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The Point: August 2019

Pride & Humility

by Anonymous

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.

Photo credits available upon request to thepoint@aasfmarin.org

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 of shame. 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). 

 

Christina's Way

by Bree L.

I started drinking in 8th grade; I was 12. I’d sneak down and drink all the left-over cocktails after my parent’s parties. My high school A’s and B’s went to B’s and C’s and a few D’s when I started smoking pot. After my high school graduation, I was smack dab into the seventies. Too young to be a hippy and too old to be a yuppie, I became a yippie. I was a teenager of the experimental seventies, part of the generation who prided themselves on not giving a f**k. 

I was paid to drink

I moved to Orange County, worked as a waitress and collected two DUI’s. My remedy for this was to move in with an Australian who talked about the shrimp on the barbie and loved his beer. He took me to the hospital to deliver our baby and that was the last I saw of him. It was 1985 and I was 23 years old with a child. So, I found another man to father my next two children. Around this time I discovered methamphetamines, and they became the love of my life. I was working in a bar and didn’t see myself as anything that resembled an alcoholic, because bar waitressing was my vocation. I was paid to drink. 

The births of my children were time anchors for how my life evolved. I’ve never raised any of them past the age of three, but their existence has allowed me to compartmentalize different phases of my life. My first child is now in New Zealand. I have no contact with him. After my second was born I tested dirty for drugs. My third child, a girl, was referred out for adoption and the fourth lived with an aunt on his father’s side because both of his parents were in jail.

photo captions available upon request to thepoint@aasfmarin.org

From 1989 to 1998, I was in and out of prison for possession. My last child was born in prison. In 1999, I think the judge got tired of seeing my face and sentenced me to a treatment center instead of returning me to the street. The center was a recovery ranch in the desert, co-ed, so I hooked up with a fellow client. After a bit, I stopped going to meetings, let go of my sponsor, went out and got loaded. I returned to working in a bar and getting paid to drink. My old standby.

At the bar, I met a normie guy. I was loaded, he wasn’t, but we got together anyway. He thought he could fix me, so I made the most of that and used him. I stayed with him for two and a half years, working at the bar, denying my addiction. That bar closed so I went to another bar, then another and then became unemployable. I see now how my lifestyle was only relapse mode, which led me back to drinking.

My war was over, and I had lost

In 2010 I was pulled over for drinking and got hit with a possessions charge. I knew I couldn’t be homeless and sober at the same time. This was delusional thinking. It doesn’t work. I called the treatment center looking for something to hang onto and connected with my same counselor. My war was over and I had lost. I surrendered and said, “I’m done.” 

I was at the treatment center for 60 days. My stay ran out, but I had nowhere to go, no other choices. So, I washed cars to get enough money to stay there. After 15 months a friend opened up a sober living place and asked me to come and work for her, which I did, and stayed sober. I no longer do life Christina’s way. I do all the things A.A. recommends and I’m still sober.

Sobriety Date: April 20, 2010.

Is Buddhism OK in A.A.?

by Kathleen C.

There are a lot of Buddhists in San Francisco and Marin A.A. A lot. Many of my favorite people. Old-timers, paragons of service, pillars of the A.A. community. Yet it gives me a twinge when I hear someone in a meeting quote their favorite Buddhist teacher or promote principles or tenets of Buddhism as part of their recovery. At a meeting recently a newcomer talked about a retreat he had just attended at a local meditation center and a lecture on Dharma and Recovery. There are books about Buddhism and the Twelve Steps.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this. A.A. members’ religions have been part of A.A.’s history. Bill W. and Dr. Bob were staunch Protestants. The Oxford Group, the ancestor of AA, was founded by High Church Anglicans. Sister Ignatia and any number of Catholic priests were some of A.A.’s earliest and most faithful supporters.

It still gives me a twinge when somebody in an A.A. meeting talks about their Buddhist practice. I find myself thinking how is this different from somebody in an A.A. meeting sharing how they were born again and got sober or how they accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal savior and got sober?

photo credits available from thepoint@aasfmarin.org

I myself am not without fault here. In A.A. meetings I have quoted a couple of Catholic priests who are on the speaker circuit and who have insights I find to be useful. And hilarious. 

I can hear some of my dear Buddhist friends speaking up that Buddhism isn’t really a religion – Good point. I know quite a few Buddhists who are atheists. But is Buddhism an outside issue in an A.A. meeting? Is it a distraction? Or is it a useful set of spiritual principles that can help an alcoholic stay sober? I don’t know the answer. All I know is that when I hear somebody in an A.A. meeting talking about Buddhism it gives me a twinge.

All the Steps a Stage

by John W.

When I first got sober and worked the steps, I completed a thorough Step Eight (to the best of my ability at the time, which my sponsor had approved). I saved the experience in my spiritual tool kit for the days to follow. Step Ten of course kept me on track as the days became years, so I thought of Step Eight more as a memory, something to hone for use with a sponsee down the road.

However, when the challenges of life on life’s terms hit like a tsunami, all of my memories and ideas of what’s good for me were washed away in the torrent. As instructed, I had sought to determine what step applied to the circumstances at hand. My sponsor—that thorough, “I want what he has” guy—of course reminded me that Step Four required a searching and fearless moral inventory. With earnestness he added that failure to fully perform Step Four had led many guys with more days than I back to the bottle.  This was not an attractive alternative.

Here I was, making a list, and the first name on it was mine

With my new Fourth Step inventory completed, I had moved through the admissions and taken the book down from the shelf, which yielded unexpected results. To this H.P. I was experiencing in a new and wondrous way, I was able to ask that my defects be removed. I was even willing to make this request straight from my heart and with complete abandon, as rigorous honesty demanded. But the Big Book seems to never let A.A.’s rest on their laurels. Its authors knew a drunk like me was in trouble if I did.  Instead I was called to more action. Now I had to make a list of all persons harmed. Since my recent episodes had been promptly admitted, the effect of requesting my defects be removed sank in. I had to ask—whom had I harmed by the expression of these defects this time?

The answer was unexpected, as it was me. Here I was, making a list, and the first name on it was mine.  My sponsor assured me this was not a hidden manifestation of ego, but rather an honest appraisal. I had developed resentments towards those on my inventory. Thanks to my H.P. and my fellow A.A.’s, I had not acted out upon those resentments, but I had sure let them eat me alive.

I forgot I was in his care, an actor on his stage

While I had not taken actions I’d regret, I had carried on profanely in the privacy of my own mind. I had riddled my H.P. with questions, demanded He conjure up favorable responses and, perhaps the saddest of all, denied He had all of these circumstances under control. I had forgotten I was in His care, an actor on His stage, a worker amongst workers in His field.

As this realization had been made exact during Step Five, the reflections suggested by Step Six had revealed that it was my inability to trust myself and my H.P. that required attention and change. To change I needed to be willing and then humbly ask for help. In that reflection I also saw whom I had hurt in the expression of this shortcoming—me.

Into the mirror my sponsor held up to assist in my perception, I looked at me. I began to understand how destructive my thinking patterns had been. I may not have lashed out at another (thank goodness) as I had fretted with my issues, but I had sure beaten myself to a pulp. My acceptance had developed around the circumstances, and my attitude with it, although the problems had not changed. Whether mine was to be a tragedy or comedy, only my Director knew. As the play of my life unfolded, my lines now came more freely, for I had begun my living amends to myself.

Fascinating Adventure

by Rick R.

As we approach Step Eight in the 12 & 12 (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions), it describes the A.A.  journey as a “moving and fascinating adventure” (Page 77). In Step Nine we start the process of making amends, and by then we realize that the promises are already starting to materialize. It would have been easy to rest on my laurels at that time, but I have been attending weekly step study meetings since I first got sober and I couldn't get away from the sage advice I heard over and over. In Step Ten it says, “Our first objective will be the development of self-restraint. This carries a top priority rating.”

Some examples I read are: Restraint of tongue and pen, dropping the word “blame” from our speech and thought (Step Four), quick- tempered criticism, sulking and silent scorn. These are just a few, but you get the picture. Revisiting these things three or four times a year as we cycle through step study acts like a mental rock tumbler. Slowly but surely, I adopted new habits which eventually become second nature, and developed into virtues. This helped me to rein in many of those old behaviors that got between me and my peers. I never stop learning these new ideas.

Another thing that caught my attention in Step 10 was the quote: “Pain is the touchstone of all spiritual progress.” The paragraph ends with, “How heartily we A.A.’s can agree … for we know that the pain of drinking had to come before sobriety, and emotional turmoil before serenity.” Can this mean we can have no spiritual progress without suffering? It didn’t make sense to me, so I looked up the word “touchstone” in the dictionary.

A touchstone is a mineral that assayers use to test the purity of gold

I discovered a touchstone is a mineral that assayers used to test the purity of gold. Prior to that, I thought that it was synonymous with stepping stone. Now I understand it as a measure of how spiritual we are when the going gets rough. Do we revert to our old habits, or do we stick to the principles we have learned in the program?

photo credits available upon request from thepoint@aasfmarin.org

A template for improving relationships

Another quote I kept seeing that piqued my curiosity was on Page 90 of the 12 & 12: “It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.” The “no matter what the cause” part threw me a curve ball. I questioned the idea. If a mother saw her child running into traffic and she wasn't disturbed, there must be something wrong with her. I don't think anyone could argue that point, so I believe that the spiritual axiom quote relates to the way we interface with other people. I find it to be a tremendous template for improving our relationships. We question what drives us when we start to get a little out of sorts and we can apply self- restraint.

For all the steps, I continue to attend those weekly meetings. Things get clearer each time I go through them so most of my issues are well under control (as long as I don't assume I can let down my guard). Ego is always ready to fill in empty spaces in my program. The maintenance part of the tenth step is easy for me these days. I just get up in the morning and say, “God, please show me what to do, and please give me the strength to do it; I don’t do too well on my own.” I'm not sure that a higher power hears me, but I know that I hear me. It arms me with the best possible attitude I can have for that day. It usually works. I let the rock tumbler keep me on my toes, and I hope that I always pass the assayer's test.

Step 8: Into Action

by Robert S.

It wasn’t always easy to be completely honest about all the persons and businesses I had harmed.  For many years I blocked out most of these painful memories. How I disgraced my well-respected father, mother, sister and family in general with my frequent public intoxication notices in the local newspaper. There was the loan company I had not paid back; the motorcycle I wrecked while “trying it out” from the used car lot (and upon return vamoosed on my bicycle and never got caught). This was only the beginning of a long Fourth Step Inventory list. 

Like taking my torn sport coat to a tailor

I almost had a drink two weeks before my new sponsor, Carl, helped me with the Steps. He told me that I couldn’t  trust my mind to write an inventory because it lied to me—I was not honest. The Big Book reports, “We took stock honestly” but doesn’t offer a particular method for resurrecting submerged memories (page 64). Luckily, my new sponsor presented me with an almost escape-proof method of spontaneous writing. Following the Big Book directions to do Step Four “at once” after Step Three, he had me write four lists: Selfishness, Dishonesty, Resentment and Fear. Under each category I wrote: “God, help me, I am doing my inventory.” I was told not to think, but to allow only intuitive emotions to fly on this paperwork—only the ones that came from my higher power (like the Great Reality deep within Bill W. mentions on p. 55). Sponsor Carl said just one word would do, too—just to jog my memory. Afterwards, I could then try to consciously remember what my God-based intuitive method did not.  Bingo! Included in these lists I now had an honest Eighth Step list of “persons we had harmed,” coupled with a new-found “willingness to make amends to them all” (p. 59).

The Big Book timetable left me no room to back out

I believe the Big Book timetable was very important for me with my dishonest mind. I was left with no time to back out or think things over. For instance, we are told to do Step Four at once; Step Five at first opportunity; Step Six then, not later; Step Seven when ready; then my Step Eight amends information would be ready to list on paper. No time to change my mind or delete what I had written. After all, both my sponsor and God have seen what I had written. 

photo credits available upon request to thepoint@aasfmarin.org

It was explained that making amends was like taking my torn sport coat to a tailor, expecting it to be mended back near to what it was—a simple apology often would not be enough. Also, I was to be careful that said “confessions” would never harm another person who was connected with my hijinks or inappropriate action. Some amends, of course, could be started at once, like paying small bills. Some amends happen when I am able to find the person I have harmed; some remain “maybes,” because of advice from my sponsor and others. Some I could never make because they would certainly harm others. The Big Book mentions our real purpose is to be of maximum service to God and the people around us. Carl commented that getting myself thrown in the clink probably would not be the best way to follow this idea. 

 The Big Book doesn’t mention living amends. What if I would go back the loan shark and report I would not be able to pay back because “I used to be a drunk, but now I am sober. Please forgive me, I’m sorry.” (Bang!) 

I was told not to feel guilty about the amends I could not right, so long as I knew I would right them if I could. I have made graveyard prayers and asked for God’s forgiveness (p. 83). This has helped.

Point Honors | August 2019

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