All posts by The Point

My Thinking Addiction

Coming for the drinking and staying for the thinking

by Bree L.

I was five years dry, without a drink, not a sip of anything alcoholic, not even a sniff of Chardonnay or even a taste of Southern Comfort on the rocks. To my mind not drinking was the epitome of happiness. I wanted to say I was sober but it was a stretch as I stayed restless, irritable and discontent. That was when I brought my less-than-charming self to A.A., even though I knew you couldn’t teach me much because I knew it all already.

Before the final day, I’d done some personal research on how long it took the alcohol to kick in. It was about twenty minutes, give or take a few (Somehow, I always seemed to end up with a headache the next morning.) Other efforts to cut down included drinking milk to temper the alcohol’s effects. That didn’t work. Then I sampled different types of wine, because a wine drinker couldn’t have a problem. Wine, I believed, wasn’t the hard stuff. I started with Gallo Red, bought the gallon size, then took the top off to let it age in the refrigerator and add class to my drinking. I moved on to Merlot, Chablis and Chardonnay.   

Somewhere in those early A.A. meetings I heard about “Coming for the drinking and staying for the thinking.” Pieces of my alcoholic brain puzzle began to fit together. Early on, I realized that I might have not been drinking, but I sure as heck thought about how I was not drinking—a whole lot. During my five years of self-inflicted dryness, I let everyone know I was the one not drinking. 

Nowadays, I don’t think so much about booze. But my analytical mind is still in high gear. Especially at three and four in the morning. Worries that I’d easily put to sleep at ten o’clock seem to become immediate concerns. What else can a person do at four in the morning but worry? My children morph from the competent people they were to youngsters in need of my help and guidance. (My children are all in their fifties.) This is when some of the tools I’ve learned in A.A. kick in:

  • Remembering “The ego is not my amigo.” 
  • Listing my blessings with an A to Z gratitude list. I rarely get past “m” or “n” before falling asleep. I start out with my Aunt Elva who was so kind to me in earlier years, then move on to my brother Billy, who moved to California to be closer to me; then my reliable car, a favorite dress and so on. 
  • Repeating the wonderful Third Step Prayer with one word for each breath.
  • The Serenity Prayer can also come into play as I mentally list the things I can change and those I cannot.

The Big Book says we are absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge (page 39). Who am I to think I can stop thinking, either, aided solely by my own self-knowledge? Just because I’m not drinking, that doesn’t mean my brain takes a hike. My thinking is alive and well, but at least I have some tools today thanks to A.A.

Just because I’m not drinking that doesn’t mean my brain takes a hike

H&I at Friendship House

We’re all one nation — it’s us against the disease

Audio by Navarre

by Guru P

A while after moving back to San Francisco I realized I hadn’t had an H&I commitment (service in Hospitals and Institutions) for a spell. I finally attended the monthly orientation at the Mission Fellowship at 2900 – 24th Street. The Mission District commitment at Friendship House got my attention. This thriving institution has been serving the American Indian community since the 1960s. The residential program’s mission is to strengthen community and it hosts several weekly meetings.

It’s been a great Saturday H&I commitment over the last year. Thanks to trusted servants with skills, we were able to start hosting virtual meetings after the shelter in place order (with a private Zoom link for residents). It’s pretty incredible how connected we all still feel despite not being in the same physical space.

Despite recent challenges, the dedication of the folks at Friendship House is inspiring. As a non-indigenous person of color myself, I am proud to be able to walk together with them on the road of recovery. One graduate said, “At the Friendship House, we’re all one nation.” It’s us against the disease.

People at this program are hard pressed, have had very tough circumstances, been separated from their families, or spent time in institutions. This is really a “last house on the block” situation for folks. But people in our meetings are proud of their sobriety, stay hopeful, and look forward to the future. I was blessed in early sobriety to have had a couple of American Indian mentors in Alcoholics Anonymous who invited me to participate in ceremonies at their homes. When walking through the front gates to enter Friendship House, it is not uncommon to find a ceremony happening. Traditional healing concepts are central to the program. I’m lucky to have found a sponsee here. We’re unable to meet in person right now, so we connect over the phone about once a week to catch up and read out of the Big Book.

It hasn’t always been easy to coordinate during shelter in place. Residents are not able to have personal cell phones and there’s one landline available. My sponsee shares about his packed schedule and I learn more about his spirituality. We chat about our ups and downs in life, mistakes we’ve made. It’s really cool to see how the program of A.A. is compatible with any type of belief system.

I’ve always been astonished by the contrast between the A.A. World Services 2014 membership survey and what I see anecdotally in San Francisco when it comes to diversity in the rooms. This does not preclude us within the fellowship from being mindful and considering ways to extend a hand to still-suffering alcoholics in communities of color (not a new concept, given the conference-approved literature for African American, American Indian and LGBTQ alcoholics). Recently, the neighborhood around Julian Street was designated as the American Indian Cultural District. The legislation was adopted by the City this past March. Friendship House is one of the cornerstones of the new district, and the diversity of its meetings helps make outreach effective for more newcomers.

A.A. is compatible with any type of belief system

Testing My Way to Serenity

When I choose character over comfort

by Kiki D 

I landed in the rooms of A.A. in December 2013. Coming off the longest stretch of unmanageability I’d experienced in years, I came to believe in hope. Hope that a life without booze was possible for a drunk like me. What I found immediately was identification. What I found in time was open arms and people who remembered my name. What I find every time I enter the rooms is a new and growing understanding of love and of service. 

Upon my arrival I half listened to slogans like: “We’ll love you until you can love yourself,” “You are not a bad person, you are a sick person,” “Service keeps you sober,” and “Love and tolerance is our code.” All of these sayings reminded me of the SNL sketch with Al Franken as Stuart Smalley saying, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and dog-gone-it, people like me.” I didn’t understand how any of this would help keep me sober or sane. So I tested and learned until I came to believe that love and service are magical spells used to transform an alcoholic existence into a sober life. 

I began hearing that alcoholics needed only to change their thinking because this was a disease of the mind. People would talk about how grateful they were for the fellowship or their sponsor while simultaneously discussing serious life hardships like death, cancer, bankruptcy and divorce. They promised that in the face of these challenges they didn’t need to drink alcohol because they had “this program.” They were forever hugging each other and going out for coffee. 

Listening to these kinds of shares day after day did something to me. I was intrigued. “Maybe if I am completely honest with my sponsor, I will see my life change too,” I thought. So I tried. It started with small things like a low-stakes disagreement I had with my boss. 

“What would happen if you thought about how lucky you are to have a kind boss? What would happen if you tried showing her you thought she was kind by acting helpful?” my sponsor suggested. “What?!” This was the craziest idea I’d ever heard. My boss was there to support me and mentor me, I assumed. But the curious thing was I started showing up to work asking this question of myself and the dynamics at my job shifted. My boss was thanking me for helping her and she began taking me into meetings I’d never been asked to join. 

Showing up for work with love in my heart and the spirit to serve, just as my sponsor was doing for me, radically altered my life. Because I was doing better work and being of service, my office felt more pleasant, too. I would stay all day and not drink on the job. Just as meetings happen when and where they say they will, I was where I said I would be when I was expected to be there. 

When I reached 90 days of sobriety I was given the greeter position at an enormous Saturday morning meeting. It was magnificent because I learned so many people’s names and they learned mine. I was accountable because I had this service commitment. It was an act of love to show up for others. 

On Friday nights I’d sometimes think a drink was a good idea, but would then remember my Saturday morning service commitment. I thought about how being greeted with a kind “hello” might help a newcomer feel more comfortable or bring a little joy to someone else. I started thinking about other people besides myself. Though because I am self-centered, I had to admit that being known by people as my true self and not needing to put on an act felt good, too. Everyone expected me to be real. The more real I was, the more connection I felt and the more connection I felt, the more love I felt for the program and the people in it. 

That’s how my understanding of love evolved. I tested out doing loving things for nothing in return. I was sometimes disappointed by others but never in myself. That was a revolution. I had always been the one to blame and now I could know that I did my best. Showing love is as much for me as it is for the “recipient.” The act of love is service. Rather than demanding from others and showing love passively, I now work my hardest to show up for others and that’s it. Like the dynamic that shifted at work with my boss, my relationships shift when I am in love and service to others. I do not need to do it perfectly and I haven’t had to drink over those imperfections. 

Finally, showing up to do hard things (or simple things I just don’t feel like doing) has shown me that I am capable. I feel better about myself when I choose character over comfort every single time. Being of service to others in A.A. and then out into all of my affairs is an act of self love. No one needs to believe me but I suggest testing and learning what love and service can do for you because it may be the spell that breaks the curse of active alcoholic living, which as we know, is no life.

photo credits available upon request to thepoint@aasfmarin.org

Creativity in Sobriety

I had no intention to stop drinking, but I met her for coffee anyways

by Julie S

My name is Julie and I am an alcoholic. It is my intention to write a compelling article about how I cultivate creativity in sobriety. I intend to be witty, endearing, provoking, relatable and honest, but my good intentions mean nothing without action. This is one of the many life-altering lessons I have learned from Alcoholics Anonymous. So, with that in mind, I sit in my slightly uncomfortable desk chair, take a moment to acknowledge my fear of the blank page, pause and ask for a little divine inspiration. Then I start typing and see what happens.

What I was like… I was a young, bright girl with a host of friends, a head full of possibilities, and a burning desire for praise and adoration. I had stylish notebooks with neon, glitter pens, lots of free time and endless potential, if only I could follow through on one of my brilliant ideas. I would announce my lofty plans to all of my friends, frantically organize my workspace, sit down and start trying to work, then get up and pour myself a drink. 

As soon as I felt the cocktail’s wave of makeshift inspiration, my plans evaporated and the night vanished into murky layers of ecstasy and oblivion. The sun would rise with blinding vengeance and smack me into consciousness. I was sore, disoriented and somehow covered in bruises and glitter. My head was on fire, my tummy a raging storm. I fought and clawed my way through the disheveled house, hunting for fragments of the precious night that I had lost. I collected and salvaged all of the abandoned bits and pieces of my work from the desolate landscape of empty bottles and broken dreams. Then, slumped in a pile of my wreckage, clutching the remains of my dignity, utterly baffled and twisting in shame, I racked my aching brain for answers. For the love of God, how the hell had this happened again?

What happened — A groundhog’s loop of similar tragedies continued for quite some time. On these violent, desperate mornings, my head would spin around the thought I should stop drinking. Bleary-eyed and broken, I stared at my puffy, ashen face in the mirror and made battle plans to conquer my demons. I was fiercely determined and ready to change, but when my twisted guts unraveled and the color returned to my face, my valiant thought of pursuing sobriety was replaced by the vicious obsession to drink. It took many more wretched sunrises, failed projects, a patient therapist, painful goodbyes to disheartened friends and the collapse of my anguished love life to finally crawl my way towards the answer to my miserable predicament. 

The answer, I was told, was Alcoholics Anonymous. Skeptical but willing, I found myself at the doors of an unflashy church, battling thoughts of running away while begging for the courage to open the door. The idea alcoholics had anything to offer me was absurd, but I had zero better ideas and it was getting chilly outside. I had no intention to quit drinking, but I was willing to open the door and step inside. What I found was a room full of strangers, laughing about their piles of wreckage and radiating courage, strength and hope. The young woman speaking had a broad smile, a calm demeanor and a familiar story of agony and shame. She told me that an alcoholic is someone with an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind, and she offered to help me find some peace. I still had no intention to stop drinking, but I met her for coffee anyways. That was eight years ago. I have been sober ever since.

What I am like now: I am no longer staring at a blank page. It vanished as soon as I started to write. This may seem trivial, but my willingness to take the first step has had a profound effect on my ability to follow through on my best intentions.

Thoughts are not actions. I have to act my way into right thinking, not the other way around. Sometimes the endless possibilities of a project can cause me to balk, to run away. Even though I haven’t had a drink in many years, I can still be ruled by fear. I can think myself a fantastic writer, but if I don’t have the willingness to sit down and write then nothing gets written. Even just the simple action of writing down my rage and frustration can fill a daunting, empty page and clear my head for something more profound. If divine inspiration doesn’t strike, I just keep writing until it does. In my experience, inspiration always comes, if I just keep taking action.

What I am not is hungover. This morning instead of hissing at the sun and writhing in pain and shame, I bounced out of bed, made matcha tea, worked on a puzzle, made a delicious breakfast for my husband and myself, played with my puppies, then sat down to write this article. I am fairly confident it will be finished soon. If you are reading this story, then you are a witness to the miracle of recovery. Thank you, Alcoholics Anonymous.

“Before AA, I judged myself by my intentions, while the world was judging me by my actions.” ~ Anonymous

I am no longer staring at a blank page. It vanished as soon as I started to write

Fear, Anger or Peace

Otherwise I will be running around town all day long like a wet hen or a dry drunk

by Rob S.

If we think back to the days when our hunter-gatherer ancestors were chased by hungry wild animals, one of these three emotions would have taken over (the following definitions are my own). Fear: My body is overcome with extra energy to either fight the toothy beast or take off on a fast hike—this surge is what I consider anger. Terror: I’m frozen stiff and get gobbled. Apprehension: This emotion allowed our cave-dwelling ancestors to think clearly—maybe climb a tree. The ones who survived left an imprint on the DNA of their offspring homo sapiens, you and me. I automatically tend to become tense from those genes of yore. If I don’t find some way to circumvent this inheritance, I will be running around town all day long like a wet hen or a dry drunk. What to do?

I can pick up the A.A. tools, place those disastrous devils of fear and anger on the back burner, and feel calm apprehensive concern instead. When I feel wronged, I can forgive the evildoer, see where I may have been at fault, or simply ask these two demons be removed (Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 67-68). There is also a prayer which is not part of the Twelve Steps, but it has worked for me on several occasions (page 552).     

When I feel like I’m under attack, I can enjoy a normal calm apprehensive response by following these clear-cut directions in the Big Book. I can choose to rise above what my immediate emotions are shouting at me. To elaborate on fear-driven thoughts of anger (resentments), I like to review the four-part process on page 67. 

 

  • Realize that my offender is spiritually sick. Have I ever been spiritually sick? Yes. This helps me to forgive.
  • How can I be helpful to him or her. This may seem difficult, but would I rather put my sobriety in jeopardy?
  • God save me from being angry. It is important to realize that often I cannot control my emotions alone—I need help
  • Thy will be done. My will would probably be to get even.

 

Further down on this page there is a logical tool: Where were we to blame? Further research often reveals that I was the cause of the offender’s actions. If this is true, then the fear-driven resentment is no longer logical—the offender is off the hook, and so am I. 

The offender is off the hook, and so am I

Principle of Humility

When I focus on the fellowship, wind fills my sails and my course ahead is sound

by John W

While it had certainly become clear that I had lost complete control over the grog, I was absolutely in denial about that simple truth. Equally certain was that I had no practical conception of how that reality was affecting those around me, particularly those I loved the most. For my part, I had the hubris to assure all I might come into contact that all was right with the world and my place in it. Because I was experiencing a modicum of success in my chosen field, and seemed the dutiful father to those parents and teachers who coexisted in the universe with our children, life was a dream – to me. I failed to realize it was a dream, a fantasy, I experienced while fully awake. And then only until that day’s blackout began sometime after the children were asleep and the serious drinking had taken its toll.

When my streetcar had stopped at the last house on the block, that 7:00 a.m. A.A. meeting, I am not sure what I was prepared for, but it certainly was not to stop drinking. It was absolutely not to stop drinking for the rest of my days on this planet. However, like the proverbial prolonged and consistent drip of water which, over time – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, splits even the most solid block of granite – prolonged and consistent contact with the A.A. message finally split me to my core. That I had even gotten to the rooms was proof of my willingness, albeit the reserved and retiring variety upon arrival and for months to come thereafter. But what was my next step?

I had hoped just the effort would right things on the home front, that my show of a good faith attempt at such a monumental challenge would smooth the ruffled feathers, calm the anxious fears and, most importantly, stop the nagging to quit cold turkey. When my half measures continued to avail me nothing, my miracle happened and the honesty of my condition escaped my lips for the first time at a meeting. 

It was as if I had stepped out of a darkened closet into a sunlit room full of friends, none of whom I knew. Although I was basking in the sunlight of the spirit, I was still a drunk. My disease had gone nowhere. I had not been cured, I had only succeeded in finally admitting to myself (and that new host of friends) what I was. When I made that first call to Louis, selected from the group’s phone list because his was the only face I could put with a name on that list, his first question broke the dam of resistance. He asked simply: Do you have a sponsor yet? As we talked about my negative response, I began to realize I could not do this alone. Equally important, I realized that no one expected me to. Guys like Louis actually wanted to help. I also realized that I needed help.

I believe this was when the seed of humility was planted. That seed took root, akin to any nourishing fruit, and grew into a daily, sustaining diet. I needed sustenance to achieve that life-continuing daily reprieve from drink. But as the days had rolled into weeks, months and even, unbelievably, years, so too had the product of this seed evolved. I dutifully read and believed that without more of this precious quality I could not live to a useful purpose. It would be good insurance to have when confronted with that real emergency sure to be in my future.

At times, these concepts seemed to be only words on a page, voices in my brain. As if the echo of a heartfelt share which sounded so profound in the hearing, yet now rang hollow. As I too, like those first 100, came to believe I felt an infusion of this belief into the marrow of my bones. Anything less was only lip service to an idea, not taking of that second step. 

In the principle of humility I have discovered the same to be true. I must infuse it into the marrow of my soul. I hear so often, “You don’t have to do this alone.” I believe this principle of humility tells me that I cannot do this alone. I have come to believe that this power greater than myself is always there for me. True humility tells me that so, too, are those in this fellowship as I trudge the road of happy destiny. They are the life’s blood of my program. I need them as surely as I need air to live. Without them I am lost. When my spirit is so focused on those I am with in this fellowship, winds fill my sails and my course ahead is sound.

photo credits available upon request to thepoint@aasfmarin.org

Stuff Happens in Sobriety

by Kathleen C.

Audio by Navarre

When I first got sober, twenty years ago, I thought sobriety meant the end of all my problems. Now I know that it is only the end of my drinking and the beginning of a new life. With tools for dealing with all the stuff that happens to ordinary people.

When I was two years sober my father died of cancer after a year and a half of illness. Within a year I was diagnosed with cancer myself. I had surgery and radiation and spent the next year dealing with issues of disfigurement and pain. I called my sponsor and the Oncology nurse when I wondered if I would overdose on pain meds. I prayed and people prayed for me. People helped me and I let them, with gratitude.

Tools for dealing with stuff that happens to ordinary people

When I was seven years sober one of my twin daughters came to me one morning and said, “Mom, my mouth feels funny and I can’t taste anything.” By noon the whole side of her face was paralyzed. Bell’s Palsy. The pediatrician told us there was no treatment – just watching to be sure that she didn’t develop an infection – she might have to wear an eye patch if her eye wouldn’t close at night.

She was supposed to go to summer camp the next day. Could she go? The doctor said yes, the camp nurse watched over her and her best friend made sure nobody made fun of her because she couldn’t smile. I shared with my sponsor and at A.A. meetings how angry I was at God for doing this to my child. 

When I was nine years sober I came home one evening to find my husband curled up in bed with injuries from a motorcycle accident. Only the next day, when he finally agreed to go to the hospital, did we discover that he had a broken collar bone, six broken ribs and a collapsed hemorrhaging lung. He was in the hospital for four days. He could have died. I had to turn him over to my Higher Power. I couldn’t keep him safe.

When I was eleven years sober, my other daughter severely injured her knee skiing and had to have surgery. I sat by her bed in the Recovery Room watching her pale face and closed eyes and praying she would be all right. Then a month later I fainted and had heart palpitations which led to a diagnosis of severe anemia. The ultimate result was a hysterectomy. Then a spot on my upper lip turned out to be an invasive skin cancer and I had extensive surgery on one side of my face. All in one year. I had to admit I couldn’t handle this alone. I got help, from family and friends in A.A. and outside it.

A happy occasion – cause for celebration

photo credits available upon request to thepoint@aasfmarin.org

I am not going to drink over a big crisis. I am going to drink because somebody hurts my feelings or makes me angry and I have no mental defense against the first drink. I am just as likely to drink over something good in my life. 

Last year, when I was nineteen years sober, both daughters graduated from college. A happy occasion – cause for celebration. The closest I came to drinking was at a lunch for them and our family and friends.

My husband and I wanted to thank everyone for all they had done for the girls. Everybody raised their glasses of champagne, except me and my sober sister, the same one who Twelve-Stepped me, all those years before. As she and I raised our glasses of sparkling water I felt different from everybody else and a little sad that I couldn’t raise a “real” toast to my daughters, when I was so proud of them. But I had said my prayers that morning and been to a meeting the day before, and talked to my sponsor and several of my sober alcoholic friends in between. Alone, I couldn’t stay sober. Together with my fellow A.A.s and working a program, I can stay sober no matter what life throws at me, good or bad. 

Which Door did you Use?

by Bree L.

My sponsor described coming through the side door of Al-anon. I knew I hadn’t come in the front door as a binge drinker, because I’d been dry and controlled for five years. I fought coming to A.A. I believed I could never be an alcoholic. My entrance must have been through a side door. That was twenty-four years ago. Which doors have others come through? A couple of members describe their entrance. 

Patty talks of coming through the generational door thanks to two alcoholic parents. She was eleven when her Dad joined the program. Her mother got sober shortly before she died. 

Patti remembers her father drinking all during her early childhood. Her family had an about face when he joined A.A. Today she says he was just doing what the program recommended, getting a sponsor and working through the steps. “I had a picture of what A.A. was like,” she said, “beginning at age eleven.” Many may see the down side of our disease but Patty saw the upside in recovery. However, that did not mean she was bent on racing into A.A. It took her awhile. 

It was nighttime but she knew someone would answer

During her early years she didn’t have the desire to drink. The one time she did get drunk, she remembers it. “It seemed like the greatest thing that could happen,” she says. “It took me twenty more years to get some traction.” As early as her late thirties, she knew she was an alcoholic and belonged in A.A. but she avoided it. “I just wasn’t ready to stop drinking,” she says. Then one night sitting on her couch she saw where she was headed. Thanks to her Dad she knew who to call. It was nighttime but she knew someone would be there to answer the phone and talk to her. 

She didn’t get sober immediately but came to meetings while continuing to drink for a couple more months. However, once she made that final decision, she had a sponsor by the end of that day. Within a week she completed the first step and within a month had a service commitment (coffeemaker).

Patty says, “Our family went from utter chaos to a different life. The pivotal point was my Dad’s recovery and I am eternally, actively grateful.” Today she is coming up on twenty-two years of sobriety.

photo credits available from thepoint@aasfmarin.org

Kent B. says he came in through the “revolving door.” He describes it as a merry-go-round of alcohol, crystal meth and sex. His work demanded odd hours on duty with longer periods off. His pattern was to prepare for random drug testing by quitting three days prior to returning to work. Rather than do drugs, he’d drink. When he couldn’t stop drinking, he’d call in sick. There were non-stop days of using without end, and days without sleep. His handy solution was to drink: “So I could get some sleep.” When the drinking got too heavy, he’d take a bump of speed to kill the buzz. It was a nightmare.

Gratitude the revolving door never closed

He came to A.A. in 2008 and soon realized that alcohol was his core addiction. After that first meeting he says his obsession to drink left. A counselor at an early rehab facility asked, “What are you addicted to?” “Alcohol,” he answered.

“What are you addicted to?” The counselor repeated.

“Speed,” he said.

“What are you addicted to?” The counselor hammered again with the same questions.

“Sex,” he said in frustration.

“No,” the counselor said and asked again, “What are you addicted to? I was addicted to altering my state of being,” the counselor said. That hit home. “I was afraid of any discomfort and would resort to my drug of choice to avoid it.”

Today Kent says, “One drink and I break out into sex and/or crystal.” He speaks with gratitude of that ever-revolving door that never closed. He knew he was always welcome.