Carrying the Message

by Kathleen C.

“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
~Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 60

No wonder the next line in How It Works is: “Many of us exclaimed, ‘What an order! I can’t go through with it.’” I mean really? Are you kidding me? Carry the message? Practice these principles? When I first got sober, my idea of Step Twelve was that once I stopped drinking I would carry the message to everybody I knew who ever drank a drop of alcohol that they were probably alcoholics. I mean, if I was, they were too, right?

I was dancing the alcoholic two-step–Step One and Step Twelve–“I’m an alcoholic and so are you.” Not surprisingly, nobody agreed with me that they were alcoholic. But I kept going to my one grudging meeting a week–as close as I was willing to get to Step Twelve. I finally asked Bonnie to sponsor me, after almost two years of being dry.

I was dancing the alcoholic two-step

I had worked the steps in another program, but it was time for A.A. Bonnie is a Stealth Sponsor. Not bossy, not super-directive. Just There. She was at our home group meeting, Hilldwellers’ Monday Night Big Book, every Monday.

She always returned my phone calls. She always arranged to meet with me, even though she was commuting to work in San Francisco while taking care of her very ill mother in San Jose. Bonnie is still my sponsor today. We are both retired and have a lot of fun, in the midst of the stuff that happens in sobriety. She has 29 years sober, I have 28, and she is probably my best friend. She is blazing the trail of life ahead of me, calling back over her shoulder, “Watch out! There is a big resentment over here!” She doesn’t TELL me how to be a good A.A., how to practice these principles in all our affairs. She SHOWS me.

Watch out! Big resentment over here …

I try to do the same for the women I sponsor, not perfectly, oh hell no, but doing the best I can. Today my sponsees keep me sober. I give them advice and then realize I need to walk my talk. One night I was on the phone with one of the women I work with. As I hung up, I heard my husband’s voice, “How many people do you sponsor? Isn’t that a burden?”

My reply was quick: “Honey, you just don’t understand. It takes a village. It takes a lot of sober women to keep me sober.”

A Joyful Time of Year

by Rick R.

How appropriate it seems that there are 12 months in a year and we have 12 steps in the program. The joy of good living is the theme of the 12th Step. It blends right in with the holiday season in November and December, starting with Thanksgiving and ending with the New Year’s Eve celebration. This time of year does bring a lot of joy to many of us, but it also brings distress to some of the less fortunate ones who haven’t yet been blessed with the gift of sobriety and peace of mind, in and outside of A.A.

During my drinking days I used to be very uncomfortable about the holidays. I never knew how to act around normal people unless I was half smashed. When invited to a celebration, I felt like a charity case and would rather just hang out at the bar where I felt safe. I never got into the spirit of reaching out to others. My family always celebrated the different holidays; I always (due to my discomfort) would put a damper on it by complaining about the tacky gifts that people would buy for each other, the mad rush to go shopping and the commercialized facade that it had become. Any excuse was better than facing myself and the miserable wretch I had become.

After being sober for several years it occurred to me I still had some of those same attitudes. I was still holding on to them largely due to the inconvenience of it all. I explained this problem to a dear friend once.

Does the rest of the family enjoy the holidays?

He asked, “Does the rest of the family enjoy the holidays?” I said yes. He suggested, “Why don’t you just take a back seat and watch the joy in their eyes as they experience these things?” I did exactly what he suggested. When I started to observe the childlike innocence and happiness it brought to them, it gave me a whole new appreciation for this time of year. It brought tears to my eyes and I no longer wanted to be the grouch or put a damper on the their joy. I have been following this line of thinking ever since and it has changed my whole attitude concerning these things. This change of attitude has inspired me to apply the unselfish lessons that I’ve come to understand, so now I spend the holiday season filled with joy. If it works like that for the holidays, then why can’t I bring it with me for the rest of the year?

Bring it for the rest of the year

This has been my mission for several years, and I am always looking for the opportunity to brighten the lives of people less fortunate than myself. I do these things anonymously and without fanfare. I also try to consider the discomfort that I used to feel when I was the one on the receiving end of a charitable gesture.

I am very careful to do these things in a way that preserves the dignity of the other person. I don’t have to wait for the holidays to do these things. Every day is a holiday inside and outside of my home, and you can believe me when I say: I reap more than my share of the joy.

Every day can be a holiday inside

~ Rick R.

12 Questions for a 4th Step

by Dan F.

What became Alcoholics Anonymous dates from June 10, 1935, when Bill gave Dr. Bob his last beer. A month earlier, members of the Oxford Group, a back-to-basics Christian movement started by dissatisfied Lutheran minister Frank Buchman, had brought them together to meet and talk. Buchman was willing to work with people of different religions without demanding they convert to Christianity. A.A.’s first book, Alcoholics Anonymous, was drafted using the language of that group. The text was heavily edited before publication with input from 300 non-alcoholics (religious, medical and academic professionals) who received a draft of the book, as well as the 100 people who were members of the yet-to-be-named alcohol recovery program.

A.A. has always taken concepts and language from outside sources before, during, and after its birth. On A.A.’s 20th anniversary, Bill W. said, “It would be false pride to believe that Alcoholics Anonymous is a cure-all, even for alcoholism … Let us constantly remind ourselves that the experts in religion are the clergymen; that the practice of medicine is for physicians; and that we, the recovered alcoholics, are their assistants.” (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, p. 232.) In a Grapevine article for A.A.’s 25th anniversary, Bill W. drew on three non-alcoholics’ work for the spiritual principles behind the Twelve Steps: his own doctor, Dr. William Duncan Silkworth, for Step One; William James, the American psychologist who delivered the Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh, Scotland in 1901-1902 which became the book The Varieties of Religious Experience, for Step Twelve; and Episcopal minister Rev. Dr. Samuel Shoemaker, the leader of the Oxford Group in the 1930s, for Steps Two through Eleven. (The Language of the Heart, pp. 297-298.)

A.A. borrowed spiritual concepts during and after its birth

I keep my two feet planted in A.A. because I am one of the minority who cannot safely drink alcohol. I keep my ears, eyes, mind and heart open to all sources of information and inspiration inside and outside of A.A. Pioneers of A.A. did, too, in order to continue to grow farther away from the last drink and realize the “full potential of … genetic endowment,” as Dr. George Sheehan used to preach the night before the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., which I ran a dozen times.

I have been sober over half my life and half of A.A.’s life. I have written the 12 Questions, below, with language discovered from sources on my journey on the Road of Happy Destiny. They help me find out who I am and what my higher power wants of me each day.

  1. Who am I?
  2. What do I want?
  3. What do I not want?
  4. What behavior of mine helps me
    reach what I want?
  5. What behavior of mine does not
    help me reach what I want?
  6. What behavior of mine helps build
    relationships with others?
  7. What behavior of mine harms
    relationships with others?
  8. What do others say they like
    about my behavior?
  9. What do others say they do not
    like about my behavior?
  10. What have I done well today?
  11. What have I not done well today?
  12. What behavior do I admire in
    other people and want to imitate?

Dan F. was born in San Francisco a month after the first edition
of Alcoholics Anonymous was published in 1939. He took his
last drink in Washington, D.C. December 8, 1976, the day after
he attended his first A.A. meeting. He lives with his wife in Europe
and does volunteer service for three international nonprofit, non-
governmental organizations (NGOs).

Tradition 12

Secret Society vs. Vaudeville Circuit

by John W.

“We of Alcoholics Anonymous believe the principle of anonymity has an immense spiritual significance. It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities … to actually practice a general humility. This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us …” ~Twelve and Twelve, p. 192.

Not ready to stop fighting

My first Christmas without drinking: “It was the worst of times.” Still as fresh in my mind as breakfast this morning. My four siblings and their families, with my family of 3 all under age 11, at a mid-afternoon dinner at Grandma’s. We sat around her tree enjoying the Spirit of the Season.

Grandma asked the kids, “Did Santa visit your house last night?” The children said, “As soon as Daddy got back from his meeting.” What meeting was that? Who could have a meeting on Christmas morning? The stigma of being an alcoholic was alive and well in my family. My mumbled reply and changing the subject addressed the silence of the room, but not the cacophony between my ears.

“Principles before personalities” means more than ignoring the belligerent drunk, or the old timer who loved to say how much better A.A. was way back when. The principle of anonymity actually helped heal my soul from the stigma of alcoholism. I gravitated to A.A. the last time because it was anonymous. I certainly wanted no one to know I was an alcoholic—fighting words for sure.

Christmas only got worse when I retreated to the bottle later that night after kids were tucked safely into bed. I was not ready to cease fighting everyone and everything. I didn’t want more, but I was unable to stop with less. Amazingly, the attraction of my 7:00 a.m. homegroup got me there the day after Christmas. I was told: Don’t drink, work the steps, and your life will change.

Don’t drink, work the steps, and your life will change

On my first sobriety anniversary, St. Patrick’s Day, I received was a license plate with my sobriety date. Not quite shouting from the rooftops, but no longer a secret either. Certainly a vivid, daily reminder of that which saved my life and has kept me alive since. What I have witnessed in myself is how I have changed about admitting I am an alcoholic. I no longer feel isolated by stigma. Rigorous honestly compels me to admit I have yet to label myself a “grateful alcoholic.” Yet I can see hope on the road I trudge.

I had been the arrogant drunk who knew it all. No one was going to separate me from the daily indulgence I “earned,” even though I knew it was separating me from all I held near and dear. So if there had been no anonymity at the beginning, I might never have gotten in the door. If I had to get out on the circuit and proclaim to any within earshot how it was working for me, I do not believe I could have stayed in the rooms.

Flash forward to Christmas afternoon, two years later, in the same place, with the same cast of characters and the same questions for my youngest. She told grandma about calling that morning to tell Daddy (living elsewhere due to the divorce) what Santa had left and the celery his reindeer had half eaten, right after he “got back from his A.A. meeting.” This time there were no strained silence and no shoe stares, just a couple of high fives and a warm hug with a grateful alcoholic Daddy and his daughter. It was the best of times.

10 Reasons I’m Not an Alcoholic

I used to tell myself …

by Anonymous

  • I never “had” to have a drink. I only drank to relax and wind down.
  • I didn’t drink every day, unless I was on vacation.
  • Never got a DUI (I drove drunk—just never got caught).
  • I didn’t drink in bars. I stayed at home with my Southern Comfort on the rocks.
  • I was a social drinker. All my friends drank. We were very social.
  • My family tree only had one drinker, my father. The rest were all teetotalers—well, maybe a few overeaters … 
  • I’m a nice girl. Nice girls don’t get drunk (except once or twice).
  • I only drank in expensive places, like restaurants, and had only expensive drinks, like martinis, Manhattans, stingers or greyhounds.
  • I never drank straight stuff. Except for the Scotch on the rocks and, of course, my Southern Comfort. 
  • My story isn’t exciting like I hear on speaker tapes. What’s exciting about sitting at home in bed reading and sipping a toddy of Southern Comfort on the rocks?
  • I’ve never been falling down drunk, except for that one time in Miami. And then there was New York … 

Musings on the Nature of God

by Steve B.

No wrapper, no limits

The way I do it is to stand fast to the A.A. tenet: As I understand God. And let it go from there. More will be revealed.

Don’t like aphorisms and I don’t like metaphor. Hailing from Swiss people, known for their literal culture, where ideas are grounded in statistics, it’s easy to see why I don’t like aphorisms and metaphor. If you ask my mother, “Is the glass half full or half empty?” she’d respond, “Six ounces of liquid in a 12- ounce glass.”  Ask my dad about the weather? “72 degrees and 20% cumulus clouds.” For Les Suisses, “Fake it ‘til you make it” and “GOD as the Great OutDoors” are just more ways to do a lazy job explaining something. If any people on the planet embrace Time to be God, it’s the Swiss (Swiss watches and Swiss public transportation …).
In my family, we didn’t say God is this or God is that. We just said, God is. Dieu est. Gott ist. No need to limit. No need to demystify. We know God is; we just don’t know any more than that. And for a literal
culture, all this means is that it’s impossible to wrap God in the chains of definition, so be efficient and don’t even bother.

The great universal equation of all things

Occidental European cultures seem obsessed with defining God—Irish Catholics, French Huguenots, German Lutherans and Anglicans.  All their defining merely opens the door for conversations about whether God is a This or God is a That. Contrarily, atheists are always claiming that God is not a this or a that. Well, everyone’s right, and everyone’s wrong. Who cares? So much fighting. God is. Stop there. Put down your guns.

So, what has this to do with A.A. and recovery? As a 26-year member of A.A., having sponsored over 100 members, I was told to find a God and pray to it. Since my God has no wrapper and no limits, I guess “Stasis” is the best way to describe my God: The great universal equation of all things, constantly a little off balance, always incorrect, always trying to regain balance and become correct, always readjusting. The perfection of constant imperfection due to change. Again, I have no idea. God is.

Steps 3, 5, 6, 7 and 11 all want me praying to a “Him” or a single human-seeming personage. Also, how do I sponsor when I don’t ever pray to a personage-him-God? Once, I stopped working with a sponsor who said, “You need to pray to an all-powerful being.” Wrong again.

The way I do it is to stand fast to the A.A. tenet: As I understand God. And let it go from there. More will be revealed.

Intercounty Fellowship of A.A.