Looking at the online rows of my homegroup’s faces, and faces from people from all over the world, hearing their voices one by one, I think to myself, “Every time you talk, I feel my defects.” My On Awakening group reads literature at 5:30 a.m. every morning before the shares, so why can’t people share about the topic? A newcomer shares, “I don’t come to A.A. meetings to get my news. I come for recovery. Can we please talk about that?” I agree with him. My gentle nod should signal to everyone online to heed his point. My face can control the meeting if only people are looking at me. I have to pretend they are.
On Awakening celebrates birthdays and milestones every day, including singing the song with bronze chips. We used to hold hands at the end of the meeting.
Until we went online.
How did I get here? Pandemic. Forward-looking members of our group had called a teleconference to suggest an online meeting. Some protested, “We need to meet physically!” Others said, “We won’t be able to meet at the church.” What made it work was creating a separate meeting with a slightly different name – On Awakening Online. It was up and running the next day, just hours before the Bay Area public health order.
Renegades continued to meet at the church, me included. Until a falling out two days later. The first person who arrived changed the lighting scene and claimed it was a group conscience. That lying son of a gun—How dare he! Rage rose up inside me and I left, joining the online meeting. Business meetings started to be every week because there was so much to talk about: how to support the church and keep our space when the virus winds down; how to end the physical meeting; how to capture 7th Tradition offerings to help the greater A.A.; what about “everyone chat” – could be disrespectful and disruptive.
How about people calling in from other continents? Who cares where they are from – please ask them to not say – we are all the same. Just stick with your name. There is no time to hear where you’re from – killing precious share time … My homegroup has seen me for seven years. In my early days when I would share, people would turn to my sponsor and say: “He’s your sponsee.”
I took it as an honor on how well I shared and helped them. Un-self-aware lunacy ruled me. Fortunately, working the program, I started to get aware of myself. I began to move from tolerance to acceptance, to appreciation, to love of my meeting comrades even as I tried to control them. And they started to be OK with me.
In my early days, when I would share, people would turn to my sponsor
What am I after? Defect surrenderment. How does it work? I keep noting my view of the world, which is seeing what’s wrong. What’s wrong: Everything that does not bring me emotional or financial security, prestige and approval and affection, or control. That’s all I need. I don’t ask for much!
When circumstances change, like these online meetings, my defects make new plans of attack to keep controlling me and preventing me from seeing the meeting faces as faces of God, and hearing their voices as voices of God, as our members bring a higher power into existence for me and everyone else.
What’s it take for an online meeting? The creators and hosts, the technical support person, and the reading person who displays the literature. It is not a small task to set up and run a meeting for 60-90 people online. And they train secretaries for each meeting which is strange because On Awakening has no secretary. Anyone can start the meeting. So our creators of the online had to take a no-secretary format and make it work for an unlimited number of people not familiar with our meeting. They made it work. They trained new hosts. They created a website – https://aaonawakening.com/ – to communicate.
Hours and hours of sacrifice and work kept the meeting coming. Not only that: they created a 7:00 p.m. meeting as well as a 5:30 a.m. meeting, and expanded the 5:30 a.m. meeting to include 5 minutes of freeform chat and a 5-minute mediation in response to member requests.
What’s the point of all my challenges with this viral change? Not taking myself too seriously, and not missing a chance to appreciate. Pointing out what’s working well. And what’s that? Our A.A. members ensuring A.A. is there for us, for themselves, and everyone else who cares to get sober and get on a spiritual path.
Principle 4: Courage
by John W.
Long before I became a grateful alcoholic (never thought I would describe myself in that way), I heard the gift of courage described as fortitude. I had an intellectual sense of “fox-hole courage” but having never been in the military, I had no literal reality to frame the term. When I began losing my battle with the disease of alcoholism, the consequences led me to A.A. I experienced the miracle which allowed me to achieve a daily reprieve from my disease. In that awakening, with the help of others, I worked the 12 Steps, sought to live the 12 Traditions and even learned of the 12 Concepts.
March came in like one lion and left as a pride of them
As I strove to practice these principles in all of my affairs, I had to ask myself what on earth did that really mean? Dearest Maggie, a darling octogenarian with over half of that time sober, drove my Home Group to tears of laughter. She said she thought compliance with this suggestion meant she needed to increase her liaisons with different men. But when the laughter subsided, she put the joke aside to burn into your consciousness as only she could: what it had been like when she drank, and how she made it to A.A. She would put flesh on the skeleton of the principles without naming them.
My sponsor conveyed the 12 Principles through the oral tradition of A.A.: Honesty, Hope, Faith, Courage, Integrity, Willingness, Humility, Brotherly Love, Justice, Perseverance, Spirituality and Service. As I worked the steps each principle was vaguely recognizable. Yet they seemed as elusive as a finger of fog beneath the bridge on a blossoming October morn in The City.
The principle of Step Four is honed with inventories
Like good friends who arrive when needed, the principles shed light and guide to the next right thing in spite of doubt or fear. These days I Zoom from one virtual meeting to the next. It’s a March that came in like one lion and exited into April as a pride of them. Not a lamb to be seen. The principle of courage is on the near horizon.
Born from a faith which knows the only thing to fear is fear itself, fortitude carries this alcoholic through troubled times. No difficulty is so great that we can’t confront it with integrity. I heard the principle of courage expressed in those sharing their experience, strength and hope in my Zoom Rooms—and I needed to hear it. I attended a Zoomer from my home town to strike back at the feeling of aloneness the Shelter In Place mandates fostered. I tuned in elsewhere just for a change of pace.
The response in the end was always the same: Have courage, you are not alone in this battle. I saw in my Zoomers how vital and necessary it was to have been searching and fearless when I had taken that inventory. That tool in my spiritual kit, the fourth principle of courage, was now put to use in ways I had never imagined. A few weeks before it would have seemed impossible.
The arch through which we passed to freedom
Courage, the principle of Step Four, is honed with inventories. Today it meant confronting the fears of the pandemic. This was me in real time practicing the principles in all my affairs to build “the arch through which we passed to freedom” (Big Book, p. 62).
On Meditation and Prayer
by Bree L.
This alcoholic never was much for prayer and meditation. They were for the geriatric set. Meditation was for yogis, not for me. Life was to be lived and grabbed—carpe the diem. Besides, I was too busy, too involved. I had to plan, prepare and my life needed a lot of micromanaging. Prayer was something a person did at church. There was one main prayer, the Our Father, that everyone knew and said. That was the Methodist Our Father with the add on’s, not the shorter Catholic one. Prayer was appropriate only on special occasions, church, funerals, and of course times of gigantic stress.
They were for the geriatric set
For a while transcendental meditation (TM) was the rage. Being a self-willed alcoholic, I skipped the $75 “mantra” fee and did it myself. My 20-minute meditations were abbreviated to 10 and then 5. My foray into TM lasted about a week. In my late teens, I saw the light and converted to Catholicism. My prayer capacity increased. I learned the correct Our Father and Hail Mary necessary for penance after confession. There was also the closing prayer for a perfect act of contrition. All along there were a truckload of times when I prayed, it was quite explicit, but it didn’t seem to work. This includes early years of praying that my father would stop drinking. Later I prayed to find a suitable husband.
Approaching Steps 11 and 12 with the guidance of my sponsor, I tiptoed around prayer and meditation. Of course I could rattle off prayers. Hey, I had some down cold. But as with life I was physically present but not spiritually aware. (Although I did look very holy as I lifted my eyes to heaven.) With Steps 11 and 12 my higher power came down from the heavens, off the wall and into my heart. Along with that my prayers also evolved.
As with life I was physically present but not aware
Today the Third Step prayer is a mainstay. Father Tom talked of using one breath per word and that slowed the whole process down. I say it slowly, repeat it slowly, savor it slowly and work to digest every word. Many times I have to stop and start over again because I’ve forgotten where I was. I get hung up on that part about bondage of self. Where does it exist? Thus far I’ve climbed past my ex-husband, my wayward daughter and the guy in the meeting who grandstands. Then I’m back to the beginning knowing that any bondage of self is of my own making.
The biggest thing I have to remember is that I’m not in charge and saying rote prayers keeps me in my head. It can become so automatic that I don’t even remember what I’m praying for. Sometimes during a meeting I’ll drift off to my own meditation. There are quiet times nobody is talking and I take the opportunity to close my eyes and slowly begin, “God, grant me the serenity,” or “God, I offer myself to thee.” Another trick is to visualize a best outcome of things that bother me. I’ve wanted my wayward daughter to come to A.A. However, she’s strong willed and tells me Heineken Light will suffice. I visualize her at her own meeting, partaking of what A.A. offers or going to A.A. activities. I end up giving her a mental hug and courage to be the best person she can. This beats agonizing or worrying about her drinking. I also don’t manufacture resentments by trying to control her.
Lately there has been one of those meeting outliers, who has his own agenda and works to change our A.A. meeting from the inside out, starting with my meeting. What I’ve done is generate love and tolerance toward this person. I can meditate on his well-being, praying that he’ll see the light in his time (not mine). Prayer and meditation keep me connected to the wills of my H.P.
I asked my sponsor: How does one’s H.P. hear a prayer and does it do any good? Apparently the H.P. is beyond us all. The only way we know of its effectiveness is by equating it with sharing. When I share at a meeting, I don’t know if it affects others and can’t really tell how it might be received. The one thing I do know is how I feel relief and the knowledge, the intuitive thought, that I can now continue with my life. Prayer from the heart makes me feel good. I’m going to keep doing it.
Step 4 — At Once
by Rob S.
My sponsor wisely did not allow me time to develop fear before writing my Fourth Step. He pointed out the Big Book indicates that we are to begin Step Four at once (p. 64). It seemed like only seconds after the Third Step that he laid out four sheets of paper with these headings:
Character defects slow us down as surely as the extra weights on horses in a Thoroughbred race
He said to write: “God help me I am writing my inventory” under each of these words. I was informed I was not capable of enough honesty to do this alone. I needed a higher power to help me. After all, a week or so before I had marched into a bar to say, “Gin and tonic, please.” (Thankfully I changed my mind and didn’t drink.) Obviously, my mind lied to me.
The Oxford Group called the inventory process automatic writing. If the words did not come from deep within, I was not to write them. No “thinking” about it was allowed. More honesty landed on those pages in a few minutes than had come out of my keen-intellectual-alcoholic mind for many weeks. This was not exactly Step Four yet, but it brought about honest information for the upcoming inventory.
From the Big Book I learned how selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fear had negatively affected me and others (p. 65). These were the very ingredients of the “bondage of self” I had asked to be removed in the Third Step. I needed to learn to face and be rid of these aspects of my personality. How could I do this if I didn’t even know what they were? I believe such understanding is a vital function of this step. The Big Book refers to the above four character defects as our “grosser handicaps” (p. 71). These shortcomings slow us down as surely as the extra weights on horses in a Thoroughbred race.
Four character defects are “grosser handicaps”
I was taught how to face and be rid of repeating thoughts of anger—resentments (p. 67). The same for irrational fears (p. 68). I came to realize how dishonest and selfish I had been with sexual conduct (pp. 69-70). This vitally important information was necessary to adequately do Step Five with my sponsor and to be willing to ask for God’s help in Steps Six and Seven (p. 76). Honest information from this step was even helpful in Steps Eight and Nine because I had listed my harms to others (p. 70).
Dealing with resentments in everyday life
The Fourth Step method of dealing with resentments is very useful in everyday life. There are two tools for this (p. 67):
A logical tool: “Where were we to blame? Where have we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened?”
A spiritual request: “This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.”
If I really apply them, this duo sets me free from repeating anger spells. I have learned to remain continually aware of grosser handicaps because they crop up in Step Ten all through the day and in Step Eleven before going to bed at night. Step Four is a learning process to be used with maintenance Steps Ten, Eleven and Twelve for the rest of my life.
Feelings Aren't Facts
by Bill P.
a late bloomer. Yet I was out of the house and independent enough to own my own dog before I even had my first drink. Chauncey dog and I stuck to each other as only a needy budding alcoholic and a little wiener dog could.
He was my buddy for seventeen years. If he could talk, he would be able to tell stories I can’t remember myself. Of course, he cannot talk, nor does he have any legal standing in the state of California to make any accusations against me. Nor would he ever betray me over anything not food-related. He is a dog, after all.
That only an emergency vet would know what to do was also a fact
As of a week ago he is also dead. So there is that. In Atlanta where I got sober, people would often say that feelings aren’t facts. I guess they say that here, too. I’ve heard people say before that this saying is absurd: feelings aren’t real? That’s nuts. That’s not what it says, though. It says that they are distinct from each other. They don’t have to be in agreement: knowing the facts won’t tell you how you feel, and knowing how you feel won’t tell you the facts. We ignore either at our peril.
Last Saturday, I returned from lunch to find that Chauncey had failed to recover from a seizure he had that morning. His right arm and leg no longer worked. He had no bladder control. I wrapped him in the same blanket he came home in when he was a puppy and called a friend: can you give me a ride to the emergency vet? Chauncey and I had been to the emergency vet many times before, but I knew there was a chance that he wouldn’t come home this time. And then I held him and tried to comfort him as the vet sedated and killed him, and he didn’t come back after that. I got home and looked around and said aloud, “Where’s Chauncey? Where’s Chauncey?” I cried and cried.
I can tell you what happened. I can tell you what I did. I don’t think I can show you how I felt here, though. Maybe what I write here makes you feel something, too, but those are your feelings. Mine are my own. The next day I went to a sober function and saw a friend of mine. I told him about Chauncey, and he gave me a hug.
“How are you feeling?”
“Like I want to crawl into a hole and die.”
Facts tell me if I drink, a lot of bad things I don’t want to happen are going to come along for the ride
Those are feelings. Feelings are being miserable, being sad. Feeling like a failure, like a loser. Feeling like the king of the world, or like a piece of shit. “Feelings aren’t facts” tells me that those feelings are real, but they aren’t reality. If I feel I am something, that doesn’t mean that’s what I am. If I feel I should do something, that doesn’t mean that’s what I should do. It just means I feel that way. They seem a lot more real than that, because feelings inspire action. If I feel like I want to crawl into a hole and die, I will want to sit at home and eat ice cream and play video games. In the moment, that seems like the right thing to do. Leave me alone, I’m not happy and I don’t want to be around anyone.
Facts, of course, aren’t like that. When Chauncey was paralyzed on his right side, that was a fact. That only an emergency vet would know what to do was also a fact. If I feel like I want to crawl into a hole and die, I have to consider the facts as well as the feelings.
If I only consider the feelings, then drinking looks like a great option. It will change that feeling, for one thing, and nothing else I do is guaranteed to do that. But the facts tell me that if I drink, a lot of bad things I don’t want to happen are going to come along for the ride. And if I only ever deal with the feelings, the facts that made me feel the way I feel are never going to change. I can drink and feel “better.” Chauncey will still be dead, though. I can order a print of Chauncey from Shutterfly, though. I can give his poop bags to the neighbors. They’re little things, but at least my apartment will reflect reality after I do them.
It may hurt, but I can look at these actions and say, “This would be the right thing to do,” even if my feelings are crying out at me as I’m doing them. Respecting the facts won’t always lead to happy feelings, and that’s okay. But still: what to do with the feelings? I can’t change them. I can’t ignore them. How can I bear them?
I share them. As best I can, I never experience a strong feeling alone. Ideally, I talk about that feeling with someone it’s relevant to. So when Chauncey died, I wasn’t alone. I had a lot of reasons I thought I should be alone: I don’t want to burden someone else with this, I’m not close enough to anyone to share this moment with them. But I learned from my first sponsor not to do anything alone if I don’t have to. So I had a friend with me.
When I came home after putting Chauncey down, I let people who knew him know. I talked to them over the phone (not just text!). Hell, I even called up an ex. No one was going to feel like I did, and I wasn’t going to be happy, exactly, but calling them and talking about what happened and how I was feeling meant that I didn’t have to carry the burden of those feelings by myself.
Oftentimes I use meetings to share that burden: I take what I’ve got, and I just talk about it. I don’t know why, but I didn’t need meetings to help handle Chauncey’s death. My sponsor, on the other hand, I did talk to about it, because he’s my accountability partner. I don’t experience any strong feelings without telling him, because if I don’t, odds are good that I’ll slip into dishonesty. The same goes for my home group: I brought it up there, because they need to know what’s going on with me.
I learned from my first sponsor not to do anything alone if I don’t have to
Last Saturday, I got rid of a lot of Chauncey’s stuff. I threw away his leash and harness. I put his crate, the crate I bought on the way home from picking Chauncey up at a Shoney’s parking lot in Commerce, Georgia all those years ago, out on the curb by my apartment in the city. After I put the crate out, I walked to the grocery store. I thought about that crate. The feeling of loss overwhelmed me again. I had to collect myself. I sat down for a moment before continuing on. When I went to church the next morning, I remember seeing that the crate wasn’t there anymore. Someone had taken it and would presumably get some use out of it. A small blessing not to have to see it anymore. When I came home that afternoon, the crate somehow was there again. Not only that, but Chauncey’s leash and harness were laying on top of it, like I had set them out to put them all in the car for a road trip.
What happened? Did I not actually see the crate gone? Did someone take it and then return it? How did the leash get there? Did a scavenger find it in my trash and decide to put it there? What does this whole thing mean? Is it a sign from my higher power? Do I need to unpack this and understand it? The crate and harness stayed on the curb after that. Nobody took them. When the garbage collectors came later that week, they threw it all out.
Like I said: feelings aren’t facts. I may not have all the facts, but I’ll always have feelings. And I’m grateful to the program for showing me that I never have to bear them alone.
Trust the Process
By Rick R.
Why the program of Alcoholics Anonymous works so well on the disease of alcoholism is hard to fathom when we first arrive. Most of us are confronted with the idea that our perception of life had been wrong from the start. Issues like faith, higher power, insanity, surrender, denial, guilt and shame had to be revisited to see where past thinking let us down. We painted ourselves into a corner in life. Some of us become open to the idea we may need outside help. When we go through this process in the spirit it’s presented in The Big Book and the 12 and 12, wonderful things happen for us.
Every time we uncover another piece of the puzzle, we free up that part of our mind
When I first entered the A.A. program, I tried to look forward to see how it could influence my life. Today it’s much easier to look back at the way the program worked for me. I wish there was a way to package it and give it away, but as I look back on my own experience I realize each one of us is conditioned differently.
Few of us can envision what the end result will be. If we did we would cut right to the chase and never look back. In the beginning we usually spend most of our time coming to terms with the most obvious symptom of alcoholism, the drinking. I was no exception. Unfortunately, many of us never get deeper into the program where most of the healing takes place.
Some of us find happiness, peace of mind, and other things which were lacking in our lives. To acquire them we must get serious about the process of recovery. This does not mean we will not experience joy and peace until we complete the process. Not at all. Every time we uncover another piece of the puzzle that barred us from being at peace it allows us to free up that part of our mind that has been wrestling with that issue. We can finally put it to rest.
Few of us can envision the end result
The day-to-day improvement in self-esteem is reward enough to inspire us to address the next issue that needs attention. One by one we resolve these matters as we trudge the road of happy destiny. Another natural result with this new awareness: we refrain from making the regretful mistakes of the past that caused our discontent in the first place.
Replacing the wrongs with the rights, you might say, doubles the pace of our growth. We only live once and it would be a shame to spend it with that awful mental grinding that goes on between our ears when the solution is right before our eyes. If we spend all of our mental energy obsessing on not drinking one day at a time, we can do this for years and then, one day, just pick up that drink. A drink has no appeal to alcoholics who are at peace with themselves and with others. Why waste the only life we have, when the answers are laid there at our feet? Don’t get stuck in the rut of complacency. Trust this process and ask yourself if you’ve been thorough with all twelve steps. If not, I recommend revisiting those loose ends and dealing with them. Give this a try and you won’t regret it.