When I was a barroom drunk, the lounge was my living room. The only reason that I went to my apartment was to shower and to sleep. Words like humility or ego were never mentioned. As I look back, I realize that the bar was my place of refuge, where I felt safe rationalizing just about anything to avoid the truth.
Living in a bubble of denial, I would eventually run out of oxygen (options) and have to face life. Alcoholism is a dead-end street which leads to hospitals, prisons or death. When I was facing desperation and out of resources, I surrendered. A.A. replaced the denial with hope. People encouraged me to get realistic about life. The obsession to drink was lifted and has never returned.
In the middle of two extremes
Intuitively understanding life didn’t happen overnight. I had to go through the process of unlearning all my ego-driven habits and replacing them with more unselfish values. As noted by many philosophers and world religions today, ego is the biggest obstacle to the process. My conscience now stands between my ego, my thoughts and actions and it’s starting to do a pretty good job of it. It has been a slow process adopting new ideas and discarding the failed mentality of the past.
Gradually, I developed trust in what I found in the program and in myself. Basically, I must never let down my guard. I examine my motives for every decision I make, and look for a proven, unselfish principle to apply. That takes decisions which used to derail me out of my hands alone. I make less mistakes. As I repeat this process, it becomes second nature. Old behaviors that caused my discontent are replaced by positive action.
I was on the phone with a man who wanted to argue
Defining the word “humility” was not easy. It took a long time to settle on an understanding that put it to rest. The final piece of the puzzle came to me in my 22nd year of sobriety. I was on the phone with a man who wanted to argue. When he realized that I wasn’t going to bite, he fired his last volley by saying: “Well, I’ve heard stories about you, and you’re no angel.” I thought about it for a few seconds and replied, “I’ve done a lot of things in my life that I’m not proud of, but I’m not ashamed of anything that I’ve done in the past 22 years.” The phone call ended peacefully.
Later, in a step study meeting where the topic was humility, I remembered that phone call and realized pride was not the opposite of humility—it was the opposite ofshame. Humility fell right in the middle of the two extremes. When I boiled it all down, I concluded that I should not be proud of, or ashamed of, the things I do. I could be in the middle somewhere. This applies to my receiving as well as my giving.
Aristotle referred to this as the Golden Mean. For example, when we are in the habit of giving compliments to our friends when they deserve it, we should not be so stoic that we cannot accept a compliment with the proper amount of appreciation when we deserve it. To me this means finding the balance between the extremes and exercising it until it becomes second nature.
With my ego on the sideline and my conscience in control, I stay on the unselfish side of the ledger. At the age of 77, I am always involved in some form of service to give purpose to my life. I plan to live to the age of 104, so I can’t quit now (LOL).
As a teenager I was proud of having a bad attitude, of being a rebel. My opinion was that I was right, and anyone who told me what to do was wrong. Drinking was part of my rebellion. I went to Catholic school and we had lots of rules, written and unwritten. One of them was that good girls shouldn’t drink or have sex.
So of course I had to get drunk to have sex. I lost my virginity at a party, drunk, in bed in the dark with my boyfriend and two other couples, all also drunk and all fully clothed. One of the other girls was from my same Catholic girls’ high school. When we emerged we were both amazed when we saw each other in the light. “Kathy?” “Mary Ellen?” We were rebels on the inside but we were good girls on the outside.
I tuned in, turned on, and dropped out
Sophomore year at a Catholic women’s college, my drinking and drugging finally caught up with me. I was flunking out, I was dealing a little marijuana to my classmates, and I thought my part-time job with a radical student organization was way more interesting than classwork. So I tuned in, turned on, and dropped out. Now I could devote myself full-time to rebellion against the Establishment, and even get paid for it. I didn’t last long. My body couldn’t handle nights of drinking and drugging followed by days of work. Before long I was back home in my parents’ house and then briefly in the hospital, recovering from a bout of hepatitis.
“Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 84)
I found a part-time secretary job with some old comrades from the student organization, who had found a refuge at a prestigious university. It was previously a men’s college, and the powers that be decided to start admitting women. I talked my way in, despite my wretched grades from my previous school. I knew I wasn’t qualified, I didn’t fit the profile, but I threatened to just show up for classes, whether the school accepted me or not. They should admit me; the rules didn’t apply to me. They did. I accepted their financial aid, but I continued to drink, skip classes, and miss deadlines. Imagine the surprise of my classmates at the nighttime Women in Literature class when I walked in with my thermos of brandy and hot tea, which I generously passed around.
I somehow graduated, even got a Creative Writing master’s degree, and moved to San Francisco. Now I was in the headquarters of sex, drugs and rock and roll. I should be right at home! Everybody in San Fran was a rebel of some kind. I found a job and a new boyfriend, and proceeded to make his life a nightmare with my drinking and using. He loved me enough to marry me and assume major responsibility for our twin daughters, while I pursued yet more education.
However, after graduating by the thinnest margin, I couldn’t pass the qualifying exam to practice the profession that I was supposedly studying for (with a glass of white wine in one hand and a joint in the other). Flunking that exam was when I hit bottom. I finally realized that being a rebel wasn’t working any more.
Her life looked really good to me
My younger sister had been sober for a few months and had started twelve-stepping me, dragging me to meetings in Los Angeles, where she lived. She lured me with stories of all the movie stars we would see. She was right about the movie stars, but what convinced me to give A.A. a try was the way her life had changed once she got sober. I saw her practicing the principles of the A.A. program in all her affairs. I saw her being honest toward people she had hurt, taking care of herself, and helping others. Her life looked really good to me, and I wanted what she had. I quit drinking, passed my exam, and got a job, at 90 days sober.
Attitude: opinion or way of thinking. Outlook: prospect for the future; mental attitude (Oxford American Dictionary)
I was still a rebel. I thought the rules of AA didn’t apply to me. I should be allowed to work the program my own way, not like other people. My sponsor didn’t try to make me do anything. She told me the Steps weren’t rules, just suggestions.
She showed me by her example. She was a regular at our home group, she answered my phone calls, and she even had an H & I commitment. I admired her but thought I was too busy to do much more than attend that one meeting. I mostly practiced the program of A.A. one night a week for the first five years until a woman at a conference took me aside and told me that doing the minimum wouldn’t keep me sober. “If you’re not moving forward in your program, you’re sliding back, you’re going to drink!”
I started going to more meetings and worked the Steps again with my sponsor. I actually did what she suggested. I felt better. I heard things at meetings that helped me. Do a 10th Step now and then, pray and meditate, be available to the suffering alcoholic. Eventually, someone even asked me to be her sponsor. My new sponsee was an A.A. enthusiast who went to chip meetings, to dinner with groups of sober alcoholics, to celebrate somebody’s A.A. anniversary or just for the fun of it.
My A.A. life was starting to get mixed in with my “real” life. I invited my sponsor to dinner with me and my husband, who really liked her. I invited my family to my home group’s annual holiday pot luck. My husband and I just had a party to celebrate my retirement after 24 years at that job I got with 90 days sober, as well as my husband’s birthday, and our 30th wedding anniversary. There were a lot of A.A.s there, and a lot of our other friends too, and everybody had a great time. I hate to admit it, but following the suggestions of A.A. (I’m glad we don’t have any rules) has given me a lot better life than being a rebel ever did.
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.
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.
This is an unofficial summary of the November 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 aasfmarin.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
The meeting was held on Wednesday, November 6, 2019, at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, 101 Donahue Street in
Sausalito. The meeting was started with a call to
order and the Serenity Prayer. Baskets for dinner were passed. The October 2019
minutes and the November 2019 agenda were approved.
Chair, Alan G. Our first Intergroup of the new
year falls on January 1. Due to holiday, the meeting will be held on January 8,
2020. Regarding the Marin meeting place reservation for the next year, the board
recommends staying at the present location; everyone feels good about it. It’s
Gratitude Month: please ask your groups to consider sending the basket around a
second time for Intergroup. Also, mention the Faithful Fivers program. We
budget for this, so it is important to get message out.
Treasurer, Renee T. (Maury P. is filling in) Rating for September was “excellent.” Group contributions are under budget for year and Individual contributions are also under budget. Operating Expenses are also under budget (good), and Unrestricted Cash is enough to sustain us for 3 months. Data migration issue: we are working with a consultant to fix issues with COGS versus bookstore revenue discrepancy (it’s a QuickBooks problem). The 2020 Budget is under way and we plan to present next year’s budget in Dec. Question: Regarding Faithful Fivers, has anyone discussed a “rebrand” to reach a broader demographic? Answer: People have suggested “Thankful Tenners” but any amount is welcomed (up to the annual GSO contribution limits). We encourage higher participation over higher contribution amount per member. Sign up and ask a friend to, as well (or sponsor or sponsee)!
Executive Director, Maury P. Do you have or know about holiday meeting schedule changes? Please let us know! Are you aware of holiday alcothons and/or events? Please tell us! We will circulate it on the aasfmarin.org website. Remember that Central Office is a Service Center, which includes HelpChat, the website, Public Information, and Teleservice. We do more than sell books. We are currently looking for Graphic Designers to volunteer for various projects. Maury is now serving on the Intergroup Communications Committee (elected at the recent Intergroup/Central Office Conference) GSO is presenting the idea of launching a meeting finder on aa.org. This is not sitting well with a lot of Intergroups because it is a local service already being provided. GSO already started selling books to individual groups which hurts central offices financially. A.A. literature makes clear that making AA literature available and maintaining meeting schedules is our role and responsibility. This topic has been divisive.
Intergroup Committee Reports
The Point, John B. The monthly November issue is now
available on the website. We are looking for articles about your home group!
Send them to email@example.com.
We meet on the 2nd Saturday every month at
12:30 pm. Please come check it out.
Archives, Kim S. Another History Talk called “A.A. in
Spanish Translation” will be coming up on Sunday, November 17, 2:00 to 4:00 pm at
Central Office, 1821 Sacramento Street in San Francisco.
SF Teleservice, Lara
A. Let Teleservice know about any upcoming meeting
closures so that it can be communicated. Plug for SF Teleservice: the business
meeting is every 3rd Monday at Central Office, 1821 Sacramento
Street in San Francisco, if you want to learn about what we do, information
about our Volunteer Appreciation Event next year, how to spread the message, share 12th Step calls in The
Point, etc. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Orientation, Trevor J. We have 5 new IGR’s tonight. Please pass around the Buddy Sheet, and
say “HI” to the new people! What
can we do better to keep people here, and to keep them interested (retaining
new IGRs)? Think about it.
SF PI/CPC, Molly J. Our purpose: educating medical
professionals, laymen, public information booths, informing businesses of what
A.A. is and the resources they can find. We also bring A.A. Big Books to local
libraries, set up information stands at Sunday Streets and Unity Day, make presentations
to UCSF medical students, plus many more events. Contact email@example.com.
Sunshine Club, Clayton
B. Our upcoming orientation for recruiting additional
volunteers will be at Central Office, 1821 Sacramento Street in San Francisco
on Wednesday, November 13 at 6:00 pm, then in Marin after the 10:00 am Rise ‘N
Shine meeting on Saturday, January 26 in Novato. Anne M. has rotated out as
Chair, so we need another co-chair for both San Francisco and Marin. If
interested, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Technology, Taran R. We are still in need of a Graphic Designer and someone to take on
the Chair position. Fun Fact: In September 2019, 11,222 people found us on
Google, 614 visited our site and 72 people called. Awesome!
Fellowship, Elena R. If you are interested in volunteering at some of our Special
Events in the new year, contact us at email@example.com. The next Safety Workshop will be in late February, date TBD. If
you want to help, email us. It has been suggested we have other Workshops on different topics.
Offered ideas: Q/A on Sponsorship, Traditions, Anonymity and Technology. Founder’s
Day for San Francisco will be in June 2020. A deposit has been put down on the
room, but do people like it? Do they have ideas of switching it up? Let us know.
Service Committee Liaison Reports
Carlo Minor website changes will be made adjusting for the holidays.
Marin PI/CPC, Evan Over the past couple of weeks, we visited several high schools and Dominican University, doing CPS presentations for 60 of their employees (super excited about that). We have an Outreach Coordinator position open.
SF Bridging the Gap,
Phil We are currently fixing misinformation about Bridging
the Gap (BTG) and where does it fit in our fellowship as a whole. The gap is
spanning from Institution to joining the local
Fellowship. BTG picks up where the H&I committee leaves off. For
pre-release A.A. contact, we have a pamphlet for you to fill out and turn in. There
has been discussion to kill it but there is still a need. How do we figure out
how to make it work? We will send out a clarification on the purpose to other
services. Our plan is to mainly work with H&I and as well as with the
SF General Service, Allison The Fall Assembly was postponed due to wildfires and has been rescheduled for Sunday, November 24 in San Francisco. We will definitely need volunteers, so email Chelsea directly or email General Service if you want to help firstname.lastname@example.org.
Filling Vacated Board Seat Nominated
Andy B. whose sober birthday is January 29, 1991. The Andy B. motion passed.
Email Communications Strategy We
want to unify our message as much as possible. The Buzz is our primary organ of information. Other was we
disseminate info: The Point,
Intergroup News, and the Trusted Servants/Secretary’s Monthly. Proposal: parcel
out info into a few separate newsletters instead of The Buzz. POV: can we focus on improving the
newsletters we currently have? Different levels of understanding, trying to
speak to everyone, is a huge challenge. Would it possibly increase engagement
with specific things if we separate? But it also might be nice to have just one
source for everything. Working with a different format – paper versus online –
changes the way people want to see information. Is a long email newsletter
effective or do people just not read it all?Proposed table of contents: everything on the first page, plus
have links to separate articles. Question: Has the Technology committee been
consulted? Answer: The Tech committee has definitely talked about it; they are not
in a position to have opinion on this. They can inform based on how to do
things but not why (that’s more group conscience).Getting the message to meeting secretaries is what’s important, no
matter the format.
What’s On Your Mind?
Ask your meeting secretary if they are reading The Buzz.
Safety / Emergency Disaster preparedness: what do we do? Emergency kits? Temporary meeting places? Think about these topics for next month.
November is Gratitude Month –
Remind your group treasurer – see if your group wants to pass 2nd basket
Communicate what Intergroup is and
does – each of us is part of the Outreach Committee
with the Responsibility Statement
Meeting: Wednesday, December 4, 2019, 7:00 pm, 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.
Treasurer’s Reportfor September 2019
September, Central Office transitioned accounting software from QuickBooks
Desktop to QuickBooks Online. The new system requires a different valuation
method for our Bookstore Inventory and, as a result, significantly impacted
certain figures related to our Bookstore – namely, Inventory and Cost of Goods
both Balance Sheet and Income Statement.
sorting out this accounting issue. We will provide September Balance Sheet and
Income Statement at a future meeting once the appropriate inventory adjustments
have been made.
Here is data
unaffected by inventory valuation issue:
Group Contributions for September
were $12,445, under budget by $4,530. Group contributions are $7,037 under
budget year to date. Individual Contributions for September were $2,968, under
budget by $34. Individual contributions are $2,866 under budget year to date.
Total Operating Expense for September
was $23,183, under budget by $2,690, due to lower than expected employee
expenses and timing of expenses.
Total Unrestricted Cash
for September 2019 was $80,987, a decrease of $3,908 from August 2019. Unrestricted Cash is about 3.3x monthly
OVERALL RATING for September 2019:
we rate our monthly finances as “Excellent”, “Good”, “Fair” or “Poor”. Generally speaking, here are the definitions
of those terms:
We exceeded our budget. Our
income was greater than our expenses for the month and we have more than two
months’ worth of operating expenses in unrestricted cash balances. Operating expenses are roughly $24K/month, so
we’d have over $48K in unrestricted cash balances for the month. The Intergroup rating has been “excellent”
since December 2016.
GOOD: We are meeting our budget. Our income for the month, or for the YTD, was
slightly greater than our expenses and we’d have approximately 1.5 – 2 months
of operating expenses in unrestricted cash balances.
FAIR: We are not meeting our budget. Our expenses were greater than our income for
the month and for the YTD – and our unrestricted cash balance would be
somewhere between 1 and 1.5x our operating expenses.
POOR: We are not meeting our budget and
our unrestricted cash balances fell below one month of operating expenses. The last
time we were “poor” was in October 2016.
As some of you may already know, California Northern Coastal Area 06 (CNCA 06) has recently elected a new treasurer. All of the Area Officers, along with the Finance Committee, are working hard to address the issues that arose earlier this year with our finances, and we are sorry for the inconvenience and stress that this may have caused your group. This notice is to provide accurate information that can be shared with the Fellowship regarding the state of the Area’s finances.
aware that several contributions to CNCA – some made several months ago – were
not processed, and contributions were not deposited into the Area bank account.
Other contributions were deposited, but the entity making the contribution
never received a receipt. We have made every effort to process any
contributions, and believe that any contributions received before October 1
have now been processed.
group has outstanding checks, those should be considered lost. At this
point receipts are being sent for checks from September and October. If your
group would like a receipt for a contribution received earlier this year,
please get in touch with the Area Treasurer at email@example.com.
The Area is
attempting to recover from its financial issues as quickly as possible, but our
uncertainty regarding finances has resulted in us dipping into our Prudent
Reserve to cover ongoing expenses. We are attempting to reduce expenses, but
groups can help by re-sending any contributions that have not been processed or
Please feel free to contact CNCA with questions or concerns.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m one of those who came in through the back door (controlled drinking and other 12 step programs). That is, unlike those who came in the front door—the “real” alcoholics, who knew they were alcoholics out of the gate. I wasn’t all that sure for the first month or so. Yes, my life was a mess and I’d cut down to one glass of wine for special occasions. I wanted the benefits of the program without full-on signing up so I played around with my attendance those first months. Then came a time when I knew in my bone marrow I was an alcoholic and this was where I belonged if I wanted any kind of life.
That is why when my friend Jamie M. said, “Too many years and not enough days,” it didn’t ring true with me. I’d come in slow and gotten closer while Jill came in fast and then got slower. I’d never been loosey-goosey with the program, because I was afraid of returning to my old ways. Here is how Jill explained her dilemma.
A few of us with years under our belt go through periods of barely hanging onto the A.A. lifeboat
She had 21 years of “sodriety”—her program had plateaued. She maintained one monthly service commitment, went to sporadic meetings, had no sponsees, and was thinking about dropping out of the program. “I was at a crossroads,” she says. “I wasn’t drinking but I wanted more and saw it might be beyond the A.A. program.”
She took a trip from San Francisco to Cape Cod, a vacation place she knew from childhood. While there she walked by a distinctive church she remembered from long ago. Coincidentally, there was an A.A. meeting there. She was curious about what the church looked like inside. She says, “That was probably more of a draw than the meeting.”
She wanted more of a sense of who she was
As the meeting began they asked for newcomers and one woman approximately the same age as Jill raised her hand to identify herself as a newcomer. As the meeting progressed the woman spoke and opened with the fact that a week earlier she’d had 17 years. Today she had 6 days. Then came the line, “I had a lot of years but not enough days.” Jill listened closely to a description of reduced meeting attendance, no service commitment, no community work and no sponsees. The woman explained that she was doing the equivalent of resting on her laurels.
This was a cautionary tale for Jill. She returned to San Francisco and recommitted herself to A.A. Within 3 months she had 2 sponsees, 4 meetings a week, a sponsor, and she took on 2 service commitments. Now seven years later most of those things are still in place. She stresses that one is never exempt from service and has firmly placed herself in the middle of the boat.
When Pam G. was asked how she’d accumulated 28 years, she spoke of what she was doing to keep her program alive. She spoke of a time when she strayed from the program, saying. “I’ve been away for whole years at a time. I didn’t drink but I didn’t go to meetings.” She had stuck very close to the program in the beginning but then, as she says, “The program gave me a life.” She became disengaged. She was a teacher and a single parent who was overly conscientious about her work. When she retired in 2001, she came back to A.A. She wanted more of a sense of who she was and has stuck more closely since.
Pam talks of friends with many years who don’t come to meetings. They have accepted the benefits of A.A. and moved on. Some became therapists and say they’re afraid of running into patients at the meetings. She says, “Non-participation is self-perpetuating. The longer one stays away the harder it can be to return.”
A few of us with years under our belt go through periods of barely hanging onto the A.A. lifeboat. Some never do make it back. The way to fight our way back in is to gather those days and with our H.P.’s help we’ll stay.
I believe it was one of the first A.A. meetings I went to back in early 2013. I remember it as small and welcoming, and that is still the feeling I get each time I attend a Park Presidio meeting. More recently, Park Presidio has supported me over a period of years where I began to lose faith in A.A. and life in general. I shared frankly about these struggles—with depression, with my first onset of suicidal ideations, with a creeping cynicism that needed to be expressed to be understood—and the group members would tell me to come back the next week. I didn’t always do this, preferring to keep the group at arm’s length. I think I feared that it would eventually lose its potency and I would become disillusioned and disconnected from this group of people as well. This, it turns out, is a self-fulfilling prophecy that comes true when I believe the false prophet that whispers in my ear. Each time I returned, I was reminded that I often could not help but feel connected to these people, even if my depression told me this would be impossible.
Sometimes the meeting might be disorganized
As is so often the case in A.A., I was elected as secretary because it was exactly what I needed to remain a participating member. It is a commitment that forces me to be involved in the meeting. I can never totally retreat into my own head. Something about reading the script, remembering newcomers’ names, and noting where someone has filled in on a commitment for the week helps me get more present. To my mind, part of the beauty of different meetings lies in their imperfections. It reminds me every member shares a common goal: to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety. Even if sometimes the meeting might be disorganized, disjointed, or disrupted.
This also applies to me. As secretary, it has honestly been a pleasure to let go of the notion that I can achieve “perfection” in my role. For example, serving as secretary has required me to find a speaker each week. This aspect of the commitment is especially beneficial to me, because it forces me to connect with other people. Once I’ve exhausted the small circle of people in A.A. I feel comfortable texting on a regular basis, I am forced to branch out. Sometimes I put this off until the 11th hour. Then my self-consciousness really goes out the window and I find the willingness to ask someone whom I might not otherwise ask. In those moments, without necessarily thinking that much about it, the spirit of service is easily more potent than my self-centered fears.
I was elected secretary because it was exactly what I needed to remain
I enjoy seeing the same people each week and hearing their shares because I get to observe them moving through different challenges and life events. I realize I sometimes prefer to play the role of A.A. drifter, never totally connected to any one A.A. group. While I think it is important to continue to explore new meetings and meet different members, I also see how playing the drifter has allowed me to avoid the more intimate connection that comes with seeing someone every week. In short, Park Presidio has shown me the importance of having a home group and holding a commitment that forces me (at times) to be of service. Oh, and it’s funny as hell. We are not a glum lot, after all.
When evening comes, perhaps just before going to sleep, many of us draw up a balance sheet for the day. This is a good place to remember that inventory-taking is not always done in red ink. It’s a poor day indeed when we haven’t done something right. —Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
For years I tried to quit drinking. I am a writer and an alcoholic. In my journal I wrote about each time I quit as a moment to be recorded for posterity. Who cared about the day when I quit drinking and using for good? My kids? Those little babies who were in their car seats in the back when I was driving drunk? Those toddlers who I screamed at when their shrill voices pierced my hangover headache? I am glad I wrote about my drinking and quitting. I want to remember what I was like.
Now that I am sober I write down the good things in my life and in me. The “Twelve and Twelve” reminds me that an inventory shouldn’t be taken all in red ink. I get to write down the good stuff that I do as well. Yes, I need to inventory my resentments and my fears, but I can also list my gratitude and my good deeds each day.
I did not want to do what people told me to
When I first got sober, in 1986, I didn’t want to do what you people told me to. I write for a living, why should I have to write to stay sober? Can’t I just think about my Fourth Step and then tell my sponsor? Preferably over the phone? Nope – put pen to paper. Amazing what comes out once you start to write. It took me several months to write, but I read it to my sponsor and we completed Step Five.
I had to write again when one of my children was stricken with a serious illness. There was no treatment, just watchful, fearful waiting. I asked my sponsor what to do. Her mother had been critically ill, near death, soon after we started working together. She knew how to cope with a crisis. “Maybe you could try writing a letter to God,” she said. I put pen to paper, “Dear God, I hate you for what you are doing to my daughter.” Admitting to myself how angry and afraid I was helped me share at meetings and ask for support. At a big meeting the speaker, as we stood holding hands in a circle, asked our Higher Power “to help the member whose child is having trials.”
Inwardly I groaned: Oh no, another suggestion
I got another hint in a noon meeting near my work. A man said that he kept a notebook on his bedside table and wrote a Tenth Step every night. Inwardly I groaned. Oh no, another suggestion. But it is an easy practice. I write down the good things I did during the day and the nice things other people did for me. I am amazed how many good people there are in the world and that I am often one of them. If I owe an apology or an amends I write it down. That helps to imprint it on my brain, so I remember to take care of it as soon as possible.
Then a sponsee mentioned that she writes a gratitude list every morning and it really makes her day go smoother. Here we go again! So I started trying to write a daily gratitude list. She wasn’t the only person who mentioned gratitude lists. My Higher Power sometimes needs to repeat what I need to hear. When I write down that I am grateful for my sobriety, health, family, job and home, I am more likely to notice the person in the wheelchair and to be grateful for my feet, even if they do ache.
When I write I am not just talking to myself; I am talking to the Higher Power within me. I am opening up my mind and my heart to new ideas and the possibility of changing my life, with the help of the steps and the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Having completely bought into the deal that I was powerless over alcohol and that the unmanageability of my life was a direct result. Once admitted, without any action on my part except going to meetings daily (sometimes more than once) I had managed to stop drinking. It was not a pretty time. With a few sober days strung together, I was able to find a sponsor. With my sponsor’s aid I worked the steps. I always knew I had not stayed stopped, or stopped in the first place, on my own. I always knew a higher power had helped me. I did not know how but I had a pretty good guess as to why. My Catholic upbringing helped me a lot there because I still believed in a loving, forgiving and merciful God (although for others with the same background, maybe not so much as I have heard). Once sober, time began to pass.
Caught in a big set of waves after a wipe out
Time has a wonderful way of passing in the A.A. program one day at a time.I had been warned my disease was not only cunning, baffling and powerful, it was also patient. After days had passed, becoming years, I was faced with a series of crises which seemed to pile up, one upon another in rapid succession.
One time as a young teen out trying to body surf, I was caught in a big set of waves after a wipe out. Each time my head came above water, wham! There was another wave crashing down on me. The waves did not seem to want to stop and I did not know if I could keep afloat. I thought I was going to drown. I did not, but the hopelessness of the circumstances seemed almost too much—almost.
My experience in the surf never left me. As new circumstances a lifetime later befell me, I almost felt un-equipped to confront them—almost. Unlike the surf, or those days getting sober, this time I had help. This time I had a Higher Power in my life. I was now able to recall the affirmative reply I had given to my sponsor when asked: Are you willing to go to any length?
Now the rubber was really meeting the road. I was asked if I had meant what I had said those many years before when I wanted so much to just stay stopped. As suggested, I had sought to improve that conscious contact. But what would that mean, now when events were upon me and I needed it the most? As I was told would be the case, my Higher Power was there for me. I had read “There is One Who has all power” and was desired to “find Him now” but that had been to get sober.
More doors started to open
Now I was confronted with life beyond sobriety. I thought of feelings abounding, solutions that seemed unconventional. If I did find Him, what would He do for me? That seemed like the wrong point of view. What would I do to enhance that discovery, that relationship? This seemed to be the question. As the effort to confront this question in another unconventional manner, through meditation, presented itself, I sensed more doors starting to open.
Hope in a strange way had taken on a new light. Surely I had hoped the crises I faced would, each in their own time, subside and work out in my favor. Now it seemed hope had become a goal to achieve with my Higher Power. Regardless of the outcome, I would imbue that relationship with a greater fervor, a more conscious sense of gratitude and hope. I would succeed in demonstrating that gratitude daily. One day at a time became the goal in a different way.
I thought it meant I would be happy with a used car
To those who are painstaking comes the promise of a whole new attitude and outlook upon life. I thought that meant I would be happy with a used car or satisfied even if I had not gotten that well-deserved raise. I had not expected the new attitude would be the enhancement of my relationship with a Higher Power since I thought I already had a pretty good thing going. Yet I found the limits to that rapport were only in my head, only in my thinking. If I were only to further seek, I would surely find. I had but to push upon that door opened so long ago to the certainty. I did again, to a newer happiness.
Most Saturdays, Lush Lounge looks like a women’s meeting, but appearances can be deceiving. A regular once said, “This is the women’s meeting for women who don’t like women’s meetings.” But it’s not a women’s meeting. Attendees can be trans and nonbinary people. I’ve learned to ask members what pronoun they use. We meet 2:00 p.m. Saturdays at the Dolores Street Community Center, 938 Valencia Street in San Francisco and have been a Beginner Step Study since the early 2000s. The meeting itself has proven to be consistently warm, honest, raw and healing for me. I have spiritual experiences each week listening to speaker share emotions, issues and facts of life as lived by transgender people, gender queer people and women. Issues that don’t come up in mixed meetings that often.
Lots of small talk and laughter before and after the meeting
With 17 different service commitment possibilities, Lush Lounge usually has 20+ attendees. I’ve been a regular for five years and have held several different service positions, most recently as the General Service Representative. Doing service at this meeting has changed and improved my program. I started with an easy commitment as a literature rep. It turned out to be so much fun that I next volunteered to help with setup, which required a lot of work and substantial reliability, mostly because two setup people are responsible for keys to the building and our meeting supply cabinet.
Five years ago, it required four people to move two heavy conference tables out of our room to make space for the three kinds of chairs, which we had to arrange a certain way. I, along with the other setup person, discovered how reliable we truly were. My setup partner and I bonded easily over our shared professional backgrounds. I would have never learned as much had I not done setup. This bonding helped me feel like a real part of the group. It also encouraged me to stay after the meeting and help with breakdown, a separate service commitment. Breakdown people needed to know how the room looked before we set it up. I was able to help with that.
Lots of small talk and laughter happens before and after the meeting. That’s also when people have asked me to sponsor them. It’s why coming early and staying late is being of service. I’ve learned that my past dislike of women’s meetings meant I disliked women. Over time, I realized that my dislikes are my inner misogynist in action. I was shocked that I’m not as feminist as I had thought. Fortunately, learning that has helped increase my compassion.
Coming early and staying late is being of service
I listened to how other members directed people with setting up and breaking down the room. They always did it with kindness. I learned how to deal with a drunken attendee who wouldn’t move or talk. (There were kind, quiet discussions about who to call for help. Someone knew the member’s partner, who was phoned and asked to help.) I’d never seen an active drunk at a meeting at that point and had no idea what to do.
As General Service Rep, I also asked for volunteers to do service each week when absent members hadn’t found substitutes. I facilitated our monthly business meetings and experienced a wide range of behaviors that can happen during them. I asked for help from my Service Sponsor, who was instrumental in helping me learn how A.A. functions as a whole—with the principles of kindness, patience, tolerance, and listening to everyone.
Commitments has shown me how important service of any kind is, and how to let go, accept, and turn it over. I’m not in charge. Hooray for that! Lush Lounge is a safe, welcoming space for any transgender, gender queer or women alcoholics—as well as anyone who needs a meeting.
A well-known A.A. speaker from the 1970s remembered his wife asking how his very first A.A. meeting went. Well, he replied, they smoked a lot of cigarettes, they drank a lot of coffee andI am going back! Of course, it wasn’t the cigarette smoking or coffee drinking, or even the different personalities that prompted his decision—it was that invisible A.A. spirit that we all know so well.
When I was a few months sober and working at an antique store located only a few blocks from a recovery clubhouse at 26th and Broadway in Santa Monica, California. The most exciting thing at that club was a checkerboard. Yet when the newcomer heebie-jeebies began their chaos I would forgo lunch and make a b-line for that club, nervously shaking and head spinning like a top. Yet soon a mysterious calmness would take over. A much-needed A.A. style conversation would begin. Following that brief experience, I would return to work without eating a bite, mind you, but refreshed and in a pleasant frame of mind.
In San Francisco I had belonged to the Painters and Scalers Union at the Embarcadero. Sometimes we worked with the longshoremen when they were low on personnel. One day the shipment was from England with Chivas Regal Scotch and Rolls Royce automobiles. While unloading, the crane operator swung one of those beautiful cars out too far along the side of the ship and it swung back to crash into the steel hull. We thought he might have gotten into the Chivas Regal. Ha! This was in the mid-1960s. The painters and scalers job involved scraping the internal cells of Mason ocean liners. Not a pleasant job but it paid well enough to drink.
One passenger from a bar had me pick up a pint of whisky on the way home
After I got sober I started driving a cab. During my L.A. taxi driving career there was a time when my associate driver had a part in a movie for 13 days. So I had to pay for the cab 24/7 and work both shifts. There was no time for meetings, but to be sure I stopped by one or another recovery clubhouse for a few minutes to receive my share of the uplifting A.A. spirit every day. I often would have a back-seat passenger who seemed to benefit from my chatter. Often they turned out to be members as well. One can never know where the spirit may appear.
One passenger from a bar had me pick up a pint of whisky on the way home. I had to practically carry her through her apartment door. She passed out almost immediately. I sat the bottle on the table next to her bed, then brought some A.A. literature from my trunk and laid it next to the bottle. Who knows? But this was an example of the spirit working for yours truly.
These days I love to attend District Meetings, Area Assemblies and Intergroup
These days I love to attend District Meetings, Area Assemblies and Intergroup meetings where many members have spent years serving the fellowship in one way or another. A good feeling pervades state conventions and especially the International Conventions that happen every five years. Just imagine holding hands with 50,000 A.A. members praying the closing prayer. I’ve been to five of them and am planning for Detroit next year.
I believe that spirit is a major factor that brings newcomers back to meetings on a regular basis. It is important to always greet the new person and make them feel welcome until they begin to feel this life-saving spirit deep in their bones. In Los Angeles many of the 90-minute meetings have a short break at halftime. I believe the reason for this is to get to know the new person and perhaps invite them out to coffee after the meeting. The A.A. spirit flows through that conversation as well. Just because I can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It works—it really does.