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 September 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, September 4, 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 August 2019
minutes and the September 2019 agenda were approved.
Board Chair, Alan G. Our recent Board Retreat included 5 new
members. It was facilitated by Lou and we set Committees as well as set Goals.
Regarding Outreach – IGRs are the outreach. We discussed an upcoming Safety
Workshop in San Francisco and Unity Day 2019, which includes outreach to our Service
Groups. Outlined in an email sent prior to this meeting, we offered a reminder
of procedures for bringing matters to the board.
Vice Chair, Taran R. At our Intergroup Committee Chair bi-monthly meeting,
we talked about rotation and voting, about Branding, and had a discussion about
rearranging the IGR meeting agenda. Send opinions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Treasurer, Renee T. See Treasurer’s Report. Our current rating is “Excellent.”
As of this month, Individual Contributions are behind projection. We received a
bequest in August. Good news is expenses are under budget. Question: Are we
registered as a Non-Profit 501(c)3? Answer:
Yes, we are.
Executive Director, Maury P. Welcomed back new members from last month. The
International Conference 2020 in Detroit is open for registration. Online registration
begins September 9, 2019, a aa.org. There is a call for stories for the
pamphlet “A.A. for the Older Alcoholic” and can be submitted to AA World
Service. Go to aasfmarin.org Home page or check out the Secretary’s Monthly on
the website for details. The popular Meeting
Guide app is now being managed by aa.org and includes Daily Reflections quotes.
See the insert for Mission Fellowship H&I BBQ and other events coming up
this month at aasfmarin.org!
Intergroup Committee Reports
PI/CPC, Justin H. we spoke to ACT MFA students. We will be speaking
at the Re-entry Fair on this month. PI continues to be engaged in Sunday
Streets. Contact PI/CPC for more information.
Fellowship, Elena R. Thank you to those who volunteered for the
Safety Workshop. Although it has been postponed, we still need volunteers. If
you are interested, contact us at email@example.com.
The Buzz, Anne Marie C. Here are some Fun Facts about The Buzz:
Question: How many “opens” in the first 5 minutes after the email has been sent?
Answer: 110. Question: What is the
number of new subscribers? Answer: 14. Question: What is the most clicked link
in The Buzz? Answer: The “Recent Schedule Changes” page. We want everyone to
know we are looking for new Editor.
The Point, John B. We have a call for articles for the coming
month: 10th Step for October. Our regular Committee meetings are at 12:30 pm
the 2nd Saturday of each month at Central Office. If you have anything to
contribute for The Point, submit your piece, which should be approximately 500
words, to firstname.lastname@example.org. By the way: The Point can now be downloaded
Archives, Kim S. We conducted history talks at the Western
Roundup Living Sober conference. We are hoping to have a new history talk in a
few months regarding LGBTQ A.A. We will have a display at San Francisco Unity
Day, coming up on Saturday, October 12, 2019.
Sunshine Club, Clayton B. We are trying to expand the Sunshine Club into
Marin County. We signed up 10 new volunteers at last orientation held at the Marin
Alano Club. Thank you for the support! We are looking to have more orientations
in Marin in the coming months.
Orientation, Trevor J. Tonight we have 9 new IGRs. As a reminder to
all IGRs, please remember to get someone from your meeting/group to sign up as
the alternate. Question: Of the 9 new members tonight, how many were from Marin?
Answer: 4 new IGRs.
Technology, Taran R. There is lots of interesting stuff going on
with the Intergroup. The Chair position is open for rotation. We still would
like a graphic-design volunteer. Contact us for details at email@example.com.
SF Teleservice, Lara A. SF Teleservice is proud to announce that we
have filled all our committee positions! We still need regular volunteers
though, so please remind folks at your meetings that our orientation is the 3rd
Monday of the month at 6pm at Central Office.
Service Committee Liaison Reports
General Service, Steve There may be issues with contributions to
CNCA. They are currently looking for a new Treasurer. But please, do not stop
sending us your regular contributions. Send to the PO Box number listed. There
will be a Safety Workshop at Marin Unity Day. The Area Assembly will be in San Francisco
Marin Teleservice, Carlo You may sign up for service online at
marinteleservice.com. Business cards for how to transfer the lines have been
Marin PI/CPC, Evan Our committee addressed outreach to the African
American community. Discussion will continue at the Marin Alano Club in San
GGYPAA, Justin H. The “All California Conference” will be held
in Sacramento this coming spring on Sunday, September 15, 2020. Our next
gathering, “HIke and Meditation in Tennessee Valley” is coming up. All are
Karen Our next meeting will be on Tuesday, September 10. The rolls have been
purged and we need more active volunteers. We also need more speakers for Helen
Election of Intergroup Committee
Chairs, James – Governance Committee
Section 3.6 Intergroup Committees
The Intergroup may act by and through such
committees as may be specified in resolutions adopted by a majority vote of the
Intergroup Representatives. Each such committee shall have such duties and
responsibilities as are granted to it from time to time by Intergroup. Each
committee is composed of Representatives and any other individual A.A. member
who is willing to contribute time to Intergroup activities in the furtherance
of the principles, purposes, and objectives of Alcoholics Anonymous. Committee
chairs must be approved by a majority vote of Intergroup Representatives and a
majority vote of the Board.
Term length – Should Committee Members have a term length
and be approved by IGRs?
Voting Rights – Should Committee Members have votes?
What is the point of the discussion (to change the bylaws or to follow the
discussion followed. Committee Chairs do not necessarily represent Groups
(because their commitment to their group rotates). Question: Should they get a
vote? (if yes, we need to change the bylaws). Question: Should they first be
elected (or ratified by the Intergroup)? In order to keep relevant skills in
the committee, having the chair be an IGR may be problematic. James clarified
the question: Should Committee Chairs be elected by the Group and have term
limits? Would they have voting rights? Renee
suggested the board make a recommendation to the Intergroup body. Current
Bylaws state that Intergroup elects Committee Chairs and that only Intergroup
Reps have a vote.
What’s On Your Mind?
H. – PI/CPC meets the 2nd Monday of each month at 7:00 pm at Central Office.
Reminder: GGYPAA is a “.com” not a “.org” when emailing.
– Registration for the International Conference opens at 10:00 am EST on September
9, 2019. So be ready at 7:00 am on that Monday.
group members about our Faithful Fiver program and Honorary Contributions
what Intergroup is and does – each of us is part of the Outreach Committee
Adjourn with the Responsibility
Intergroup Meeting: Wednesday, September 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.
Intergroup, September 2019 Treasurer’s Report
Month Ended July 2019
For July 2019, Total Revenue was $27,568,
this was under budget by $1,806 due to lower than expected contributions (Group
& Individual) and book sales. Total Revenue is $11,818 under budget year to
date. Total Operating Expense for July was $22,520, under budget by $1,371, due
to lower than expected committee costs and credit card processing fees.
The result is a Net Operating Surplus
of $5,048 for the month. This leaves the fellowship with a $8,607 deficit year
Group Contributions for July were $22,710,
under budget by $437. Group contributions are $954 under budget year to date.
Individual Contributions for July were $3,085, under budget by $809. Individual
contributions are $12,810 under budget year to date.
Total Unrestricted Cash
for July 2019 was $68,472, an increase of $3,043 from June 2019. Unrestricted Cash is about 2.8x monthly operating
The rating for July 2019 is
OVERALL RATING: Excellent
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 September 2016.
Hi, my name is Jerry. My sobriety date is July 25, 1998. I drank and used drugs for 20 years before getting sober. For my personal life, I came to San Francisco from Seattle, Washington in 2001 for a visit and to see the sights. I had been clean and sober for almost three years when I got here. San Francisco started to get to me, because I found great new meetings, and I found great new A.A. friends. So I ended up finding a job for Goodwill but I didn’t like it.
One day I walk into the break room and saw the TV where two planes were crashing into the World Trade Centers. Everyone at work was saying they are going to be hiring Security all over the place. That idea stuck with me, and I quit my job at Goodwill. Then I went and applied for a security officer job and got hired right on the spot. I’ve been working as a security officer for 18 years, as my career. As for finding a place to live, it’s not a mansion or a one-bedroom apartment. It’s an SRO (Single Resident Occupancy) and it is the cheapest way you could live in San Francisco. But it’s my home and it’s been my home for 18 years, by keeping up with the rent, and paying my bills on time.
As for a companion, a relationship, I fell in love. I’ve met the best woman in the world: she is a “normie,” a person that doesn’t drink or use. We have been together for 16 years. But it’s all because of my program. As the years went by, I found a great sponsor with more years than myself, he helps me through the 12 Steps, and we keep each other sober. I try to go to as many A.A. meetings as I can. A.A. meetings are all over my city, so I have many choices and times to attend one.
I’ve met the best woman in the world and she is a “normie”
A.A. service is my anchor. Right now I am the secretary for my home group, The Federal Speaker Meeting at 12 noon. Plus there are many other ways to do service in A.A.: Coffee Maker, Greeter, Treasurer, Set-up, and H&I and Phone Line service. As for a Higher Power—this can be a tough one. I chose one of my understanding. This could be hard for atheists or people who don’t know God. But the more you go to A.A., and the more you read A.A. literature or the Big Book, you will get one. I’ve seen this happen and many do find something to believe in.
Drinking was my first addiction. I loved to drink beer at first, like a soft drink. Then I needed to drink something stronger because I had built a tolerance for that. Then the vodka, gin, whiskey and tequila were the next best thing, especially tequila shots. Now those made me black out, which for some reason didn’t matter at the time. But the boozing became more and more until I needed to do it every day. The drugs came with it as well and I became a cross-addicted addict. I could not stop using; I had tried everything to slow it down or to control it. Nothing would work, not even for my family, my children, my ex-wife. That’s when I lost everything and became homeless. I hit a bottom that I had never hit before. I had lost hope, and I had given up. I guess I was ready to die; I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. So that’s when God, the higher power of my choosing, gave me a spiritual awakening. I knew I had to ask for help, to find out what was wrong with me, to put myself into treatment. I did this, and I was ready to try something different.
First I had to go through detox for a week. That was a living hell, but I made it. Then I was transferred over to the recovery center for three months, not because I had to, but because I wanted to (a good idea after drinking for 20 years). While I was there one thing stood out to me that would build my program stronger, and that was what the Treatment Counselor said: You only have to change one thing, and that is everything.
You only have to change one thing
Well, today it is much better; God has blessed me with a second chance. Today I am happy, joyful and free. But it doesn’t stop there, now I have to give back to the newcomers, do service, go to meetings, work the steps and have a sponsor. Plus ask God of my choosing to help me to do better, and be better. That is my program, and if I’m not working a program then I’m working a relapse.
To me it’s how Dr. Bob & Bill W. put it: Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. That sentence has stuck with me the whole time I have been in A.A. I remember a sponsor once asked me if I had any fears, and I said many. He said to me: The opposite of fear is faith—go to a meeting. So now I pray to the God of my understanding, I meet with my sponsor once a week and I help a newcomer whenever I can. I keep it simple.
I thought of myself as a good mother: Didn’t I stop drinking while I was pregnant with my twin daughters? I didn’t even take any drugs when I gave birth. I didn’t have a program, I was dry as a bone, and my feelings bubbled up into rage and tears, but I wasn’t drinking, was I?
The whistle’s blast was my first inkling my babies and I were in danger
Of course, I started drinking again as soon as I decently could. Wasn’t beer supposed to be good for your milk supply? Sure, I drove drunk once in a while with them in the car, but nothing happened. I got across the tracks well ahead of that train—literally. I once drove right in front of a train in an industrial area of San Francisco. But the train was going very slowly. The whistle’s blast was my first inkling that my babies and I were in danger.
Then there was the time I was lying in bed hung-over and two energetic two-year-olds burst into my room and started jumping on my bed, as if it were a trampoline. Sarah lost her balance and landed on my stomach—hard. I grabbed her, raised her high in the air and then threw her on the floor. I will always remember the look on her face when she realized what I was about to do. Fortunately she landed on carpet and wasn’t badly hurt, but she got the message: Whatever you do, don’t make Mommy mad! I swear I feel that fear in her to this day. She says she doesn’t remember, but I remember.
I will always remember the look on her face when she realized what I was about to do
Then I lost Lynn by the side of the freeway. She was about two. I was home, hung-over and tired. She was awake but still in her fuzzy, pink, footed pajamas. “Parque, Mommy. Parque!” She pleaded, using the Spanish word for park that our Salvadoran babysitter had taught her. The park was next to the freeway, around the corner from our house. I couldn’t leave her sister home alone and I was tired and irritable, as I so often was when I was hung-over. “We can go outside, but just in front of the house,” I offered.
She grabbed her security blanket and trundled down the steps next to me. We stood together in the morning sunshine, on the sidewalk next to the low picket fence that separated our front patio from the sidewalk. The phone rang. I thought I would just run up the stairs, grab the phone and be right back. Whoever it was must have been fascinating, because in my hangover haze I forgot all about my daughter.
When I looked down the stairs, there was her security blanket, neatly draped over the fence, but no Lynn. I screamed her name as I ran up and down the street. She was nowhere to be seen. One of my neighbors emerged from her house two doors down. I told her some version of what happened.
She took charge. “You go that way,” she pointed, “and I’ll go this way.” She started around the corner. And that is where she found my baby—in her fuzzy pink pajamas with the feet, standing at the southbound on-ramp to the 101 Freeway, staring across six lanes of traffic at the park. My neighbor brought her home.
None of these episodes, where I injured or endangered my children, got me sober. It took something much more ego-driven. To hit bottom, I had to fail an exam that I needed to practice my profession. I drank all the way through school, even though my husband had mortgaged the house to pay the tuition.
The day I flunked the exam, I called my newly sober sister to whine and wail. She had dragged me to meetings and showed me the way, by her own example. I got sober, too, and my Higher Power let me keep my kids. But the journey was just beginning. My sobriety date is September 11, 1986—Sarah and Lynn were 3 years old. I passed my exam and got a job a few months later.
My life with my children began to both challenge and enhance my sobriety. For instance, when she was 12 years old, Sarah came to me one morning, with a worried frown. “Mom, my face feels funny, and I can’t taste anything.” By mid-day the whole left side of her face was paralyzed, the corner of her mouth drooping, her eyelid sagging. We took her to the pediatrician, who looked her over and then said, “It’s Bell’s Palsy.” Palsy? Wasn’t that some weird disease out of the Bible, like leprosy? How did my daughter get it, and what did this mean? The cause wasn’t known and there wasn’t really any treatment. “The safest thing is to watch and wait,” said the doctor. “But she is supposed to go to summer camp tomorrow,” I cried. “This is her first time there, she hardly knows anybody except her sister.” My mind raced.
My child’s life was about to be ruined. Her face would be paralyzed forever. How could she adapt to the new camp when her face looked weird? The pediatrician said if her eye wouldn’t close at night while she slept, she might have to wear a patch. Would the other girls make fun of her? How could this be happening?
Right away I took on all fault. What had I done to bring this on my child? What retribution had I called down upon this innocent young girl by my past and current bad behavior, this same young innocent whom I had thrown on the floor when she was a baby? Guilt and rage engulfed me.
I can be grateful my children are happy
I called my sponsor, Bonnie. For many years her mother had been seriously ill and she had taken care of her, from home to ICU and back. She knew how to cope with a crisis and stay sober. “Why don’t you try writing a letter to God?” she suggested. I tried it. My letter began: “Dear God, I hate you for what you are doing to my child!” I went to a meeting and shared my rage and despair at what was happening. At the close of the meeting, as we stood in a circle, the speaker said, “Lord, help the member whose child is having trials.”
I went home a lot calmer and helped Sarah pack. The next day Sarah went to camp, and the day after, the camp nurse called. “I am watching over Sarah, and she doesn’t know. Her eye closes at night while she sleeps, so there is no danger of infection, and she won’t have to wear a patch.” I cried, realizing my child had guardian angels watching over her. I only had to let her go, and she would be safe. The other kids and her sister all tried to help her have a good time, and she loved the camp and went back every summer for several years. She recovered completely.
I didn’t have to drink, out of either anger or guilt. All I had to do was stay in conscious contact with my Higher Power, praying only for knowledge of its will and the power to carry it out, and let it act through other people to take care of my daughter and keep me sober.
We never know what is going to make us crave that first drink. In sobriety I have lost my parents to cancer, had cancer myself twice and seen my children have frightening medical problems. My husband even had a serious accident on his motorcycle and I didn’t need a drink. Instead, the craving came on one of the happiest days of all our lives—the day we celebrated our daughters’ graduation from college.
My husband and I had booked several tables for lunch at a posh restaurant. We invited our family members and the friends who had helped us raise these two little girls to become accomplished young women. The time came for us to toast the wonderful people who had loved us and them for all these years. The waiters swiftly passed out champagne flutes and poured champagne. My sister and I were the only ones who had sparkling water instead.
In my drinking days, I loved champagne. It symbolized success, the good life and happy milestones. That day as everyone raised their glasses I felt sad that I couldn’t have champagne like everybody else. My sister caught my eye. She winked and raised her sparkling water. I remembered all those meetings she dragged me to when she was first sober and I was still on Step Zero, and I winked back. We toasted the new graduates and the whole village of people who had helped my husband and me raise them.
Today, the girls are young women, out on their own. One morning recently at a Big Book meeting, I shared how my daughters had been living in Buenos Aires for two years. They have nice boyfriends, good jobs and a congenial group of friends, both Americans and Argentines. Their boyfriends’ families love them and treat them like daughters. But what about me? “They’re 8,000 miles away!” I cry.
The other A.A.s chuckle as I rant. “What if they settle down? Get married? Have kids? It’s a long trip to go see them!” Even as I am sharing, I realize how lucky I am. My husband and I are both close to retirement. The seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere. We might wind up spending spring and summer in San Francisco, then another spring and summer in Buenos Aires—a tough life, but someone’s got to do it, right? Thanks to A.A., I can be grateful my children are happy, even if this is not how I imagined life would be. The program of Alcoholics Anonymous has given me tools—the steps, especially Steps Eleven and Three. I pray for knowledge of God’s will and then turn my children over to his care. Then we can all be happy, joyous, free and grateful!
Alcoholism is like a colicky baby. If your life is like a bunch of spit-up, it’s telling you there’s work to do to get the burp up. There is a bunch of stuff to avoid and even more you could do everyday, or else your life will be as unmanageable as a screaming baby (all day and all night).
I’ve been in and out of the rooms for years now. I was very worried about going to meetings and having to start over again looking so pregnant. But the day before I went in for my C-section, I hobbled into the Chips and Salsa meeting, raised my hand and celebrated a month sober. It was so embarrassing… but I was applauded and congratulated like never before.
I was very worried about going to meetings and having to start over again looking so pregnant
I felt so welcome, yet the guilt of that need for a shot of liquor a day keeps nipping at my heels. The worry has eased because the very next week I came in and was welcomed back so warmly. Everybody made me feel so comfortable. I couldn’t believe it! Now I truly believe that that in itself helped heal me.
Life as a new mother in A.A. has so far been very busy. At times I worry when the baby is fussy because what I eat affects his temperament. I can’t have milk, cheese, eggs, garlic, chocolate, sesame, most green gassy veggies, or beans. Now that takes some real determination being all hungry, a new mom and stuff. Same goes for sobriety: What we put into our bodies affects our behavior and thinking. If only we ended up screaming our heads off, maybe after the catharsis we wouldn’t be so “alcoholic. ” Sometimes I imagine alcoholism is like that, or wish we realized its effects to that degree, so we would all learn after the first drink.
Once one of my favorite old timers left a meeting early due to the baby’s fussiness. Other times I’ve left due to the baby being inconsolable. But I try to get in as much as I can at meetings and that is always the goal. I make as many noon meetings as I can to stay sober. Sometimes I’ll get very self-conscious imagining what somebody might think, so I pass on raising my hand at anniversaries. Other times when asked about my sobriety I keep it at, oh I had a slip when he was conceived… But it still holds true how I am supported in my sobriety and do get encouraged when I speak up. And I thank my son for what a great motivator he is. Even though he doesn’t try, or know what that means yet, he’ll give me a coo and smile. In between feedings, burping, changing and troubleshooting his needs, I share what I’ve been learning because everyday more is revealed to me—this saying is so true.
Can’t you see the sparkle in my eye?
Oh, before I forget, if you know me, I’m an alcoholic, can’t you see the sparkle in my eye? LOL, had to have been there I guess, but now the baby gets all the attention and I so appreciate all the love and help we get in the rooms. Thank you!
I seem to be a rare find as there aren’t many other moms at the meetings I make. But there’s a playdate for that: San Francisco Public Health Nurses Dana and Steph have started a wonderful meeting at 2226 Taraval, the Recess Collective, every first Wednesday of the month from 1:00 to 3:00 P.M. And we’ve finally gotten a changing table at 2900 (24th Street at Florida), so if you are a new mom and need a meeting, 2900 is baby-friendly now.
When I first heard people talk about humility and Step 9 I was annoyed at their seeming haughtiness. Later I had more reverence for the humility they appeared to be espousing. By working the steps with my sponsor, I now had a few sober days in my wake. However, I was no exception to facing life on life’s terms. My character defects were daily reminders of the baffling and patient characteristics of my disease, which were ready, willing and able to plague me at the start of each new day. I had seen the cunning of my disease, how it was always poised to attack the weakest link in my defenses against it. So when my disease unleashed a powerful assault upon me, I turned to the steps for help and protection; they were my front line of defense.
No one before me had been able to maintain perfection
I had taken my inventory, admitted it as suggested and asked to have my shortcomings removed. Then, as I made my list of people I owed amends, I found mine was the first name on that list. This realization caused me to talk about my list to another alcoholic, an old-timer who had what I wanted in this program. In this process he was able to point out in me that which I could not see for myself. While likely obvious to more than just him, I had been oblivious to my defect. He helped me to see the blind spot at which my disease had struck, for it had perceived a weakness and had sought to exploit it to my ruin. With the grace of a subtle but deadly poison and the power of a jackhammer, it had sought to convince me that my Higher Power could not be trusted: that He could not possibly have what was good for me in His thinking at this difficult time, this time of my crisis. My disease cooed that I was alone, that I had to weather this storm on my own.
But my old-timer had pegged my symptom well. He made the nature of my wrong “exact.” He said I was beating myself up because I was not believing in my Higher Power. While he agreed I had let doubt creep in, he added what I had missed, that this was a human flaw we all possess. My shortcoming was that I had let that flaw take hold in my consciousness. I then had compounded the problem by believing it to be a fundamental weakness that had no cure. The warning this would almost certainly lead to a drink was his sobering conclusion. The solution he offered was a reminder of that which I was forgetting, that ours was a program of progress not perfection. I could take comfort in being willing to accept spiritual progress rather than portending doom because I was failing at spiritual perfection. To right this wrong, I needed to make a living amend to myself – this was quite an unexpected suggestion.
The words he spoke in response to the question of how I could accomplish this have reverberated in my brain since, especially when I hear “How It Works” at the outset of a meeting. He told me: Do Not Be Discouraged. I had lost sight of the fact that no one before me had been able to maintain perfect adherence to the principles I was called upon to practice. I had somehow come to believe that I was an exception to that rule, rather than one who could live, literally, by it and because of it. So my living amend became my frequent and fervent reminder to myself that I was no saint, that the spiritual awakening my Higher Power had helped me achieve was to give me the opportunity to stay sober and become the man I had always wanted to be and to not be discouraged if I lost sight of this.
I was demanding the impossible of myself
That old-timer helped me to see how I was demanding the impossible of myself and then beating myself up mercilessly because I had fallen short. Worse, rather than returning to the path that worked as soon as I was able to, instead I lost faith. Forgetting my Higher Power might know what was best for me, I began to think I had all the answers. As I made living amends to myself, I saw the wisdom of the adage “to err is human.”
How I handled the awareness of my errors, the actions I took as they presented themselves, would become the measure of my progress. Above all else I heard: Do not be discouraged. For if I could accept life’s disappointments despite my best efforts, I might be living in the will of my Higher Power after all. Such progress, though not perfect, still led me back to the belief that all would be well, here and hereafter.
At 9:00 AM I was just waking up with a terrible hangover. For some reason, my brain was telling me I was going to die prematurely if I didn’t do something about my drinking. But what was I supposed to do? The only thing that meant anything to me was earning enough money to support my drinking habit. I was running out of options and friends.
Desperately ransacking my apartment for a drink, for the first time I could remember I couldn’t find a drop. An hour later I was sitting in the grass on the front lawn of a small yellow house where they held A.A. meetings. Three sober members of A.A. greeted me with compassion and understanding.
An hour later I was sitting in the grass on the front lawn of a small yellow house
Two minutes later, I laid back in the grass, covered my eyes with my forearm, and said to myself, “Thank God, the nightmare is over.” And it was. That was on October 15, 1969, and I haven’t had or wanted a drink since then.
What happened to me that day? I have been an avid member of the program from that day until now. I have always strived to understand what took place at that exact moment. The best way I can describe it is: I had a profound change of perception. Some will call it spiritual awakening but that’s where, I believe, we have our most difficult challenge — defining the word “spiritual.”
I find two definitions that show the different ways we are conditioned to understand spirituality: 1) Of, or relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things; and 2) Of, or relating to religion or religious belief. Neither Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition refers to anything of a material nature.
I’ve resided in my current community for the last 40 years and attend 8 or 9 meetings weekly. After seeing the comings and goings of thousands of A.A. members, I seem to recognize a difference in the sharing of two groups of people. One will share about material problems or their drinking escapades, and the other will share about things of the inner self, the immaterial or the unseen things such as guilt, fear, shame, pride, trust, and conscience.
It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen
We all have these things, to one degree or another. The sooner we recognize the value of being right in spirit, the more we distance ourselves from the useless, meaningless thinking of the past. My heart goes out to those who haven’t experienced that spiritual awakening and if they haven’t, they may not even know that they haven’t. I wish there was a simple way to induce a spiritual awakening in someone but, without the desperation, I may never have experienced it myself. I believe the futile effort to find alcohol in my apartment that morning in 1969 was my bottom. Immediately searching out A.A. was like a slingshot launching me into the program, desperately searching for answers. Until desperation outweighed denial, my alcoholic thinking had been the only thing I could rely on for decision making. Now my decisions are based on spiritual (unselfish) principles and most of those material problems are but distant memories.
It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. We all come to A.A. with material problems and we must give them due diligence until resolved. We learn from past mistakes and find better ways of doing things. If we dedicate ourselves to understanding the spirit of the things we learn in the program, and not just settling for the letter of the law, so to speak, we can outdistance the failed ideas of yesterday. We will find peace and happiness. Life will have meaning at last. A profound change of perception (awakening) will make it so.