A Great Way to Live

Recently I had lunch with a couple of friends I hadn’t seen for many years. We talked about our lives. They asked me how I was keeping busy since my wife died. I said, “Well, I’m very active in my AA program. I go to a meeting almost every day.” They both gave me looks that said, “How sad,” like my life was pretty much over.  It wasn’t the first time I received these looks. Normies have no way of knowing how wonderful life is for us in the center of Alcoholics Anonymous where we enjoy unlimited opportunities to help others recover.

Groucho Marx said he would never join any club that would have him as a member.  I wasn’t a joiner either. Yet, as I sat in my first meeting amid the laughter and the honest sharing, it felt like I had just found my way home after a long painful journey. I really wanted to be a member of the AA club and I was graced with the willingness to take the actions that put me in the center of the group. It was there I discovered a God of my own misunderstanding and our relationship has been growing ever since.
I was 90 days sober when my home group elected me “Doughnut Guy.” It felt like I had just won the Nobel Prize. I had my first chance to sponsor at a year and a half sober. I’m not sure that he made it, but I’m awfully grateful he asked me. I learned the healing power of sponsorship.

Then, at three and a half years sober, God sent me to communist China to carry the AA message. There were only four other recovering alcoholics in the city of 23 million when I arrived. We met in each other’s homes for fear that the public security bureau was watching us and wouldn’t appreciate us meeting in secret and talking about God. During my 16 years in Shanghai I had many wonderful opportunities to sponsor and otherwise be of service. In 2010 a few of us pooled our resources and opened the Shanghai Alano Club. When I left Shanghai two years ago the club was hosting 23 meetings a week serving approximately 150 active members and visitors from all over the world. It is still going strong today.

I believe Alcoholics Anonymous is built on the principle of enlightened self-interest. Everything I do in AA I do for me, for my recovery. But I can’t recover without helping others recover. So everybody wins. It’s simply a great way to live.

Freedom from Anger

I never realized I was locked in a prison of self-centered fear until I got my first taste of freedom in Alcoholics Anonymous. I had been running as fast as I could through life, trying to outrun the fear that followed me everywhere. It was like trying to outrun my shadow. As soon as I stopped and rested the the fear returned. I lived in a constant state of dis-ease, but I thought this was just the way life was. I struggled and suffered, but I never thought to question it. Alcohol made life bearable for me, even “happy” sometimes. But then the fear would return and one more time I needed the sense of ease and comfort a few drinks would bring.

I came in out of the cold when I stumbled into my first meeting and began my journey back to life. Through the years, thanks to meetings, steps and service, HP has continued to remove old, false ideas that keep me in prison, separate from life. Today I enjoy many freedoms. I am free from needing to change the way I feel with alcohol and other things. I am free from alcoholic loneliness -- that feeling of a hole in my gut that the wind whistles through. I am free from guilt and shame that kept me chained to yesterday. I am free from the war of self-hate I waged against myself for more than forty years. Yet, I still carry remnants of old, fearful ideas that cause me to suffer from time to time.  This past weekend is a good example.

I was camping in my RV in the California desert near Julian, and hour or so east of San Diego. The campground was almost completely empty. I enjoyed wonderful solitude for six days. Then, on my last day, an RV parked right next to me even though there were a hundred other empty spaces. That evening my new neighbors had a bonfire party. Four of them sat around the fire talking loudly, laughing and generally whooping it up. One woman had a piercing laugh I was sure could penetrate steel-reinforced concrete. By 9:00 PM my serenity was completely shattered. I wanted to sleep but the party was going strong. I tried putting a pillow over my head. I tried putting on my earphones and drown them out with music. I tried repeating the serenity prayer. Nothing worked. I could feel the anger growing inside of me like a volcano ready to erupt.

Finally, after suffering outrage for three hours, I reached into my AA toolbox and came out with a simple prayer: “Please God save me from being angry.” I began repeating this prayer silently like a mantra. After five minutes I began to feel some relief. After another five minutes my serenity begin to return. After another five minutes a curious thing happened. I began to feel glad that my neighbors were having such a good time in the desert. They called it a night a short time later and I fell fast asleep.


I heard that trying to "get spiritual" is like standing in water up to my neck trying to get wet. I can't become spiritual because I already am 100% spiritual. I just don't realize it much of the time. I get so caught up in the things of the world, in illusions, that I lose contact with what is real.

It helps me to imagine that I am watching a movie. I sit in the theater with my super size soft drink looking up at the screen. The movie seems to be about me because I see glimpses of myself and people I know. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out the plot and if the the other people in the movie are "good" or "bad." I sit on the edge of my chair worried about how the movie will turn out. I hope it will have a happy ending but I'm not so sure.

After sitting through thousands of screenings of the movie, I finally came to realize the movie is not about me. I am not the movie. I am the light coming out of the projector. The light is real. The movie is not real. The movie is not real because the light from the projector passes through the filters of my beliefs, attitudes, and programming before it reaches the screen. Thus as my attitude changes so does the movie I see. The movie is still not real. It is still just a dream, but it is a much happier dream.

My "whole attitude and outlook" has changed since I begin my spiritual journey in Alcoholics Anonymous. When I look up at the movie screen today the movie I see is filled with promise, happiness, peace and many kind and loving people.

Growing Up

I had been drinking alone in my darkened apartment for eight months. I was unemployed yet I couldn’t find the energy to look for work. As my checking account dwindled, I awoke every morning with a growing ache of fear in my gut.

I went to a therapist for some help getting back on track. I took thirty minutes to explain what was going on with me. I expected her to commiserate with my situation, to tell me it’s not unusual for men to go through these kinds of changes when they hit fifty. I expected some insight and practical suggestions. Instead she dropped the hammer.

Her exact words were, “I don’t think I can help you, Jeff. I don’t think you have an ounce of humility in your whole body. Your brain is so cloudy from your daily drinking that you can’t hope to get any clarity on your life. And you have the emotional maturity of a thirteen year old.” I was shocked. The voices in my head were screaming, “You can’t let this bitch talk to you this way!” Somehow I kept my mouth shut and just looked at my shoes. She went on, “You are welcome to come here every week, pay me $80, lie on that soft leather couch and we can talk about your life, but I don’t think it will do any good. I suggest you consider the treatment center up the street.”

Today, as I relive that morning with the therapist so many years ago, I am so grateful she told me the truth about myself. I’m also grateful that I hurt enough to listen and take her suggestion.

Her inventory of me was exactly right. Humility is still hard to come and I still get cornered occasionally by stinking thinking. But, thanks entirely to the program and the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, I’ve grown up. I’m no longer that scared 47 year old child, filled with self-hate, who walked through the doors more than twenty two years ago. I actually like myself today. I finally feel worthy. How sweet it is!