Thursday, January 28, 2010


Our good friend Philip continues to amaze me and do this deal.  I'm sure he is certainly giving me more than I'm giving him at this point.

 This morning, we recited the 3rd step prayer together on our knees and he got started writing out his list of resentments.  As we read from the book, I realized how very many of the answers for my  trials of the past few weeks were suggested in that portion of the Big Book that starts after the part we normally sleep through at the beginning of our meetings:
"The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good. ... Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. ...

"... What usually happens? The show doesn't come off very well. ... He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. ... Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? ... And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?

"Our actor is self-centered--ego-centric, as people like to call it nowadays. ... Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

"Selfishness--self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. ...

"So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn't think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! ... Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. ... We had to have God's help.

" ...First of all, we had to quit playing God. ... Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. ... "

(3rd step promises?)

" ... (1) We had a new Employer. ... (2) He provided what we needed ... (3) we became less and less interested in ourselves ... (4) More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life. ... (5) we felt new power flow in ... (6) we enjoyed peace of mind ... (7) we discovered we could face life successfully ... (8) we became conscious of His presence ... (9) we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow or the hereafter. (10) We were reborn.

" ... 'God, I offer myself to Thee--to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!' ... " BB pp. 60-63
Seems pretty clear:  Problem = Self

I can't fix a selfish, sick mind, with a selfish, sick mind.

Philip asked me: "...So, at some point does this become, like, an automatic thing?  This surrender?"

I wished I could give him a different answer than what my experience is.  I assured him that, over time, I've developed some different responses and that I'm not as reluctant as I once was around noticing and acknowledging that what was going on was just another manifestation of the selfishness and self-centeredness that I've discovered as a result of this process.

But, for today, my selfishness didn't have to result in acts of homicide or suicide.

That seemed to give him some hope.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Talk or sleep...?

My home group volunteers for Night Watch on Mondays.  Night Watch is when the phones from the local central office are forwarded to your phone from 7 at night until 7 in the morning.  The thought being that it's better for a real drunk to answer the phone than to have callers have to deal with an answering machine or service.

With those of us that rotate this commitment around our group, about every 2-3 months it's my turn to take the phones.  Not to put too fine a point on it, I'm old and I really enjoy my sleep.  A lot.

So, it's with no small reluctance that I accept this shot at martyrdom for the service of AA.  Many weeks, nobody calls.  Last night we had 3.  One was a guy who related the "...I have a friend who I think might have a problem..." saga we often hear, another call was, I think, his friend who was probably really trying to call but seemed to just want to hang up rather than talk, and then there was the guy who called about 11:15 - just as I was thoroughly asleep.

After I finally got myself fully awake (not an easy feat last night), he was asking about: "...but does anyone really find a God in this life?"  The philosopher/reluctant drunk/lonely guy/"I'm gonna die if I don't stop"/"I have all the answers"/"AA doesn't work for me..." - you probably know the guy.

Our Night Watch process suggests the "right" way to handle a 12-step call of this nature is to get the guy's number, find someone else on our list and, pass the call to them - rationale being that we don't want to tie up the Central Office line in case another call comes in.  Sometimes I do that but, more often, I either just work them off the phone with a commitment to show up at a meeting or I indulge them and just "chat" with them wherever their sometimes befogged consciousness takes us.  I figure I have call waiting in the unlikely event someone else would call and I'm already awake so why spread the pain of a midnight call if you don't have to.

Last night, for reasons I never really understand, I decided to indulge him for an hour or so and we had a really amazing conversation.  Turns out, he's really had a pretty good experience in and around AA.  He just can't stop drinking.  I assured him that part really sucks.  We opined about the nature of willingness and what may or may not be working for him.  We discussed what had seemed to work for periods of sobriety for him.  ...about our thoughts and feelings around meetings.  He said he hadn't yet drank last night (my guess he was lying, what's yours?) but we both recognized the familiar thoughts and feelings that were leading him in that direction, one more time.

We talked a lot about the nature of "God as we understood him" and the broad spectrum that folks use as a concept for God in AA.  We also talked about not believing in God and still getting drunk over and over.

After an hour of this conversation, it was time to hang up and I was truly grateful.  He said he was too.  I suggested some things he might "do", rather than "think."  He thought that a novel idea and said he was going to try.

I woke up completely sober.

What could be better?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Happy 100...

My father would have been 100 years old today.  He died in April of 1996.  If my parents gave me nothing else, I seem to have the genetics for longevity.  But, they gave me a lot.

My father was an amazing man and had an amazing (though seemingly ordinary) life.  With only a third grade education, he finished his working life in his 60s as a respected and successful businessman (refrigeration and air conditioning installation and repair - working all over northeastern Colorado).  He and my mother (his 3rd wife) were married for 45 years when he died.  He instilled in me a strong work ethic, gave a belief that "I can do anything" that made me all that I am today (positive and not) and, gave me opportunities he could never have dreamed of in his hard young life.  I still owe him so much.

And, some of the lessons I learned from his life and example were not the positive ones.

As long as I knew him, my father always avoided conflict.  You could see in him when something came up with mom, a customer, politics, someone that worked for him, his church - anywhere in his life - he would have an almost visceral reaction and many times act irrationally.  Sometimes toward his own detriment.  Most of his life, he was just accepted as "quiet" or "shy" but it is obvious, on reflection, that he never wanted to have to take a position and then possibly defend it if someone opposed his view.

I sort of have a sense that this might have come, in part, from some historical experiences I never heard of first hand.  There are stories, for example, of him chasing a then wife through the house with a gun.  Other stories where it was obvious that he man we knew had a darker past than he wanted revealed.  He had secrets up until a life-changing, year-long rehabilitation in a military hospital during World War II.  As a part of that rehabilitation, he was sent to a civilian hospital on the Colorado plains where he met my mother, they married, joined a church and created the life I knew (including me).

As he got older, something changed in his head.  He reached a point in his late 60s where he could no longer enjoy intense drama in movies or on TV.  Light comedy was fine.  In his early to mid 70s, this "phobia" ("neurosis" ? I really wouldn't know the right diagnosis or term) expanded to where any dramatic tension at all was too much for him so he would only watch sporting events.  In his late 70s, the risk of injury in sport or the tension in a close game was too much for him so he only watched the weather channel (I'm not making this up).  About the time he was 80, the weather channel started showing dramatic clips from extreme weather (school buses hanging off cliffs, tornadoes blowing up houses, etc.) so it was no longer possible for him to watch anything on TV.  Whatever happened in his head, he would suffer from bad dreams or insomnia for weeks if he was even around a TV with normal programming.

On reflection, I could see that, whatever was going on around conflict in his head caused his world to become smaller and smaller until he really could hardly participate in life.

Up until that time, I had always wanted to be like many of the older people in our community.  Unlike my father, we have examples here where we see people active, outgoing, engaged and happy well into their 90s.  A lot of them.

I figured that, when I got old, I would develop an appropriate social life and become that who I wanted me to be.  I realized , with my father's example, that would never happen for me.

What I realized was that who I am at 85 has precious little to do with what I decide I want to be at 85 and has everything to do with who I am at 45.

One of the many gifts of AA is the knowledge that I can change.  Today.

As a consequence, I can't tell you how many times I've forced my decrepit little introverted and intolerant self to an AA meeting, service obligation or social event.  Many times, it's the last place my heart would really lead me.

But, I know the consequences of those choices:  A tiny world where there can be no conflict or suffering.

God willing, I'm preparing myself for a different elderhood than my father experienced. 

God willing.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Doing the deal...

Mike and I had an uncomfortable conversation this morning.  Our common observation is that he's on his way out the door toward drinking one more time because, even though he's living in a halfway house, facing dire consequences and in health, likely still to wind up on the street in the winter - he is not showing up where he says he'll be when he says he'll be there.  In other words, he's just "not doing the deal."  As best I can figure, we're both pretty much honest with our assessments.

I hate it when I get to this place with a sponsee.  In fact, it seems like he's beyond what I can offer (aren't they all?).  I've watched him go from a one-year sober mid-level sales executive three years ago to nearly five years to death's door drunk and bouncing in and out of the rooms for the past several months until his life was thoroughly burned down.  He is now living in a halfway house where's he's racked up a little over a month of sobriety. You might be able to tell that I'm reluctant to add his name to my sponsorship resume today.

I was ruminating on our conversation when I read the following excerpt from a crime novel, The Girl of His Dreams, By Donna Leon.  Four people (two detectives and their respective wives) working on a casual investigation have just attended a meeting of what they presume is a charlatan Christian leader's flock where he very charismatically expressed encouragement of a small group toward "goodness" - it starts with the main character's wife expressing her opinion about the presumed fake:
'... Nothing he said was in any way exceptional just the same sort of pious platitudes you get in the editorials in Famiglia Cristiana,' Paola went on, leaving Brunetti to wonder how on earth she could be familiar with them. 'But it's certainly the sort of thing people like to hear,' she concluded.
'Why?' Vianello asked, then waved to the barman, passing his hand over the four glasses.
'Because they don't have to do anything' Paola answered. 'All they have to do is feel the right things, and that makes them believe they deserve credit for having done something.' Her voice deepened into disgust and she added, 'It's all so terribly American.'
'Why American?' Nadia asked, reaching for one of the fresh glasses the barman set on the counter.
'Because they think it's enough to feel things: they've come to believe it's more important than doing things, or it's the same thing or, at any rate, deserves just as much credit as actually doing something. What is it that poseur of a president of theirs was always saying, "I feel your pain"? As if that made any difference to anything. God, it's enough to choke a pig.' Paola picked up her glass and took a hefty slug.
'All you've got to do is have the proper feelings,' she went on, 'the fashionable sentiments, and make a business about how delicate your sensibility is. And then you don't actually have to do anything. All you do is stand there with your precious sentiments hanging out while the world falls over itself applauding you for them and giving you credit for having the same feelings that any sentient being would have.' Brunetti had seldom seen Paola respond so savagely. 'My, my, my,' he observed and took a sip of his prosecco.
Her head whipped towards him, her eyes startled. But then he watched her play her remarks back and take another hefty swig before saying, 'It was exposure to all that goodness, I think. It goes right to my head and provokes the worst parts of my character.'
They all laughed and the conversation became general. 'I'm always nervous when people don't use concrete nouns when they speak,' Nadia said.
This struck me profoundly.  An American author reflecting on the image American's might (probably?) have in a casual Italian conversation.  Truth known, I think it's not a completely American phenomena but I can't tell you how fed up I am with our culture where, as Ms. Leon opined, feeling a sentiment is tantamount to actually doing something appropriate in response to an event or circumstance (a disaster, an injustice, etc.).  It is a great understanding of what I see in political and religious circles, family and, dare I say, many AA meetings I go to.

I think I can even let go of the cynicism and skepticism I hold at some meetings and better understand the distinction  I hear between expressions of the "problem" and the "solution" in AA gatherings.

In  our AA program of action, we recover by "doing" things, not by "feeling" things.

I think that might be a part of Mike's deal.  We're both watching as he caries his feelings from place to place.  I've worked with him to focus on looking for opportunities to be useful and contribute - that seems to have been useful (for ~40 days so far).  However, he can't show up (home group, meet with me, etc.) because suddenly he doesn't feel like it.  And, the fact the he feels bad about not showing up somehow excuses the behavior.


Friday, January 22, 2010


In about 15 minutes, I leave to pick up my mother.  We "do lunch" about once a week.  I don't even think about these times without reflecting on Pam's chapter with her mom last year.

My mom may outlive us all.  She's a feisty 88 years young but she's getting more frail each week and month.  She's happier today than I've ever known her in my life.  About 12 years ago, she moved from my home town (where she lived for nearly 70 years) to a senior apartment in the town where we live.  I suppose most people think she moved to be closer to me but her real reasons for moving were: 1) she was "done" with that small town, 2) she wanted to simplify her life (sell her house, etc.) and, 3) as her luck would have it, she lives on the 10th floor of a rent controlled senior residence with a gorgeous mountain view.  She's living today a life that she had only dreamed of a few years ago with lots of senior activities and a bunch of fellow curmudgeons that can always find something or someone to gripe about.

As I've pointed out in a few previous articles, we all get a kick out of the fact that, if you ask her, the biggest problem she has today is that her son (me) doesn't come to visit her often enough.  In fact, she will probably let you know that even if you don't ask her.

I have understood it for a number of years that this part of our life is not at all about me doing whatever it would take to please her.  I have a lifetime of experience and numbers of AA inventories to assure me of the futility of that.  What I get is the great privilege to do what I can to be "complete" with her.

A few years ago, a spiritual guide shared that, when he made his amends to his mom, she stopped him and said: "Son, all I've ever wanted for you in my life was for you to be 'happy'."  So, for 30 years, he stopped by her house every Sunday and was "happy" - regardless what was going on with him and his life. That's the model that I strive to follow.

My sponsor and I had a long chat Wednesday night.  We covered an area of my life where I've suffered great frustration for at least 20 years.  It is at the core of my identity.  After a thorough discussion of the truth around my frustration, we talked at some length about St. Francis.  We talked way too much for my comfort about "giving with without expectation."  We both came to the conclusion that I can't do that.  I've never been able to do that and will likely never be able to do it.  So, unless God changes something fundamental in me and my universe, it will never change - I will die a selfish death as a result of my alcoholism.

So today, mom and I will have a perfect lunch.  As is our style, we might wind up spending the whole afternoon on the quest of the next great health aid.  I will probably hear more about bowel movements and aches than I ever intended to hear.  I will get to adore her enough that she can't escape the fact that she is special and loved.

(later - couldn't finish without being late)

Our "mission" today was to have included lunch and then run an errand to her doctor's office.  Imagine our shock when after we'd successfully beat the lunch rush by getting there at little before noon, we finished lunch and realized the doctor's office was closed from noon to 2pm.  What to do?

We got 3 plastic glasses she needed at the dollar store (3 for a dollar), went to 2 grocery stores to get the pumpkin she wanted, went for a quick drive into the foothills to see the deer, got her pills at the doctor's office (yes, they're the same ones carried at probably 20 other stores in our town) and went to her place so that I could open her jars of sauerkraut and beets.  It was a pretty typical day with mom.

The same spiritual guide that I mentioned before talked about his frustration when his elderly father would have him drive all over Denver so that he could cash in his free battery coupons at Radio Shack - one battery at each store.  He never really used many (if any) of the batteries but he was the battery go-to guy for the family.  My guide was complaining about these incredible monthly journeys to his sponsor when his sponsor asked him: "...didn't he do something special for you when you were young?"  He tearfully remembered the times that he had his father drive him all over Denver to find a 10-cent comic book he wanted and never complained about the battery trips again.

Part of the ritual of these deals is for mom at some point to express how terrible she feels about taking me away from my day.  I doubt that she's really all that sincere about her regret but it seems to be what she needs to say as a part of the dance we do.

I think when I left today, mom felt a little bit special.

I hope so.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Passing it on...

I had "one of those moments" today.

I have a sponsee who fell and broke his hip a week ago last Friday.  They wheeled him in and screwed the hip back together.  He's doing fine. He sits and marvels in his condo as he watches this train of guys he sponsors, me, other members from several meetings he attends regularly traipse in and out pretty much taking care of his every need.  It's cool to watch.  This is the guy who, 3 years ago and with 20 years in AA, didn't have anyone but me in his phone to call when his life burned down (sudden divorce, etc.).

I was over at his place this afternoon putting spikes on his crutches (yes, for real) since he has to get out and the whole thing of crutches on the ice can be pretty challenging for him.

I was between errands and just sort of dropped in and caught him in the middle of a 5th step with one of his guys.  It's a small place and so I could hear their conversation from the room I was in but we were all "cool" with that.

I caught my breath as I heard my guy say to his "so, you see, it's not just that we had these ideas as to how life was supposed to work but we really believed that our very lives were at stake - our grasp of the use of these character defects was a matter of life and death for us." I could sense that he was quoting, almost verbatim, a conversation we'd first had over 15 years ago.  His guy was "getting it" just the way he "got it."

I sometimes feel inadequate in this AA thing - sponsorship, living in accordance with these principles, my faltering attempts at service, showing up in my life and family as an example of AA working.  The whole deal.  Another blogger has a great zeal and an articulate and clear way of explaining how we have to take these steps "as fast as we can" and that, typically, his guys don't take more than a couple of months to complete their first time through the 12 steps.  I often envy him that.

My busted-up sponsee today took a little over 3 years to complete his 4th step with me.  It took us nearly another 4 years to complete the 5th step - to get to the experience he was sharing with this guy just getting into this deal for the 1st time.

He holds my record for taking the longest.  As you can imagine, there's a long story that goes with why it took that long and it's certainly not how I recommend doing this deal but, what I got as I attended my menial task this afternoon and listened on with tears of gratitude, something profound had happened a while ago and was, this afternoon, happening again.

AA works - it really does.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


The host committee for the 2010 AA International Convention is now soliciting volunteers.  I promised last year that I would post this information as soon as I became aware of it.  As I pointed out in a previous article, while I love our International Conventions, I have survived more than one of them by taking a service commitment while there.

It looks like there's volunteer opportunities on the web site for both AA's and Al-Anon's.

We are signed up (I think you have to register for the convention before you can sign up to volunteer - there's a link to that on the volunteer page).  Knowing the folks from Texas AA as I do, you might want to sign up soon so that they don't take all the volunteer opportunities away from the rest of us. ;-)  There are literally volunteer opportunities 24 hours a day.

As much as I love you all in cyberspace, I am very much looking forward to seeing about 50,000 of you in San Antonio this summer.

A word on the side - thanx so much for those of you who offered your support and encouragement in comments and email related to my last post.  As we seem to have all figured out together, there is no absolute "lesson" in John's awful actions but the only sane response is love and compassion for the families involved.  ...and, for John.  Sadness is just a part of the deal - and, I think I'm too inclined to simply leave it there - milk the drama and the emotion and not move from there when it's time.

AA works.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Bad people...

This may be the hardest article I've written so far but somehow, it seems important.

One of our members, John (his real name - it's plastered all over the news so there's little point with anonymity now), has spent the past several years with summers near here in Colorado and winters in Missouri and Florida.  He is considered a trusted elder with over 20 years sobriety in our AA community.  He has as fine a grasp of the program and our traditions as anyone I know.

He went on a shooting rampage in Florida last Thursday - shot 5 people, killing 3 - 4 if you count the fetus he killed in the pregnant woman that lived.  One of the dead is a sheriff's officer.  It's a bad, bad, bad, bad deal.

Many in our community are distraught.  "How could this happen?"  "The John I know could never have done this!" "What happened?" etc.

Of course I've felt these things and more.  A lot more.

John has helped me and a lot of other members out through the years.  He's a tough man with a bad drunk history and an amazing story of recovery.  As one article tried to point out, a Saint and a Sinner.  I've had coffee or dinner with him as recently as 3 months ago and discussed the finer points of an AA tradition on the phone with him only 3 weeks ago.  In the past I've shared rooms with him at AA conventions and conferences.  I've frankly learned a great deal about our program and AA service at his instruction and the example he set in his life.  One time he came to a dinner where I was sharing while he was in the middle of having a heart attack.

So,  I'm thoroughly wrecked by this.

I've often heard in meetings sayings like "I'm not a bad person trying to get better, I'm a sick person trying to get better."  I know what they mean when they say it.  I just don't think I'm either one.  Maybe it has nothing to do with alcoholism.

As to whether I'm bad or not - I don't think I get to judge.  Me or others.  You are not going to convince some people in Florida today that John is not bad.  I wouldn't dream of tying to.

Likewise, I believe that the "disease concept of alcoholism" has done more damage for drunks and AA than it has done good.  As a metaphor, it may be useful occasionally but, again, how do you explain to the families in Florida that the man who performed this terrible act was "sick?"  Is that supposed to offer some sort of comfort to them?  That might be as sick as the act.  I don't know.

As I was trying to collect my thoughts for this article Friday night, I got a call from a friend and I related the news about John.  He kept asking, over and over, "How did it happen?"  "Why did he do it?" - Like, something we could understand or say would explain and justify these actions.  Maybe if he took a drink before his rampage, we could excuse it.

Truthfully, what might have been behind these sorts of questions in my friends and my mind is "...since John did this terrible thing, is it possible that I might do something like that too?"  As I shared my opinion with my friend, I don't think he felt comforted or comfortable.  I certainly didn't.

New flash: there are people who do bad things in meetings of AA.  Maybe a lot of people.  In fact, some people may not be as "recovered" on a given day as they advertise.

This is the 2nd active murderer I've sat in AA meeting rooms with.  Another man in our community stabbed his wife to death in a rage about 5 years ago.  I clearly blamed AA as being at least a little complicit in that crime in that we'd observed this couple rage at each other for years in and around meetings.  In retrospect, perhaps the platitudes that were offered like "progress not perfection" and "keep coming back" were not the tools they needed to deal with the life they were living.

I now wonder as well about John.

Our Big Book says:
"If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison." BB p. 66

I have  dictionary that was published in 1935 and the definition for "brainstorm" would be most like what we would refer to as rage today.

I know people who feel they can "use" their rage like a tool: to get past a bad situation at work; to getting a stubborn latch to catch; to be more successful in a sport.  Just a little rage gets the adrenaline to kick in and what could be more harmless?

I've seen John get angry and, well, I worked hard for him to not be angry with me.  By reputation, he was known as someone to be careful of.

Well, I guess so...

A promise and direction I see in our Big Book for ongoing sobriety is:
"... We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God's will into all of our activities. 'How can I best serve Thee--Thy will (not mine) be done.' These are thoughts which must go with us constantly. We can exercise our will power along this line all we wish. It is the proper use of the will." BB - p. 85
I don't think John was following this direction last Thursday.

Good people?  Bad people?  Ask me about myself on any given day and I'll let you know.

By the grace of God, I hope I can follow the directions today and maybe, perhaps, be of use.

That's what I'm betting my life on anyway.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


(note: I'm avoiding writing an article that I really think needs writing - just wanted to be honest here as that's what's making it hard to post the past couple of days - maybe tomorrow or soon...)

You have to appreciate a good sense of irony when you take AA meetings in to prison.  It makes the time and years a little more tolerable as you realize that most of the people there (99%?) are just going through some motions to be able to make points with their case manager and the parole board.

I volunteer to take a meeting into a minimum security prison ("...don't bother locking the gate after you leave - I'll get it later...") once a month and have done this for nearly 10 years now.  At this group, the meeting is run by the inmates (PC term = "offender" but I'm old and find it hard to change) and occasionally it's chaired by non-alcoholics and topics range all over the map before we sometimes get it brought back to some semblance of AA.

So, I smiled to myself when the topic, taken from Daily Reflections last Thursday, was "regret."  Frank Sinatra came to mind ("...Regrets - I've had a few...") but it really turned into a pretty good meeting.  Of a dozen inmates, most were clearly mouthing what they wanted us to hear but there was some great, empathetic sharing.

One inmate's sister had died the previous week and he understood that he was locked up  at this time for a reason - there was no way he could have gotten through this time sober on the outside.  Stuff like that.

I shared the following couple of paragraphs from our Big Book:
"The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted. Selfish and inconsiderate habits have kept the home in turmoil. We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough. He is like the farmer who came up out of his cyclone cellar to find his home ruined. To his wife, he remarked, 'Don't see anything the matter here, Ma. Ain't it grand the wind stopped blowin'?'
"Yes, there is a long period of reconstruction ahead. We must take the lead. A remorseful mumbling that we are sorry won't fill the bill at all. We ought to sit down with the family and frankly analyze the past as we now see it, being very careful not to criticize them. Their defects may be glaring, but the chances are that our own actions are partly responsible. So we clean house with the family, asking each morning in meditation that our Creator show us the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness and love." BB pp. 82-83
My current sponsor reminds me occasionally that I don't get to set the terms of the length for that period of reconstruction.  There are parts of my story in recovery where it took better than 2 decades to restore some trust that I'd broken.  Some of what has been reconstructed I've actually torn down in sobriety and then had to go back and rebuild it yet again.  That's hard.

Several of the inmates just sort of stared at me as I shared my story.  It was intended to be hopeful - indeed, as best I know, there are miracles available for each of us - at least that's been my experience and observation.  A few of them (besides the other volunteers at this meeting) "got it."

AA does, indeed, work.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I was on the phone with Philip yesterday.  He calls most every day at least once.

The previous day, he called and was distraught.  He had a plan for using some money to pay a deposit to get him moved out of the homeless shelter and that plan fell through.  He was understandably upset but he really was off on a tear. 
"... Why is it that every time things start to work out they fall apart?  Why does this sort of crap always happen to me? etc, etc, etc, etc ..."
I listened as patiently as I could and we sort of found a different way of looking at the situation and suggested what he could and could not do in his current situation.  I didn't get him talked all the way back to earth but at least he was sitting on the light pole instead of spinning in the stratosphere.  I sort of figured it might all work out OK.

It did, so our call yesterday was pleasant.

We talked some about the nature of self-pity and how that is where we always seem to go when we face a disappointment.  Boy could I relate.

Somewhere in the conversation we came up with the idea of "suckling on the self pity t----y" (I don't want Google to index it so suffice to say it rhymes with "kitty" and only has one character different).  We laughed so hard that we were a spectacle in our respective spaces: "no - it's really the s----y pity t----y"  etc. etc.

God is good.

AA works.

P.S. - I've had the Beetles' song Yellow Submarine in my head for 2 days and I'm ready for it to stop now.  Or, if I can't make it stop in my head, maybe I can plant it in yours.

Naw, I'm not that mean...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Pain is required...

I really don't know if pain is required to recover from alcoholism or not.  You hear it said at meetings around here that ", pain is optional..." - like, what they've learned in AA has given them a way of managing their lives to be able to avoid the self-inflicted consequences of their actions.  I think I know what they mean but I'm ready to hang that in my head as "one of those sayings you hear in the rooms that might be helpful or harmful, depending on who's hearing it."  As you might guess, this is a pretty long list.  It's a list of what, IMLTHO, makes AA meetings some of the most dangerous places to learn about the program of AA.

My sponsee Rob fell on the ice last Friday and broke his hip.  He was discharged yesterday so I grabbed some Panera Bread souffles and we had our regular Tuesday breakfast at his place.  He was 1/2 stoned on Vicodin.  We did not talk about his pain medications (other than that he was taking them as the doctor prescribed).  All my guys have it clear that they only person worse to proscribe for them than doctor (their name) is doctor Ed.   If he wasn't taking them as prescribed, we'd have had a different conversation.

But, pain was up for him and an ad in the local paper (he's an advertising guy so he notices that stuff more than me) for one of the local medical M-J- (fill in the blank - I'm trying to keep Google from indexing something I really have no desire to be found in my blog) dispensaries.  Medical M-J- is majorly "up" in this state and one of the local dispensaries ran an ad with the tag line "Stop Your Pain Today!"

Both Rob and I are dealing with sponsees who are early in recovery.  While everyone deserves a chance at "getting this" (an AA program that works for them) at their own level, it's hard to not compare and contrast those with a different level of motivation than those who just can't seem to show up at a meeting, make a phone call or, do virtually anything that might inconvenience themselves early in sobriety.

Some of our best AA literature, IMLTHO, is the DVD "Bill Wilson Talks About the 12 Traditions."  In this film, around the time he talks about traditions 4 and 5, Bill makes this startling claim (paraphrasing):
"... We discovered early in our history that we have but one true 'teacher' in AA.  That teacher is John Barlycorn (booze) ..."
I can remember the chilling impact that statement had on me when I first heard this film in early sobriety.  I suppose that I was sicker than most along the lines that I had believed that I was going to approach AA with the same regard as I did most new and potentially painful things - with an intellectual detachment that would save my butt if I couldn't somehow manage success.

Today, as I look over the cases Rob and I discussed as well as when I think back on the dozens of folks on this path that I still think should have been successful because, well, they worked this program better than I ever did (or could) - I am intensely grateful that I'd suffered sufficiently to recover this far.  I truly need not learn one more lesson at the feet of John Barleycorn (I pray God!).

For me, the pain was required to accept the solution that was offered.

"... With us it is just like that." BB p. 15.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

AA Works...

I had a private email conversation with one of my favorite people the other day about how much information and opinion came up against AA when you searched for information via Google.  It started my head running down a path that seems to have been similar to many in the fellowship.

At my meeting last night, our speaker mentioned that "...of the dozens of guys he's sponsored through the years, about 1/2 of them recover from alcoholism..."  What's fascinating to me about his observation is exactly what I've heard stated from no less than a dozen different members in the past month - each with more than 10 years' experience on this path.  It's also roughly my experience (plus or minus about 15% - I've never tallied exactly).

AA is criticized in the blogosphere and  elsewhere because several studies have indicated that as few as about 1 in 20 folks who come to an AA meeting find a solution to their drinking problem.  The opinion then runs that this is even less than the number of people who simply decide to stop drinking at some point - and successfully do.  For that reason, they conclude that this thing doesn't work.  Some then conclude a whole bunch of other things.

I don't know if my friend has had other conversations around the blogosphere but there are at least 2 articles I came across this morning that are trending along with my thoughts.  Mary in Africa, one of the most talented authors I follow regularly, talks about "Asking the harder questions."  Danny, a blogger I generally follow but don't include in my BlogRoll because sometimes his tone is a little more harsh than I'd like to recommend (I'd happily go on a 12-step call with him though!), actually published an article written by Cliff, a member I know from another forum.  This article I think explains better than I've read recently why AA works for some better than others.

This has come close to motivating me once again to write that chapter I feel was left out of our Big Book: "Why it Works."  In my saner moments, I fully appreciate this chapter was left out for a reason.  However, my character defects still cry out when I see the program that I love - which clearly has given me a life beyond my wildest dreams - criticized or potentially diminished based on unjust appraisals.

What I've learned to do instead is simply to listen.  With gratitude in my heart for the grace that has given me my recovery, I can hear others' experience and appreciate their frustrations and when requested, offer my experience.  On a really good day, I can keep most of my opinions to myself.

AA works.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Information...

Philip and I got together this morning as we do most every Thursday at 6am.  We had a great discussion as we always do.

I've not written about him for a number of months simply because, well, he's just turned into another soldier in the program - just a drunk doing this deal to the best of his ability and dealing with sobriety, one day at a time.  Left to my own devices, I would certainly not choose to love these guys - it hurts to much when they hurt.  But, in spite of my best efforts to protect myself and my interests - here we are...

It was with no small amount of misgivings that I started out with him. He faced impossible odds, so many fail coming from his dire circumstances, he's not certainly of the same culture and background of most members in our AA community, etc.  But, here we are 6 months later and we're slogging through the book.

Some would be critical of the method that I use in going through the program - hell, I'm critical of how I go through the program.  We basically read the book, one line at a time, and discuss what it says and relate it to our experience and our lives.  As we started out months ago, I went through some now familiar misgivings: it's an old book written in a style I find, well problematic; it doesn't relate much to today's times; it's a very slow process for someone to get what they need for today to stay sober.  Many misgivings.

About 3 months ago, one more time, I saw the miracle happen with Philip as it has for me and many others.  He is alive and different in ways that are, to not put too fine a point on it, miraculous.  And, we haven't gotten to steps 3 and 4 yet.  I can't help but get excited at the possibilities which will open up for someone who's higher power is acting so powerfully in his life.

This morning, we read:
"...We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn't control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn't make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn't seem to be of real help to other people--was not a basic solution of these bedevilments more important than whether we should see newsreels of lunar flight?...
...When we saw others solve their problems by a simple reliance upon the Spirit of the Universe, we had to stop doubting the power of God. Our ideas did not work. But the God idea did." BB p. 52

He "got it" and, more important to this article, I got it.  The solution to these "bedevilments" is a simple reliance upon God. Duh!

Have I mentioned recently that I've been stuck in self?  A lot?

Here is evidence of the problem (yes, with 26 years of sobriety, I can and do still get sick and have evidence of these bedevilments).  Here is the solution.

AA works - it really does.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Of the frustrations if my life, all the artistic endeavors I've failed at are sometimes hard to endure.  I've failed at accomplishing numerous musical instruments, voice, drama, photography, painting (and innumerable other arts and craft media), sculpting, pottery, writing (prose and poetry), dance - basically, about any artistic effort I attempted, I've come up so far wanting for talent that it's been impossible for me to continue.  I know, if I practiced more or invested more, I might have more acceptable results but, thus far on this 57-year journey, I've just not been able to accept something as my true, artistic expression.

I can appreciate many (most) forms of art, but can't seem to satisfactorily participate in any of them.


Who knows, I'm still breathing, right?

Anyway, it occurred to me over the past couple of weeks where I've been wallowing in more than my fair share of self pity, it seems there's one aspect of my life that I've elevated to my own art form.


OK - if anyone is of the perspective that their thinking of sadistic applications to others using chain saws and whips or whatever, that is NOT what I'm talking about here.  I'm talking about a peculiar, perverse, almost artistic ability to create fear when faith is a more reasonable and rational response.

Example:  I'm afraid that my financial needs will not be met.

For 26 years in sobriety, I've almost constantly had this fear.  Back when I had over $50k of consumer debt and I was making about $20k/year as well as when I was making $130k/year and was putting money in the bank.  When I had $50k in the bank and when I was overdrawn.  The fear has been roughly the same. 

Even back in my drinking days, I can find dozens of times when my needs were more than met as a consequence of impossible things happening from unexpected places (a new job, an unexpected gift or bonus, etc.) which saved me from the doom I was certain was imminent.

My ability to express fear when there is all this evidence that God has always cared for and protected me - even when I've certainly screwed things up as badly as I possibly could have at the time. - certainly could be understood as an art form.  Where I more rationally could have expressed trust and faith, I create fear.  Many times (most times?) with no real evidence in support of the basis for that fear.

I could go through the other 5-10 fears that are thematic throughout my life, but I've resisted, so far, the use of this blog as a 5th step surrogate.  I will continue to review these fears with my sponsor instead.  The point of this article is to point out the pride my ego takes in creating fear - almost, I would presume, the same sort of pride the artist takes when he/she steps back from their completed work.

It's not the medium that I would have chosen as an artist, but I certainly have elevated the manufacture of fear to the level of an art form.

Opposite that fear (in addition to the faith and trust) is the hope that it can and will be different.

I'm counting on that for today.

AA works...

Monday, January 4, 2010


So many of you have offered prayers from my post of yesterday that I feel I owe an update.

The sister-in-law rallied for ~16 hours on Saturday-Sunday.  It was a great time of family renewal - everyone there had a chance to express love, affection and, support that had been unexpressed - sometimes for decades or a lifetime.  The warmth and hope was great - everyone was happy - especially the sister.

Then, Sunday afternoon sister's fortunes turned again.

At about 7pm, she died.

The family said her last few moments with them were the best gift of any holiday they could have ever wanted for.  There were about 20 people in her room when she passed.

AA and Alanon showed up and is showing up in ways we can be proud of.

No one has yet heard of or from the daughter.

Thank you.  Give yourself a hug from me as I can't reach you.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Broken Heart

Among the many lies I've told myself through the years, the one that "...I'm not hurting anyone but myself..." has come up a lot the past few weeks.  I hear something similar from lots of drunks so I know I'm not alone in this idea.

My wife has a sponsee who has a sister-in-law she's very close to.  The sort of relationship that you hear of often in the rooms - after she sobered up about 30 years ago, she met the sister-in-law who led to the husband (which is how she became the sister-in-law) so they're close - like sisters - now.  They have been for a long time.

About 16 years ago, sister figured out she and her hubby couldn't have kids so they adopted a beautiful baby daughter.  This completed something in them and they devoted their lives to this gift in their home.  It's probably telling too much where this story is going to suggest they might have checked the ingredients label a little more closely if they were concerned for their well being...

The baby grew into a child with some behavior problems but, in talking with other parents, they felt (and feel) there is nothing this child won't outgrow - the challenges just seemed to get progressively more serious though until, at 13, this girl was now completely out of their control.  She was running away from home often, was clearly on a path that included drugs and alcohol and was starting to suffer from some of the physical and legal consequences in a serious way.

Occasionally, daughter would "come to her senses" and submit to treatment centers, go with her aunt to an AA or NA meeting. and really talk like prodigal daughter headed toward starting over.  They tried several modes of treatment.  Joined a church with an active, supportive youth program.  They went through family counseling.  They "did it all."

About two years ago, on one of her escapades, the daughter (then 14) wound up pregnant.  In the course of one her more lucid moments, she convinced the family that she really wanted to have and raise this baby.  This was what would give her the sense of direction and purpose she despaired of finding on the streets.

Again, we know the familiar story.  Shortly after the birth, the daughter was running and gunning again and sister and hubby had to go through the difficult process of suing for custody of their granddaughter since daughter was dealing with increasingly complicated legal consequences of her choices.  The cycle continued to repeat itself (every few months coming home and "this time really meaning it" that she wanted to restart her life).

Our state is trying some "new" things with youth offenders and hope fared high around Thanksgiving last year when the daughter (now 16) "gave herself up" to the authorities and they offered her a plea whereby she could check herself into a new treatment program and be released (with no record) in  a year - maybe 6 months if she really did well.  It was not exactly Courier and Ives when the sister, hubby and, granddaughter showed up at the treatment facility on Christmas Eve for their family Christmas celebration, but for the first time in several years, it seemed like there was hope that at least they would know their daughter was safe on the holidays.

The guard might have been less than polite when he informed them at the door that the daughter had left an hour before they got there.  She had said she just couldn't abide by their silly rules about smoking and she couldn't stay.  So she ran.

Sister collapsed as they were leaving.  The ambulance was there almost immediately but they said that, by the time they got  her to the hospital a few minute later, she'd had two major heart attacks.  Since she's 55 years old and had no history of heart disease (her or her family), they ran her through all the tests and found, well, nothing.  The only thing the doctor could suggest that caused it was that it must have been stress in her life.

While she was in a coma in intensive care on Christmas day, her kidneys started to shut down.  The doctor said it was time to call in the family.  The day after Christmas, when pressed as to what was really going on, the doctor shook his head and said she was "...dying of a broken heart."  That was his medical diagnosis.

She rallied for a couple of days but signs took a turn for the worse on the 29th.  The family has been in constant vigil with her but she hadn't regained consciousness since Christmas Eve.

Yesterday, on 1/2, she woke up for the first time, recognized her sister-in-law and said "I love you."  As of this writing, she is still in intensive care.  Since there is still nothing deemed physically wrong with her, she could be released at any time - or, well, who knows...

No one has heard from the daughter.

God is a big God but...