Marin City Miracles
by John W
Proud of the fact that I had been born in San Francisco, it cut deep when my soon-to-be ex-wife’s pulmonary problems caused us to move to Marin County. Our growing family now numbered three, all under age eight. The ravages of my problems with alcohol moved with us.
The office where my thriving business continued to grow stayed behind, requiring a daily commute. Two prior premarital DUIs, over ten years apart, had caused me to learn how to better control my drinking so it would no longer obviously affect my driving. Despite my arrests, the concept of not driving when I had been drinking was lost on me. I found a local spot over the bridge where I could drink but avoid contact with the law. I had no concern for innocent bystanders I might hurt. I was sure I would drive well.
My concern was to not get caught
My concern was to not get caught — I was a selfish drunk. My veneer was that of a well-educated, respected, professional, father of three – but on the inside, in the marrow of my bones, I was selfish, plain and simple.
After the successful change of location to Mill Valley, with the perfect watering hole located a short drive up an easy mountain road, life could not have been better. Or so I thought. But the drinking I believed was having an effect only on me, was tearing my family apart. Even though I had finally gotten sober, after months of daily 7:00 a.m. meetings and despite the evening blackouts, the kick-out order was on its way from the Marin Family Law Court. I had no friends. Without the booze to take the edge off I was itchingly restless, irritable, and very discontent. The folks that had what I wanted, beating their disease one day at a time, said “Keep coming back” and “Don’t quit before the miracle.” The timing was what kept me sober through the tsunami that was coming.
[caption id="attachment_861807" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Found the Marin City 6:30 – 6 Nights a Week[/caption]
I was aware of the history of the west side of Sausalito. Marin Ship [Bechtel’s shipbuilding company] had been hastily built during World War II. Marin City was constructed to provide housing for the needed workers. Over 4.5 million Americans journeyed to the shipyards for the war effort. Many arrived from the Deep South, laborers looking for a chance to work alongside of many a Rosie doing her riveting. When the war ended, a final bullet casualty was Marin Ship, which closed entirely within weeks. Thousands of people were left unemployed overnight in the neighborhood dependent upon the shipyard for wages.
The night in question started like so many before. I had attended my morning meeting, and the 4:30 p.m. at Marina Dock on the way home had helped, but as I crossed the bridge I was getting thirsty. You know what I mean. Desperately I scanned the meeting schedule and found “Marin City 6:30 – 6 Nights a Week.” I drove off the freeway like normal, but turned left to the meeting instead of turning right to the bar.
It took some effort to find the classroom where the meeting was. I knew not a soul, but I felt welcome before I could find a seat. Everyone was laughing and joking with each other and their attitude was contagious. When a single mom told my story, I came to believe. She told us how she had drunk herself out of home and family. How through the program, working the steps, she had repaired those shattered relationships. While her husband was still a work in progress, her children had finally “come home to momma.”
Boy, did I need to hear about hope that night. When we talked after the meeting, she told me something I had heard before, but from her I heard it in a different, special way. She said, “Don’t drink. You go to the meetings. That thing with the kids will work out.” I never saw her again, despite getting to that meeting many times over the years. Yet I still hear her advice in my head and each time I feel the same hope from it. Though these family circumstances of mine are still a work in progress, the hope is not. It lives in the marrow in my bones with a belief that is vital to my successful day: my Higher Power will restore me to sanity. I have but to seek help.
Looking back, I now believe my HP sent that woman on just that day to Marin City so I could hear her advice, which I needed to hear to keep me out of the bar where I had been headed. The power of one drunk talking to another is the miracle of this A.A. program. After my breakthrough that night in Marin City, it became a night I never forgot.
Lavender Dragon Bookstore
by Bernadette S
When I was seven years old my Mom and Dad started the long and painful process of a divorce. At the time both were active in their addictions. This situation created a lot of upheaval in my young life and put me in dangerous situations. One that really stands out was the time my Mom and I had to run for our lives from her abusive and very drunk boyfriend. So I lived with my Dad, who was an active alcoholic. Somehow he gained sole custody which was unheard of at the time. His parents stepped up in a big way to take care of me when he was working.
I remember his terrible job at a toxic waste plant and having to get up at 3 in the morning to go to Noni and Papa’s house while he worked. Papa would make breakfast: French toast, bacon and coffee. We would eat and then he would walk me to school a few blocks away.
Noni was a great listener and she gave the best hugs I have ever had. She was soft and kind and when she hugged me I felt like nothing could hurt me. She was a gift for me and I would not be who I am today without her.
At ten years old my Dad gave me my first taste of beer
When I was ten years old my Dad gave me my first taste of beer. I enjoyed the taste and the sensation right away. When my little friends from next door came over they asked what I was drinking. I looked at my Dad and he smiled at me. I said, “Apple juice.” It was pretty clear that I shouldn't tell them what I was really drinking.
In my senior year of high school I came out as bisexual and bought my first car, a powder blue ’73 Maverick. I loved that car and drove it into the ground. After I graduated I felt lost and I wasn’t sure what was next. One day my Dad came home and said he was moving out with his girlfriend, so I either needed to get roommates or get a smaller place for myself. So of course I asked my two best friends from high school to move in with me and all sorts of chaos ensued.
My beloved Maverick was beyond repair so I rode my bicycle to work. My apartment was in San Carlos and my full time job at Border’s Books was in Palo Alto. So it was a decent ride to and from work. I started a second job at the only lesbian-owned bookstore on the Peninsula, the Lavender Dragon. So life went on and I continued to work at both bookstores. I was smoking daily, drinking whenever alcohol was available, and starting to wonder if I would end up like my parents.
I asked myself, Is this what my life is going to be like? Waking up every day thinking about if I had enough, when I could get some more and longing for the oblivion that it brought. My Noni would call me just to say hello and I would be short with her and say I had to go so I could go get stoned with my roommate. At the time she was hurt but she didn't know what I was doing. It wasn’t until after I made amends to her that she finally understood. I was cutting myself off from the people I loved. All I wanted to do was check out of my feelings and my reality.
This sparkle in their eyes was unfamiliar to me
Then one day at the Lavender Dragon, I met my future ex-girlfriend, Bernice. There was an A.A. meeting in the back room of the bookstore and she was there to set it up. I had no idea what A.A. was but I was intrigued by the people who came to the meeting. They were genuinely happy and had this sparkle in their eyes which was unfamiliar to me.
After a few meetings she and I became friendly. One night she brought me a homemade dinner and I was so surprised by her kindness that I wanted to spend more time with her. She totally 13th-stepped me and I am grateful, because there is no way I would have gone to meetings without her talking about how great her life was in recovery. She was kind and loving and looked at me like I was the most beautiful young woman she had ever seen. I wanted to see myself the way she did.
[caption id="attachment_861824" align="aligncenter" width="300"] There was a meeting in the back room[/caption]
We became a part of each other's lives. Our relationship lasted over three years and I ended it twice. Our lives were so enmeshed I felt suffocated, but I didn't know how to say that. I suggested couples counselling and she said no. So I let go and moved on. Then my Noni, my dear grandmother, died unexpectedly. I was heartbroken and didn’t want to go on living. For a year after her death I would pick up the phone to call her before I realized I would never hear her voice again. I am so glad I had a group of sober friends and a great sponsor who helped me get through that terrible time.
Throughout my early sobriety my mother and I had a tumultuous relationship. Sometimes we weren’t even on speaking terms. It took many years and therapists for me to heal from the pain of the past and attempt to have a relationship with her. She actually told me, recently, how sorry she was for what she put me through and that sometimes she felt like she didn't deserve to be my mom! This moment was a huge breakthrough for our relationship.
I know I can always be myself here
The next few years of my life were all about healing, finding my footing and building a new life I could be proud of. I finally settled in the Sunset District in San Francisco. I have now been sober for 19 years and have grown up so much. I have an incredible sponsor I talk to regularly. I have worked the steps many times over and recently joined Al-anon to overcome my codependent tendencies.
I have lived in SF for about 4 years. In that time I have committed to some great meetings and have a wonderful community of people around me I can count on. That’s the beautiful thing about being in SF: I can be my sober, fat, beautiful, queer self and still feel like I belong. Sometimes I love this City and sometimes I hate it, but I know I can always be myself here.
by Judy G.
Gratitude. It is one of the foundations of Alcoholics Anonymous. If you search for gratitude in Daily Reflections or the 24 Hours a Day reader, numerous entries appear. For example, May 7: “It is very important to keep in a grateful frame of mind if we want to stay sober.” In the fourth edition of the Big Book, the second story after Dr. Bob’s Nightmare is called Gratitude in Action.
There is much scientific research on gratitude and how it positively affects the neuroscience of your brain. “Gratitude has also been shown to lower levels of drug use and can help people recover from addiction. Neuroscientists have found that gratitude activates different areas of the brain, including those affiliated with forming social bonds” (from Britt Andreatta on the Conscious Company website). Social bonds are crucial when you are in recovery. There was an article in Psychology Today Magazine on September 30, 2015, called “The Opposite of Addiction is Connection.” Connection. Social bonds: The social bonds that are formed by gratitude. Gratitude actually helps keep us sober.
She said she had nothing to feel grateful for
When the COVID crisis hit and we began to shelter in place, I felt myself sinking into a state of fear and despair. I am single and live alone. It was a huge adjustment for me to spend so much time alone. When I felt myself sinking, I would tell myself, “Focus on the gratitude, focus on the gratitude, focus on the gratitude.”
I have so much to be grateful for. I have a roof over my head, I am not waiting in long lines to get food at a food bank, I have a job that could immediately switch to working from home, and I have a car to take me where I need to go. When I focused on the gratitude, the fear would dissipate and I would feel soothed.
I was talking about gratitude with one of my first sponsors. Early in her recovery, she told her sponsor she had nothing to feel grateful for. Her sponsor responded, “Do you have all your fingers and toes?” It’s so simple.
We all have something to be grateful for. When I write my gratitude list, I often include the simple things like the sheets on my bed, or the quiet. Once my sponsor asked me to read my gratitude list. He suggested that instead of saying, “I am grateful for this, I am grateful for that,” to say, “Thank you god for _______.” My first reaction was, “He can’t tell me how to do my gratitude list. I’m leaving A. A.”
Then I remembered hearing numerous fellows say they took their sponsor’s suggestions even when they didn’t want to, and it always worked out. So I started saying, “Thank you god for this, thank you god for that.” A few days after my sponsor call, I went into the bathroom and turned on the shower and instinctively put my hands together and looked upward and said, “Thank you god for hot water.” It’s the simple things.
He can’t tell me how to do my gratitude list—I’m leaving
There are many other physical and emotional benefits of gratitude, including helping to overcome trauma, which is also linked to addiction. Not to mention improved sleep and self-esteem. We choose what we think about. We can either fill our heads with negative thinking and comparing ourselves to others or we can focus on the gratitude. So try counting blessings. You will most likely feel a sense of well-being and connection rather than negativity and despair. It’s good for our sobriety. A grateful heart doesn’t drink.
A Brief History of The Point
Around 2009 I visited my city’s A.A. Central Office for the first time in sobriety. I asked if they needed some help, such as working on their web site. They had a web master, but they needed someone to pitch in and help out with assembling and mailing their next issue of The Point (their monthly Intergroup newsletter). I swallowed my pride and helped. I thought I had skills better suited for more brainy work. I was led to a conference table at which three other people, newly sober, were seated. We all spent the afternoon assembling the issue, chatting away, talking sobriety, and having fun. Afterwards, I left with a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.
I then volunteered to answer Central Office telephones for one shift per week. A couple of years later, I joined the committee that produced The Point as an associate editor. I had a background in writing, so I thought that I could contribute to the committee. I had fun working on the A.A. History column for the next two years. The committee consisted of a lead editor, a layout person, and two associate editors: all volunteers. As a committee, we met twice a month for some fun, and pun-filled, meetings.
Our local volunteers pitched in to help
I became the lead editor in 2014. By that time the other members rotated off their commitments and I was the one managing each issue. And it was a management-type job. We had a production schedule, we solicited article submissions from A.A. members, we planned each issue after the submissions came in, we proofread and edited each article, and we had a layout/graphic artist add the articles and other content into the template for each issue.
After an issue was put together and a sample newsletter was printed out, we then began the final proofreading process. Even though an issue might look complete, it still required a final proofread. Sometimes a comma or a period, or even a sentence fragment might be missing. Oh, no! When the issue was completely laid out and the proofreading completed, the issue went to print. That’s where our local volunteers pitched in to help.
[caption id="attachment_861830" align="aligncenter" width="219"] the issue went to print ... our local volunteers pitched in[/caption]
After each copy of The Point was collated, it was stapled, folded, and then had address labels and postage affixed to it. We then placed the folded issues in United States Postal Service sorting trays, and a volunteer would deliver the trays to the post office.
In 2014, we also added some new volunteers to the committee. This brought fresh, new, ideas. For example, we started publishing artwork, illustrations and jokes: something that was not done before.
I rotated out of the committee a few years ago. I assume the process of how the stories are solicited and written has stayed the same. However, some changes since then include moving away from a hard-copy version of The Point to a web-based version. The layout format is different too. I had gotten used to the booklet format, with a cover page. Each issue is now a list of articles on a web page. In today’s tablet/mobile phone society, that might make it easier for people to read The Point while they are on-the-go. Personally, I prefer having had the hard-copy version. I could read the current issue and then leave it at a club house or at a meeting’s literature table for someone else to pick up and read.
I walked away from this commitment with having learned how to work on a team to produce a newsletter, how to step up and manage the process, how to accept responsibility when something goes wrong, and how to apply our traditions to our newsletter production process. Whether any one of you who reads this article chooses to volunteer for this committee, or any other committee work, at Central Office, I hope you also walk away with the sense of gratitude, sense of purpose, and fulfillment it gave me.
Beyond Character Assassination
by Rick R.
For some people it’s impossible to let their guard down. I think that most of us understand this, simply because we have all had to face this issue, to one degree or another, as we go through the steps. One of the things I learned when I was faced with this matter was I had a self-esteem problem. Hanging on to resentments and criticizing others’ behavior happens sometimes when we miss the peace of The Promises (Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 83-84). I over-corrected by pointing out the faults of others to make myself appear normal. This never worked as I could not fool my conscience. Things only got worse. I still worked through the steps and did what I could at the time.
No one gets it perfectly the first time, but we can make a second effort when we establish a track record of living by principles. A.A. meetings are a training ground for how to treat others. If we can’t accept the people there, it’s a cinch we won’t do it outside of the rooms.
No one gets it perfectly the first time
Everyone in A.A. brings their own assortment of mental, emotional, spiritual, and material problems. None of us is without these concerns. If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t need this program. We all feel somewhat vulnerable and we establish our own firewalls, with the help of our egos. We protect ourselves from our perceptions of what other people are thinking. We each might establish hard and fast reactions to protect our own turf. With so many different personalities together in one group, it can be hard to let down our guards. We may feel justified when pointing out the faults of others. This is what the alcoholic personality does.
With the understanding that most forms of criticism and character assassination stem from low self-esteem, it occurred to me I was just as guilty of the things that I was accusing them of. I likened it to two old men in a convalescent home hitting each other with their canes because one was not walking fast enough.
[caption id="attachment_867435" align="aligncenter" width="225"] I am no longer in conflict with anyone[/caption]
I had to step up to the plate and become strong enough to look deeper into people’s motives. I wanted to understand what caused them to behave the way they did. Then I felt less threatened by their outside behavior. I cannot express in words the mental freedom that this principle has produced in me. Now when I see someone acting out, my first thought is not judgmental but based on empathy and compassion. My next thought is: what I can do to help him or her? Having adopted this approach, I have come to terms with all the people that I interact with daily. I am no longer in conflict with anyone. To me, they are all like kids just learning how to do life. They all have problems and I am not going to be one of their problems.
The natural result of this approach is peace of mind
I must be strong enough to replace words like resentment, judgment and criticism with empathy, understanding and compassion. Today I have no adversaries that I can think of. The natural result of this approach is peace of mind.
I find no exceptions to this principle and I cannot be selective about who I apply it to. Everyone gets amnesty in my book. All that mental gymnastics about “those other people” are a distant memory and I can’t think of a single time that practicing this principle didn’t serve me well. The only one that is sorry for this profound and life changing transition is my ego. And about that—who am I to criticize?
The Principle of Brotherly Love
Growing up I had three sisters. My dad was a fireman: at home for 48 hours but then at work for 24 hours. So every third day I was the only male in the house. Brotherly love was not a concept I grew up learning.
In the fourth grade, I was allowed to visit a classmate’s house alone. He and I hung out with his older brother. That brother was nice enough on the school playground, but in the privacy of the family home he was a terror to his sibling and, by extension, to me. That was my first understanding of brotherly love.
Years later my parents’ surprise child was born, a beautiful baby boy. I left for college just when that boy was getting old enough to be interesting. He learned brotherly love from me while trying to play a small joke on a Sunday morning. He splashed water in the face of his hung over, passed out, older brother. I lashed out of my stupor and smashed the small container he used, a shot glass I had stolen the night before, in his face. The glass survived unscathed. My ten-year-old brother had to visit the dentist the next morning to have his front tooth capped, which I had chipped in my anger.
A shot glass I had stolen the night before
Many things changed when I eventually ceased drinking one day at a time. Our literature chronicled how such changes played out among its authors. Those now following their path are promised many things, some of which might be considered extravagant. I, like most, just reply in earnest “We think not” (Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 84-84). My experience, and that of others too I think, is the “juice comes with the squeeze,” but we must be painstaking in the process. For if we are painstaking, we do find a whole new attitude and outlook upon life has taken us over, and we have lost interest in selfish things and have gained interest in our fellows. This is brotherly love as I now know and understand it. Buoyed by the training wheels of progress, not perfection, we work daily to live it.
I have received brotherly love too often for it to be a coincidence. If attending a new meeting, I walk in, see the literature set out, empty chairs available and think, “Ah, I’m home.” Whether in a foreign city for business or pleasure, the experience seems universal to me. I have heard many others say this was their experience too. In my case, some of the men I interacted with at those meetings are still on my speed dial. This is but a facet of the brotherly love given to me in our program.
[caption id="attachment_867452" align="aligncenter" width="200"] a facet of our program[/caption]
When COVID-19 hit things changed again, just not like anyone ever quite expected. For our literature tells us how the spiritual principle underlying Step Three had its first major test in World War II (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 38). Anyone who has the disease from which I suffer has landed upon the beachhead of loneliness in the COVID-19 war and may, like me, be struggling to stay alive as surely as if they were on a Salerno beachhead. I have found in that battle, my tool of brotherly love works as both a sword and a shield.
Works as both a sword and a shield
At Zoom meetings, I cut through my loneliness by reaching out as a virtual sponsor to those in need. While quite different from my experience in the most obvious ways, the power of service in the effort has staved off more than one assault where I fight my battle with my disease.
Recently, my brothers abroad in New Zealand have been my shield against my disease. My favorite Zoom group meets daily with the same blunt honesty as my 7:00 a.m. meetings in the States. With virtual open arms the Kiwis welcomed this Yank to share their experience, strength and hope. They exuded brotherly love through the two dimensions of Zoom and kept me living in the fourth dimension of sobriety. For their brotherly love and that of others in this program I am and will be forever grateful.