AA Magic

I made my way up the backstairs of the La Jolla Presbyterian Church to my first AA meeting. Secretary Will C. greeted me. He was 70-something with a graying beard and hair and gentle eyes. Slowly a few other members began to arrive. There were seven or eight in all. Big Al was there, Bobbi, Jay and Duncan and a couple of others. There as a doctor named Bill who was new too. Apparently he was losing his medical license for taking too much of his own medicine. Dave M. was there. Dave became a good friend and remains so today. Each person's eyes lit up when they heard it was my first meeting. They gave me some AA pamphlets and passed around a meeting directory. Each person wrote their name and phone number in the space provided in the back of the directory. I still have that meeting directory today, more than 16 years later.

When the sharing began big Al T started off. I don't remember what he said, but I do remember that almost as soon as he began to talk I had a strange feeling that I was right where I was supposed to be. It was as if I had found my way home after a long, painful journey. I was filled with hope that a new and better life was possible for me. It is through my desire to pass on what I was so freely given that the promises have come true for me. This, to me, is the magic of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Other People

Other people have always been the problem for me. Somehow I learned that I needed to depend on other people for my own happiness. As long as you were responsible for my happiness, I had to live with the fear you would reject me, alienate me or leave me. So I set up an elaborate control mechanism to make sure that you didn't do any of those things. Sometimes it worked for a while, but because of my exhausting attempts to control you, you rejected me anyways. I was totally baffled at this because I thought I was doing all the right things!

Figuring this out did not come easy. I've heard people describe the fourth step as "mining for gold." When I finally got down to the causes and conditions of some of my character defects and my own error beliefs about relationships came to the surface, it was like discovering a large gold nugget for me.

I'd like to say since I discovered what the problem was, that all my relationships are perfect, but that is not the case. Sometimes I still want to make you responsible for my happiness, but nearly as much. What I am coming to believe that my happiness comes from within. It comes from my own relationship with me and my Higher Power.


My drinking career, like my emotional state before AA, was pretty much flat line. Sure, in thirty years of drinking I had occasional spikes that resulted in a couple of 502s, incidents of public embarrassment for colleagues, family and friends and incessant resentful arguments with anyone I felt was getting too close to touching the bag of guilt and shame I was carrying around.

But as a controller I didn't want you to see me drunk so I did most of my drinking at home alone. If I could give you the illusion that I was in control, I could maintain the delusion that my life was somehow alright. Consequently I didn't end up with much of an exciting/pathetic/humorous drinking history, even though I tried awfully hard.

So my treasures from "what it was like" are not so much episodes from my drinking career, but more my feelings about myself and my life at the time. I connect with you when I share about the fear that gnawed at me constantly, about the frustration and confusion I felt, when I share that I was exhausted from the battle, that I was angry, that I lived in constant state of dis-ease. I connect with you because you've felt these things too. It's why we drank.

Once I've connected with you I can share the treasures of my experiences with "what happened," (how God graced me with a moment of clarity and about how AA "hooked" me with laughter and love); "what continues to happen" (as I stay sober one day at at time and continue to grow through the Steps); and "what it is like now" (the wonderful adventure my life is on most days.)

I'm grateful today that my experiences have value, but I understand this value is only fully realized when I share them with a helpful heart.

Enlightened Self Interest

I endured all the negative consequences of drinking for thirty years simply because I was trying to feel comfortable in my own skin. The drinking did in fact make me feel better, but only for a short time. The fears would always return and often, when I said and did things that hurt other people, I felt worse.

My experience is that the whole of AA is built around the principle of enlightened self interest. The more I do what is suggested, the more I get involved, the more service I do, the better I feel.

The sense of belonging to a group that is governed by spiritual principles makes me feel good. The knowledge that my ego will be tolerated but not be allowed to run amok gives me a sense of comfort. The idea that I am an equal with every other member of the group gives me confidence. To see first-hand how other members of the group succeed against their personal demons gives me hope. To hear God's voice through the group's collective consciousness fills me with wonder.

I definitely need AA much more than AA needs me. One way I demonstrate my gratitude for AA is to practice the principle contained in Tradition One: united we stand, divided we fall.

Planting the Seed

It was 1988, six years before my last drink. Bill S., a massage therapist, came to our home once a week to massage my wife and me. He always came right after I came home from work before dinner. Since it was cocktail hour I would gulp a couple of quick scotches before my massage. Just to get relaxed you know.

I remember Bill talking a little about AA while he worked on me. Then one day he showed up with a Big Book and a Twelve and Twelve. I skimmed them over drinks one night and promptly gave them to a friend who "really" needed them.

It was about this time that my marriage broke up. Since both of us got drunk and argued virtually every night, I decided not to drink for a while. I was a week or so without a drink when Bill came over for my massage. I told him I wasn't drinking, but I wasn't ready to quit for good.

Was there anything else besides AA? Bill said, "well you can go to ACA." "What's that?" I asked. "It's Adult Children of Alcoholics" he said. "To go there you don't have to admit that you're an alcoholic, you just have to admit that your father was." No problem.

I ended up going to ACA meetings staying sober for thirteen months, even working a few of the Steps. Life got better. But of course, my father wasn't the real problem, I was. The inability to admit that I was an alcoholic sentenced me to four years of a downward spiral into full blown alcoholism. But the seed was planted.

Monkey Dance

When I was a young child I once had a little toy monkey that was attached by string to two sticks. When you manipulated the sticks properly the monkey would do somersaults up and down the string.

When I'm in fear I'm just like this little monkey. When some negative event ocurrs in my life or someone pulls my strings by doing or saying something I don't like, before I know it I'm doing what I call my "monkey dance." I'm anxious, irritable, resentful and negative. The voices in my head work non-stop dredging up old guilt to convince me that I had it coming to me. I'm blocked off from the sunlight of the Spirit. I have given away my serenity. I have lost my peace of mind. Life is lousy.

Alcoholics Anonymous has taught me that the real problem is never what happens to me. The real problem is always my reaction to what happens to me. When I finally catch myself doing my monkey dance, I realize that one more time I've reacted from a place of self centered fear rather than a place of acceptance, forgiveness and letting go. I do not believe happiness is possible without peace of mind.

Peculiar Mental Twists

The BB says "bottles were only a symbol." I didn't become an alcoholic because I drank too much booze, I drank because I have a disease that manifests in "peculiar metal twists." This "stinking thinking" caused (causes) me emotional, spiritual and physical pain. Drinking was my solution to escape the pain. And it worked for a while until it got to the point that once I started I couldn't stop.

When I was new and people talked about things like Steps and carrying the message and Traditions, I really didn't really connect. But when you people talked about feelings of inadequacy, confusion, resentment and anger, frustration, fear and emptiness (oh yes, emptiness). I immediately identified. Only then could I listen for the solution.

These "peculiar mental twists" caused me much pain when I was growing up and still do today, but I have no regrets. I firmly believe that God made me an alcoholic so I could find my way back to Him through Alcoholics Anonymous.

Give It Away to Keep It

I don't know for sure what happened. Or why it happened or how it happened. As near as I can figure I received a gift that I did not ask for - a gift I didn't even know I needed or wanted - a gift that I certainly did nothing to earn or deserve.

If I had any prayer while I was sitting alone in my darkened apartment with my bag of pot, bottle of wine, overflowing ashtray and remote control, it was definitely not "please God enter my being and help me change my whole life." It was more like, "please God, help me get a high paying job fast" because I was quickly running out of borrowed money and there were no other people left for me to borrow from. Denial kept me totally away from the truth -- I was rotting from the inside out and I was pretty close to hopeless.

Then Grace happened. I was gifted to a moment of clarity. In a flash I was allowed to see the truth about what I had become and where I was likely to end up. I got a good whiff of myself and it wasn't pretty. Three days later I walked into my first AA meeting and knew I was home. My being, that just one week earlier was unbearably heavy, felt totally weightless. I floated on a pink cloud.

I learned in AA that the gift I received has strings attached. If I want to keep it, I have to give it away. And I can't give away something I don't have. I have to become that channel that St. Francis talks about in his prayer. If God works through me, I can keep the gift. By taking the actions suggested by the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, I can keep the channel open and continue to receive the gift and God will continue to do for me what I can not do for myself.