Category Archives: The Point

Articles on recovery and fellowship written by members of A.A. in San Francisco and Marin.

You Are Welcome Here

44th Annual Western Roundup Living Sober Conference

by Maggie R.

Hi, I’m Maggie, and I’m an alcoholic. I just celebrated six months of sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous. I work with a sponsor, I work the steps, I make the coffee at my home group, I say the Third Step Prayer every morning, and I try to maintain conscious contact with my Higher Power all day. I mess up at all these things and with other people and with myself a lot, and I am learning how to forgive and to make amends.

Shortly after joining A.A., I also joined the General Planning Committee for the 44th Annual Western Roundup Living Sober Conference, the oldest and longest-running LGBTQ A.A./Al-Anon Conference in the country, hosted in San Francisco over Labor Day weekend. This year’s theme is A New Freedom and A New Happiness. Almost every time I go to a meeting or event related to Alcoholics Anonymous, I have the same conversation with myself:
You don’t belong here.
Everyone would be happier if you were not here.
Why did you start going to this meeting in the first place? Why don’t you just leave everybody alone …

 

I needed a place to go

I want to say that after six months of sobriety and participation in A.A. this choir of voices—“the Committee”—has quieted down. However, the reality is more like, these voices have discovered they can be as loud as they want to be. So if the Committee is going to be there, I need to learn how to manage and ignore it. What have I found to help with that?

To manage my alcoholism, it is most helpful to get out of my head, connect with the program of A.A. and see other people I can relate to. Ways I do this include: going to meetings, working the steps, checking in with my sponsor, and being of service. I was brought into the Living Sober community by another alcoholic who saw I needed a place to go where I could feel useful and accepted. While I still have doubts about my usefulness, the acceptance that I find in this community helps me to step outside of myself, connect with a higher power, and recognize that I don’t know who I am helping or how I am helping by being here.

Photo credits available upon request to thepoint@aasfmarin.org

This community helps me to step outside of myself

I am sure that The Committee is going to have plenty more to say to me when I send this article to be read by more people and when I show up at the Living Sober Musical Team meeting later today (Yes, there is a Living Sober musical at the conference—Don’t you want to come see it? ). When I walk into the next meeting and see a group of faces, I think everyone is judging me. But that is the deal, right? The fear and the voices never disappear completely; we just learn how to deal with them. We continue to “suit up and show up,” share what we are going through with other alcoholics, and find we are met with understanding, acceptance and love.

So, if things are feeling terrible: Go to a meeting. If you can’t find a meeting, call your sponsor or another alcoholic. If you can’t do that, there are online meetings. You can read the Big Book. Call Teleservice: 415-674-1821. Meditate. Pray. Also, John A.’s piece has another perspective on Western Roundup Living Sober from someone with a great deal more experience and history with the conference than I have [which will be in the next issue of The Point]. And think about coming to the conference this August 30th to September 1st: You are welcome here.

Born out of Service

by Lynn D.

Alcoholics Anonymous was born out of the spirit of service—one alcoholic talking to another. Ebby T., an old drinking buddy of Bill W., visited Bill in his Brooklyn apartment one day in November 1934. Newly sober, Ebby told how he was getting “honest about himself and his defects, how to make restitution where it was owed, how he’d tried to practice a brand of giving that demanded no return for himself.” Bill thought their talk was significant because Ebby was “himself a onetime-hopeless alcoholic. As a fellow sufferer, he could and did identify himself with me as no other person could.” (Pass It On, pp. 115 and 127).

In December of that year, after Bill’s release from Towns Hospital for the last time, he and Lois started attending Oxford Group meetings. It was not long before he and a group of alcoholics started meeting separately in the Wilson’s Clinton St. home. For all his efforts, Bill was unable to sober up one alcoholic in those early months, but Lois observed that his efforts had kept him sober for six months.

One alcoholic talking to another happens in every level of service

In May 1935, Bill W. found himself in Akron, Ohio on a failed business venture. Agitated, resentful and lonely, he paced the lobby of the Mayflower Hotel, attracted to the crowd in the bar. Again he recalled his work at Towns Hospital and Calvary Mission had protected him from drinking. In that moment, he realized he needed another alcoholic to talk to, as much as one might possibly need him.

The next day Bill Wilson was introduced to Dr. Robert Smith (a.k.a. Dr. Bob) at the house of Henrietta Sieberling, an active member of the Oxford Group in Akron. Dr. Bob would write later that Bill W. “was the first living human with whom I had ever talked who knew what he was talking about in regard to alcoholism from actual experience. In other words, he talked my language. He knew all the answers, and certainly not because he had picked them up in his reading” (Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, p. 68).

Two years after their initial meeting, there were two small but solid groups of alcoholics meeting regularly—one in Akron and one in New York—and a sprinkling of groups elsewhere. One alcoholic talking to another takes place in every level of service. One-on-one help, like sponsorship, is vital. But A.A. also relies on the volunteerism of individuals at the group level, in Central Office, institution committees, and general service.

Photo credits available upon request to thepoint@aasfmarin.org

My own introduction to the power of service in Alcoholics Anonymous was in January 2000, when I was nominated to be the coffeemaker for the Sunday Bookworms group in San Francisco. I had attended A.A. meetings for four years but still could not stop drinking. After making coffee for two or three months, I remember being tempted by a bottle of gin on my kitchen counter on a Wednesday. What stopped me was the thought of my Sunday night commitment. In one single moment, the humiliation of relapsing and its dark consequences outweighed any temporary relief I might get from a drink. That commitment literally kept me from drinking for six months.

I was looking at 12 months of continuous sobriety for the first time in my life

When the commitment ended, the group nominated me to be secretary—a role both humbling and elevating. By January 19, 2001, I was looking at 12 months of continuous sobriety for the first time in my life. Since that time, I’ve held every kind of group service position (literature, treasurer, greeter, group rep), and had the privilege of sponsoring many wonderful women. Currently I have a regular commitment with my home group, a monthly teleservice shift, several H&I commitments, and I sponsor a group of women. I believe these activities not only safeguard my sobriety but are instant and magical relievers of the pain of selfishness, impatience and fear.

I sincerely believe that, as recovering alcoholics, we are uniquely called to reach out to those who are in their most sad and broken states. But just as meaningful to me is that those of us who actually do the reaching out find greatness that is far beyond ourselves. But please… don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself.

Jackie B.’s Story

by Bree L.

My first drug of choice was my thumb. I was a thumb-sucker until the fourth grade. “I always needed something to take the edge off.” I had my first drink at about age 13 at a wrap-up party for the opera Il La Toreador. There was a big anvil scene where the actors mimicked stomping grapes and making wine with their feet. Someone handed me a glass and I remember the feel of ease and comfort the Big Book describes.

Drinking was a big part of the theater life

I didn’t drink at all in high school but caught up in college. I studied theater, and drinking was a big part of the theater life. The hardest part was finding a balance between the adrenaline and high stress situations. The question was how to relax after rehearsal or a show. There is a theater adage of booze, pills and heavy meals at night. All three were true in my case.

I liked the way one or two drinks made me feel, but I couldn’t stop at two drinks. I discovered a solution: cocaine. The cocaine let me drink the way I wanted: 8 – 12 hours straight without losing control. I had no interest in drinking normally, not really. “If I could drink as a normal person, I’d drink all day long.” For me drinking normally meant drinking without consequences!

I came into A.A. via outpatient rehab, on Valentines Day 2006. After one four-month relapse, I got sober on June 28, 2006. Bouncing around, I hit various bottoms and at 27 ended up in the emergency room. The doctor asked if I wanted help. I said “Yes, anything but A.A.” I thought A.A. was some sort of religious organization or cult-like pyramid scheme. No problem, they had an outpatient program I could join. And lo’ and behold, the outpatient program sent me to A.A.

photo credits available upon request from thepoint@aasfmarin.org

One of the perks was free access to a rehearsal studio

I came in as a secular Jew and the only alcoholic in my immediate family. I had a lot of discomfort around the God word as it appeared in the Big Book and the steps. I was afraid people would try to make me convert or “missionize” me.

I started out just wanting to get my slips signed until I went to a daily meeting called High Noon. It was such an eclectic group of people and I heard so many different concepts of a higher power. I realized I didn’t need to be afraid. A.A. wasn’t religious. I adopted High Noon as my home group. An old-timer, Si P., was a big influence on me. I thought of him as a grandfather figure, though he may never have known how much he meant to me. Si got me interested in the traditions and A.A. History.

One of the perks at my work was free access to a rehearsal studio. It had been years since I had done any theater, and the idea came to me to put on a play about A.A. history. The SF/Marin Intergroup let me do a staged reading for Founders Day in 2009, and the following year let me write an original play! This is when my interest in sharing the history of underrepresented populations in A.A. really took off, highlighting culturally remote communities such as the early women, LGBTQ, people of color and young people in the Fellowship. “In Our Own Words” was my first original recovery play and it was warmly received. “I Am Responsible” is my most recent work and the Intergroup is presenting it in Novato on June 22 at the Margaret Todd Center.

We all bring our own skills to A.A.

We all bring our own skills to A.A. Putting on these plays is just one part of my service work. I sponsor several women. I am also a District Committee Member (D.C.M.) for San Francisco’s General Service District 6. Participating in 12-Step service outside the individual or group level became really important to me once I learned what was at stake.

I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Public Information & Co-operation with the Professional Community (PI/CPC) work – they were the committee that worked with my outpatient rehab to establish positive relationships. Hospitals & Institutions (H&I) brought a meeting into my treatment center. Central Office printed the meeting schedules I still use to this day. A.A. World Services  and the General Service Office printed the books and pamphlets I read with my sponsor. Once when I was four years sober I was acting out destructively, not drinking but hating myself, and at 3:00 a.m. I called Teleservice. Someone answered the A.A. hotline and talked me down. I’m alive and happy today because of all these services. A.A. was founded 85 years ago, and I want to make sure A.A. is here for another 85 years. That is my responsibility to the alcoholic who hasn’t been born yet, and that’s why I avidly participate in General Service.

I Am Responsible” will run 5:30 p.m. June 22 at the Margaret Todd Center, 1560 Hill Road in Novato.

Step Six: Sometimes You Eat the Bear …

By Rick R.

Sometimes the wording used in the Big Book and in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions means something different based on how we evolved with respect to religion, agnosticism, atheism and other concepts. This may be confusing to many of us—especially Step Six in the 12 and 12, as it talks of God removing defects of character the way God removed the obsession to drink.

I try to word the Step Six process in simple terms anyone can understand. Almost about all of our actions and behaviors stem from our thinking. If our thinking is fearful, we are bound to make bad decisions in an effort to defend ourselves. The defects we identify in the Step Four inventory, disclose in Step Five, and address in Step Six are by-products of our fears and insecurities residing in our inner, spiritual self. The shortcomings we address in Step Seven are of a material nature (actions and behaviors) that result from those fears and insecurities. If, in the program, we discover a defect of character and address it properly, the shortcoming diminishes and becomes irrelevant.

Addressing character defects diminishes shortcomings

A simpler way I try to describe this process is as follows: Suppose you purchased a new car and drove off the lot. As you reached the first stop sign you hit the brakes—the car slowed down but did not stop as it should, then drifted out into the intersection. When you returned to the car lot and explained what happened, they checked it out and discovered that the wrong brakes were installed at the factory. They agreed to correct the mistake. This time when you drove away and approached the stop sign the car stopped as it was supposed to, and it also stopped at every other stop sign or red light. In a similar way, once a defect is identified and corrected, the shortcoming goes away. I look at defects as the unseen part of our makeup: Thoughts, motives, fears, feelings, ego, conscience and so on. I look at shortcomings as the results of those inner thoughts and feelings such as: Gossip, lying, verbal abuse, cheating, theft and neglect.

Credibility leads to integrity

In Step Four we identified our defects of character (fear and insecurity). In Step Five we owned and exposed them. In Steps Six and Seven we start to replace our selfish, shameful thoughts and motives with unselfish habits and deeds. There’s no need to overcomplicate the process. As we begin to stay on the unselfish side of the behavioral ledger, we begin to establish a new track record. If all our motives are of an unselfish spirit, we start to establish some credibility which, in time, leads to integrity.

If an individual employs the dynamics I describe in Step Six and Seven, they will be a different person, in spirit, when they reach Step Nine. It is much easier to make amends backed up by a mountain of integrity. The steps of the program are numbered in order for a reason. If a person is struggling with one of these steps, it might be wise to back up and be sure that they didn’t skimp on an earlier step or leave out something important. If an alcoholic has a desire to live a happy and useful life, the steps of the program are a pathway to achieve that goal, provided they stick with the plan. Not everything will go our way in the beginning but, if we persist, in time things will go exceptionally well. In the words of Preacher Roe: “Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.” I say, “Perseverance will always eat the bear!”

Night Owls

by Chris B.

When I was barely 90 days sober, I used to go to coffee with old timers and newcomers after the Saturday Night Owl meeting. The meeting started at 10:00 PM and often went until after midnight at the El Cajon Alano Club on Washington Street. In those days the slogans were plastered on the walls along with the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. Smoking was almost equivalent to breathing.  Rot gut coffee was available in large urns and Styrofoam cups were plentiful. Sugar and creamer and artificial sweetener were on hand and sometimes borderline stale cookies were available. Along with the traditional AA slogans-Easy Does It, Live and Let Live, This Too Shall Pass, But for the Grace of God, KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) Think Think Think, (I never took to that one…thinking was always my problem), there was one that read We don’t care how they do it in LA.  Southern California AA has its own brand of tough love, as I later learned. Raising one’s hand was frowned on and the Secretary would call on people randomly.  The person called on to share would go to the front of the room and stand behind a podium. If the meeting were large enough there would be a microphone and fifty or so pairs of eyes boring a hole into your soul. Always with great love, never with judgement.

In those days the slogans were plastered on the walls

After Night Owls we would adjourn to Vacarro’s coffee shop where we would have great philosophical discussions about the Steps and life in general. I was excruciatingly withdrawn and seldom uttered a word.  I had the gift of desperation and a sincere desire to stay sober, but I didn’t have a belief that I could. I listened intently to the banter and talk of the Twelve Steps and the wise pontifications of the ‘old timers’ who had as much as 7 years sobriety.   I still hadn’t gotten a sponsor.

At first I thought it would be easy (not to be confused with simple) and that I would be able to accomplish the miracle of sobriety on my own, armed with a Big Book, Twelve and Twelve, and as many meetings as I could stand, especially Step meetings where we would read from the Twelve and Twelve and discuss a Step each week. Maybe I’d meet God along the way or a Higher Power.  Wisely, they told me to leave my religion outside the door. My God was and still is Anonymous. The AA book tells us that it is impossible to define or comprehend that power. I believe that wholeheartedly.

I learned a lot at those after-the-meeting meetings, without having to actually ask (A.A.: Actually Ask, right?) for help.

Asking for help has never been my strong suit

Asking for help has never been my strong suit.  I’d almost rather die (almost) than admit there is something I don’t know or that someone else may understand better.  After a few months of sobriety, the fog began to clear and I started to let into my brain the concept that not only could I ask for help, but I must ask for help. My asking for help would allow someone to be of service.  I might be actually doing them a favor, so to speak. The program, aka the Steps, is designed to be worked with another human being; it’s not a research paper in the form of a Fourth Step for me to turn into my sponsor.  I was not an exception to this despite my fear of terminal uniqueness and my desire to save face.

One night at Vacarro’s one of the old timers, Jerry S., asked me why I never participated in discussions. He’d often look me directly in the eye and ask “What’re ya doin’ in there?” He’d describe me and others as “shifty-eyed newcomers.”  It was intimidating. I bolstered myself and responded to his question with what I thought was an honest and vulnerable answer:   “I guess I’m afraid of rejection” to which he flippantly answered in a nanosecond as if it had been on the tip of his tongue the whole time:    “That’s bullshit…you’re not afraid of rejection. What you have is fear of not being as good as based on a sincere desire to be better than” … and thus my inventory was taken, succinctly and pointedly.

I suppose that kept me from talking for another few months.  I was intrigued to know how he knew things about me that I had no idea of myself. There was no hiding from the steely-eyed gaze of these old timers, that’s for sure.

There was no hiding from the steely-eyed gaze

photo credits available upon request from thepoint@aasf.org

During the next several months I found a sponsor, Ginny C., who was exactly the person I needed. With her guidance, I proceeded through the first nine steps. I did steps, but not because I wanted enlightenment or to walk hand in hand with the Spirit of the Universe. I did them because I feared a life and death of alcoholism.  That was my motivation. Another wise bit of counsel was: “Don’t get good before you get well.” This proved to be helpful when I thought I had to quit smoking, take up exercise and become an all-around example of clear-eyed wholesomeness and spirituality. Or to put it into an A.A. slogan First Things First.

These days I find that what at first seemed like trite platitudes have proven to be the A.A. equivalent of koans and a rock-solid way of life.

Biarritz A.A. Convention: Resort of the Kings

by Bruce B.

Our Biarritz A.A. Convention has been fortunate to feature A.A. speakers with long-time sobriety—since its inception, the average length of sobriety for speakers has been 40 years. Participants come from all over the Anglophone world with enthusiastic support from the USA and the British Isles.

An excuse to visit France and share recovery

Being a lone English-speaking A.A. in the French Basque country has its limitations. The concept of a Biarritz convention was originally a means to bring quality A.A. meetings to a region where none existed in English. The benefit of organizing the convention has in fact proved to be one of service to others around the world looking for an excuse to visit France and share recovery with others in a safe, friendly, and loving environment.

Photo credits available upon request to thepoint@aasfmarin.org

In 2019, two invited American speakers will share more than eighty years’ combined sobriety between them. A group of San Francisco AAs are pre-booked with plans to incorporate some tourism and go on to the Tossa de Mar Costa Brava convention six hours’ drive away the following weekend.

As with so much in life, the Biarritz Convention started with an unforeseen coincidence spiritualists call “God-At-Work” miracles. A life founded on administration in architecture, building, sailing, publishing and coaching had honed my skills to the point where organizing a convention seemed possible. Thanks to working with the surfing industry in the 1990s and 2000s, I absorbed helpful elements from marketing, trade shows, competitions and storytelling. The result was the excitement of a big, party-like event where everyone was a winner.

Whilst attending an A.A. convention in Spain in 2015, someone suggested another European October convention might fit into the agenda. My imagination fired up and I planned out the essential elements in my mind’s eye with Biarritz’ associated surfing, quality hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions. We planned the schedule and invited inspiring speakers.

Service to others around the world

Biarritz, with its history of royal connections, is constantly the center of the world’s attention. In 2016, the city hosted the World Surfing Games, forerunner to the 2020 Japanese Olympic Games surfing events. In 2019, Biarritz is hosting the G7 meeting and World Longboard Surfing Championships. And in 2024, Biarritz will host the Olympics surfing competition.

Attendees like the sound of Biarritz (even though they don’t know it), the Indian summer weather in October is superlative, and the World Surfing Tour French Pro is on at the same time. Plus, Lourdes is only 90 minutes away for those seeking spiritual immersion.

No need to worry about your French, Spanish or Basque language talent—most people in the area speak English. World-famous San Sebastian and Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum are close by, just across the Spanish border, as well as some of the finest dining in the world. The Basque Culture is a unique experience of language, seafaring, music and dance. Whaling was developed by the Basques as early as the seventh century. The region has a wealth of tourism attractions with no glitter, noise, or razzmatazz. Access is easily accomplished by air, train and road.

The pièce de résistance for 2019 is the venue hotel, designed like a cruise ship and located right on a southwest-facing beach, a unique situation in Biarritz (truly a regal resort). One point of interest is the person who took me to my first meeting in 1990 was the first speaker at the first edition of the Biarritz convention. Reflecting the quality and merits of our Biarritz Convention, he will be returning in 2019—we are all winners.

Entirely Ready

by John W.

Something had to change if I was going to get sober. After making that admission and finally becoming willing to look at change for me, the screen of alcoholic denial having finally been fatally pierced, my miracle occurred. That obsession was lifted and I haven’t had a drink since. That dreadful, horrible, demanding obsession was gone. After getting a sponsor and working the Steps, I started to learn, appreciate and really understand the tremendous gift I had been given and how I had to work each day to nurture that gift. I, like so many others, emphasized 10, 11, and 12, the Maintenance Steps, for this purpose.

Something had to change

Life on life’s terms continued to happen, I began to also see how applying the steps to the practical problems I faced every day which baffled me, was working the steps. So as life’s trials began to take repeated wrong turns, as my plans continued to fall short, I realized that to survive more change was needed. I realized that the same process that had defeated the obsession one day at a time had to be brought to bear on those problems in my life that had nothing to do with drinking. They also were defined by my alcoholism. The inventory, both searching and fearless, was taken. The admission to myself, my Higher Power and another came shortly after. But was I now entirely ready?

When I took my first Sixth Step, I wanted never to drink again. I was consumed by that desire because of the dreadful experiences I heard from those who slipped, whether it was a day and a beer or a brandy that led to years in hell and a .45 pistol in the mouth. I felt like I had lived these experiences with those who described them and I didn’t need to know them firsthand. But this newer experience with Step 6 was different.

Nothing to do with drinking, but everything to do with how I lived life

I had been sober a while. I went to meetings daily, sponsored men and worked a good program. Now I was being asked to become entirely ready to have God remove shortcomings which had nothing to do with my drinking, but everything to do with how I lived life as a sober man. I was getting to see, up close and personal, just what it meant to work the steps. I had to be prepared to work Step 6 anew and progress in my program beyond where I had arrived at that moment. I looked into the eyes of the man who had just heard my Fifth Step as he asked the question: So are you entirely ready to give these up, too?

I was no more ready to give him my honest answer than he expected to hear it and he said so. He told me to get quiet and ponder that task, that decision. So I did as was suggested. Even for the aspects of my life which were so vitally important, yet unquestionably out of my control. It was in the meditation which followed, the contemplation of the Steps which I had taken to arrive at this point, that something fresh and new happened.

Unlike my first Step 6, where relief from drink was primary, the relief here was on a different, more “in your face” level. It was as if I were looking at myself in a mirror asking: Is it that time yet? Are you finally ready?

The words I heard in my meditation were also those of the step. There could be no reservations, no holding back. This was a quite different experience. As I acknowledged my willingness in the moment of serenity, I did know a new happiness.

This I believe was what the Big Book describes as conscious contact. Although I was alone, I had a profound feeling that I was not. I seemed to even know that all would be well, regardless of the outcome. I had let the steps work in my life and I was at peace.

photo credits available upon request to thepoint@aasfmarin.org