The Magic of the Fellowship

I wasn’t looking to reconnect with life as I walked through the door to my first meeting. I wasn’t looking for meaning and purpose. I wasn’t looking for a relationship with God. But in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous I found all these things and so much more.

I had never been a joiner. Like Groucho Marx, I never wanted to join any club that would have someone like me as a member. I spent the last eight months of my drinking in extreme isolation. I remember thinking it was a great way to live. There was no one around to bother me about my drinking or to criticize me for not looking for work or to nag me to clean my apartment. Today, this thought is one of the saddest I can remember.

I found a seat in the back of the room. The man who would become my first sponsor held out his hand when I introduced myself as a newcomer. When the sharing began I was amazed. I had never heard anyone speaking so honestly before. After the meeting my future sponsor said, "Some of us go to breakfast after the meeting, why don't you come along?" I lied that I had a lot to do that day. He said, "I'm sure you do Jeff, but why don't you come along anyways."

An unseen hand nudged me to breakfast. There were six or eight of us men altogether that morning. Remarkably I didn’t feel the need to try and impress anyone. I laughed, really laughed for the first time in years. Driving home I found myself looking forward to the next meeting. The magic of the fellowship had hooked me into AA!

I went to 400 meetings in my first year (it’s easy to do when you are unemployed). I hooked up with a few other newly sober guys. We played golf together. We chatted about recovery over coffee before and after meetings. I took my first year token in front of a roaring bonfire in the mountains above San Diego during one of my home group’s semi-annual spiritual retreats. In 1995 I had the privilege of attending our International Convention in San Diego. Wow. The power of 55,000 alcoholics standing and holding hands and saying the Lord's Prayer together continues to reverberate through my consciousness today.

The power of the fellowship is symbolized by the circle. In Shanghai we close every meeting by joining hands, forming a circle and repeating the Serenity Prayer. I like the expression, “God is not in me or in you, but at the place where we meet.” Slowly my ego is fading into the background. Today it's not so much, "what's in it for me" but "what's best for the whole." The sense of connection with life sparked at my first meeting continues to grow and expand.  

No Story, No Suffering

One of our AA slogans is: “pain is mandatory, but suffering is optional”. I am grateful that today I can see loss, pain and sadness is just a part of life on life’s terms, but suffering is all in my mind. If I am suffering it is because I am believing a story my mind made up. These self-centered stories are all about me -- what I want, what I need. They are not about how life is, rather they are fantasies about how I think life should be. I am grateful today that I don’t suffer as long before I recognize these ego traps.

A few days ago I was lying in the Shanghai fancy foreigner’s hospital with pneumonia. I felt like crap and worried that I couldn’t afford the treatment. Every few minutes I had a coughing fit that felt like I was coughing up a lung. Both my temperature and blood pressure were well beyond normal. My Chinese doctor said I may have hyper tension and I might need to begin taking blood pressure medicine. She said high blood pressure is common in “elderly” people like me because our veins get smaller. Elderly! It was the first time anyone had called me elderly and it stung.

After she left I lay there worrying. Ego began it’s self-centered story: “You are an elderly walking time bomb, Jeff. You had better get your affairs in order. You better learn to control your temper, you should give up caffeine, you can’t afford this medicine...” These thoughts and a whole bunch more whirred in my head for a good thirty minutes before my higher self whispered, “You are believing a story that is dragging you into the future, Jeff. Just relax and do the next indicated thing and you’ll be okay”. I felt peace return almost immediately. It turned out that my blood pressure was fine. The spikes were caused by my coughing. I smile when I think about all the hours and days and years I spent worrying about nothing. 

The longer I stay sober the more I become convinced that everything that has ever happened to me is intended for my highest and best good. I look at my alcoholism as a blessing. I could not have come from where I was to where I am today without having a deadly disease that was going to kill me.

Get Connected!

A few days ago at our noon meeting we had a newcomer on his first day. After the meeting I put out my hand to welcome him to our group. We chatted briefly, then I made him the offer I like to make to all newcomers. “If you will commit to going to 90 meetings in 90 days and you still want to drink after that, I’ll buy the first one.” He looked at me like I was slightly out of my mind.

The message I carry to those seeking sobriety is to make a commitment to give AA a serious try for three months and then re-evaluate. During this time I suggest they put AA activities at the top of their to-do list, ahead of family, business and everything else. Going to a meeting every day is a proven prescription for newcomers. There are no guarantees, but the ones who make "90 in 90" seem to have a much better chance at sticking than those who go to meetings only when it is convenient.

AA doesn’t get me sober and keep me that way. That’s my Higher Power’s job. I connect with my Higher Power when I place myself inside the AA circle of recovery by doing all that’s suggested. I connect with the group by showing up early and helping to set up the chairs or make coffee. I connect with other alcoholics by asking for phone numbers and picking up the 500 pound phone and calling them. I become “a part of” when I join up for coffee or a meal after the meetings. Once I am connected to my HP, there are a whole bunch of other suggestions contained in the 12 steps about how I can grow and strengthen my connection: inventory, pray and meditate, carry the message to others. But none of these activities work real well unless I am connected.

The newcomer said, “I’m not sure I can come everyday during the week because I have to work.” “What time do you start?” “9:00 AM,” he answered. “Well, you are in luck. We have a nice little meeting that starts every morning at 7.” I looked into his bloodshot eyes and could almost see a glimmer of hope. We’ll see.


I was a couple of weeks sober and sitting in the therapy circle in the out patient treatment center. When my turn came to share I said, "I feel so good, I'll never drink again!" The short, round woman who ran the center, an ex-heroine junky from New York, snapped back, "That's just ego bull shit Jeff! We don't say crap like that in here. You'd better just do everything you can to stay sober today and pray it's enough."

I have no idea if I'll ever take another drink. I have no desire to drink right now and I haven't thought seriously about taking a drink for many years. But like the woman who ran the treatment center said, it's arrogant to think I know better than my HP about what I need to grow. Maybe another deeper bottom is necessary to surrender the last few layers of self-will. I hope not, but maybe.

The long-term AA recovery rates I've seen indicate that many of us drink again after long periods of sobriety. Then there's the story in the Big Book about a man who felt his drinking was interfering with his business. He put the plug in the jug and kept it there for thirty years. He started drinking again when he retired and was dead in three years. Of course my ego is quick to create a story that makes me special and unique, different from those who go out. "They stopped working the program, they didn't do all that was suggested, they became complacent. But not you, Jeff, you are safe. You have the power to just say 'No'."  Oh really? What about all those times I said "Yes" when I didn't want to?

My frightened, childish ego doesn't seem to understand that it has no power. It clearly doesn't believe what our book says in How It Works: "There is One who has all power. That One is God."  If God has ALL power then it follows "I" have no power, none. Not even a tiny little bit. Ego keeps trying to convince me that "I" have the power to choose, that I have the power to decide what's best for me. I'm coming to believe that ego stands behind the curtain like the Wizard of Oz furiously pulling the levers and creating a dazzling light show. But there is no truth. Ego is, to borrow a quote from Shakespeare, "full of sound and fury signifying nothing."

It took many years before I began to question the stories ego creates in my mind. I still get caught today, but I don't get as wrapped up in ego's web before I ask, "where's the evidence outside of my mind that this story is true? Is there one shred of evidence that I have the power to choose not to drink?" No! As my journey in recovery continues, I move from the illusionary world of ego to the truth of what I am and what I've always been. As ego loses its power, I naturally move toward what is healthy and right.