by Melissa M.
I’ve lived a life of “geographics”—moving from one place to another has become such an integral part of who I am that I have made a career of it. I move from one city to another; from one country to another and I love it. Or at least I used to.
Now I know what I thought of as “trying something new” was really good old-fashioned “running away.” It’s easy to convince yourself you’re OK if you don’t have to stick around in one place long enough to see the carnage you create and the people you leave behind. I got sober in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, after 32 years of Olympian drinking and travelling. While I told myself I was moving there for the tax-free employment and the chance to let my daughter frolic in sand dunes, I knew, on the inside, I was really hoping a conservative Muslim country could do for me what I could not do for myself: regulate my, by-then, virtually uncontrollable daily drinking.
In early recovery, I shared this realization at a meeting and confessed to the group I thought I would drink less (or drink with more constraint, or drink better, or drink differently, or … you get the idea) by moving to the Middle East. I was taken aback when the room erupted in laughter. I wasn’t alone, I learned, in thinking that. Virtually every alcoholic expat in Dubai had moved there hoping a country with strict alcohol rules could cure them of their alcoholism. I also learned that it worked approximately 0% of the time. In fact, instead of learning how to put down a drink I was actually provided with a perfect storm of drinking conditions: Money to spend, brutal summer temperatures that keep people indoors, swank hotels catering exclusively to expat hyper-consumption and a handful of industrious black market vendors who, for a very steep delivery fee, come to your front door with a trolley of thick black garbage bags filled with booze. There was no room for moderation even if I had known how to moderate.
Like a lot of people, when I first started going to A.A. meetings all I really wanted was to quit drinking. I needed to stop but didn’t know how. Having received that gift, I remain grateful every day of sobriety. I was also given the powerful gift of clarity: Being able to see life as it really is and being able to start a relationship with reality. I don’t drink on my problems anymore, or drink to celebrate, to protest, to check out, to check in, to chill out or to warm up. I have to meet life head-on with my eyes and spirit open to the fact that, actually, I’m not really in control at all.
This kind of radical acceptance takes place on the inside and can’t be found in any passport, airport or Lonely Planet guide (it’s an inside job, as they say). For the first time in maybe forever, I’m actually OK with that.
Intrigued by this meeting I had been invited to attend, I saw the secretary took no notes, created no minutes and had no real agenda. People chimed in all over the place. A guy at the right side in the seat of honor did nothing the entire hour (the job I would try to land for sure). If I had to attend these meetings to try to keep “she who must be obeyed” off my back, then the easiest job available would be mine.
The reality of the “not drinking” purpose of these meetings was lost on me. I sank deeper and deeper into my disease. When that changed through no action of mine except daily 7:00 a.m. meeting attendance, it began to dawn on me how clueless I had been about how meetings really worked. I saw how trusted servants had volunteered their time, sometimes at a sponsor’s subtle nod, to help make things happen rain or shine.
I seek out those meetings, return to them and survive because of them
I heard one meeting continued after a brief group conscience on the morning of 9/11. After all, sober men and women seem to deal with tragedy a bit better than those who aren’t. I took hard the lesson that if the man you tried to 12-Step didn’t get it, you were to move on to the next suffering alcoholic. The Big Book’s authors had recovered; they told us how they had done it. They shared vivid and desperate stories, promising no matter how far down the scale you went your experience could help another.
So why would we leave the one who did not get it behind? How could we abandon even that one? The story of the shepherd going to any lengths to save one sheep gone astray was a reverberating counterpoint. But it was I who did not get it.
As time passed, I realized that those who seemed to make it did so because of something within driving them to survive. No one had been able to instill that in me. I realized I could likewise not instill it in the next person. I could only carry the message, not make them hear it. So too it seemed with those meetings I attended.
While my Home Group has not changed, often my schedule gives me other alternatives. I have found those meetings where I “want what they have” all seem to have that same sense of a drive to survive. They seemed compelled to do the next right thing as a group to keep their attraction alive. That does not mean they just have the best array of cookies or a variety of organic teas, although rigorous honesty demands the acknowledgment that I do not find those to be detractions. It means they found a sense of purpose that is palatable to me.
Hands are quick to be raised for help with cleaning up or to grab a commitment that is open. The awkward silence of waiting for a volunteer, if present, is short. The people in those rooms seem to exude a genuine caring. Many might call it love for those about them, particularly ones who are suffering, whether with just 24 hours or decades of sobriety. They realize that living life on life’s terms is not always easy. They make that awareness evident in how they participate in the meeting.
That attraction is infectious to me. I seek out those meetings, I return to them, and survive because of them. I have come to believe that they survive because of the same reasons that I was drawn to the program in the beginning. Their members share the exact same reality I experienced—that to drink is to die. They seem to know, truly, that the statistics are against the alcoholic. So in the same way as life depends on it for me, I see how the life of a meeting depends on its members living this reality and going to any lengths, one meeting at a time.
What Can Groups and Members Do?
Groups and members can discuss the topic of safety, to raise awareness in the Fellowship and seek through sponsorship, workshops and meetings, to create as safe an environment as possible for the newcomer, and other members or potential members. This can be the subject of sharing among groups at the district or area level.
Helpful suggestions and reminders
Helpful Resources for A.A. Members and Groups
*Available upon request by contacting G.S.O.
by John W.
“No rules,” just like Paul Newman’s character Butch Cassidy said was true in a knife fight, as told to the opponent he vanquished with a markedly low blow. I was enthralled to find there were no rules in A.A. Having minored in college in political science, steeped in philosophies of government, organization and how systems worked, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the subject. I learned quickly I was a “newcomer” when I confronted A.A. and my place in it.
I was confused at first by who was running the meeting and why it was done so inefficiently. People introduced themselves at some meetings, but no one ever took roll. The ones with the prime seats nearest the secretary did not seem to do anything to earn them. They just showed up. Then there was this business of newcomers being “the most important people” at the meetings. The first time I said I was a newcomer, because I had lied about it for the first several months of regular meeting attendance interspersed with daily drinking, I was “volunteered” to help tidy up the meeting room and put away the chairs.
Those folks sure had a funny way of letting me know how important I was. I heard, “We don’t drink between meetings. You ought to consider trying that.” And never, even after copping to being a newcomer who was really, honestly, trying to stop drinking but just couldn’t, did anyone ever say, “You must stop drinking now!” This was a relief because I would have rebelled and bolted if they had. And I know for certain I would not be penning these thoughts now, over a sober decade later. I’d be dead. A.A. was a new frontier for me which fit no mold I had ever studied.
Though bewildering, it kept me sober and saved my life. A.A. worked when nothing else had, as those I heard from the beginning said it would, if I followed their simple suggestions. After sober days became sober weeks and then sober months, the mystery of time started to intercede. I began to realize and learn that time has a wonderful way of passing in Alcoholics Anonymous. It passes One Day At A Time.
As this mystery of time passing unfolded daily before me, I realized this was the spiritual element of my disease. I was being healed by this daily reprieve I had unbelievably begun to experience and enjoy. As I became able to successfully confront the daily drink challenge, I started to hope this success would last. As time passed I began to really want this success to last. The longer I stayed sober, the more I understood that if my sobriety was to last I needed the group for help and support.
I slowly came to realize I had to hang with this new posse or I was toast. Throughout my process of awakening these A.A.s made only suggestions. They gave no orders. They suggested I be of service, helping someone who needed it, and said this would help keep me sober. Take what you can from the group, then give it all away, was their message.
It all got so simple one day when I watched a guy, very smartly attired in a suit and tie, grab a mop to swab the water closet which someone had left in a less than pristine state. Dressed in jeans with no place to go, I had offered to clean up the mess after I realized what he was doing. But he smiled in response, said he was a drunk as common as a spare tire in the trunk of my car and things like this task helped him keep life’s priorities in their proper perspective.
We needed to keep the place clean, he said, or they wouldn’t invite us back. He wanted to make sure we had a place to meet the next time. No one had said he must, he knew only that he ought to for the good of the group. This guy had what I wanted. He showed me just what I ought to do (he did not tell me what I must do). His example is one I have never forgotten.
by Bree L.
My sobriety date is September 11, 1986, my sister’s birthday. We drank and used together, shoplifted together, got into crazy dangerous situations together. She was a few months clean and sober and had been dragging me to meetings in Los Angeles every time I visited. “Bitch, if you don’t quit drinking, you’re going to die.”
I called her on her birthday. “Happy birthday; by the way I quit smoking dope. I think I flunked the bar exam because marijuana ruined my short term memory.” Long silence on the other end of the phone line.
“What about alcohol?”
“It isn’t my drug of choice, it isn’t a problem for me.” Long silence on my end as I thought over what I had just said. “Hmm, you know, I have been drinking a lot more wine since I quit smoking weed.” “Why don’t you try not drinking?”
“Okay, I’ll try.”
I snuck into recovery through the back door: meetings of Adult Children of Alcoholics and working the steps with a sponsor. ACA members who were also in Alcoholics Anonymous convinced me I needed to look for an AA meeting. The Hilldwellers meeting became my home group. It’s a Big Book meeting Monday nights on Potrero Hill. Thanks to my Higher Power, I met Bonnie and we worked the AA steps.
We did my Fifth Step in a study carrel at the UCSF Medical School Library. She took time for me, even though she was living in San Jose taking care of her sick mother and commuting to San Francisco every day for work. When I had about five years sober, at a women’s conference with my sister, I admitted in a small group that my program consisted of one meeting a week and no sponsees.
Afterwards a woman came up to me and said, “You’re going to drink! There’s no standing still in A.A. If you’re not moving forward, you’re sliding back.” She scared me into looking for more meetings, and maybe someone to sponsor.
The Cocoanuts meeting in the Mission District on Sunday mornings is still a mainstay for me. There are also meetings in West Marin, where my husband and I had a weekend cottage: my favorites are the Saturday women’s meeting in the Inverness firehouse and Sunday Serenity in the library.
In the Federal Building, where I was working since I passed the bar exam in sobriety, there was a meeting called We Care. Back then we met in a conference room on the second floor. An elevator took me to a meeting. A woman in that meeting asked me to sponsor her. She was enthusiastic about fellowship: chip meetings, birthday dinners. Thanks to her I started saying yes to A.A. and having way more fun. Sponsoring gave me the courage to try other kinds of service: GSR, H and I, speaking at meetings, writing and editing The Point.
Because of the fellowship that I avoided for so long, I do not have to live life on my own. When my husband was diagnosed with cancer four years ago and died a year later, Bonnie advised me from her experience as the caregiver for her mother. Other A.A. women, longtime friends, had lost husbands to cancer, usually after a lot of stress. To them I could say about my husband: “You know, sometimes I want to kill him myself,” and they would respond with knowing laughter rather than shock.
In A.A. we absolutely insist on enjoying life. At an event called Take Your Sponsor to Brunch in San Jose, Bonnie won a raffle and invited me to join her at the prize: A Sharks hockey game. My sponsees call and text and give me rides to meetings. With AA friends I have breakfast after morning meetings, dinners on all occasions. My A.A. village brings me joy every sober day.
by Luke H
I had heard about something called Unity Day that takes place each year here in the City. Some of my friends even said it was something I might like, something that would introduce me to service organizations worth learning about. I find it funny to think the first Unity Day I would attend would be the one I helped plan as Events Co-Chair for the District.
How I came to be in that position was by making myself available a year ago. When no one else volunteered, the role was given to me. I didn’t really want it, but had learned from my service sponsor that being available was all there was to being of service at the District level.
Seeing as I’d never been to a Unity Day, I had to ask a lot of people how it had been done in years past and really take a look at the pass-it-on from the prior Co-Chair.
Working together with various service organizations (H&I, Intergroup and General Service), continuous discussions were essential in the months prior to the event. Someone volunteered a good printing spot for the flyers. Others suggested the design of the flyer and helped with the layout itself.
When it came down to the final planning stages, I took heed of the suggestions given to me and handed over the food planning to a little group of volunteers.
All of a sudden, the event that had seemed so far-off was only a few days away. We began planning the food run: one person had a car, the next person had the list of what was needed, and the final person had the sought-after Costco card. It was funny how it all came together like that.
On the morning of the event, I realized that I wanted to skip it. I was afraid all of these moving parts I thought I was in control of would crumble.
When I arrived, I realized something: I had made suggestions and handed out flyers, but the Fellowship had carried out the real work.
A couple of days before Unity Day, Central Office emailed me that a fellow A.A. member from Los Angeles was in town. His original plans had fallen through right before arriving and so he asked if there was some way he could be of service while he was in the City. He made himself available and pitched in all day during the event.
One of the volunteers had access to a commercial kitchen and so volunteered to bake some desserts from scratch for our event. He stayed up well past midnight the night before baking over 150 cookies and over 150
cupcakes for Unity Day. Even if something went awry the day of, I figured that there would be more than enough sugar to smooth it over.
With equal parts laughter and joy, Unity Day commenced. Members were putting out the chairs and making sure the sound system was running and greeting.
Those who attended finally learned what PI/CPC stood for (Public Information/Cooperation with the Professional Community). They learned why it’s important that Teleservice carries on. They saw what it means to continue the work started by H&I through joining Bridging the Gap.
Thank you to everyone who came out and made this year’s event fun, lively and joy-filled. I am grateful to the Fellowship and the volunteers who worked to make this day the success it was.
For service committee opportunities, visit aasf.org and go to the “Service & Sponsorship” dropdown or email Central Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ancient Maya considered the resplendent quetzal divine (aka “god of the air”) and a symbol of light. The Point is now moving from a print to a light medium and will soon reside in the cloud forest, too. Since December is our last print issue, your editor is getting up to speed with WordPress. Our primary purpose is carrying the message by any means necessary, as Kathleen C. reminds us on Page 10. Please let us know your thoughts via email@example.com.
In this issue Bree L. tells John C.’s story, including Boy Scouts and Mickey’s half pints. Anonymity helped John W. through the worst of times, then buoyed him into the best of times (with a nod to Charles Dickens). Luke H. puts all the pieces together for Unity Day. Daniel F. keeps mind and heart open with inventory questions on Page 8. In the beginning A.A. borrowed concepts from several belief systems and Bill W. credited three non-alcoholics for principles behind the Steps.
Claire A. finds out how wide-ranging the definition of normal really is. Ken J. hears the language of the heart after 28 years of deafening silence from his dad in “Those Three Words.” And Rick R. finds joy in the season with a new attitude. He practices radical concepts such as “not being the center of attention” and “preserving the dignity of the other person.” Like Lennon and McCartney sang: In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
Following are names and emails for Intergroup Officers and Committees. Email if you are interested in service or would like more information.
John R. | firstname.lastname@example.org
Pete F. | email@example.com
Alix F. | firstname.lastname@example.org
James O’C. | email@example.com
Kim S. | firstname.lastname@example.org
Elena | email@example.com
Greg M. | firstname.lastname@example.org
SF PI/CPC COMMITTEE
SF TELESERVICE COMMITTEE
Layne Z. | email@example.com
SUNSHINE CLUB COMMITTEE
Ann M. & Scotie S. | firstname.lastname@example.org
Taran R. | email@example.com
THE BUZZ COMMITTEE
Anne Marie C. | firstname.lastname@example.org
THE POINT COMMITTEE
John B. | email@example.com
by Claire A.
I have heard many people share in AA meetings that they felt like they were absent the day “they” handed out the booklet about how to deal with life. I shared that feeling. It seemed like everyone else knew the rules, and no matter how I tried, I couldn’t fit in. I was extremely uncomfortable in social situations. I would either clam up or blurt things that embarrassed me. So when I had a beer for the first time, it didn’t matter that I hated the taste: I loved the feeling. I could talk easily, I no longer felt fear. Social situations became manageable.
The relief I felt with alcohol didn’t last long. Drinking situations quickly became embarrassing. My inhibitions were gone, and with them any self-control. I was often scared by my own behavior, and would wake up in the morning ashamed of myself. I was back to feeling like I didn’t fit in, even with alcohol, and my consequences were worse than ever. I remember looking around at people my age and just wishing I knew how they did it. I was certain they knew I was not normal.
I started isolating early in life. I have, since I can remember, never wanted to get out and meet people. I never wanted to go meet people with my family. I was shy in school. Without fail, I am still surprised when I get together with friends and actually have a good time. So, our program that encourages us to reach out and connect with others was a revelation to me.
After 44 years of tending toward isolation, I started calling other women in the program and realizing that I’m not the only freak around here. In fact, I’m not really even interesting enough to be called a freak. I’m just a garden variety, fearful, procrastinating, isolating alcoholic. Importantly, AA has shown me “normal” has a pretty wide-ranging definition. And AA has shown me that I can live in this normal world by doing what normal people do. There’s no handbook (to my knowledge, anyway. If you find one, please let me know!), but there are norms. A lot of them are listed in the Just for Today prayer card: Dress becomingly, act courteously, don’t criticize, make an effort, do something useful, get some exercise, get some rest, reflect on your life for a short amount of time, be happy. Others I’ve learned: show up on time, make amends for mistakes, call people and ask how their day is going, put your hand out and introduce yourself. Eat your veggies, get enough sleep, and treat your family kindly. Listen. Enjoy what’s beautiful. The list goes on and on. It’s not complicated and I think, honestly? I knew all this all along. I don’t think I really believed it could be that simple. But the secret is that it really is that simple for me. Each little action brings me a little bit of peace. Many of them put together make me a ridiculously happy camper.
It’s funny, I say I’ve learned all this, but I forget it overnight. I need other people in AA to remind me not to listen to the committee in my head, which tells me that I don’t have enough, poor me, I’m miserable, nothing will ever be right again, I’ve been given a bum hand. Going to meetings, working with others, reading literature reminds me: if I want to feel “normal” I can—I just have to act that way. It really does work!
by Ken J.
Shortly after my second A.A. anniversary I was faced with making an amends I dreaded. To my father. Due to the circumstances I had to do it over the phone. The call began as superficial as always. We talked about the crops, the weather and Nebraska football. With him being the epitome of a banker, the conversation was pretty much one-sided, with me doing the talking. I knew that my father was sitting there listening, stoically staring into space.
Running out of things to say, I got down to business. I did a thorough 4th, 5th and 9th Steps. I don’t think my father said a word. It felt like I talked forever. Finally I was finished. And then I did something I had never done. I said, “I love you dad.” There was this deafening silence on the phone. And then my father said, “I love you son.” And hung up. And one month later my father died. I never saw him or spoke with him again.
The last words I heard my father say were the three words I had waited to hear my entire life. Those three words. A year after my father had died, my sponsor asked me to explain something. He said that before my father had died I had usually spoken about him negatively. I had often talked about his shortcomings, his failures as a father, his rigidity and his coldness. But in the time since he passed, I tended to talk about him in a much more endearing way. Iadmiringly referred to his strengths, acts of charity and support. He told me that rewriting the past is not the same as reconciling it.
Tomorrow, November 6, 2018, is my 33rd A.A. anniversary. My father has been gone 31 years. I was 28 when he died. I have replayed that phone call hundreds of times, hearing his voice crack on those words. It was somewhat surreal because he just wasn’t someone who showed or expressed his emotions.
I have often wondered how we would have interacted in person after he said “the words.” Would it have changed how he acted around me? Would I have been more understanding and patient with him? Would we perhaps even have hugged? I will never know. And I get very frustrated by the insane “what if…” game. It’s one of those mental exercises in futility, usually playing out in unrealistically happy or disastrous scenarios. That game has no place in my toy box. For me the events of the past are static. I can work to understand and accept them and their implications. But I cannot rewrite them and make them something they are not.
A long time ago I accepted the reality that my perception of the relationship with my father will change daily. I have learned to accept the good and the bad. I know today that my parents never sat at the foot of the bed in the morning and planned how to make my life miserable. They did the best they were capable of doing. My father showed he cared for me in the only ways he was comfortable with. I resented him for not showing me he cared for me in the ways I wanted it shown.
So, those three words. I have put so much time and energy into them that I never fully understood and appreciated the concept behind them. I have probably said them recklessly and desperately thousands of times in my life, trying to compensate for not hearing them as much as I wanted. I have discounted or ignored love and acceptance so many times because it wasn’t expressed on my terms. Words definitely do matter. But in A.A. I have found the language of the heart is much louder.