This week I braved scads of phone calls and emails to Humane Societies to “rescue” a dog for the family. We finally found a dog named Rei in Sonoma County. Yet I hadn’t expected self-centered fear to take over as I was driving up north. Apparently Google Maps has a glitch and sent me 14 miles in the opposite direction. Luckily when I called them, the Humane Society staff gave me the correct directions. So I was encouraged to read Michael W explaining how fear is optional in his story, Doing the Work. He writes, “The 12 steps remove the fear … after all, if I were drinking, using and in self-pity, I’d have no life. Instead, AA gave me back my wonderful family and an awesome life in sobriety.”
Also in this issue: Christine R shows us how she escaped from a cesspool of despair in Sparkles in Your Eyes. John W reminds us how much better life can be when we keep on trudging the road to happy destiny with Step 10. Bree L tells the story of how Laurie got sober on Zoom in August 2020. And Rob S describes how he handled resentments, the luxuries none of us can afford, while driving a taxi in L.A. Drunks vomiting in the back seat and passengers who take off running to avoid paying were no match for resolutely turning our thoughts to someone we can help.
The new dog and I are getting to know each other. When more self-centered fear arises because I think something bad might happen: I change focus and remember how fear is optional.
“There are sparkles in your eyes. You must’ve have been to a meeting.” So said my co-worker who worked alongside me in a busy, bustling office. She had nine months on the program. I had denial. I had not stopped drinking and lived in a grease pit of despair with no footholds or handholds to grasp onto. What I clung to was the value of meetings where I knew I would feel “less bad.” With all the pains of a newcomer, less bad still sounded like a step up. Sometimes, later in the afternoon she’d sidle up to me again, gaze into my eyes and say, “The sparkles are gone. You need to get to another meeting.”
I had not stopped drinking and lived in a grease pit of despair with no footholds
Sparkles are defined as bright moving points of light. In AA literature the image of light is found frequently. “Darkness into light”; “Light and new confidence”; “Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot in our lives.” We are like bright moving points of light for one another.
Some years and sobriety later, thanks to researching this light observation, I sense the sparkles. The sparkles in my eyes as well as in others. They come from meetings. They come from connection with my fellow alcoholics.
When the sparkles leave my eyes, I know it’s time to refill the spiritual tank. A spiritual light tank, if you will – rather like a lighthouse. Time to take out the Spiritual Windex and clean the windows so the light and sparkles can shine forth for the next wayfarer to avoid life’s rocks; to stay in life’s shipping lanes.
When my chaotic life gets put on hold, if only for an hour, that hour provides an oasis for the needed pause for perspective to “regard things in a different light.” Funny how once my ears were opened, I could see. “The problem for us is to discover a chink in the walls the ego has built, through which the light of reason can shine.”
In early days, I remember romancing drinking again, ruminating this with my sponsor. Thankfully, my sponsor got ahold of me like an errant puppy and took me outside the meeting room. She shook me awake saying, “Before you take that drink, try phoning up your friend who went out last week. Give a call and find out how fantastic it feels to go out. Ask how wonderful the experience is to raise her hand as a newcomer for another 30 days.”
She hotly added I was a garden variety drunk. No greater or less than anyone else in the room. I was instructed to call a newcomer and have the privilege of listening to someone else for a while. Have the privilege of listening to someone else for a while.
Have the privilege of listening to someone else for a while
The penny dropped. And so did my ego. Ego deflation, ego puncturing, with every step one more veil is taken away. As Bill W. said, “The scales of judgment fell from my eyes.” Scales of judgment blind me to what is the Truth and shut me off from the sunlight of the Spirit.
Our 11th Step Prayer reads, “Where there are shadows, I may bring light.” Like sticks need one another to create flame. We need one another to channel light. As one person phrased it, “I didn’t catch alcoholism. Alcoholism caught me. I caught the light from coming to meetings.” With every meeting, a new light falls into the dark world of the alcoholic. And fills our eyes with sparkles.
At a speaker meeting early in my sobriety I was to hear a claim that puzzled me greatly at the time, because I was on no pink cloud and the wreckage of my present lay strewn about me. The speaker had observed, “You can take the alcohol out of the alcoholic, but you can’t take the alcoholism out of the alcoholic.”
I had wanted so desperately of course to not be an alcoholic. You know what I mean – one of those falling-downers, wearing a trench coat on a hot summer day, slumped over in dark places, trying to bum spare change. That was an alcoholic and that sure wasn’t me. I had some trouble with the law (that crashed car in my history was never an easy memory) but I lived in a nice house, had a wife and kids and a good job. I may have had trouble with booze every once and a while, but nothing I could not handle, nothing I could not fix.
The rude awakening of my bottom replaced my fantasy of life with reality. While the spiritual awakening, which I was to find as a result of working the steps, was on the horizon, it was still quite a distance off when I heard this speaker’s comments. These words had dashed my hope of a miracle cure I had been expecting. I wondered if I would ever be OK again. As the sober days began to mount, I was graced with a sponsor who has managed to stick with me through thick and thin. But at our first meeting, after my affirmation that I was willing to go to any lengths, he asked me what I thought things would look like in 365 days. Ruling out a PowerBall winning ticket or Bill Gates giving me his fortune, he asked for my realistic future outlook.
I was graced with a sponsor who has managed to stick with me through thick and thin
After some reflection I gave my reply. He responded that I had underestimated the benefits of the program on which I was beginning to embark. He then guaranteed me that things would be so much better than I had just declared I would consider fantastic if they materialized in the next year. In the days and with the work that followed, when my reticence to do the next right thing confronted me, he would remind me of the affirmative reply I had given to him before. These reminders became the antidote for my fear when it reared its ugly head, disguised as uncertainty or “wrong place, wrong time.” So although our journey was indeed painstaking, his guarantee to me proved no idle ploy. He made good on his promise. Though my play had not followed the script I had written, I had won a personal Tony nonetheless.
As we had then moved to Step Ten, my question to him was, “Now what?” His reply was as if set to a familiar lilt: Keep on Trudgin’. What I had started to integrate his help into my daily life, it would be with me for the rest of it he said, I needed but to Keep On Trudgin’.
However, because I am the kind of person I am, always in search of the easier, softer way, I sought a second opinion. I asked a fellow with time and who had what I wanted how he had kept on trudging over the years and hurdles of his sobriety. I wondered and asked him what the key to Step Ten was for him. “Discipline” was the one-word reply. After he let that sink in, he said I would never be cured of alcoholism (where had I heard that before?). My best hope was for a daily reprieve. But he said that for him, an atheist, his focus on the spiritual challenges of this task required he stick to it in a rigorous, disciplined way. As a result, he said he had found that regardless of one’s concept of a Higher Power, in his time he saw that those people who worked the steps and did not just “talk the steps” seemed to persevere. He said that I was likely to find that the traits I exhibited when I was drinking were still behind that face I saw each day in the mirror. My demons were there, ready to ensnare me if I failed to stay focused on the program that had brought me that gift of sobriety in the first place.
My question to him was, “Now what?”
My sponsor, my second opinion, and now so many others, too, have all echoed the words of that speaker from my past. Those comments were now no longer a puzzle to me: they had become an insight into my disease. The spiritual awakening of which they had been a harbinger could and would be achieved, today, as long as I was willing to Keep On Trudgin’.
During the pandemic, Laurie realized how bad her drinking was. Every night she’d drink, feel good for a brief time, pass out, wake up in the middle of the night feel remorse and say, “I’m never going to do this again.” Then she would repeat the exact same cycle, again and again.
She started out with wine, moved to hard liquor, then back to wine, but always drinking more than she’d planned. She began with cans of wine and graduated to two small single bottles of wine from the liquor store, to control her drinking. The quantity turned into the same as half a bottle, much the same as before.
She talked with a therapist all through these tribulations, saw it was getting worse and tried to figure out remedies. She tried group therapy, a harm reduction group. Throughout, she was trying to avoid AA, saying to herself, anything but AA. She could not say she was an alcoholic. Then when the pandemic hit, she’d done everything she could and realized she couldn’t hide from herself anymore. She googled “AA.”
Always drinking more than she’d planned
“I need help,” she told the woman on the phone. The kind woman asked, “Do you want to go to a meeting?” She explained there were meetings on Zoom and how to find them. Laurie started attending AA meetings. It was easier to attend Zoom meetings as she didn’t have to dress and could appear as she wanted. Meanwhile, she looked at all the little boxes and started listening.
It was a blur in the beginning as she went to many different meetings at different times of the day. She went before work, during lunch hour, after work and found relief. She watched people clap and smile, and felt the support, knowing she was in the right place. She listed her number in the chat. People called her. Why would they call me, she wondered? One woman arranged an outside conversation and Laurie decided they could work together.
A few weeks later Laurie relapsed. Her new friend said she might not be ready, and they separated. She took to heart what the woman had said about being ready but kept going to meetings. She continually asked herself if she ready or not. Over time, she became less disoriented, foggy, and approached someone else who regularly spoke with knowledge at her meetings. That person became her sponsor.
Returning to the same meetings as best as one could
She’d heard the term “home group” and realized it meant returning to the same meetings as best as one could. She hooked up with a daily group and this felt like home. The faces became familiar, and she was able to meet them in the outside world. She felt like she was being carried by the people in the Zoom boxes. It just took a while to see how much they were carrying her. She thought she needed in-person meetings until she realized there was a way to connect between phone calls and meetings. Her sobriety date is August 15, 2020. She now has one year and two weeks.
As a Los Angeles taxi driver during the 1980s, many “adventures” took place, calling for immediate use of Step Ten. For instance: Drunks vomiting in the back seat, passengers who take off running to avoid paying. One mentally ill guy announced he had no money but just wanted to go for a ride, which cost me about ten dollars on the meter. A rich family, after a thirty-mile trip to LAX, which included my heavy luggage handling, left no tip. After these sorts of adventures I was naturally experiencing anger. Maybe worse!
Luckily, AA had taught me that repeated thoughts of anger and resentment could threaten my sobriety – but what to do? This is where page 84 from the Big Book came in handy. It said to ask God, at once, to remove my anger and then to discuss my defect/shortcoming with someone. LA has clubhouses galore so “at once” was no problem. Lastly it suggests: ‘We resolutely turned our thoughts to someone we can help.” I think this could be a prayer for someone, or even planning a birthday gift. Bill Wilson’s Oxford Group mentor, Reverend Sam Shoemaker, summed up A.A. as: “Out of self, into God, into others.”
AA has provided the ability to control my mind, to some degree – at least better than before. I like to think before I think! When I feel thoughts of selfishness, dishonesty, resentment or fear coming to consciousness, I go to God for help. A simple statement such as, “Be still and know that I am God,” seems to calm me down enough to stymie destructive thoughts. What freedom!
Anger and resentment could threaten my sobriety
I have learned that when negative emotions begin to take over, Step Ten has taught me what to do. Step Ten is indeed an all-day-long step! Its rewards are beyond belief: “The problem (mental obsession) has been removed. It does not exist for us” (p. 85). That is, so long as I remain in a fit spiritual condition, Step Ten allows this to happen.
Its rewards are beyond belief
Of course, the clear-cut directions mentioned on page 29, are not laid out on pages 59 and 60 of the Big Book, or on the pull-down “window shades” on the wall. These are only a preview, or a table of contents, if you will, of the Twelve Step process that is explained on the following pages of the Big Book. Bill Wilson tells you what he is going to tell you; then he tells you; then he tells you what he told you.
It was pointed out that there are five clear-cut directions on page 84, and I believe it is important to be aware how I learned how to live them in my life: “Watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fear” was from Step Four; “When these crop up, we asked God at once to remove them” was from Steps Six and Seven. “We discuss them with someone immediately” was from Step Five; “Make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone” was from Steps Eight and Nine; “Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help” was in Step Twelve.
Following all this is progress, not perfection, for yours truly. Sometimes I don’t even come close. Yet, I have not had a drink since my first AA meeting. For this I remain eternally grateful.
Addressing fears is like doing the dishes. There will always be dishes, and we just keep doing them (doing the work).
Alcoholics like me, are always in fear. Although most times it is “False Evidence Appearing Real. ” Sometimes fear is real. Fear can also become as cunning and baffling as alcohol. Whereas I’m unaware of the fear which can be insidiously chipping away at my serenity and acceptance. We must do the work and give away our fears to a Higher Power (HP).
I could no longer see literally, but I could see more clearly
A few years into my early recovery, I was diagnosed with a genetic corneal disease called, keratoconus, to which my condition was one of the most advanced the eye surgeons had ever seen. Multiple corneal transplants would be mandatory and even those procedures would have limited effectiveness. At 5 years sober I was legally blind; I could only see blotches of colors, no form.
Fast forward through multiple transplants and stitches in my eyes, I was able to stay sober, work and could see reasonably well for over 15 years in recovery. I could even drive a car and easily fly around the world for work. As time passed, I noticed a gradual shift whereas I couldn’t focus easily and required hundreds of eye drops a day due to severe dry-eye from the multiple transplants. Ironically, I was also chasing some of my defects of character in a workaholic-type pace, but still very much inside of AA service and meetings. The fear gripped me that I’m going blind again, but I gave all this fear to my HP. And what about the new ego-car in the driveway? I couldn’t drive it! Oh the irony and sense of humor from my HP.
Too much fear is not an option for this alcoholic
Living in fear is optional. It’s a choice we must work in Steps 1-3 and action steps 6-7. Too much fear is not an option for this alcoholic. To those afflicted with my condition, I’ve often stated, “There are much, much worse diseases. We will be ok.” Today I’m walking and running to work, healthier than I’ve ever been. Although I cannot legally drive a car, I’m able to work just fine. I use very large fonts and technology keeps improving. One day there might even be synthetic corneas which will cure this disease for millions of people. The 12 steps remove the fear, because after all, if I were drinking, using, and in self-pity, I’d have no life. Instead, AA gave me back my wonderful family and an awesome life in sobriety.
I was told in the beginning AA was a simple program for complicated people. It helped to go to meetings, work the steps, get a sponsor and be of service. I’ve followed these simple suggestions to the best of my ability. They’ve helped keep me sober, one day at a time, these past 21 years.
Brad O. is a San Francisco born native, born in the Mission District, moved to the Bayview and Sunnydale during his growing up years. He had his first drink when he was twelve. This was the same year his mother was shot by an uncle’s girlfriend. Brad looked for a way to deal with the trauma.
His first solution was brandy. It was too strong so he spit it out. He didn’t touch alcohol again until college, surviving high school with football, swimming, and sports.
Attending City College, he worked at being cool with a cool girlfriend who happened to have brandy, coke and weed. He joined in and his insecurities vanished. He became invincible. They would party together, but this stopped when she became pregnant. He dropped out of school and found a job at Kaiser in the surgical suite, environmental services. His girlfriend worked in communications.
What started as a favor in surgery expanded as he moved into other department
His dealing started when a co-worker asked him if he knew where they might get some drugs. Brad was savvy and began his business as a supply agent of cocaine to Kaiser. What started as a favor in surgery, expanded as he moved into other departments. He was invited to many parties and expected to supply drugs. He started only dealing, but this graduated to using every day with customers and he developed a dependency. His work was affected. The boss said if he called in sick, he would get fired. That night he used, called in sick and got fired. Afterwards he found there was an undercover person who had been hired to bust him, but he was fired before the arrests started. Soon after there was a huge newsworthy bust. Many lost their jobs. Interestingly no nurses were fired as this impacted patient care, a liability issue. The year was 1985.
Brad moved over to the Hilton, doing security with a side job selling drugs. He became a limo driver, still drinking, still using, still calling in sick and was fired for falsifying timecard documentation. They said there was a ten-minute discrepancy in his log. Along with this, there were racial comments creating a biased work environment. Brad sued and got $400,000 and his attorney got $200,000. Brad bought a house in Sacramento and started working for Muni.
While working for Muni he returned to counting days. His routine was to use on Friday, call in sick on Monday and have a clean UA for Tuesday. He eventually tested dirty and ended up in a twelve-step program. He went to New Bridge in Berkeley for thirty days. From there he moved to Kaiser CDRP, going every day. He accumulated 100 days clean, without working the steps. One hot day while commuting from Sacramento, he had a beer, returned to drinking, using and had another dirty UA. He was fired from Muni and returned to his familiar ways.
He next found a job with Yellow Pages, where he could drink, meet clients at the bar and sell ad space over the phone. All went well until the internet phased out Yellow Pages, producing less clients and more drinking. He stayed home and drank. In 2008 he tried to hang himself, but an uncle found him. He was 5150’d into San Francisco General Hospital. He started to see a therapist, got on antidepressants, but continued to drank every day.
In June of 2016 he was admitted to SFGH vomiting blood. The alcohol had torn into his esophagus and every morning he gagged and spit up blood. He was discharged after one month. His son’s mother said he could come and stay with her in El Sobrante for one month. She also suggested he talk with Steve, her best friend’s husband, who was in AA. After the month, Brad moved into a sober living house. Steve recommended he stay there. Brad’s sobriety date June 24, 2016.
Brad was now on disability, so he developed a routine: a meeting in the morning in El Sobrante, work on his house in the Bayview, return to El Sobrante for an evening meeting. He did this for a year and in that time became secretary of the Saturday morning meeting, Wake Up on Third. The year was 2017.
She suggested he talk with Steve, her best friend’s husband, who was in AA
In December of 2019 Brad had a massive heart attack followed by heart surgery the day after Christmas. A.A. became a more active part of his life with the Sunshine group bringing meetings to his house and A.A. friends staying in touch.
Today A.A. is very much a part of his life, as a Secretary at High Noon on Tuesdays. He hosts the Wake Up on Third on McKinnon, Sunday mornings in Brad’s Bayview back yard. He says, “A.A. is the best thing that ever happened to me.’’
Some time in 2013, I got another DUI. Lucky for me, the last one had been over ten years before so I was tried and convicted as a first-time offender again. I had the same attorney (a friend of the family, so I could afford her) and received the minimum required sentencing. Did it get me to stop drinking? It did not. Did I stop driving as my license was suspended? I did not.
I did lose my job, again, and ran out of money for rent, for food, for medical insurance. My partner of almost 20 years covered my part of the rent the first month, but she couldn’t do it a second month. Finally, I ran out of money for booze. Something had to be done, so I reached out for help, and was directed to a detox center in San Francisco. After a few days, and a grand mal seizure followed by a stay in the St. Francis Hospital ICU, I was eventually admitted into the rehab arm of the detox center, the “Big House.” I thought six months was a little extreme but signed on the dotted line. I was out of options.
Something had to be done, so I reached out for help
Along the way I got a sponsor, worked the steps and got service commitments. I went to a meeting every day. My favorite meetings were the 10 PM weekdays at 2900, the Mission Fellowship. I could get out of the fishbowl I was living in and participate and make it back by curfew. I was used to taking the bus to get around town and didn’t really give much thought to the car I had left at my ex’s house in Alameda. That changed when she told me that I had to get it out of her driveway; she was tired of looking at it.
So I went back and got it. Started using it to get around, while being fearful of being arrested for driving on a suspended license, but felt I had no other options. When my sentencing had occurred, I was pretty much drunk all the time and had no idea what to do to become legal. I was pretty sure I could never afford whatever lay before me, and the complications were baffling.
As luck would have it, one night while leaving the Mission Fellowship, having graduated the rehab by this time, after dropping my new S.O. at BART, I ran into a sobriety checkpoint. Stone sober, and full of fear. The police were very nice, and after running my ID, told me that I had almost a half hour before the tow company arrived to get someone with a valid license to drive the vehicle away. It was almost midnight, and while I had a phone full of AA numbers, I couldn’t raise anyone in time to avoid the impound. I was almost ready to just walk away from the whole thing again. I had no idea what to do. And I had a fresh misdemeanor ticket to boot.
Brad from the Mission Fellowship offered me a ride to 850 Bryant to help get the car back
The next morning Brad O. from 2900’s Mission Fellowship called me back and offered me a ride to 850 Bryant to help get the car back. I was delighted for the assist, and off we went. But it was a weekend, and almost nobody was there. We did get news that there was a cop shop out by Townsend that was open, and that they could help me get a release to get it out of impound. So off we went, again. That station told us that the guy at 850 Bryant was crazy and I had to wait until Monday. Sigh. I had been sober for a little while by this point, but without having an AA friend to be solid moral support at this point, I probably would have gone off the rails, yelling at anyone within earshot. I absolutely would never have gotten my license back; the whole ordeal was too frightening.
In the end, they wouldn’t release my car until I signed up for a year of DUI classes. So I go to register for those, and I’m told, sorry, can’t do that until I install a Breathalyzer in the car. The closest install technician was in Hayward. Okay, so I made the call and went to get the keys to the technician who’s headed in from Hayward, only to find out the car wasn’t even in the impound next to 850 Bryant, but in South City. Thank goodness the technician picked up his phone in transit and was redirected to the other impound lot.
A few years later now, I have unrestricted license privileges, liability insurance (full coverage will be too expensive until 2023), current registration, and even a motorcycle license. By the grace of God, certainly, but absolutely through the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. Thanks, Bradley O.