Wanting More

I was not a joiner. I didn’t belong to any professional or civic associations. I was uncomfortable at parties. I couldn’t make small talk until I had a few cocktails. As my disease progressed, I chased everyone else out of my life. Which was just fine. Other people had always been the problem. But now, a week sober, I had no choice but to come out of isolation and attend these damn AA meetings to get my little card signed.

I sat in the rec room of the Mt. Soledad All Hallows Catholic Church waiting for the meeting to start. It was almost nine o’clock on Saturday morning. The seventy other men, a good mix of the hip, slick and cool and sage old timers, talked and laughed among themselves. They seemed a little too “up” for me so early in the morning.

When I raised my hand as a newcomer, the men sitting around me, including the man who would become my first sponsor, extended their hands in welcome. I hadn’t been welcomed anywhere in many years, but these guys seemed genuinely glad I was there, even before I put on my people pleasing act!

Still toxic, I don’t remember too much about what was said during the meeting, but I do remember the laughter — the lighthearted seriousness of it all. During the birthday celebrations I caught myself singing Happy Birthday off key. I remember the men who spoke that day used the word “grateful” a lot. When the basket came around I put in a buck and wondered where the money went. We closed the meeting in a large circle, our arms wrapped over the shoulders of the men on either side and said the Our Father. It felt like I was thrown into the deep end of the pool.

A group of men surrounded me after the meeting with hardy handshakes, pats on the back, and exhortations to “keep coming back.” I was invited to breakfast and an unseen hand pushed me to accept. The laughter continued through breakfast. My spirit lightened up.

As I was driving home that day I sensed something special had happened to me. I had no idea what it was, but, like any good alcoholic, I wanted more.

Meetings, Steps, Service

I learned everything I needed to know about how to stay sober and grow along spiritual lines in my first couple of weeks. You taught me there are no secret handshakes or complicated spiritual theories to master. You said I can enjoy a life beyond my wildest imagination if only I would take a few simple actions over and over again. Go to meetings, work the steps, be of service.

I believed you when you told me that consistency is the key, that I must take the actions despite whatever else is going on in my life. Meetings, steps and service has been the cadence of my life through job loss, through serious financial set-backs, through the frustrations of living in China before AA was established and most recently, through the death of my beautiful, young wife.

I don’t take credit for any of it. My recovery is nothing I do and everything God does. I was graced with a spark of desire to grow into a new fuller expression and with the willingness to take the suggested actions. I sense a gentle hand is pulling me toward wholeness. My job is simply to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to keep trudging: meetings, steps and service.

When I was new I noticed many newcomers at my home group and a goodly number of old timers, but there seemed to be a gap in the 10 to 20 year range. I asked my grand sponsor about this one day. “Do all those people go out and drink?” “Maybe some do,” he said, “but some probably have enough recovery to live sober lives without meetings.” Then I asked him why he kept coming back after 30 years. He said, “Let me put it this way… Some people are satisfied with one bite of the cake, some people are satisfied with a slice of the cake. As for me, I want the whole damn cake.”

I might be one of those who can stay sober without Alcoholics Anonymous, but why would I want to try?  I  want the whole damn cake too.