Intergroup News | February 2019

This is an unofficial summary of the January 2019 Intergroup meeting provided for convenience; it is not intended to be the completed approved minutes. For a complete copy of the minutes and full committee reports see “Intergroup” on our website www.aasf.org.

Our intergroup exists to support the groups in their common purpose of carrying the A.A. message to the still suffering alcoholic by providing and coordinating services that are difficult for the individual groups to execute.

The Intercounty Fellowship has been organized by, and is responsible to, the member groups in San Francisco and Marin for the purpose of coordinating the services that individual groups cannot provide.

The meeting was held on Wednesday, January 2, 2019, at the First Unitarian Universalist Center, 1187 Franklin Street in San Francisco. The meeting was started with a call to order and the Serenity Prayer. Baskets for dinner were passed. The December 2018 minutes and the January 2019 agenda were approved.

Standing Reports

Board Chair, John R. was absent but received the update from
Pete F. We have an open Board position to fill. Please submit interest by EOW. The term ends in June, so length is 6 months. Marin females are encouraged to apply.

Treasurer – Alix F. November we closed 11 months strong. Group Contributions were $168k and Individual Contributions were $42k. Central Office Bookstore sales under budget by $2k. Operating Expenses were under by $13k. The YTD deficit is $15k from budget. We have $76k in Unrestricted Cash, which is 3 months operating expenses. We are still getting contributions from groups and for Gratitude Month. Please encourage treasurers to submit all contributions ASAP.

Executive Director – Maury P. was absent, report submitted Central Office will be closed January 21 for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Ask your group to notify Central Office of any closures. Group Insurance policy renews January 10. Central Office has 4 open phone shifts that need to be filled with a 1-year sobriety requirement.

Intergroup Committee Reports

Archives, Kim S. The next history event in February or March. Expecting Women’s Event Part 2. It was a huge success last time. We are cataloging what we have and looking for more space because we’ve run out of room at Central Office. We’re asking for pictures of group meeting spaces. Send photos to archives@aasf.org. Put the meeting name and location and the purpose. It is for a presentation at Unity Day and is for our community. We’ve had 1 submission so far. Reminder: IGRs are the meeting archivists. The Archives committee can help with that. Meet 12pm to 2pm on the 3rd Sunday of the month at Central Office.

Technology, Taran R. We ended 2018 “gently.” We helped The Point go digital. HelpChat launched into its own committee and no longer part of the Tech Committee. We are upgrading some technology software. The big thing on the radar is including Marin in the domain name that will be on the agenda later tonight.In November 600 people searched for “Meetings in SF” and found our site via Google Search.

PI/CPC, Justin H. Lots of service opportunities, including liaising with radio, media, TV and others.  

Meet the 2nd Monday of the month at Central Office. Orientation is at 6:00 pm and the business meeting is 7:00 pm.

Fellowship, Elena R. A reminder that we have a play coming up titled “In Our Own Words – 10th

Anniversary.”  Postcards with info are in the back of the room to share at meetings. Tickets are available online aasf.org. A preliminary volunteer list will be passed to help at box office and onsite opportunities.

Orientation, Greg M. Two Intergroup buddy sign-up boards will be passed for all the new and numerous IGRs. The second board is for the February buddy sign-ups.

The Buzz, Anne Marie C. Email newsletter that goes out twice monthly with upcoming events and news. See Anne Marie if interested in signing up or contact her online. A question about The Point, LinkedIn, The Buzz. And yes, this is happening.

SF Teleservice, Lara L. The Friday Coordinator position is open. Orientation is the 3rd Monday of every month at Central Office at 6:00 pm. We discussed last month about bringing orientation to various interested meetings. IGRs should ask their groups (50+) if they’re interested. Email sfteleservice@gmail.com. The holidays had the phone lines booming!

The Point, John B. The Point is live digitally as of yesterday. The link to The Point will be included in The Buzz.It’s local and includes stories about local people and things happening. The issue for February includes 2nd Step themes. Meet the 2nd Saturday each month at 12:30 pm at Central Office. We are still looking for fellow editors.

Hospitality, Ken J. Please help clean up. For your information, Jackie B. is doing a fundraiser for Living Sober, the oldest LGBTQ sobriety conference. Stay tuned.

Liaison Reports

Sobriety by The Bay, Mickey Thanks for getting the word out about this year’s conference. There’s more flyers to distribute. We’re offering sponsorships to local treatment centers paying the registration fee for those in treatment to attend. This is good for those who would be unable to attend.

Marin PI/CPC, Andrew We’re aiming to do more orientations and to get into schools. PI is Public Information and every meeting can have a representative for this service committee. Meet the 4th Thursday each month at the Marin Alano Club.

SF General Service, Justin, incoming DCMC We are now meeting at the Old First Presbyterian Church adjacent to Central Office on the 2nd Tuesday each month at 6:30 pm.

Marin H&I Liaison, Karen G. We had great attendance at H&I.There is a new group facility in San Anselmo for anyone in Marin who is young. Side by Side is restarting on Mondays at 7:00 pm. Volunteers must go through orientation in order to participate. The audience is teenagers, so young volunteers are encouraged. There is a new program starting at San Quentin by doing sponsorship (male only) to inmates. You have 15-20 minute conversations and decide if it’s a good fit. All are sober members of the jail community. Some are lifers, others not.

Marin Teleservice, Patrick M. A handful of shifts are available. January will be a turnover of service positions; that’s 17 positions up for grabs!

GGYPAA, Justin H. There are open positions on the committee. We put on dope events! You don’t have to be young to participate. Meet the 2nd Sunday each month at 12:00 pm, alternating between San Francisco and Marin.

Presentation Archives presentation on Ray H., one of our Founders.Peter M. is the original curator of this presentation. Ray was one of the original Founders and starter of A.A. in San Francisco. Peter went to GSO Archives (NYC) and Walnut Creek CNCA Archives to do research. We found his journal and tickets of notable A.A. events. August 1941 is Ray’s sobriety date whereas A.A. reached San Francisco in 1939. He was somewhat of an archivist … a bad one! GSO’s rule is “do no harm” but he would staple and pin things. When Bill W. and Louis visited San Francisco in 1943, Ray was part of the welcoming committee. There was a meeting with a fancy banquet dinner at Franklin Street on November 27, 1943. Ray was a pioneer in going to San Quentin meetings, which was the first facility to start H&I here in Northern California. He had meeting notes that are housed at our San Francisco/Marin archives.  He described himself as the “bald-headed bastard.” Ray kept notes on meetings with Rathbon (sp?), a Stanford professor and psychologist, as well as early development with PI/CPC. He chaired a committee in 1948 for the first NCCAA Conference where Bill W. spoke as the keynote; ticket stubs are in the Central Office archives.

Old Business

Outreach and Connectivity- Alix F. Intergroup has lowered our shipping rates for literature sales to local members. Conducted an analysis on lowering shipping with a negligible impact to financials.  A question was asked about shipping to Fairfax. She confirmed the lowered shipping goes to any members in our fellowship living in San Francisco & Marin counties and these rates are commensurate with GSO’s rates.

Intergroup Connectivity There are 5 points of connection with member groups:

  • Contribution
  • Literature
  • IGR
  • Secretary
  • Treasurer
  • Registered GSR (for SF meetings)

If a group is not registered, it’s important that we encourage meetings to register their Trusted Servants so that Central Office can that meeting in case of meeting closures, changed locations, etc. It’s aimed to improve communication on behalf of the newcomer.

Key Data Points 

  • Contributions in last 3 years are from 78% of groups
  • Only 12% of meetings have a registered IGR
  • Only 36% of meetings have either a treasurer or secretary registered with Central Office
  • Currently, 11 IGRs are from Marin and 33 from San Francisco; we are looking for more from both counties

This info is designed to address how we can better reach out to our community. Registering as a Trusted Servant is simple and easy. All IGRs are part of the Intergroup’s “outreach” committee

Discussion

Group elections should encourage new volunteers to register. Trevor asks if individuals could register who they are and their Home Group so more people are connected. But then have separate Trusted Servants registered as secretary and treasurers. Lucy: Many meetings don’t have any order, info or archives. So, these new Trusted Servants have no idea about registering or if a meeting location changes. There is minimal “pass it on” knowledge. Adam: This is new info to me as I’m still new. Where is all this found? Pete F. answers it is found on aasf.org under “Service and Sponsorship.” Don: In the spirit of outreach, he likes Trevor’s idea of a new category for individuals able to connect with Intergroup. Pete: The targeted message for this month is focused on Trusted Servant registration. Michael P. clarified that currently the website is only designed for secretary and treasurer registration.

Primary Domain Change, Taran R.  Presented proposal to change the primary domain for our website from aasf.org to aasfmarin.org. The implications of the impact changing the Intergroup URL is in the monthly meeting packet. Most of what’s there is stuff most people shouldn’t/wouldn’t care about. Clarifying question about redirecting the old domain to the new: Is that a period of time only? Answer: The old domain will never go away. Ashley:  A concern is that pointing new members to our website is easier to use AASF that is only 4 characters whereas the new domain is longer and has double the characters. Taran comments that AASF is still a viable URL to point new members toward. Individual from Sobriety by the Bay based in San Jose: From an outsider’s perspective, he’s well aware Marin is included in part of the Intercounty Fellowship. Pete gets a read of the room, finding most people are comfortable to vote. Michael P. points out “long term,” if Marin officially splits off, aasfmarin.org may not be viable in the future. Many hands raised with readiness to vote but in the interest of time and potential disagreement, Pete pushes the vote to next month.

What’s On Your Mind?

Kim S.: Someone reminded her that there’s an A.A. History Symposium in February and registration is limited. Andrew: He was sick 2-3 weeks ago and couldn’t get to a meeting. He found that local Intergroups have recorded speakers (like Contra Costa Country) but we don’t have any recorded shares on our website. Kim notes that we have many in our Central Office archives for listening but there’s a conflict about hosting those on our website because of anonymity issues including first and last names on those recordings. Pete asks Andrew to reach out to Contra Costa for additional information. Kim will reach out as well to learn about their group conscience policy regarding hosting speaker tapes on the website. John: His group, Rule 62, has died but could be resurrected if there’s any interest. 

Targeted Message

  • Help communicate what Intergroup is and does
  • We are all responsible for outreach
  • Send in Gratitude Month contributions
  • The Point is now digital! 
  • “In Our Own Words – 10th Anniversary” is February 8-9, 15-16

Adjourn with the Responsibility Statement

Next Intergroup Meeting: Wednesday, Wednesday, February 6, 2019, 7:00 pm, at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 101 Donahue Street in Marin City. Orientation is at 6:00 pm, dinner is served at 6:30 pm.

Intergroup February 2018
Treasurer’s Report

Month Ended December 2018

For December 2018, Total Revenue was $36,069, under budget by $7,649. This was due to a higher than expected group contributions. Total Operating Expense for December was $34,182, over budget by $10,888. This was mainly due to an out of period adjustment related to employee healthcare costs. The result is a Net Operating Surplus of $2,345 for the month.

Group Contributions for December were $13,991, under budget by $38. Individual Contributions were $10,556, under budget by $2,435.

Total Unrestricted Cash for December 2018 was $77,564, an increase of $1,518 from November 2018.  Unrestricted Cash is over 3 months of operating expenses.

We ended 2018 with a year to date deficit of $2,477, just under our budget of an operating surplus of 0.

The rating for December 2018 is “Excellent.”

OVERALL RATING: Excellent

Intergroup News | January 2019

This is an unofficial summary of the December 2018 Intergroup meeting provided for convenience; it is not intended to be the completed approved minutes. For a complete copy of the minutes and full committee reports see “Intergroup” on our website www.aasf.org.

Our intergroup exists to support the groups in their common purpose of carrying the A.A. message to the still suffering alcoholic by providing and coordinating services that are difficult for the individual groups to execute.

The Intercounty Fellowship has been organized by, and is responsible to, the member groups in San Francisco and Marin for the purpose of coordinating the services that individual groups cannot provide.

The meeting was held on Wednesday, December 5, 2018, at the First Unitarian Universalist Center, 1187 Franklin Street in San Francisco. The meeting was started with a call to order and the Serenity Prayer. Baskets for dinner were passed. The December 2018 minutes and the January 2019 agenda were approved.

Standing Reports

Board Chair, John R. Happy Holidays! Very proud of the Intergroup consensus process.

Treasurer, Alix F. Rating is Excellent (see provided notes). Group contributions are down but individual contributions to Central Office are making up the difference. Ask your treasurers to get Gratitude Month contributions into Central Office right away. Faithful Fivers may need to reach out for help with the payment processor as we continue to switch over from the old system. The finalized budget for 2019 was approved by the Board (see slides). Zero-dollar budgeting; income is budgeted by averaging last 3 years plus no more than a 7% increase. Thanks to committee chairs for submitting their budgets.

Executive Director, Maury P. Great to have so many new people here. Brought two prepaid literature orders tonight based on November’s discussion about making literature orders more convenient. There are 4 open phone shifts at Central Office and we need people who can work during the day during the week. While Central Office will be closed on Christmas and New Year’s days, we are keeping the office open on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve as an experiment. Annual inventory took place on November 24. Everything was counted and we were only off by $138. The following is how the budget happens: It is a based on prior actuals (averaging the past 3 years plus no more than a 7% increase) and we end up being close … but not always. The Intergroup Board approved the deposit for the production of In our Words, Jackie B’s play coming next month. Tickets are now available at the online bookstore. Final flyers will be available next month. The goal is to break even on the production, so it will be priced lower this year. Don’t wait to buy tickets. It sells out.

Intergroup Committee Reports

Archives, Michael filling in for Kim S. Any A.A. materials that you would like to donate, email archives@aasf.org. Groups that host an event should send the flier to Archives as well.  We are putting together a record of events that groups produce.We are working to preserve A.A. spaces, so send us pictures of those meeting spaces (without people).

The Point, John B. Looking for more volunteers for the committee. The current issue of The Point is now online! There will no longer be printed issues going forward. We are looking for submissions. Because it’s digital, we are no longer limited by length (can be more than 600 words). Special thanks to all who helped getting it online. Question: Shane – will it be pushed out as well? Answer: Links to The Point will be posted in The Buzz.

Fellowship, Elena R. Working on the play coming up. Looking for volunteers for all the showings. There will be A.A. meetings before some performances that will also require volunteers. Volunteers will be able to see the show for free, if there is available seating. Volunteering is not limited to IGRs, so email fellowship@aasf.org for more information.

SF Teleservice, Layne Z. Lara L. is taking over the committee as chair. We are looking for co-chair. Phones are answered 24/7 on weeknights, weekends and holidays. We need to fill shifts and also looking for a Friday Coordinator. Orientation is on the 3rd Monday of the month at Central Office.

SF PI/CPC, Justin H. We are still looking for committee members (you will get to hang out with Justin!). We are partnering with Marin PI/CPC.  San Francisco is good at jail communications and Marin is good at reaching out to schools, so there is a lot to learn. DUI classes have fallen off. Our plan for 2019 is to give talks to UCSF medical students. We also signed a “memo of understanding” with SFUSD but it has been rescinded.We met with SFUSD and they are not looking for our message but suggested outside organizations. We meet the 2nd Monday of each month at 6:00 pm.

Orientation, Greg M. Lots of new IGRs have joined this month. Tonight is the first time we are trying new buddy system. We ask that buddies come at 6:30 pm and get connected with the newbies.

The Buzz, Anne Marie C. The Buzz is emailed on the 1st and 15th of every month.The Buzz is trying to feature alcothons and/or meeting closures. We’ve added a plaintext format on aasf.org/thebuzz.Soon to have a link to the point in The Buzz. Contact thebuzz@aasf.org.

Sunshine Club, Ann M. Brought 5 to 6 meetings to people in hospitals and homebound folks. We could use another person or two who can be part of the team. We would like more support. Ongoing needs will be discussed in meetings.Question: Jacqueline – Are people doing it in Marin? Answer: Unfortunately, our Marin coordinator stepped down.

Liaison Reports

Marin General Service, Jacqueline New slate of officers were elected in November. The Safety Workshop came in under-budget. Participation was wide-spread where 78 people came anywhere from Carmel to Vacaville.

SF General Service, Steve Great election cycle and Justin is the new DCMC. We could use a boost in District 6 attendance, so put the word out at your meetings. Lots of things are afoot in this 2-year panel: God, Singleness of Purpose etc.About 200 attended the Hispanic Women in A.A. conference with delegates from all over the world.

Marin PI/CPC, Cathy P. Conducted presentations at Dominican, Novato, etc. for nurses. Expect to hear more about hospital 12th step work. We meet on 4th Thursday of each month at the Marin Alano Club in San Rafael.

New Business

Alix F. Propose to change the canonical domain of aasf.org to aasfmarin.org. Currently, aasf.org and aasfmarin.org go to the same place but the proposal would be to make aasfmarin.org the canonical domain on the web as well as on marketing collateral and Central Office emails. Question: Allison – Would aasf.org redirect? Answer: Yes. They go to the same place and that would not change. Question: Don – Would this equal a change in marketing collateral? Answer: Yes. Question: Could we get aamarin.org? Answer: No, that belongs to another individual. Question: John – Would email addresses have to change? Answer: Those issues still need to be addressed. Question: Drew – Has there been any technical discovery for this change?  Worried about downstream effects for the newcomer (loss of email, loss of search rankings, general confusion) of domain changing and branding. Answer: That will need to be addressed. Question: Allison – How do other Intergroups handle similar situations?  Answer:  We do not have any other examples. The feeling from some Marin groups is that aasf.org is not inclusive. Question: Jillian – Can we do a small change and then do larger changes later? Answer: Yes.

Tarin R. As a member of the Technology Committee I volunteer in order to look at some of the downstream effects.  I will report back next month. Statement: Keith – There is a feeling that Marin doesn’t feel a part of the Intergroup. Question: James – What about other URLs?  Answer: Well, aasfmarin.org is the one that we own and it redirects to the website.

Old Business

Building enthusiasm, Alan Surprised there is a push from Marin to break away from aasf.org. People are interested in getting information and the enthusiasm is there. Follow up from last month:

Alix Expresses gratitude about the technological bridge building. Rise ‘N Shine groups did not vote to send people to MI2020. MI2020 has done a good job of reaching out to North Marin and West Marin and wants to push into southern Marin.

Jim He is from Novato and thinks there is more participation here due to MI2020. Asks Marin IGRs to do outreach pitch to Marin meetings. Doesn’t want San Francisco people to come to Marin to talk but thinks Marin people should make a pitch for the existing Intercounty Fellowship. Thinks MI2020 is a bad idea.

Maury Prepaid literature as opposed to mobile bookstore is the first step. Please inform Marin groups about this. Wants to address what we can do to improve our services rather than be reactive.Made the GSR and IGR handout available. Would love to have more meetings in both San Francisco and Marin know about the current Intergroup. Thinks that switching to aasfmarin.org is a good idea because it informs members on both sides of the bay that we serve both counties.Should weperhaps put together an outreach committee?Asks all IGRs for actions steps. Consensus was to continue discussion next month.

Alix We have to be careful about how Intergroup talks about MI2020.  It is Intergroup’s responsibility to make clear current services.

Adjourn with the Responsibility Statement

Next Intergroup Meeting: Wednesday, Wednesday, January 2, 2019, 7pm, at the First Unitarian Universalist Center, 1187 Franklin Street in San Francisco. Orientation is at 6:00 pm, dinner is served at 6:30 pm.

Meetings Represented
Marin Groups
Barnyard
Broad Highway
God Could & Would If He Were Sought
Last Stop Men’s Step Study
Men’s Two Plus
Mill Valley 7 am
Mill Valley Beginners
Monday Blues
Monday Night Stag Tiburon
On Awakening
Quitting Time
Rise ‘N Shine
Saturday Weekend Warriors
Thursday Night Speaker
San Francisco Groups
A New Start
Any Lengths
Anything is Possible
Artists & Writers
As Bill Sees It Thu. 6 pm
Be Still AA
Beginners Warmup
Bernal New Day
Blue Book Special
Castro Discussion
Cocktail Hour
Cow Hollow Men’s Group
Cow Hollow Young People
Creative Alcoholics
Design for Living
Each Day a New Beginning
Experience, Strength & Hope
Join the Tribe
Lush Lounge
Monday Beginners
Pocket Aces
Reality Farm
Serenity Seekers
Sesame Step
Sometimes Slowly
Sunday Night Castro Speaker Discussion
Sunset Speaker Step
Valencia Smokefree
Waterfront
Weekend Update
West Portal

Intergroup January 2018 
Treasurer’s Report 

Month Ended November 2018: 
Total Revenue was $22,283, over budget by $4,453. This was due to a higher than expected group contributions. Total Operating 
Expense for November was $22,428, under budget by  $4,850. This was mainly due to an out of period adjustment related 
to employee healthcare costs. The result is a Net Operating Deficit 
of $241 for the month. 

Group Contributions for November were $16,045, over budget by 
$5,833. Individual Contributions were $2,176, under budget by 
$1,016. 

Total Unrestricted Cash for November 2018 was $76,046, an 
increase of $832 from October 2018.  Unrestricted Cash is over 
3 months of operating expenses.  Year to date we are operating at a $4,810 deficit, over budget by $15,271.  

The rating for November 2018 is “Excellent”

OVERALL RATING:  Excellent 

H&I Annual Pink Can Collection Report – FYE 2018

Attached is the 2018 Pink Can Letter which reflects current information regarding the activities of the Northern California Hospital and Institution Committee. It is provided to keep local groups informed about how their pink can collections are put to use carrying the message of A.A. to alcoholics who are confined.

Feel free to reproduce and/or distribute the Pink Can Letter to any/all your groups.

HI-Pink-Can-post

Something I Still Can’t Name

by Claire A.

I was deeply skeptical of the “God thing” when I joined A.A. I was accustomed to the icons of the Christian church, crosses, stories of miracles: Stuff I called hogwash. Asked to believe in a higher power, I was basically stumped. It wasn’t just that I rejected the idea of a god of some kind, it was that I rejected faith. I didn’t really have faith in much at that point. I guess I thought my parents would always be there for me, though those relationships were starting to crack. My mom died three years before I got sober.

I had faith in hard work. I believed that if I worked hard enough, anything was possible. Effort: I had faith in effort. I ran a lot. That was effort, too, and I had faith in exercise. I had faith in doing the right thing, too, but that was also starting to fall apart.

The idea of faith in a higher power was strange to me, something I had heard about but only distantly. When my sponsor started talking to me about prayer, I said, “Um, OK,” not wanting to be disagreeable, but inwardly rolling my eyes. Prayer. Like that was going to do anything, I scoffed.

An outer consciousness? An inner voice?

I looked OK. I had the perfect life: Two lovely, healthy kids, a loving husband, lots of friends, a nice house, a job, a car in the garage. But I still drank to pass out at night, every night. Drinking to “finish the job” became my goal, and it was scary. I felt I had to drink. I had suicidal ideations by this point.

Prayer didn’t fix everything

I couldn’t square my behavior with my morals. I mean, I justified things, sure, but I could never really bury the behaviors that I didn’t like. Toward the end of my drinking, they were multiplying. I hadn’t yet gotten jailed or had a DUI. But I had damaged many, many relationships. My life was totally out of control internally.

I saw no way out, and my therapist warned me that I needed to go to A.A. I thought, “The nerve of her!” but I came to A.A. She said what I needed to hear.

It gave me a moment of peace

At a later meeting, she asked me whether I had prayed, and I had to admit that I hadn’t. I don’t remember when exactly I first prayed, but I do remember it was by my bed. I knelt, feeling foolish, and put my elbows on the bed, hands together. My sponsor told me to read off the prayers we all learn: The Serenity Prayer, the Third Step Prayer, the Seventh Step Prayer. I did that.

At first, I felt silly, but also a sense of quiet. I was able to take a deep breath and let it out. Prayer didn’t fix everything, but it gave me a moment of peace, and it gave me something else: A connection to something I still can’t name. An outer consciousness? An inner voice? I don’t know how to describe it, but after many years of prayer I feel that my higher power is part of me and outside me, too. There are times when I feel utterly in sync with my HP and at those moments I feel incredibly happy. And there are times when I lean on it, specially when I am scared and I feel that somehow I can give up the fear without falling apart.

And there are times when I feel separated from it. When that happens, I need a meeting, because I know I will find my higher power there.

Photos by Branislav Belko + Sawyer Bengtson

As Love Expresses Itself: Tradition 2

by John W.

The world isn’t OK, but I am

When he spoke, it was with a noticeable Southern twang that made it clear, in Marin, he was not from around these parts. He had a home-spun way about him, born from decades of sobriety. That made it easy to listen when he talked. So it was no surprise for the guy who shared this morning to quote “One Drink Away From A Drunk,” by George L., recently deceased: “The world isn’t OK, but I am.”

As I listened to the line, I could hear George, complete with Lone Star State drawl. I had often been confused when members would spout that “God” spoke to us through our meetings. This certainly was just a bit too Elmer Gantry for me. No, I thought, I may want to get sober, but not around a bunch of losers who think they are speaking for God when they talk.

I went to an unusual meeting instead

Photos from Robert Lukeman and Aron Visuals

That was the stuff that makes grass grow green I was trying to get away from, not embrace if I wanted to stay alive. But I did hear them say a couple of things: “Keep coming back” and “Don’t quit before the miracles.” So I kept coming back. Funny thing, to me at least, not to them I am sure, was that I didn’t drink. As time began to pass, sober, things began to change. Not so much around me, but most
definitely within me. When going through a particularly rough patch, with divorce court and bankruptcy court looming ever larger, I went to an unusual meeting for me. Instead of where I was longing to go, to my bar two blocks from home, within easy walking distance. There I heard a guy share about my experiences and how he got through them without taking a drink.

When I thanked him after that meeting, he said it had happened over 20 years ago. But he felt the urge to mention it that evening. He wasn’t sure why.

Years later I was chairing a business meeting for my home group. I can’t remember the thorny issue that was the focus of our heated discussion, only the lesson I took from it. We had discussed the problem, examined it from all sides and were ready to come to the correct, the only decision, the one which would guide our meeting thereafter.

The miracle is now I know to listen

With an 11-2 vote, the result could not have been more obvious, so I prepared to move to the next agenda item—this was DONE. Not so fast, came the point of order from Jim D. in the corner—that’s not the way we do it in A.A., said he. Having run business meetings for years I assured him we were OK to move on, but he persisted.

We needed to hear from the dissent, to air their point of view again. That’s when the miracle happened, that’s when He began to express Himself in a way I had never expected. Not that the words were eloquent, passionate, or of such unbeatable logic. They were just another’s opinion, those of the two, just words. But we 14 (I had abstained as the tie-breaker) heard those words. In speaking and listening to them something happened. We voted again and it was this time unanimous, in favor of the dissent!

I believe He did express Himself at that meeting in the dissenters’ views. I also find that happening at my meetings more frequently now. Just like when George spoke or that guy I never saw again did. The miracle is now I know to listen for Him, and so many times I hear Him, just like I was told so long ago I would.

As We Understand God

by Rick R.

Individuals choose their own concept

Alcoholics Anonymous came into existence in 1935 at a time when much of our society was centered around churches in the communities where we lived. Much of the South and the Midwest are still like that to this day. As a child in my home town on Sunday morning, I could look out the window and see the majority of my neighbors walking to church. That was the way it was in the early 1940’s.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous was published in 1939, influenced by early members of the program at that time. A.A. could have easily become a religious program, but fortunately the elders realized (from the mistakes of the Oxford Group and the Washingtonians) they had to make it clear a desire to stop drinking was the only requirement for membership. Individual members could choose their own concept of a power greater than themselves, i.e., God as we understand God.

Years of drinking made it hard to get my thinking up to speed

Tradition Two reads, “As He may express Himself in our group conscience” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 132). When the word God is used in the rest of the book, it’s not always followed by the “as we understand him” qualifier, and I believe many members get the idea we are trying to push religion on them. I think that’s understandable. I personally found it easy enough to read the back part of the book and to not let myself become distracted by what I recognized as a cultural norm for the time.

I had no problem setting aside my religious bias and recognizing the parts of the Big Book and the 12 and 12 that clearly state all of the options available for finding “power greater than myself.” I can name several right off the top of my head:
1) Alcohol itself was my higher power for a long time and still would be if I hadn’t gotten into the program.
2) My ego ran my life for quite awhile until I got serious about life issues.
3) The A.A. program itself.

Collective conscience of the world we live in

Spiritually lost when I surrendered and entered the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, when faced with the need to come to terms with a Higher Power, I realized why it took such a long time to settle this subject. Years of drinking made it hard to get my underdeveloped thinking up to speed right away. As I got more familiar with the Big Book and the 12 and 12, I started to uncover all the evidence that debunked the idea that I had to conform to any particular religious doctrine.

In the 12 and 12 I read on page 26, “Alcoholics Anonymous does not demand that you to believe anything.” On belief: “To acquire it, I had only to stop fighting and practice the rest of A.A.’s program as enthusiastically as I could” (p.27). Also on page 26 it states, “Take it easy. The hoop you have to jump through is a lot wider than you think … A one-time vice-president of the American Atheist Society … got through with room to spare.” Then on page 33 of the 12 and 12 it says “Therefore, Step Two is the rallying point for all of us. Whether agnostic, atheist, or former believer, we can stand together on this step.”

Today I am very comfortable with my own concept of a Higher Power. I use the word God only to put a name on a concept that has no physical form. I might say that it expresses itself in the collective conscience of the world we live in. If you read these qualifiers and practice the rest of the principles of the program as enthusiastically as you can, you will come to terms with a personal concept of a higher power as well as any of us.

Photos by Sepp Rutz and Casey Horner

Willingness to Believe

By Greg F.

Recently I fell and broke my neck. Retrospection as always is my friend. I’ve spent years cultivating my belief in my version of God. What do you know? God was and is with me through this. Four days later I had surgery. A C4-C7 laminectomy and C4-T2 fusion. I had a close A.A. friend go with me into the pre-op room. Thank God for him.

Could and would if sought

Winchester Cathedral by Michael Beckwitrh

We never have to be alone when in A.A. I prayed, we talked, and he held my hand as I cried. I was afraid. When they rolled me into the O.R., I immediately was in Step Three. The tears stopped, I stopped thinking and just was. My faith seemed automatic. I felt my God’s love, power and was calm. We always say “God is everything or nothing,” and “You can’t have fear and faith at the same time.”
Turns out, both are true. I had not been in a hospital since I was a child, so one of my sponsees was with me pretty much every day for two weeks. He saw me in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I’d been in my first year and in his shoes. He was my rock, strength; he helped ground me to my life which was on hold. He put up with me when I was wacko.

I apologized when I realized it. He didn’t run. He hung in there with me. My sponsor suggested I ask for what I needed (on Facebook). It worked! I asked and my needs were met. That’s right, God works through people. A complete stranger came to visit me a couple times. He cut up my food and fed me.

The kindness of strangers

I couldn’t use my right hand. I needed help, and there he was. Watching him feed me helped me be able to do it the myself the next day. The kindness of strangers? Oh wait, in 12-step groups there are no strangers. We’re all one Fellowship.

I was not stuck in my head. I was OK. Regarding pain meds, someone said, “Your higher power works through your doctors” and “Surrender to the process.” This made it easier. I did not enjoy being on pain meds. It’s true what they say: Faith without works is dead. “Be willing to believe, be willing to be willing.” In return for doing my best to believe, I’ve found a new power and peace flowing in and through me. I’m glad I’ve gone back to church this past year and think it undoubtedly contributed to my faith. I look at this experience as an opportunity to slow down.

He hung in there with me

I was enjoying my life prior to my fall. I just moved too fast. I’ve always done so. I’ve embraced A.A. where I live, and this has been extremely important. Another group of folks just like me who I hadn’t reached out to before. As I heal, I keep attending meetings where I live. I’ll still go into San Francisco—just not exclusively. I love the fellowship and meetings in S.F. They are my peers.

Now I have a new sense of the importance of each moment of my life. I’m here. I’m sober. I’m okay. I’ll slow down. I’ll look forward to the next phase of my life. I know this will be the beginning of something different. Long-term sobriety is emotional sobriety and is so worth it! If you don’t feel yet like you know what emotional sobriety is, hang in there. It will come. It will go.

Change is the nature of being human. To think all of this starts and keeps working by not taking that first drink or drug. Amazing!

Photos by Michael Beckwith + mckenna-phillips

Outside Circumstances

by Henry Y.

From the time I was young, I learned to gauge the wants and needs of those around me and conform my behavior accordingly. Roles of child and parent were often reversed. I didn’t realize that this was not the normal order of things. I grew up with a vague sense that things were always bound to go sour without a moment’s notice.

Afraid to allow myself to feel

Photos by Denys Nevozhai and Andy Dutton

While my sister, my mom and my dad stayed locked in conflict, I was usually outside the immediate line of fire. My role was triage, calmly explaining to individual family members the probable underlying motives and offering the most logical way forward. Part and parcel with this was my performance as the unassailable good child, the golden boy. That role required not only that I overachieve, but that I subvert my emotional needs to those of others. I was afraid that if I allowed myself to feel and to make my feelings known, I would be fired from my role, the only role I really knew. Over time, my solution became split between trying to stay as unaware as possible of the family drama, while still accepting emotional burdens foisted on me when they became impossible to avoid.

The only role I knew

I was unable to say no. I was afraid of being dominated by these outside circumstances. In my personal life, I often had trouble enjoying social situations because social situations didn’t offer me a cut-and-dried role to play. To my dismay, most other people didn’t necessarily expect things from me. What a foreign and unwelcome concept. If I based my self-worth on what I had to offer others, and others weren’t making it obvious what they needed me to do for them, then what was my worth?

As I ventured into young adulthood, the basic rites of passage most people experience as teenagers but which I had fearfully avoided came on with a vengeance: Dating, rebelling against expectations, engaging in any number of immature behaviors. With this came alcohol.

Alcohol, the unreliable friend I kept going back to

Alcohol lowered my internal defenses, allowing my id to run roughshod over my otherwise overbearing superego. Alcohol put me in touch with my emotions, the ugly loneliness that lurked beneath my composed surface, and a desperate desire for connection I believed was fundamentally unattainable.

Alcohol also allowed me to connect with others, to feel a part of, and to be my true, messy self. Alcohol didn’t necessarily provide the fun times, but it allowed the fun inside of me to emerge for brief “windows.” I drank because I believed outside circumstances were causing me to feel uncomfortable, and that alcohol would solve this.

Alcohol was like an unreliable friend that I kept going back to because I felt I had no other options. Trying to stop drinking on my own was motivated by a fear of what others thought of me, a desire to impress by my ability to quit. But I keep coming back to A.A. because of my internal circumstances – a spiritual sickness coupled with a desire for something better. I keep coming back because A.A. helps me to deal with my insides so that I can enjoy all the things on the outside.

Intercounty Fellowship of A.A.