Thursday, December 31, 2009

The zeroes...


It has seemed like I've wanted to post something about the decade or at least the year so I've been noodling about it some - I can't seem to get any clear direction.  I also have another article I need to write but I'm still waiting for that story to come to a clear transition point.

That might just summarize the past decade - in fact, a significant part of my life - in a nutshell: great plans, many distractions and, with God's grace, small bits of progress/growth.

It seems indulgent to write here about Auld Lang Sine when Mary in Africa is already well into the next decade...

I never thought that, better than 1/2 way through my 3rd decade of sobriety, I would be here.

I don't remember much of the past decade too fondly.  Though there were some wondrous, positive moments, I bet I could match them 2-for-1 with negatives.

All the negatives are circumstantial: money, jobs, titles, stuff, etc.

Among the positives are: good health, relationships, new lives, etc.

And, I can't imagine any other possible path that could have got me from there to here.

And here, tonight, is just damn near perfect.

Blessings to all on this most perfect of beginnings for what I trust will be a wonderful year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pray for me...


I got a call last night from Little Greg.  You probably have a Little Greg around some of your meetings.  He now has over 11 years of sobriety in AA but he's been around over 25 years.  He's put the touch on most everybody over the years in his several "careers."  He's been (off the top of my head) a truck driver, an actor, in charge of maintenance, a deliveryman, a store manager, a baggage handler - a long list of attempts to re-invent himself and get into a new life.  I can remember at least 5 times when he's had a car, a nice place to live, everything was going his way and then, suddenly, it all falls apart.

It's not his fault.  Ever.

He is a victim.

Greg lived with us for a couple of months 2 years ago.  He was in the middle of rebuilding his life one more time and it was great to see that it was all going so well for him "this time."  We finally had to set a time for him to move out (before he could afford it...) but, well, we were just done with him.  And, it seemed like several things had conspired to make this a good time.

He has as strong a grasp of the AA program as anyone I know.  He's been sponsored by men I consider heroes in AA.  He can cite chapter and verse about selfishness and self-centeredness,  spiritual awakening and service.

Last night, Little Greg was standing in the cold in the line to get into the homeless shelter overflow in Denver.  We both knew he was only about 45 minutes away from my house if I chose to drive down and pick him up and bring him home to one of my warm, empty, beds.  He didn't ask to come to my place.  He did ask if he "had anything outstanding for which he needed to make amends" - I thought hard (and prayed hard) and said "no - I think we're current."

We talked for about 30 minutes.  I noticed that he'd been able to get his cell phone turned back on (it'd been shut off earlier in the month) but I didn't mention that.  He complained extensively about how someone with 11 years and 8 months should not be living like this.  How he'd been put in this place by an injury and a medical system that wouldn't meet his needs.  About how long any sort of disability assistance would take to get in place.  He complained a lot.

I felt really bad for him and I shared that with him.  I assured him that I had no answers for him.  I shared the experience of a guy I sponsor who's living in a homeless shelter and where he's found opportunities to be of service there to those people.  I shared as openly and as honestly as I could.

At the end of the conversation, he said "I have a really selfish request of you." I held my breath - in the past, what has followed is a request for money or something else.  What he said was: "Will you pray for me?"

That was interesting.  I wasn't prepared for it but I got that it was the entirely appropriate request and the entirely appropriate thing for me to do.

...and, something I forget to do as often as I might...

I hope he's OK...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hypnosis...


OK - after the sugar coma subsides a bit and then the general malaise returns, why is it that, instead of doing the dozens of things that I think I need to be doing (and am really interested in and find enjoyable), I find myself playing Freecell endlessly - surfing mindlessly - in the same sort of trance I watch my g'kids playing video games and watching movies in?

Suddenly, it came to me - hypnosis!!!  That explained where the precious hours I've needed have gone these past few days and weeks.

I am a believer in hypnosis.  I've seen it work wonders in some peoples' lives.  Even some heavy drinkers/alcoholics - allowed them to turn behaviors around and solve major problems.

It just didn't work on me - or so I've thought until today.

Yes, I've had a therapist really try to access and work on my subconscious using hypnosis.  It really wasn't that different than what you've seen in the goofy movies and cartoons.  He would talk me into a trance of sorts, plant ideas and suggestions in my little brain, talk me back out of that trance and we'd both watch and wonder as I marched back out and did the same bad habits and wreak the havoc in my and others' lives over the same behaviors repeatedly.  After a few months (and many $$$), we both decided hypnosis just wasn't working for me.

I would have told you, until today, that I was just one of those on whom hypnosis did not work.

Today, I watched myself seek out the trance of denial one more time.  Where I was avoiding doing what was next by, well, using whatever was in front of me to avoid what is next.  The similarity to the mind numbing that I sought using booze was jarring.

Finally, I closed the game and other distractions and decided to write this article.

By God's grace, I may be able to get to what's next after this.

I'll let you know...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

After...


OK - as I remember, it only takes a day or 2 for this food hangover to be over, right?  I certainly hope it's no longer than a week. I'm so sick of rich food and sweets that I crave peanut butter and a hamburger.

So, it didn't help that breakfast this morning was a big piece of pumpkin pie.

This morning, we put the last of the kids on an early plane and came home and took a 4-hour nap.  I think I'm more than a little spent.  It was a wonderful holiday and I'm glad it won't happen again until next year at the earliest.

I wrote an email to someone yesterday about something completely unrelated but it caused me to think about the small miracle of learning the principle of "restraint of tongue."  If there is a "theme" for me for this holiday, I'm very impressed on how little really needs to be said (by me) at these family gatherings.  I'm hoping I can learn the same thing in my AA circles.

I'm sure my wife would disagree (we seldom have the same holiday experience together), but I can't think of a single time where I needed to correct her - if I did, it was certainly a small fraction of the times that I thought of something that would add accuracy or perspective to the conversation and had the discretion, lacking in the past, to not offer it.  Sometimes, what I would have shared came to the conversation another way.  Sometimes it didn't.  In no case was anything missed by my not having said what was in my mind.

You have to understand just what a jerk I've been around this "errant member - the tongue" (as Dr. Bob related it in his farewell address in 1950).  My ego is generally so tightly wound up in needing to not only be right but have everyone else know it that it looks like a matter of life or death that I get you to "understand" me.  In some sense, it has been about life and death.

This holiday was different.  The 5-second conversation with my brother-in-law was perfect.  The silence was perfect.  The sharing was greatly improved from other years - by my actively seeking times where I could not have to speak.

And, still amazing to me, I am sober.

Tomorrow (12/28) is my birthday.  I feel like, in the past week, I'm finally learning something about being responsible and authentic.  Not bad for someone only 57 years old.

Thank you God!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy...


This year, more than most, I've greeted people with "Happy Holidays."  I was making no conscious effort to be cute or politically correct or anything.  It just seemed like the right thing to say this year.

Several times, people have corrected me to say "Merry Christmas" or commented about (criticized?) my greeting.

Interesting.

Are we just more sensitive this year?  Am I just being more sensitive this year?  Does anyone really give a flying fig?

Probably not...

Anyway, with all the sincerity I can muster, I truly wish for each of us a Happy Holiday time.  As I've written here in the past, this is a tough time for me (and, what, tens of millions of other drunks?) but I feel especially blessed to have found (been led to?) this blogging community this year.  I love you all and truly wish you each and all a new beginning and a wonderful day - this and every day.

Thank you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Favorite things...


First, I'd like to thank Mary Christine for the tag of my favorite things.  I think.

Mary doesn't know that one thing I hate about going out with my wife is when she asks me at a gallery: "So, what's your favorite piece?" or, after a concert, "What was your favorite part?" or, well, you get the idea.  I had a therapist who I made completely insane (I don't think this is an exaggeration) with my inability to commit to a favorite color, favorite movie star, favorite car - anything I would choose a selection, I would rationalize conditions where I would prefer something else.  I really, really, really hate to pick "favorite things."  But, it's not that big a deal, really.  ;-)

Seriously, I'm grateful to MC for remembering me and including me in this rotation.

So, here's what comes to mind for 5 favorites tonight:
  1. Mountains.  I live in the foothills of Colorado's front range and, if I can't get to the "real" mountains every 2 weeks, I feel withdrawals.  My soul is fed best on a tundra just a bit above timberline where we've got 360 degree vistas of craggy peaks.
  2. The ocean.  I love beaches.  I enjoy snorkeling and SCUBA dives. I sense power and strength in the oceans of the world.
  3. AA.  I think I've found a home and a family.  It's every bit as imperfect and perfect as any family I know.  I owe it my life so why would I not have and hold it as one of my favorites?
  4. Marriage.  A good friend said at her husbands funeral - at the end of a eulogy where you kind of got it clear that they had fought a lot and she might still think that he was something of a s---- and that they'd fought a lot - but she'd declared the marriage "perfect": "If I could wish for anyone, I would wish them a 'perfect' marriage - as forged through the crucible of commitment."  I spend many of my days personally frustrated, disappointed or, lonely.  I am absolutely clear that my marriage is the greatest blessing and learning opportunity God has given through his grace.  I only wish I could do it better.
  5. A child's laughter.  There's something so infectious in listening to my g'kids laugh.  It just feels like the world will all sort itself out when I can hear their peals of laughter.
And, as with every time that I do this exercise in a gallery or a museum, I know I could put many things in this list.  Maybe life is OK after all...

As to who gets this next (I really don't know where this has been so far and, again, I could choose many): Mary, Syd, Lou, Prayer Girl and, Doc-in-Alanon.  As they're tagged, so let them enjoy the choosing as much as I do.

Life, on the whole, really is good.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Conversations with God...


My 14 year old granddaughter and her family came to town last night and is staying with us through Christmas.  She has lived her life in Seattle so it's a treat to have her around.  Through various dramas of her family and due to the distance, we've never been close so this morning when we were alone in a car together headed to her cousin's soccer game, it was probably a unique situation in our lives.

I have grieved some  as our g'kids have gotten older in that none of them are particularly close to me.  I had so very much wanted it to be different but, well, for whatever the reasons (and I acknowledge the fault is wholly my own), I'm watching them grow up and away from me more each year.

We talked some about the weather here and in Seattle and then, well, what do you talk about next?

me: So, what do you want for Christmas?

she: (after some careful thought and reflection) That's a hard question to answer.

me: I understand - if you say something small, it's dishonest.  If you say something expensive, you come off greedy.

she: Yeah, I guess so.

me: So, I guess it's uncomfortable visiting with Santa?

she: (inserting I-pod) Yeah.

me:  I guess you could just answer "world peace" or "the Broncos do well in the playoffs" or something equally impossible.

she: (laughs a little) Yeah - I think I'll answer that next time.

We start where we start when we can.

I hope she has a happy Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Perfection


I have a saying that I doubt I invented but I really can't remember who I might have stolen it from.  As I remember, it just came out one day when one of my long-term sponsee types was whining about one thing or another in his life.  I asked him:
What exactly would you have to give up to call this moment perfect?
I don't know if he's ever thought of it again but I think of it quite often.  It just seems to be the perfect rejoinder to the constant state of malcontent that my spiritual malady seems to conjure for my head many times a day.

The truth, as best I can get to it today is that God is in charge and that God is bigger than any and all of my various challenges - real or imagined.

So, my life is about moving from one surrender to another.  The ultimate surrender in this moment is that I lay aside all my prejudice, expectations, judgments, attachments - all those things that keep me from embracing this as the most perfect of God's precious moments for me today.

And then, all that's left, is perfection.

Imagine.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

AA Renewal



I'm reluctant to post this here but it seems like I need to at least mention this on this blog for, well, I don't know - integrity?

There is a minority of folks in Alcoholics Anonymous who feel that AA may be sick as an organization and, perhaps, as a fellowship.  We are not sure what, if anything, could or should be done about it but we see symptoms of this illness in our meetings and our AA business endeavors (e.g. our service commitments).

We are not among those who feel the need to bash AA or that AA as an institution is actually harming people.  To the contrary, all of us involved in this thus far feel we owe our sobriety, our very lives to AA as it existed when we found it in that it led us to accept the grace of God and become spiritually awakened as a consequence of AA's program of recovery.

We are convinced that, if AA is to change (a big if), it will change as a consequence of people talking about what changes might be made at coffee around our meetings, at our groups' business meetings, at our assemblies and our General Service Conference.  What a few of us realized this past fall is that we wanted to have an area where we would be able to brainstorm and collaborate about what AA could do to fix what we feel are fundamental problems in our organization.

Or, perhaps what we know as "AA" today should just be allowed to disappear and that the next organization (if any) to come up will be born anew from the ashes of that old organization?

I don't know the answer.  I don't think anyone who's participated in this effort so far feels that we know all the answers.

What I do know is that, for me as a member of AA today, if AA were to pass into obscurity by, in part, my lack of action, I would wonder if "I should have done something..."  So, I am participating in this new site where we hope to be sorting out some of these thoughts.  Again, this is not a new "movement" or a set of folks who want to do anything other than seek some clarity about the hard issues we need to face and deal with as a fellowship.

Or deliberately decide not to.

So, if you care, check out aarenewal.org.  Participate and/or register if you want to.  Mention it to others if it seems useful.  Ignore it completely if it seems irrelevant or against your principles of participation in AA.

All that said, I think what I've generally been doing on this blog is completely separate from my participation on the aarenewal.org site.  While I might share my experiences as a sober member in both places, what I see is that this blog is only a reflection of my personal experience trying to apply the AA principles in an imperfect life.  That other space is a place we're trying to improve an organization we think is imperfect by applying these principles.  Related but not the same.

But, I thought some readers here might want to know something about where my head has been at when I'm not writing here...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holidays...


I was not going to write this article but here it is anyway...

I sobered up on 12/3.  It's a really bad plan to sober up just before the holiday.  So bad that, for better than a decade, I'd each year made a plan to really look at my drinking - maybe taper back some - after New Year's.  What happened for me in 1983 that was different from all those other years can only be explained by the grace of God.  Really.

But, what remains: the holidays are a really hard time for me to be sober all the time.  Some days still.

I've always probably been about the most selfish person I know.  From my earliest memory until today.  As much as it gave me pleasure to give my wife and kids nice things for Christmas, I always wanted people to give me wonderful things.  I want stuff.  A lot of stuff.  All of it.

I have more "stuff" than most people I know.  Most of it sits unused, year after year, so that it's become a burden.  In a very real and a very direct sense, the case can be easily made that my stuff owns me more today than I own it.

Yet, I'm embarrassed on each Christmas morning that I have to stifle my own pouting and sour attitude about not getting all the stuff I want - even while I watch our kids masterfully teach our Grandkids (now ranging 2-16 years old) all about sharing and appreciating what they've been given.  I gotta tell you, it's humiliating when the Grandpa pouts and sulks more than the 4 or 5 year-old.  And, that happens almost every year.  I wish I'd learned those lessons as a kid.  I wish I could learn those lessons now.

I'm also selfish in giving.  I always wanted my presents to be the biggest and the most appreciated.  I wanted all the holiday events to be at my house.  I wanted to be known as the source of all good things.

As our financially situation has deteriorated through the past 8 years, this has been relieved some out of necessity but it's still possible to detect some resentment from others at the lack of the grand, dramatic gestures I've been able to put out in the past.   I hate how it feels to not fight someone for the check at dinner or to insist we provide all entertainment at our house.  I guess we all get to grow...

The best the holidays have been for me in sobriety is that I've occasionally fought back to a position of detached neutrality where I can watch people do whatever they're going to do and appreciate the "good" in all of it and understand and forgive the "bad."

We've had holidays where the "goose hung high" - I got everything I wanted (yeah, really!) and my efforts were truly appreciated.  That seems to be as perilous a place  for me (perhaps more) as the times when I only got presents I really didn't want and I felt I should have been absent, thus causing the joy meter to rise 100 degrees in the room.

So I might see you this holiday at a party.  Even if we don't know each other, you will recognize me as the one who is looking for chairs to put away, dishes to be cleared or, best still, a newcomer to ask how he's planning to get through his first holiday season.  While we're talking, on a good day, when you ask me about me and my life, I will get you to tell me more details about yours.  On a really good day, you will be convinced that I really care about every little detail of your life and your problems.

And then, before we know it, the holidays will be past.

Sober.

P.S. - Mary Christine's birthday is today - happy day to her!!!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Struggles?


We returned from Tucson last Friday.  Last Thursday night, we were working at my wife's cousin's house near Tucson and, as I was putting ladder away, I noticed the tail end of the sunset and grabbed this picture.  It was just hand held with a cheap camera leaning against their garage wall.

Almost every time I'm in Tucson, I'm treated to several of these sunrises and sunsets.  Almost every day.  It's hard to take.

I've not been able to blog as frequently lately.  I've become distracted with another project I'll write about later this week but I hope to, eventually, get back to a regular contribution here.  I've really been commenting on others' blogs and, well, it just feels selfish to not put anything back into the blogging etherspace.

On the other hand, Saturday morning my mind woke me up at 2:30 a.m. and reminded me that "something has to change in my life by 1/1/10."  I'm at the end of my rope and a little further financially so, well, God has to do what God does.  That (most likely) involves:
  1. I am directed to someplace I can contribute something
  2. Somewhere, money will come as a consequence of that
It really is just that simple, I think.

I'm looking in want adds.  I'm "networking" (gawd, I've come to hate that term).  I'm telling the truth about our needs and desires.  I'm more open to new adventures that I think I ever have been.  Here, there, anywhere for anything.

Mostly, I'm in just sort of a state of amused anticipation of what could happen next.

But. that morning the committee in my head was having none of what I'm trusting will work itself out in the next 2 weeks.

I know I'm not alone - either with my challenges or with the itty-bitty-s---y-committee between my ears.

Exciting, no?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My plans and perceptions...


On Monday, we left Colorado for Tucson and where we are staying was supposed to have wireless but, well, those were my plans.  I finally got connected to the internet yesterday and we've been trying to be of service and present for what we're here for and, well, it's been interesting.

We came into Tuscon to unseasonable cold weather.  The high yesterday was in the 50's.  We went to the Air and Space Museum and there was a volunteer hunkered down over a heater with her parka on.  She had no humor about how it was below zero in Colorado.  It was just irrelevant information to her in that she thought she was too cold to ever warm up.

I've blogged here before about my preference of cold over hot but, secretly, even with the cluster-f- that are a part of how we do things in our family, I'm glad I'm here instead of back where it is so bitterly cold.  I'm-a-guessing that, as I age, the more temperate climates will appeal to me more and more but I am just glad to be where I am today.

It just works out better that way...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Gifts...


My sister gave me a gift when she was in town last summer.  I've delayed posting a picture of it because I keep thinking that I will drag out my lights and take a proper picture of it but, well, I just am not getting to it and probably won't any time soon.  So, I will take a better picture later but the quilt on the left is her design and represents 100's of hours of work on her behalf.

The colors are not quite right in the photograph (much richer in person) and, per my earlier comment, the picture just doesn't do it justice.  When you stand really close to it, you can see that each feather of each crane has 3 perfect rows of stitching outlining it and, well, the detail is staggering.

It hangs over our fireplace in our front room and you can't help but notice it  - it was designed by her for that space.

I have a funny relationship with gifts in general.  For 15 years, I've been embarrassed in my family because it is really bad form when you're more moody around getting stuff at Christmas than your grandkids.  I've noticed throughout my life that I've always wanted what I didn't have and, then, when I get it, I'm generally not satisfied with that stuff or it disappoints me or I just move on from it and the stuff just accumulates.  Page 76 in our 12x12 outlines the constant struggles of my life.

So, how does one "get" recovered from this selfish attachment to my wants and demands?  I think, as outlined in aforementioned 12x12 passage, it's an inside job where my most difficult part of the process is to surrender all my old ideas and accept God's grace that's offered.

I was truly awestruck when my sister unfolded this quilt in my house last summer.  Even though I knew she was working on it, nothing prepared me for the incredible amount of time and talent that she had invested in it.  You can trust me that NOTHING that I have done in my relationship with her could have made me deserve this from her.  And, nothing that I own or could build or could do would repay her for what she did for me in this demonstration of love and generosity. 

Yet, as I write this, there it hangs.

I still hope I had the ability to say "thank you" appropriately.  I think I did.

I think it's a lot like that with God's grace and my healing from my character defects.  Sometimes I fail to thank God for the grace shown to me this day and for the path that got me to this day.  Sometimes I think my problems, wants and demands require just a little more cleverness and manipulation.

But, on a good day, I can remember to say "thank you" and accept the incredible gift as the universe's perfect expression for my life in this day.

That is a better day.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

New day...


First and foremost, thanx and more thanx for all the acknowledgment yesterday of my (our) AA milestone.  I am blessed beyond words to have received encouragement from all over the globe - especially for all my blogging AA compatriots.

A few years ago (before I'd warmed to the idea of AA participation on the internet), someone (still not sure who) registered my email address with one of the several services where members send greetings to you on your AA anniversary.  While it seems self-serving and corny and every year I think I must track it down and unregister myself, I am jarred each year when, this year starting in early November, I get dozens of greetings from AA's I never have and never will meet from all over the globe.  Some just starting out.  Some with 4 decades or more of sobriety (seems to be protocol to include your own sobriety date with each greeting you send).

OK - so it really is little more than just automated spam and lord knows I get enough of that.  But, when I was discouraged last month and opened the email from the clown (literally) in NZ or the good folks all over the world who wanted nothing more for me than to acknowledge of the gift God has given me, well, I was touched.

But, by none more than this lovely blogosphere - from South Africa to Texas - I mean - really!!!

Thank you...

I've been amused by the blogging of those of us going through winter and summer.  It always seems amazing to me that we (humans - way beyond the AA community here...) are so surprised every year that, due to the axis of the tilt of the earth and the rotation around the sun on that axis that we have these seasons where the temperatures and weather related stuff dominates our experience.  I believe (I'm sure somewhere these statistics are tracked) that more than 20% of the "news" on any given day is consumed with weather and weather related stories.

So, it was ~5 degrees when I got up this morning and into the 30's in Texas.  I've been in Houston when it's below freezing and, trust me, I'll take my 5 degrees any day for comfort.  A few years ago, I was pursuing an interest in outdoor photography.  Some of that pursuit must be accomplished outdoors.  Outdoors when it can be cold.  I was in a seminar with a famous professional photographer about 15 years ago and he said: "...with the technology that is available today, there is no such thing as being too cold outside.  It is only and always a function of being dressed inappropriately."

That's been my experience.

I've got to tell you that part of the reason that I live in Colorado today is that, this time of year (and it does come every year about this time), I need to learn to dress differently.  I've also been in Houston when it is over 105 degrees with greater than 85 percent humidity.  I know from personal experience that you can't remove enough clothing to get comfortable in that heat.  So, the only choice for comfort there is to NOT be outside and, for me, I can only do that option for short periods of time.

So, for now, Colorado and I are better suited for each other.  In fact, I've grown to dislike the cold more since I can't play out in it as much as I once did.  But, for now, I think it's where I belong.

And it's nice to feel like you belong somewhere...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A number...


On December 1, 1983, I flew home from an awful week in Las Vegas.  I'd been there at a trade conference and, when I reflected back on my behavior that week, I could feel nothing but shame and embarrassment for the previous week.

 As soon as the drink cart came, I ordered 2 drinks and made sure that the bottle I'd stashed (you could never trust them to get back with those damned carts when you needed them - especially on a 1-1/2 hour flight!) was easily reached and just felt awful.  To the core, awful.

I then had what I now know of as 2 moments of clarity:
  1. I just wanted to step out of the airplane at 30,000 feet and step into oblivion.  I'd failed at previous suicide attempts but I just completely abhorred who I knew myself to be.  I reflected on my family, my business, my church, my business dealings, my life - and, I just couldn't think of a single situation that would not have been improved if I were removed from the picture.
  2. I'd been involved in intensive family therapy, marriage counseling, personal counseling, and various other forms of therapy for a number of years.  I'd read every self-help book that I could find.  Several times the suggestion was offered that I moderate my drinking - maybe just for a little bit of time. While it might have been true that, as I always argued (pretty convincingly), my drinking was not the problem, it was equally and undeniably true to me in that moment that it was not part of the solution to the myriad problems I had going on in my life.  If, in fact, it wasn't part of the solution, it was curious to me (just that) how strongly I argued for my "right" to be able to drink.
I landed and I don't remember getting home (not unusual) but I do remember talking to my then wife about going to a meeting the next day before I passed out for the night (I was long past ever going to sleep w/out passing out).  She had been in the program for a few months at that time.

The next night, shaky, feeling awkward and dressed in my best 3-piece suit, I showed up at a meeting at a club house.  It certainly lived down to my expectations but that night, for the first time, I went to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and admitted I was an alcoholic (it seemed like what they expected me to do...).

That was December 2, 1983 and, by the grace of God, expert sponsorship and the wonderful program of Alcoholics Anonymous, I've not had a drink of alcohol or taken anything that's affected me from the neck up since that day.

Thank you for 26 amazing years...

More work...


Well, the meeting on the 12th step didn't go the way I'd expected last night (seldom does) but it was perfect as it happened.

However, it left me with this great passage from our BB that I didn't get to share there.  So, I thought I'd share it here today.  It's really the close of the chapter that I led with yesterday:
"Your job now is to be at the place where you may be of maximum helpfulness to others, so never hesitate to go anywhere if you can be helpful. You should not hesitate to visit the most sordid spot on earth on such an errand. Keep on the firing line of life with these motives and God will keep you unharmed.

Many of us keep liquor in our homes. We often need it to carry green recruits through a severe hangover. Some of us still serve it to our friends provided they are not alcoholic. But some of us think we should not serve liquor to anyone. We never argue this question. We feel that each family, in the light of their own circumstances, ought to decide for themselves.

We are careful never to show intolerance or hatred of drinking as an institution. Experience shows that such an attitude is not helpful to anyone. Every new alcoholic looks for this spirit among us and is immensely relieved when he finds we are not witch-burners. A spirit of intolerance might repel alcoholics whose lives could have been saved, had it not been for such stupidity. We would not even do the cause of temperate drinking any good, for not one drinker in a thousand likes to be told anything about alcohol by one who hates it.

Some day we hope that Alcoholics Anonymous will help the public to a better realization of the gravity of the alcoholic problem, but we shall be of little use if our attitude is one of bitterness or hostility. Drinkers will not stand for it.

AFTER ALL, OUR PROBLEMS WERE OF OUR OWN MAKING. BOTTLES WERE ONLY A SYMBOL. BESIDES, WE HAVE STOPPED FIGHTING ANYBODY OR ANYTHING. WE HAVE TO!"  (BB p. 102-3)
'Nuff said...

Monday, November 30, 2009

Working the program...


I led a meeting on the 12th step last week.  I'm leading another one tonight.  Seems to be "up" for some folks.

Especially me.

In our AA community, it feels like many of us have come from a (dark?) place in our program where, what was suggested (at least what I heard) was that, when you get into depression and pain, you simply need to "work the program" harder.  What that meant to me and others was that you took another trip through the 12 steps (sometimes with a new sponsor or a new guide).  You got new insights from a more thorough and current 4th step.  You completed another set of amends.

All that was good stuff.  I grew a lot.

But, about two years ago I realized that this was not AA.

It's amazing to me, one more time, that they hid the directions in a book stealthily labeled, Alcoholics Anonymous:
PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics.  It works when other activities fail. (BB p. 89)
So, the solution to my depression, my worry, my spiritual malady is not to find another guru, to change therapists, change sponsors, get more insight from another trip through the steps, to join another church, to get more exercise, or to change my medication.  The solution is to find another drunk and help him.  HELP ANOTHER.

All of those other things  are good - may even be necessary at times (and I think I can say that I've done them all - some multiple times).

Intensive work with other alcoholics. Not real subtle or rocket science, right?  That's what I mean today when I say I'm "working the program."  I can say that I've gotten as well as I'm ever going to get by naval gazing.  I need another plan.  Less of "I."

Yet, it's the last thing that I want to do.  It's as if I'm wired the opposite of that.  Like, maybe I have a spiritual malady.

Therein is the grace part.  (I'm a huge fan of grace.)  Today, I get the chance to be useful.

Thank you God...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Forget about ED once and for all...


I bet few of you have the same reaction I do when I see this subject line (blog title) in my email box.

If they only knew how long and how hard I tried to forget about Ed....  To just get rid of him.  To numb the racket of him out.  And I was really looking for a once and for all solution...

The best I've found to date to do this is the program of AA.

I think I know what people mean when they say in some of the meetings I attend that "AA is a selfish program."  I just really hate it when they say it.

My experience has been that selfishness is the basis for the despair that led me to seek a permanent solution.  There is no doubt today as much as there was no doubt 25 years ago that selfishness and self-centeredness was the root of my problems.

What I have as an antidote to that today is selfless giving and humility.

When I truly live in that space (happens occasionally), I get to forget about Ed for a while.

That is a solution for Ed today...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy holiday...


If you celebrate Thanksgiving, I wish you the best.

If you don't, I wish you the best.

I'm thankful today for the community I've found in this space.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Participation...


I am involved in a conversation on another forum about the idea of how we support our meetings in accordance with our Traditions.  I rattled of a response on that group and was thinking of just posting that writing here when I realized I'd written something very similar to the response in an article I'd done on the Seventh Tradition here last summer.

It still bugs me that people, especially young people (in both sobriety and age), don't feel any need or desire to participate in AA - either by putting anything in the basket or by showing up and taking their turn keeping the doors open in one place or another.  More than 3/4 of those in attendance at my home group's main meeting contribute nothing (I used to be the treasurer and still can't help but notice).

My own recent situation has been that I've been putting money in the basket even when I don't have enough to cover my bills.  I also find myself participating in a number of different ways in a number of different parts of the fellowship when it seems like it would be a much  more responsible use of my time and energy to look for employment or find some way to generate income.

My motivations are generally selfish (true statement generally as well in the matter at hand), but clearly something is different from my experience and the young friends I find at meetings.  Frankly, I make the choices I make because I think my life depends on it.

Makes me wonder, many days recently, am I just a fool?

Probably.

However, in 25 years (26 next month), I've never been even close to starving and I have had a life that's beyond my wildest imaginings.  Why would this end?

It might.

Among all the things I've learned in and around the rooms of AA, there are no guarantees.

But, for this recent time, AA and the life that it's given me has been the core substance of my life.  Family, friends, my life's work, all my various modes of entertainment - they have all flowed from the source that I found in the rooms of AA.

And, they still allow me to put a bit in the basket and sometimes accept my meager talents when they need them...

What a great deal...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Belonging...


I have found it hard to get an article written and posted for a couple of days now.  During that same time, I've been struggling meeting other commitments and also have been doing some reflection around AA's 12th  Tradition (anonymity).  Funny how, for this alcoholic, the most difficult part of my existence is to just belong into my own life.

Huh.

I can't tell you the number of times I've been on the phone with my sponsor and I hear myself whining "...well, it may be a perfectly fine life, but it sure doesn't feel like my life..."

It's about surrender and sacrifice.

Bill wrote in the essay "Why Alcoholics Anonymous is Anonymous" (Language of the Heart):
...Powered by alcohol and self-justification, many of us have pursued the phantoms of self-importance and money right up to the disaster stop sign. Then came AA. We faced about and found ourselves on a new high road where the direction signs said never a word about power, fame or wealth. The new signs read, "This way to sanity and serenity--the price is self-sacrifice."
I was marveling with a sponsee, new in sobriety the other day, how we - even with years of experience, still continually balk at this sacrifice.  If I can't uphold the image I want, if I can't have the relationship I want, if I can't eat/drink what I want, when I want it, if I can't do what I want when I want - then, I may as well just die.

And so, many of us die.  Some slowly.  Others, not so much.

But, when I let go of that almighty "I", the reward is sanity and serenity.

Amazing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dr. Paul...


One of my worries (sounds much better than fear, don't you think?) is that I will start repeating myself in my blog articles.  It's a race at my advanced age - will senility creep into my daily life before I live long enough to not care what people really think of my repeating myself?  The point: I thought sure I'd written this story here in the past but can't seem to find it in any of the places that I could have written it so here it is either for the first time or the 10th time.

Anyway, Dave mentioned today some things from the story "Acceptance Was the Answer..." (4th ed. BB - "Doctor, Addict, Alcoholic" in the 3rd ed. BB).  I love this story.

From the time I was about 3 years sober to the time I was 10 years along, I quoted this story in almost every share and I used it as much or more as the basic text of AA in explaining how we needed to deal with life and life's problems.  When, infrequently, folks would challenge that his "instruction" was not part of the basic text, I would scoff and assure them that it must have been an oversight or that, since it was still in between the blue covers, it certainly was part of my program of recovery.

Sigh...

I was blessed for a period of ~12 years in my middle sobriety to attend several trips, retreats and conventions with Dr. Paul, the author of this story, and Max.  While we were never close, we eventually had a nodding relationship that borders on intimacy that I've only found in this program.  I was profoundly impressed by his spiritual path and the fact that I, on more than one occasion, saw him 12-stepping new folks with as much skill as any I'd ever seen.


Early in our acquaintance, we were at a conference together at a huge resort in Mexico.  We were sort of standing around after lunch.  I was waiting for my wife who was engaged in a conversation and I spotted Dr. Paul across the dining pavilion - at least 80-100 feet away.  He seemed to be sort of staring at me but I presumed that he was looking at someone else behind me or in the group where my wife's conversation was.  I just smiled and sort of turned away.

I noticed that he broke off from his group and started walking toward us.  Again, I sort of looked around and presumed he was either mistaking me for someone else or was coming to talk to someone  else in the group.

He marched right up to me.

I said "Hi."

With what seemed like exaggerated earnestness, he said "Are you all right?"

Confused, I said "yes."

He said "Good!  I thought you might be thinking."

...and turned on his heal and walked back to his group.

I loved that...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Lion's Roar...

I am amazed and astounded at how God works in my life.  Always.

I gave a pitch at a meeting last night and it was, well, different.  I made an oblique reference to how God has blessed the whole of my life (but, especially in sobriety) and gave specific answers to questions asked and unasked.  It seems God has always shown up with the miracle when I needed it.


So, I woke up this morning and went through the motions but was feeling fear and uncertainty as I approached my computer to maybe write an article and see if, one more day, I could find the encouragement I needed to get one foot in front of another and show up in this life.  (all you really need to know is that I'm an alcoholic that's currently in a situation of adverse, unwanted circumstances...)


As I was on the verge of fatal self pity, I read Mary at Letting Go and she had blessed me with my first award for blogging.  Of course, it was the last thing I would have expected from this woman who expresses herself so well that I sometimes just marvel that what I write can live in the same internet as her skill.  Sometimes, hers is the only place I can find on the internet to help my heart to sing again.  Thank you Mary.  You've forced my tears of gratitude one more time...

And, as I've seen you all model so well for the past few months, I now get the distinct honor of passing this award along to 6 of you to directly appreciate your efforts on behalf of myself and, perhaps, those that also benefit from your efforts:
  1. To  Mary of Being Sober for having the courage and the strength to show me and many others that a presence of AA on the internet can be an extension of recovery as found in AA.  That AA principles can (and must?) be paramount in all our affairs - including the internet.  I thank her especially for keeping the blog doors open until I could get here.
  2. To Pam of Sobriety is Exhausting. I can't think of a better award for her as I've heard her roar over the past few months through happiness, sadness, pain, sickness and, even, grief.  My deepest respect for her heartfelt, powerful, honest sharing of her experience on her sometimes difficult road of life.
  3. To Syd of I'm Just F.I.N.E..  Having been around Al-Anon for 25+ years including being a member in that program for 4 years, I can really appreciate the fine line he walks in supporting that program above and apart from the drama.  I know no-one in that program that has better grasped the principles of their recovery than he has.
  4. To Mr. SponsorPants who seems to have solved the problem of practicing AA principles in the difficult situation of not being an "authority" while clearly and directly answering questions that all of us have had over the years about our wonderful program.  He's a credit to AA and, even in the rare time I may not have agreed with an answer, I'm proud to be a member of the same fellowship as him.
  5. To "garden-variety drunk" of Another Real Alcoholic for giving me hope that another generation of alcoholic has found exactly the solution that I've found in this wonderful program and stands as a person who will keep the doors open when my dust (bits?) in cyberspace is all that's left of my being.
  6. To Scott W. of Attitude of Grattitude for demonstrating that a disciplined sharing of beauty and strength can be a beacon to me and many.  He's 6 years sober today, by the way.
What, wait!  That's 6 already?  What about Dave and Scott and Steve and....  Can't I at least also "award-back" a link to Mary LA? So many people have contributed greatly to my experience here of the past 9 months.  Oh well, maybe in another 9 months I will have another award or perhaps, instead, we'll all just comment occasionally on each others' little spaces of the bloggerland and encourage each other along the way.

I'm encouraged for at least one more day.

Thank you again....

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    Step 11...


    Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
    About 10 years ago, I'd been beaten into such a state of reasonableness by life's circumstances that, with some 15 years of sobriety, I followed my sponsor's advice and redoubled my efforts at the 11th step.

    I read exactly the paragraph starting "When we retire at night..." (BB p. 86) in the evening and reflected on each of the questions and sentences carefully.

    In the morning, before starting my day I read the 4-5 paragraphs starting with "On awakening..." and followed the suggestions outlined there.

    It was a magical time. Nothing I've done in our program of recovery before or since has provided such and immediate relief my the daily problems and given me such a profound sense of connectedness with my spiritual path. I was on fire anew in AA. It lasted nearly a year.

    Then, I woke up one morning, and it didn't work. I did the same thing I'd been doing and I just felt flat and defeated.

    I thought for months that it was just a matter of trying harder, of saying something slightly different. Of taking more time. As I remember, I tried everything that was suggested to me and, struggle though I might, the magic just seemed to be gone.

    And then I realized that there was a lesson in this. God had graciously given me a time in his presence but this moment was not that moment. What I needed to do was to be open and willing to seek God in his way - not presume that he would always bless me how I wanted, when I wanted, based on my own habits and rituals.

    Since then, the feelings of inspiration and closeness have come and gone.  My habits and practices have varied from time to time and that seems to be appropriate - it's been my experience.

    Today, my practice is to pray the 3rd and 7th step prayers every morning before I get up. I try to apply my best thoughts toward thinking through the day ahead. Is it my will or God's will? I find the prayer of St. Francis that's excerpted in the 11th step chapter in the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions useful helping with meditation and in keeping my perspective in a better place as well.

    At night, I still go through the review.  At least once a week, I read the paragraph verbatim. Every night I try to close my mind and open for sleep by asking "...God's forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken..."

    Then, I sleep.

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    Bigger things...


    I had someone come by and offer me an amends yesterday.  I was musing this morning that this has not happened much through the years.  My guess is the ratio is several hundred to one (given to received) in the amends department.

    I must say, in many ways it's easier to give them than receive them.

    This guy had stolen from me.  Tools as well as trust and then he talked bad about me around the fellowship.  It was really sort of interesting.  I think I have pretty solid proof of more stuff that he stole than what he copped to yesterday.  I'll chalk that up to the "more will be revealed" category.  I just hope he has gotten honest enough to where he can stay sober for a while.

    He's a bad drunk of the modern variety.  Typically gets coked up enough to slam some serious drugs to "improve" his work performance and then, amazingly, takes off drinking again.

    So far, in addition to a lot of money and property, he's laid waste to a marriage, at least one child and, well, he's doing the dance we do.

    But, I was honored that he chose me as his first amends.  Of his several times in the program and after over 4 years on a 4th step (drinking part of that time), this is the furthest he's ever made it.  I encouraged him to complete all of his amends as quickly as he can.

    Around our AA community, there was a myth running around a few years ago that one could "never complete your amends."  That, living amends were really the key.  This has not been my experience.

    I had an 8th step list (agreed to by my sponsor) and, when I was able to cross that last amends off, something magical - mystical - happened to me in my reality.  I worry that not everyone who's in AA's program of recovery has that experience.

    So, I encouraged him to set that as his goal.  I can remember when I used to look at my list of some 40-45 people and institutions that it looked absolutely impossible.  I guess, thinking back, it was impossible.

    But, ~2 years later when I was able to cross that last name off the list, it was clear that something really, really, really, really different was going with me and the world.

    I can't recommend it enough...

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    Small things...


    Shortly after my now wife and I were beginning our relationship (~25 years ago), we were staying at a motel somewhere and I was watching one of the, then fairly rare, "lifestyles of the rich and famous" programs.  I remember it well because I seldom watched TV and was sort of enamored of this type of programming - I could see all the details about people whom I had to hate because they clearly lived in all the luxury that I so desired.

    They were touring a luxury hotel and they made a point of all the details they checked out in cleaning a room at every opportunity.

    One of the details they checked out was that the end of the toilet paper was placed just so - coming over the top and the sheet folded in a "V" and had a finished, deliberate, look and was convenient to grab.

    I must admit that, until that very moment, I had not given a single thought about how the end of the toilet paper roll hung out.  I guess I just looked at it as either a random matter or trusted my gut.  Hard to imagine that I was once such a cretin.

    It also seems funny now that within a day of my acquiring this knowledge, my then girlfriend (now wife of 20+ years) felt it necessary to "teach me" the "right" way of leaving the toilet roll which was, of course, the paper needed to come from behind and underneath the roll.  I started to protest with my new found knowledge and immediately recognized the look I've seen so many times since that this was going to be a fight.

    I didn't fight.  I realized that it just wasn't worth it to me that I be "right" in this matter.

    To this day, if you come to our house, you will be able to tell who last changed the roll of toilet paper.  As, I think, I generally change rolls more than she does (why is that?), the paper will generally come over the top.

    But, that's not the end of it...

    Embarrassingly recently (about 5 years ago?), I was using a bathroom, had to change the roll and realized that, due tho the proximity of the roll holder to the stool, it only made sense to hang it in the style of my wife instead of the style of the European hotel where I'd learned my craft.

    I had a good laugh.

    What is probably true is that my wife learned her paper roll changing skills from those who had such dispensers and that was why it was so important that she was "right" in her perspective.

    My wife and I may never, in this lifetime, fully discuss this matter.  It's almost ceratin that we'll never agree.

    It's important, only for me, that we are both right on this small thing.

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    Yale...


    I went to a good friend's memorial service yesterday.  The minister said we were celebrating a "life well lived".

    Yale H. was 93 years young when he died last week.  He was amazing from the first to the last. He had 57 years of sobriety. He would have had 58 next month.

    His obituary doesn't tell half the story.

    When he was up for appointment to Assistant U.S. District Attorney for Colorado, his background check turned up, well, problematic. Yale was never bashful about remembering his past when he came to my home group to tell his story. He may have sobered up a long time ago, but he was clear that he was a bad drunk before he got to AA.

    When Bobby Kennedy was getting some flak from his staff about making this appointment, it was reported that he looked at the application and said "...it says here that Yale hasn't had a drink in ten years. Can anyone else in the room claim that?" Case was closed and Yale got the job.

    He was a story teller above all. To see the story of "Rascal", go to this link.  He had a million of them.  Another area he explored was AA history and pre-history.  He wrote a great story about the "Gold Cure" which pre-dated our fellowship. 

    The last time I heard Yale's voice was on NPR's Talk of the Nation listener call-in show last January when he called in to the program the Thursday before Obama's inauguration.  You could hear the host gasp as he came to realize the importance of this moment as Yale related, in his mater of fact way, his experience attending the first inauguration of FDR as a congressional staffer.  He had a front row seat for that part of history and could clearly relate the parallels and differences of then and now, first hand.  As the host struggled to get his show's pundits and guests out of the way so that Yale could have more time, you could hear the effect Yale had on others, outside our program.

    Beginning over 20 years ago, macular degeneration stole his sight.  He was still active and involved in the community and AA meetings - he was at his home group the week before he died.  Always, he would make sure the newcomer was greeted and made to feel welcome and important.  More than one person I went to a meeting or an AA social event with would ask me "is he really blind?"  It was as if he could see right through you and was completely engaged with you when you were in his presence.


    I have never in my life had as sharp a mind as he had at 93.

    His marriage of 68 years ended when his beloved wife died a few years ago.  While he was always in love with Jane, Yale was fully human and was quick to find wit with which to share his own failings.  The last 2 times he spoke at my home group, he closed his share with "...we say in AA to 'practice these principles in all our affairs.'  It has been my experience that it's better to just not have any affairs."

    The last intimate conversation I had with him was not long before the stock crash.  He related how his neighbor was a day trader and was becoming quite wealthy.  He could appreciate how his neighbor would work hard and concentrate and "lay up stores of riches for later times".  He was envious until he realized that, at his house, he had a constant stream of "visitors" (he hated the terms "sponsor" and "sponsee") who would sit with him for hours each day and realized that he, too, was storing up treasure.

    At the service, he was remembered for his wondrous life, mind and, his humility.

    I miss him.   It was great to celebrate a "life well lived".

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    The Gift...


    I was meeting with a sponsee this morning and we found ourselves again talking about the gift of desperation.

    Something shifted for me recently.  I've been spending some time looking into and thinking about the varying statistics that are offered for explaining how successful the program of AA is.  I have found a great deal of discrepancy for claimed "success rates" for AA: ranging from factions in AA who boldly proclaim 80%+ success rates for those who follow "their way" of working our AA program to AA detractors who claim that AA's success for long term recovery is less than 10% or, about the same success rate as doing nothing for recovery - just quitting through will power alone.

    If you look at even the most credible and statistically valid studies of how alcoholics recover, you can still find huge variations in the success rates and, worse, huge discrepancies about biases and and assumptions and caveats.  It seems that for every study, there are at least 2-3 folks who will explain why the data is not accurate.

    I was talking this morning with my sponsee about why some of the folks in his circle, and particularly his sponsee, don't find in AA a successful solution for not drinking and creating a life without drinking.  This discussion wound up with the same conclusion that I had observed in my recent study and my over-all AA experience.

    AA generally seems to work with a certain class of desperate alcoholics.  For others, it seems to not be effective.

    ...but, for he and I, AA has been 100% successful and given us a life beyond our wildest dreams.  For him, for 1-1/2 years, for me, 25+ years.

    ...and, for today, that seems to be the only statistic that we can really vouch for.

    What a gift!!!

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    Anything to say...


    I find myself sitting here admiring every one else' life and sort of, well, sort of hating the one in front of me.

    I get that it's a gift of grace today that, God willing, I'll get one foot out in front of the other today and will find a few places where I can be useful.  That truly is "enough"...

    However, as I read my usual folks' blogs this morning, I found myself pausing to reflect (pray) and ask "do I have anything to say?"

    I've been taught to ask a few things before I open my mouth and say something (anything):
    1. Is it the truth?
    2. Is it necessary?
    3. Is it kind?
    4. ...
    And, the miracle of that just struck me in this moment.

    All my life I've shared what I thought was the "right thing" to promote the image that I was trying to portray - that was aligned with the script that I'd made up for that moment.

    For me, to pause and honestly ask is a miracle.

    Just that...

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    Symbols...


    At a recent Area Assembly, our delegate brought to the floor a discussion of the question: "should we return the circle and triangle to our AA (AAWS published) literature?"

    There was some discussion about the difference between symbols and substance.

    I've been thinking a lot about this recently.

    I have a long history where I have failed miserably in happy sobriety (just short of taking a drink) and noticed that I've filled my life with service and have forgotten to get in integrity with my recovery program. Or, that I try to solve the problem of my misery by focusing more on working a better 4th step instead of finding a drunk to work with.

    So, even though our symbol has not been used as an official symbol of AA for a number of years (about 1994), I still have a use for a reminder that this is a 3-legged program – sort of like a 3-legged stool.

    Have you tried to sit on a 1-legged stool?

    I have.

    I need to remember why my life feels out-of-balance.

    By the way, support for the question from our Area Assembly failed.  Absent some action from some other part of the fellowship, it won't be on the agenda for the 60th General Service Conference.

    Friday, November 6, 2009

    Paul ...


    One of the liberties I think I can take of having a less well read blog is that I want to share something that came in email about good friend who died recently. If anyone has any sort of objection about this, let me know and I will remove this article.
    ---
    We lost another piece of AA history linking us to the founders. Paul Martin, 87 years old and 62 years sober. His sponsor was Tom Powers who helped Bill Wilson edit and publish the 12x12. Below is an official obituary that was in a local paper and a personal note from Gary B. a long time sober friend of Paul’s.

    Rest in peace Paul, we will carry the torch!

    --

    Obituary:
    Paul W. Martin, age 87, of Bethlehem Woods, LaGrange Park, formerly of Riverside for 42 years. A Veteran U.S. Navy Pilot during WW II, (survivors deleted). Paul had many accomplishments in life as a successful Journalist. He wrote articles for numerous publications including the Chicago Sunday Tribune Magazine, Christian Century, The Grapevine, The Lion (a publication of the Lions Club). He wrote two books on the history of the Lions Clubs, the first We Serve and the second Lions Clubs in the 21st Century. He spoke Spanish fluently and traveled widely, including trips to Mexico and South America and Russia. A Health and Science writer, he hosted his own television show, was a professional wrestler and boxer, and was a true sportsman. He worked in Greenland, Iceland and Alaska in the 1950's, on the Dew Line radar warning system . In the Navy he catapulted, in observation planes, off of battle Ships. He had a great sense of humor and always had a joke. In lieu of flowers, memorials to Riverside Twp. Lions Club, Hadley School for the Blind and St. Thomas Hospice appreciated.

    From Gary B.:
    I returned home yesterday from Paul's wake and memorial service.  This was the third time I have been privileged to not only be with Paul but many of his sponsees and friends.  The first two times I was asked to chair (more like emcee) the celebrations of his 50 years and 60th years of sobriety.

    I met Paul 36 years ago when he spoke at the Wyatts meeting in Denver.  He had been invited to speak there by a fellow known as Big Frank McKibbon.  Frank was big and tough and a true Big Book Step Nazi who said that I should come hear Paul.  I was surprised that Frank really looked up to anyone so I figured I better go.  I left the meeting knowing that I had just met a man who really believed that the 12 Step program of AA was indeed "sufficient" for alcoholics and anyone else who might be motivated to go to the lengths we need.

    24 years ago I called Paul with my ass hanging out and jam on my face and asked him for help.  I had not drank, but I was living a life of infidelity, dishonesty in all my affairs--my wife still says I was depressed during that time.  Other than the depression that is a symptom of alcoholism I have no other experience with that.

    Paul and his group, the LaGrange group, firmly believe and practice repeated trips through the 12 steps.  Each time they do that they swap 5th Steps with several other people, and are extremely diligent in making all the amends to remain current.  I learned that the repeated process thru the 12 Steps in order relieves alcoholics of the depression, anxiety, fear and all those other things the sober alcoholic contends with.

    Paul always believed that guilt is the cause of depression.  In fact, he was sure that Wilson would not have had his depressions if he would have kept his pecker in his pants.

    I last spent several hours with Paul this last Spring when he was in Bloomington, IN undergoing a series of heavy radiation.  His conversations were always about AA.  He said he knew I don't really enjoy speaking on the circuit but asked me to continue to do it when I was asked so I could continue to share my experience with amends.

    Paul spent the last 3+ months in a retirement center/nursing home.  I am told that this past August there was a young man taking a tour of the home with his parents.  The parents were thinking of moving there.  The lady giving the tour always spoke to each resident as they passed by.  She would say "Hi Joe" or "Hi Mary" etc., but when they passed Paul she said "Hi Paul Martin."  The group passed by and then the young man returned and asked Paul if he was the guy who knew Bill Wilson.  Paul said he was and asked what he could do for the young man.  The kid said he was 3 years sober and was having trouble getting along with his parents.  Paul said "Do you have your amends list in your pocket?"

    Paul then showed the kid how to write an inventory, told him to come back when he had it completed (Paul gave him one week).   The kid came back, took 5th Steps with Paul and a few of his friends.  On September 10th the kid returned to see Paul and said he had made all the amends with his parents and things were getting better.

    All the years I knew Paul, I never once heard him change his mind about anything regarding the AA program--the Twelve Steps.  I asked Matt A., a 50 year sponsee of Paul's if he ever heard Paul change his mind about any part of the program.  Matt said he never heard Paul change his mind about a damn thing.

    Three weeks ago Bryan B took Paul up to Mayo Clinic for some tests.  The doctor came into the room after two days of testing and before the doc could say anything Paul asked "How long do I have."  The doctor looked down while looking for words when Paul said "I'm glad you didn't look at your watch."

    I'm sure someone will be telling more about his life.  He spoke Spanish fluently.  He interviewed many South American political figures, both winners and losers of revolutions. He was a wonderful god father and friend.

    The wake and service were truly victory celebrations.

    Gary

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    Fear and ....


    I had a long chat with my sponsor last night.  It truly was evidence of how this thing (AA) works in my live today.

    Our general subject was fear.  Specifically, my fears.  About: my finances, my work, my physical health, my relationships, my AA program, my hobbies, my family, my friends, my spirituality, my mental health, the government, our economy, our world, the climate, the weather, my safety...  I think we pretty well covered a lot of them.

    Me.

    Anyway, at the end of this litany, he related his experiences in early sobriety (I hate it when he does that - doesn't he know I'm 25 years past that? sigh...) and he suggested that I write a list - start into a fear inventory.

    I have a sponsee that has a paper taped to the bottom of his computer screen that says (in large type)
    " ... We never apologize for God.  Instead we let Him demonstrate, through us, what He can do.  We ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to what He would have us be.  At once, we commence to outgrow fear." (BB p. 68)

    There's seldom a week that goes by that I don't relate to at least one sponsee or another that process of "outgrowing fear" - the essence of coming into "being that H would have us be".

    Yet, for the recent past, fear has once again taken hold of my life in a serious way.  It pretty much fully defines what I do and don't do.

    Me.

    So, today I'm making a list and only half-heartedly believing that the process which has "worked" the last several dozen times I've done it will, in fact, work again.

    Or, at least, I think I hope so...

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    Tom...


    Last night I pitched a lead at a meeting that I don't normally go to on Tuesday nights.  My 15 minutes went fine.  The topic was the 11th step.  I love the 11th step and have some experience that seemed useful.

    After my lead, the discussion started and, after 2-3 people had shared, Tom shared.

    You probably know Tom.

    Tom has probably visited your meeting.  Maybe Tom is there most every day.

    Tom started out sharing about how he was new in town and that he was on his way back to Afghanistan and was in more pain than was humanly possible to conceive and (now sort of dancing around the back of the room) was tired of sleeping in the cold but he got here from Louisiana by way of Selma and Chicago and St. Louis and got a bus ticket from Kansas City to Denver where he had a job but then his tools got ripped off because he was a great stone worker and then he was headed on the bus to work at a stone quarry where they were going to give him new tools in the south but because of some behavior problems on the bus he was pulled off and hassled (not his fault, mind you) and told that he had to wait 24 hours to continue his trip because they wanted to see him less manic and then he realized that he'd left his grandfather's wallet and other valuables on the seat of the bus and...

    Tom would occasionally slip and swear and then he'd catch himself and apologize and then congratulate himself about not swearing much.

    After he'd gone on for about 8-9 minutes (I was deeply engaged in meditation with my eyes closed when I realized one of the members of the group was nudging me and asking me "what should we do?"), one of the members of this group interrupted him and asked him to wrap up and sit down.  After another 2-3 minutes and increasingly stern requests, Tom shut up and found a chair in the middle of the room where he remained twitchy and, with great flair, picked items off the literature table and went for coffee 2-3 times.

    Tom may or may not have been high or loaded and, it was clear, he might have had problems other than alcoholism.

    I was so proud of this group, I could have just hugged them all...

    It was a good meeting.  Several folks shared useful insights, experiences and, perspectives on the 11th step in their lives.

    Many of us shared after the meeting that "...there but by the grace of God go I..."

    About 2/3 of the way through the meetings, Tom interrupted again and said "...I just want to say I love AA..."

    Me too...

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    How it works...


    On another site I "play around" with the AA program online, I started a minor s-storm by relating a recent experience at my home group.  From others' posts, I know that I'm not the only one who occasionally feels like I can get the hassles I find online in my face-to-face life so, like, why do I do this?

    Anyway, as this storm was blowing around, I found it hard to post something here since my head had been pretty negative.  However, this came to mind today.  I posted similar articles in both forums...

    Given:
    "The AA Message" = "To show other alcoholics PRECISELY HOW WE HAVE RECOVERED is the main purpose of ..." ("this book" is how it is written in the Big Book but, I think the implication from the conversations I've had recently is that we substitute "meeting" or "relationship" or "conversation" and extend to "the whole of AA")
    How that works is (no particular order):
    • meetings and other gatherings that are solution focused and have a clear sense of purpose aligned with our message (above)
    • guidance by those who have had the experience of our path to recovery (some people call these "sponsors")
    • individuals who are motivated to not drink (we don't supply that initial motivation), work a program of recovery carefully hidden in our Big Book in a chapter of the name of this post
    • in the course of that program, they clean up their past and live differently henceforth
    • as a part of that program, they learn of a way of life that includes "love and service"
    • as a result of that program, they accomplish a spiritual awakening which orients them toward living by new principles in the world and places them in service to carry "the message" (see above)
    • one of the many promises in our basic text is that, if people follow this program of recovery, they will become useful  - this is to be encouraged above all else (being useful to God and our fellows)
    • we come to appreciate and apply the principles of the steps, traditions and, concepts as AA's 3 legacies of recovery, unity and service
    At least I think that's how it works...

    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    My favorite night...


    This is my favorite night of the year.  It's the night they give me an extra hour.  I just have to love a world that, once a year, gives me an extra hour to enjoy.

    Some years I just sleep.  Some years I watch TV.  Some years I play with this project or that.  Many years, like this, I waste 3-7 hours doing a little of this and a little of that and wind up just relishing enough in that extra hour that I wind up tired and feeling hung over the next day.  Or the next week.  It's my own personal little annual time to enjoy an extra little time in my life  - my own one little personal hour of Rumspringa every year.

    OK, I know it doesn't have to make sense to anyone but me...

    Anyway, I decided that I could finally risk a full face picture of me and my lovely wife on this blog.

    Anonymity be damned - it was our night to go to a meeting and hang with the clowns in AA...

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    A mighty maple...


    This maple tree in our front yard on the west side of our house is about 35 feet tall and has a canopy at least that broad.

    We moved into this house about 23 years ago and, when we bought the house - and many times since - I've remarked that this tree was probably worth more than the house.  It has been a perfect shade tree.  It is the reason we need minimal air conditioning even with our blazing sun in the Colorado summers.  Most springs and falls are more pleasant because of it's colors and grandeur.

    Maples don't fare well in our climate.  We're sem-arid here with legendary low humidity and most winters include at least a few days of gusts over 100 mph.  Some years, you can fairly hear the tree gasping for moisture and rest.  We laughingly refer to our  "breezes" of 40-50 mph.

    Since the tree was not well cared for when it was younger (it probably dates back at least as old as the house, approximately 1950, but probably pre-dates that by some time), we've had tree surgeons out several times in the past 10 years (more than $5,000 work) and each time they've whacked and trimmed but, well, it's just not all that healthy.

    We had record snowfall this week and, since the tree hadn't lost all its leaves, it's paid a high price.  Just guessing based on the branches that have already fallen or are probably dead from breaking, I think at least 1/8 of the tree has died off.

    I find myself really identifying with this tree.

    We could spend hours reflecting on the "pruning" I've been through since I got to AA.  More than once, I've hung onto on my old ideas that were clearly no longer of any use but that were so attached to my "self" that I feared if I let those ideas go, my very identity would be threatened.  It's a process I love to talk about since I think it demonstrates the great power for good that our program stands for.  I credit with the life and happiness that I have today.

    But, it's never easy.  Ever.  I hang onto those old ideas until, when they crash, they come crashing down and sometimes damage others around me when they fall.

    And, my life depends on whacking out those ideas.  If I don't get pruned, my whole life will be destroyed when the snows come.

    I hope our tree survives.  I think it really is more valuable than the house we live in.

    I hope I do too...