, fear, or resentment then there is some lesson I need to learn. If I’m not willing to learn, the pain keeps ratcheting up until I become willing. This is what “entirely ready” means to me.

We all get exactly the experiences we need to grow. Some are more pleasant than others, but they are all gifts from God. Grace. Painful experiences are the only way the universe has to help me change and grow so I can find my way back home.

It's All Grace

My best thinking was that if I had a new high paying job I would get a new girlfriend, get out of debt and I’d live happily ever after. Of course I completely ignored the fact that I had had high paying jobs before and wasn’t anything close to happy or fulfilled, but this time would be different. I wanted God to change my outsides--to fix me--but I never really thought to pray to be changed inside. After all I was a pretty good guy.

It’s still hard for me to see that my life experiences are nothing but a reflection of my inner state of mind. Can’t I get away with holding on to resentment, anger, jealousy and fear--just a little? Nope. Sooner or later pain results and the pain keeps getting stronger until I become willing to let go. Pain is the only way the universe has to get my attention--to remind me that I’m heading in the wrong direction, against the current of life.

I’m coming to believe that it’s all grace, everything in life is grace. Alcoholism is grace; resisting spiritual help is grace and the resulting pain is grace--all gifts from a loving universe that wants nothing more from me than my highest and best good. I don’t have to learn anything new to receive the keys to the kingdom. All I really have to do is to be willing to let go: let go of everything I think that is right and everything I think that is wrong; let go of big things; let go of little things. Let it all go.

God's Will

The book says God’s will is for everyone is to be happy, joyous and free, to be unconditionally loving and kind, but those are just words. God’s will is what is happening here and now. But I can’t see the truth of this moment because I’m still looking at life through the filter of my faulty beliefs. So coming up with a vision is no easy job for me.

The only hint I have of God’s will that feels right comes from looking at the flowers in our garden. I can’t tell if the flowers are happy or joyous, but they are certainly free. They don’t struggle. They seem totally unconcerned about what the other flowers think about them. They seem to know how to respond naturally to life in each moment. When the earth rotates causing the sun to fall on them from a different direction, the flowers don’t get all upset. They simply turn their faces face gently toward the sun. Flowers live the most beautiful lives they can. When it’s time, they pass away without a fuss.

Observing the flowers leads me to believe that God's vision for me is to be free, to live without struggle and not to worry about what other people think. God wants me to return to my natural state; to learn to respond to life rather than react; to stay out of the future and just do the next thing in front of me in each moment; and to finally realize that that death is nothing to fear. If carried this vision into all my activities, how could I not be happy, joyous and free?


As I was thinking about how much I like my old, comfortable red sport shoes, I became grateful for having them. Then I thought about all the animals, plants and people connected to my red shoes. Without these plants, animals, and people I wouldn’t have my shoes, so I decided to extend my gratitude to them.

I am most grateful to the cow. It made the biggest contribution and sacrifice. It gave up its skin for the leather to make the outer shoe and the fancy suede trimming.

I am grateful to the farmer who raised the cow. I am grateful to the growers who produced the grain for the cow. I am grateful to the tanner for making the leather baby soft. I am grateful to the dyer who gave the leather the distinctive Chinese red color.

I am grateful to the rubber tree for the rubber for the comfortable soles of my red shoes and to all the people connected with growing the rubber tree and harvesting the rubber. And I am grateful to the cotton plant that produced the cotton for the strong white shoe laces that keep my red shoes comfortably on my feet even if I walk long distances. I’m grateful for rain and sunshine that allowed the trees and plants to grow.

I am grateful to all the people involved in the transportation of the leather, the rubber and the cotton to the factory. I am grateful for the shoe designer who designed my red shoes and I am grateful all the workers who cut the leather, molded the soles, stitched and assembled them. And I am grateful for the people who made the orange cardboard box that my shoes came in. I am grateful to the store that put the shoes on sale and to the sales clerk who sold them to me.

And I’m grateful to all the families and friends of all the people involved in producing, transporting and selling my red shoes. And for all the people who grew, raised, processed, produced, packaged, transported and sold all the food that keeps the shoe makers and their families and friends alive.

I have a lot to be grateful for.


My mind is wonderful tool. The computer I'm using began with a thought in someone's mind as did the chair I'm sitting in and everything else I see around me. But I cannot find my Higher Power in my mind. The mind can't fathom that there could be some intelligence greater than itself, that there is a wisdom beyond what it thinks, beyond its accumulated knowledge and ideas.

That's why knowledge alone cannot keep me sober. Knowledge of my last drunk, self knowledge, even knowledge of spiritual principles will not keep me sober because knowledge is not truth, only ideas in my mind. The only real 100% guarantee against the first drink is to get beyond my mind to the place Bill called the Great Reality deep within. It has many other names. I choose to call it God.

Step two means more than being restored to mental sanity. It means becoming spiritually sane--realizing that perfect peace, harmony and wholeness is what we really are. I've touched this Sanity in moments when my mind stops its incessant whrring. Beautiful sunsets, peeks at my young wife as she sleeps, seeing the light come on in a newcomer's eyes. These glimpses of truth only last for a second or two, but I'm assured there is something beautiful beyond my thinking.

I'm coming to believe that open minded does not only mean I ought to resign from the debating society. True open mindedness means that I am willing to confront every single one of my beliefs, ideas and concepts --even my ideas about God. And seeing that these are nothing more than thoughts in my mind, be willing to let them go absolutely. This is not an overnight matter. Like the old timers say "I came for my drinking and stayed for my thinking."


I don't have to take a number, sit down and wait. I have everything I need to be happy, joyous and free now, right this moment. The peace and stillness I seek is already here. Love, forgiveness, compassion--it's all here too. It's with me 24 and 7. It stays awake when I go to sleep. I don't need to seek, strive and struggle for these qualities in the faulty belief they would make a better more, happier version of me. They are already here.

I forget this simple truth and one more time I'm off on another run trying to find my happiness in achievement, other people and even spiritual growth. It's like I'm looking for my car keys that are right in my pocket. I searched my whole life for more happiness, more peace, and more joy never knowing it was here the whole time, like a silver grail hanging from a tree in my heart. It's such a freedom when I remember there's nothing that I have to do. Just being is enough.

Since I am already whole in every way, there's no need to learn anything new, there are no lofty spiritual truths to get my head around. If anything, I might want to unlearn everything I think is true (but even this is unnecessary). Bill called this letting go of our old ideas. If I am struggling I can be sure that an old idea is working inside of me, blocking me. At these times I need only the willingness to see through the present appearance of my life to the truth behind it all--that it's all OK, even the painful yucky stuff. When I do, I remember life is perfect just the way it is. If it was supposed to be different, it would be.


We are all in the same lifeboat rowing away from the shipwreck of our collective lives. Some of us are navigating, some are rowing, and some are just sitting. Some flounder in an angry sea struggling to hang on the sides of the boat and be pulled along. They can't quite make it inside the boat even through there is plenty of room. Many won't survive the trip, including some of the navigators. In the lifeboat we are all equal, even the hangers on. We play different roles, but one of us is not more or less important than the other.

Whatever natural sense of equality I was born with disappeared in my childhood. I grew up feeling I was either better off or worse off than everyone else on the planet. If I was better off than you, I pitied you. If I was worse off, I was jealous or resentful. My parents, teachers and society taught me a lot about achieving but very little about connecting. You couldn't be my equal. I had to compete with you for the cheap silver-plated cup that shows which of us is the better person. I was determined to win at all costs. The inability to accept anyone else has my equal put me in a dark room all alone with a bottle of wine and a bad of dope watching re-runs of Gilligan's Island at eleven in the morning.

When I live purely on self will (ego power) it is impossible for me to be your equal. In AA I learned that the unifying principle of life--the glue that holds everything together--is found in realm of spirit. As I grow spiritually I see more of our similarities and less of our differences. My desire to compete with you falls away. I begin to feel compassion instead of pity, admiration and respect instead of jealousy. It's taken a long while, but on most days I'm usually happy just to row.

A Piece of Cake

When I was a couple of years sober I asked my grand sponsor with 30+ years why it seemed that some people with serious time on the program stopped coming to meetings. "Do they all go out and drink?" I asked. He said "Some probably do and some get just well enough to stay sober without the meetings." And then I asked him why he keeps going back and he said, "some people are satisfied with one bite of the cake, some people are satisfied with one piece of the cake, but as for me... I want the whole damn cake."

Among all the suggestions we give newcomers, I find "ninety meetings in ninety days" the most important. By the end of ninety days most people have had at least a taste of the sobriety cake. It's a sweetness not easily forgotten.

There's a certain power or presence that exists in a meeting that I've not found elsewhere. It talks about this power in the other big book where it says "where more than one are gathered in his name" Together we have more power than we do separately, even just one alcoholic talking to another. Lack of power is my dilemma. I find it at meetings.

Could I stay sober without meetings? Maybe. But AA has become such an important part of my life why would I want to try? I guess I want the whole damn cake too.

Giving Away My Serenity

The first time I heard the voice was on a hot sticky summer evening in 2003. I was nine years sober and working a decent program.

After an argument with my wife, I had retreated to my office at home, slamming the door behind me. Bam! In the font of my anger, slamming the door was my exclamation point. Years before, then with a different wife, I had slammed an expensive dinner plate onto the kitchen floor. It shattered into a million tiny pieces. I learned that door slamming was cheaper and more effective. Sometimes a few pictures fell off the wall, but usually nothing broke. Besides, if I didn’t get the right satisfaction from slamming the door the first time, I could always slam it again, harder. Bam! BAM! You just can’t do that with a broken dinner plate.

My face felt purple as wave after wave of adrenaline surged though me. I panted in short shallow gasps. Had this been a cartoon you would have seen steam shooting out of both of my ears like Popeye just before he finally eats the spinach and clobbers Bluto. Pow!

Then I heard the voice. It said, “You don’t have to live this way anymore if you don’t want to.” It was the first time in my life I realized I had a choice in the way I reacted to the people and events in my life. I realized that every time I react in judgment of others my peace of mind goes out the window. I not only say and do hurtful things, but I give away my serenity. This is just shooting myself in the foot.

That evening I made peace of mind my number one goal. Today, more than seven years later, I’m not perfect, but I’m a lot better.


Like most of us I began my practice of self discovery reluctantly. I was afraid to look at myself because I knew deep down the image I had of myself was false. I was living a lie. I was not "a pretty nice guy who just drank a little too much." I was a liar, a cheat and a thief.

If I didn't have a disease that was going to kill me, I'm certain I would have left the door closed on the truth of what I had become forever. But because I wanted what you had, I found the courage to do what you did. Dutifully -- under half steam -- I listed my so-called sins and shared these embarrassing things with my sponsor. I did a couple of subsequent inventories this way, usually in the form of "annual house cleanings."

At about nine years sober my program shifted and so did my inventory process. One summer night I finally became sick and tired of constantly reacting in anger to the words and actions of the people around me. It became clear that for the better part of 50 years I had been giving away my serenity without any fight at all. I realized it wasn't what other people said or did that was the problem, it was something in me causing my fearful reactions. What was it? That evening I pledged to make peace of mind my number one goal, and when I did erupt in anger, to try and discover the source within.

Today my inventories are motivated more by curiosity than guilt. When I lose my peace today I don't beat myself up, I get quiet and try to discover the cause. I keep asking why.

Best Way to Live

Even though for many years denial kept me from the truth of how pathetic my life had become, somewhere in the depths of my being I cried out for help. Help is what I needed then. Help is what I need today. Part of the help I need comes in the form of the opportunity to be of service. So all the things I did and continue to do today, I really do for me,for my own recovery, to make my own life better.

I guess that's what makes AA wonderful. It operates on the principle of enlightened self interest. I'm doing the things I do for selfish reasons! The fact that it might benefit someone else is icing on the cake. I get a real kick out of seeing some shipwreck of a person turn their life around and sail proudly out of the AA harbor. This has to be the best possible way to live.


When I was new I heard someone in a meeting describe my ego this way: a huge towering fortress with twelve foot thick, steel reinforced brick walls built around ... nothing. Through the years I've proven to myself that this person was right. When I look look inside to try and find my ego, I can't. There's nothing solid there, just a few "old ideas" -- faulty beliefs that have been running my life for as along as I can remember. Beliefs about who I am, how I can be safe and secure in the world and what everyone else should do to make me happy. When I'm inside my fortress I separate myself from you and God. Unity is impossible.

In "How It Works" I learn that I must let go of these old false beliefs absolutely. The steps provide the way to do this if I am willing. Letting go of these lifelong beliefs -- dismantling my fortress -- has been a slow, often painful, process. On some days it feels like I've made very little progress, but on others I get brief glimpses of freedom. I feel what life is like when I no longer have to drag the chains of ego through each day. During these moments I can see that there is only one Source and we are all brothers and sisters.


Each of my character defects is rooted in fear. I fear weakness so I strive to control. I fear being taken advantage of so I strive to dominate. I fear intimacy so I strive to be aloof. I fear being ordinary so I strive to be special. The list is endless. As soon as I feel I have overcome one fear, another pops up. Sheesh.

I try not to blame myself for my character defects. In fact I don't consider them defects at all, but character "defenses". I developed these "defenses" innocently as my mind tried to keep me safe from some imaginary future pain. I fail to see it's all an illusion--just my memory of the past projecting itself onto the future. It's this false story that keeps me stuck in defensive reaction, doing my will, not God's.

My fear-based, defensive reactions to the people and events in my life are so deeply ingrained they feel a part of me. That's why I need divine help to change. Becoming "entirely ready" for me begins with the willingness to see that the fear in my life is not real, only a mirage.

Letting Life Be Life

When I am willing to look repeatedly beneath the surface of any character defect, I finally find at its root is one of those "old ideas" Bill talks about in "How It Works." The most powerful old idea I've discovered so far in my sixth step work is the false belief that I need other people's approval in order to be safe, secure and happy.

I'm beginning to see that I was addicted to being loved, accepted, and approved of long before I picked up that first drink. The fear of being not being approved of or being (God forbid!) rejected by the people in my life created internal tension and anxiety, much like I felt when I couldn't get a drink when I needed one. My character defects sprouted out of this anxiety like so many weeds growing out of a cesspool. I didn't start out to become a liar, a cheat and a thief. I was just trying to get comfortable in my own skin. I just didn't know how.

I lived in the illusion that I could avoid these uncomfortable feelings if I could just control the people and events in my life. The heartbreak and frustration of repeated failure to get other people to follow my script was only slightly offset by very brief periods of success. I attempted to manage the whole world for forty years. I can report it is exhausting, frustrating work that made me very thirsty.

I've learned in AA that this need to control is the basis for spiritual sickness that blocks God from working in my life. Without God I'm running on Jeff power, which is really no power at all. The slogan on the wall says "Let go and Let God." I'm learning that letting you be you and life be life is my ticket to freedom.


I dream that I sit in a movie theater. I look up at the screen and recognize myself and other people I know acting in the movie. The plot looks familiar. The movie becomes so engrossing I soon forget it’s a movie. I come to believe that what I see on the screen is real—the truth about what I am and how life works.

Thinking the movie is real, I do my best to act my part. I strive to achieve the right job, the right spouse and the right amount of money in my 401K plan. I wear the right clothes, drive the right car and use the right underarm deodorant. A tiny voice within me tries to tell me that something isn’t quite right, that I should be heading in a different direction, but I manage to ignore it. The more I ignore it the more painful life becomes. I kill the pain with alcohol and drugs.

Life becomes a never-ending endurance test. I wearily drag the heaviness of my being from one day to the next. Finally the job is gone, the spouse is gone and the 401 K is all dried up. Little red veins start popping out on the sides of my nose. I have no interest in anything except staying high. The pain is so great I can no longer ignore it.

I receive grace in the form of alcoholism. I learn that I have a disease and if I don’t follow the prescribed treatment program, it is going to kill me. I choose life. I take the steps and “uncover, discover and discard” all my old beliefs, ideas, thoughts, even my ideas about God. I learn that I’m not the actor in the movie on the screen. I realize I am the light pouring out of the projector.

Third Step Promises

The Third Step Promises read:

"All sorts of remarkable things followed. We had a new Employer. Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed His work well. Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life. As we felt new power flow in, as we enjoyed peace of mind, as we discovered we could face life successfully, as we became conscious of His presence, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow or the hereafter. We were reborn." Alcoholics Anonymous p.63

When I was new, still toxic, dazed and confused, I related to the idea in Step Three that I had a new Employer who, in exchange for my efforts on His behalf, would take care of me and provide everything I needed for a happy life--just like a human boss who appreciated my contributions to his company.

Bill included a job description. If I wanted the beautiful promises of Step Three I had two jobs: "if we kept close to him and performed his work well." That's it. Even as I read it today it doesn't sound too difficult of an assignment. All I have to do to get all the gifts of Step Three is to develop "conscious contact" with the God of my understanding and to practice "love and service" as a way of life.

I realize that fulfilling the conditions of the Step Three promises is not about reading spiritual books, meditating on a mountain top, or denying myself anything. I simply need to become aware of those things that separate me from God and from my fellow men and women and make things right as best I can. Chuck C. called it "uncover, discover and discard." Just going to meetings and dumping my problems does not accomplish this. I must decide to take all the actions called for in the remaining nine steps. I must desire with all my heart to be changed at depth and I must be willing to take the actions that prove I mean it.

I certainly haven't fulfilled the conditions of "love and service" perfectly, but nevertheless I see these promises slowly becoming my reality.

Being Fellowship

We have a couple of guys who always show up late for the meetings – often arriving when the meeting is halfway over. They seem oblivious to the disruption they cause. Invariably I start to judge these habitual latecomers. “How can this guy be so disrespectful? Doesn’t he know AA is my church and church starts on time?” It doesn’t take long before I begin to wish that I was king of AA so I could give the order “off with his head!” And just at that moment my conscious contact is broken.

As soon as I judge, especially when it’s an angry judgment, I block my spiritual channel. When I block out God, I stop carrying a spiritual message and begin to carry an ego message, “My way or the highway!” Not only is my connection with God broken, but my connection with the fellowship as well. I can’t be a channel for spirit when I am sitting in judgment of another.

I forget that nothing happens in God’s world by accident. It’s awfully hard for me to figure out why these folks continuously arrive late, but there are lots of things I can’t figure out. The point is they are arriving late. That’s the reality. I’m learning that every time I argue with reality, I lose. Do I want to experience peace or upset?

I like the idea that everyone is in exactly the right place at every moment for their spiritual unfolding. It makes absolutely no difference to the universe whether we heading toward the light or moving away from it. It’s all grace. Somehow these latecomers are supposed to arrive late. Perhaps just so I can learn to stop reacting so negatively when they do.

I “create the fellowship I crave” by being an example of useful and contented sobriety, by maintaining my serenity despite the storms that swirl in my life, and by holding out my hand to everyone equally, even the late comers.

Mountain Climbing

When I find myself drifting out in the future I try to remember the mountain climber. Mountaineers don't climb up the mountain with their eyes on the summit. They may glance up at the peak occasionally, but generally they keep their eyes right in front of them. If they don't they might fall off! When I am content to keep my head in today and focus on what is right here, now, life seems to take care of itself.

The Balloon

I first heard about the balloon on the Joe and Charlie Big Book tapes. The balloon symbolizes my state of being. If my balloon is completely inflated with ego (my false ideas about myself and how life works), then there is no space for my HP to work in my life. Taking the steps deflates the ego, letting some of the air out of the balloon. Since nature abhors a vacuum, HP rushes in to fill the empty space.

I let the air out of my ego balloon by taking the steps and by living them on a daily basis to the best of my ability. Some of my ego deflat-ers are: asking for help; recognizing the limit of my personal will; seeing the not-so-pretty truth about myself; sharing my most embarrassing secrets; becoming aware of my human flaws and the damage they cause myself and others; overcoming my arrogant isolationism and connecting with others; admitting when I screw up and apologizing as best I can. Left to my own devices there's no way I would do these things. Thank God I have a disease that will kill me if I don't.


Just before I sobered up, if you had asked me if I needed to change anything about myself, I would have said "yeah, my employment status." I needed a job. Oh, not just any job, I needed a big, high-paying job with lots of responsibility. In my mind the reason why I sat home all day in my messy darkened apartment drinking red wine, smoking pot watching lame daytime television was because I wasn't working. A new job would fix everything. I had been a success before and would be again. A phoenix rising from the ashes. I needed my outside to change but my insides were just fine, thank you very much.

I lived life in a growing web of dishonesty. Over the years I kept piling on the lies, embellishments, and half-truths in the hope that if I could only get you to like and accept me, then I could finally learn to like and accept myself. Toward the the end I was more or less a fictitious character who could mold himself to whatever he needed to be -- good employee, understanding boss, gentle lover, loving son, loyal friend. But the truth is I never had any real heart in any of these roles. I fooled a lot of people with my play acting, but I could never fool the man in the mirror who watched me shave.

I showed up on the doorstep of Alcoholics Anonymous without a clue to who I was. I still don't really know today--not deep down. But through the years I have learned a lot about what I am not. Using the tools of the program to chip away at the false exterior, I am getting closer to the truth about myself. Honesty is beginning to shine through.

Peace of Mind

I'm coming to believe that peace of mind is the essence of spirituality. My higher power resides in deep silence. I can't hope to establish much conscious contact if my mind is jumping around like an ant in a hot pot. It's clear to me that the whole purpose of the Steps is to get my mind to relax--to help me find some interior peace regardless of how chaotic my life is on the outside.

In steps one through three I begin to relax when realize I no longer have to go through life alone, on my own power, which I secretly fear is no power at all. I begin to learn that I can let go a little without falling into the abyss. In steps four and five I start to empty out the guilt and shame I drank against all my life. By sharing my so-called "sins" with another, I see that I am not really much worse or much better than anyone else. As I become "right sized" I relax a little more.

In steps six and seven I see that the roots of all my character defects are of the self-centered fears. My continued willingness to look honestly at these fears causes them to wither and eventually die. And the voices of my demons die with them. Eight and nine gets me on an equal footing with the world. I begin to look people in the eye instead of down at their shoes. As my need for approval fades, I can let go of my exhausting need to control. Step ten makes the practice of these relaxation techniques a well-worn habit.

Practicing the steps dissolves guilt, worry, fear and anger. My mind becomes as peaceful as a sunlit beach. I lie on the warm sand with the sound of sea gently lapping the shore. I feel the presence of my Higher Power and at one with the universe.

Spiritual Awakening

I have no idea whether or not I will ever take another drink. I haven't had a drink for a while but I still have a disease that wants to kill me; therefore I'm never completely immune from picking up.

I remember reading an article about relapse written by Dr. Tiebold. The good Dr. said that those people who go back to drinking before they've had a spiritual awakening have not had a slip or relapse. They have simply gone back to drinking. He uses the example of a person who suffers a heart attack. The doctor tells the patient to get some exercise, eat more healthy foods, and not get as stressed out. For a while the patient follows this advice. After a few months, he starts to feel better and begins to slack off on his diet; can't seem to find the time to exercise and is more stressed out than ever. It doesn't take long until the patient goes back to his old ways completely. Is it any surprise he has a second heart attack?

In my experience it's just the same with us alcoholics. Without a spiritual awakening I don't have any real power in my life. I don't have the power to make good choices, the power to do right thing, or the power to resist that first drink. Sooner or later I must go back to my old ways. In fact, if I don't eventually pick up a drink, maybe I wasn't really an alcoholic to begin with.

Even if I work all the steps and spirit wakes up, I'm not immune to drinking again. Unless I continue to grow and change, spirit can easily roll over and fall back asleep. After Spirit opens its eyes, it has to want to get out of bed, wash its face and brush its teeth. Only when spirit is wide awake and on its feet is spirit ready to face the day as me--a sober alcoholic.


The change I notice most in myself is my increasing sensitivity to pain. Today I can't live very long with resentment, fear, impatience and the like. It's not worth it to me. The easier softer way is using the tools of the program to look at the causes and conditions underneath the upset, to discover my part and to make amends if necessary.

I have a theory that alcoholics develop a tolerance to emotional pain. I know I did. I lived so long with fear and anxiety it became normal for me. Back then minor upsets didn't even register. It took a volcanic explosion of anger to get my attention.

While I was drinking, I really didn't know what peace was, or real happiness either. It wasn't until I came to Alcoholics Anonymous and began to strip away my old ideas and beliefs that I got my first taste of life on life's terms. I have also come to realize that every bit of suffering I experience today is self-inflicted. Every time I point my finger at you there are three fingers pointing back at me.