1 05, 2019

The Not-So-Zen Motorcycle Safety Course

by Jhene C.

From about 1989 till 1999, I owned and rode a 650 Honda motorcycle … sporadically. There were long periods of time when I just pushed the bike back and forth across the street to avoid getting a parking ticket. Chalk it up to laziness, financial insecurity or the fact that during that period of time I was not actively going to meetings, but I never actually got my motorcycle license.

I did everything you weren’t supposed to do

I had my permit and did everything you weren’t supposed to do when you only had a permit. I rode at night. I rode on the freeway. I carried passengers. I was very lucky that I never hurt anyone when I drove drunk, and when I rode with passengers, sober, but without a license or any real training. I had been warned about the difficulty of the DMV skill test, but I also knew you could get around that by taking a motorcycle safety class. Still, I never followed through.

I finally decided to donate my bike to a worthy charity in 1999, because I was tired of suiting up, going downstairs and climbing on my bike, only to find that it didn’t start. I didn’t ride for years until I rented a scooter in Greece in 2009. I wasn’t used to scooters. The center of gravity isn’t the same as motorcycles, which makes them handle differently. I went around a corner one early morning, overly tired, and took my left hand off the handle to wave at a farmer while also hitting a big stream of water on the road from said farmer, lost traction and fishtailed. I finally ended up against a low wall nearby. The farmer and his son did their best to patch me up before I headed back to the campground where I had rented the scooter. I shelled out about $100 for a broken mirror. And so ended my scooter-riding career.

Fast-forward another 10 years to 2019. My husband and I go to Greece every year now, after finally convincing him to go in 2013 or 2014 and him falling in love with the place, too. But he’s not a rider in any way, shape or form. So I never rented another scooter (plus I wasn’t overly eager for a repeat performance of my fall), and the years went by. Till this one.

I was the only woman in the class

A friend of mine, Roberta, has a motorcycle license and rode a motorcycle for years. She decided, much to my delight, that she will join us in Greece this year for about five days. And she really wants to rent scooters. There’s one problem though: Because so many tourists like me were having accidents on the scooters, Greece decided to require motorcycle licenses to rent scooters in Greece (Note: this might not be currently true. “Requirements” like this are always changing in Greece). At any rate, after my usual habit of waiting till the last minute, I finally signed up for a course. It entailed three days of attendance. The first was an evening class that lasted between four and five hours, with an amiable but definitely serious-about-safety instructor.

I was the only woman in the class and felt a little out-of-place at first. The next class met on Saturday, at a school parking lot in South San Francisco. I instantly saw the bike I wanted, but also felt unsure about this instinct. After talking to us for a bit, the instructor we’d had in the classroom from the Thursday class and a second instructor, gave two separate sets of instructions. The first one said “Grab the bike you want, and put your gloves on it.” Meanwhile, the second instructor was giving the bikes to students from a distance. Which meant that both the bikes I wanted were spoken for by the time I got to them and I wound up with this tiny Honda rebel (I should mention that I’m almost 6’ tall). It wasn’t that tall. My knees were much higher than the tank. Yet at the same time, the bike was clunky and long. I guess I could’ve pushed for one of the others, but both of the guys who took the other two were even taller.

Feeling just a tiny bit superior

Photo credits available upon request from [email protected]

I tried to be a sport and we trained for the rest of the day. I actually did quite well. Despite not having been trained by a professional, I did have some years of experience, and it started to come back. In fact, except for a few others who rode more often, I was one of the best in the class. The instructors let me know that I was doing better by frequently asking me to ride in front, or telling me things like “That was the best example so far today.” I got a little smug, a little arrogant. It was true, some of these guys had never ridden at all and were doing really, really well, but I didn’t let that little fact stop me from feeling just a tiny bit superior.

That night, after riding for about four-and-a-half hours, we went back to the classroom. After another lecture on safety and the rules of the road, we took a written test. We all passed, and no, I did not get a perfect score. I missed two or three. But I was happy. We were halfway there.

The next day was Sunday and the last day of instruction on the bikes. We were learning things that frankly kind of freaked me out. Like swerving. But I followed their instructions and, lo and behold, it worked. The arrogance came flooding back in right along with my newfound skill. You know how they talk about the inferiority / superiority complex in the A.A. literature, and how it’s essentially the flip side of the same coin? That’s the problem with being in the paradigm, of course. Arrogance is not confidence, and feeling inferior is not humility. It’s an obsession with self, and it never turns out well.

After doing fantastically well all day, it was time for the skills test. That’s when the trouble began. I think if I had been in a state of true humility, it might not have gone as poorly as it did. But because, in my mind at least, I had set myself up as having superior skills, the stakes were much, much higher for me if I screwed up. So I started to get nervous. Really nervous. As in psyching-myself-out nervous.

In the first skill test, we had to weave between cones that weren’t spaced that far apart. I missed one. Then, while performing the new skill of swerving I was so proud of, I nicked a cone. I was able to re-take it only because I had exceeded the speed by so much I was allowed a do-over. I succeeded, but my self-doubt had me in a death grip at this point. Next we had to do one of the easiest skills we had done all day: Simply take a turn in second gear, riding between two sets of cones. When it was my turn, I missed the “cone gate” completely. The only circumstance in which someone is allowed to take that skill over is if someone misses the turn they set up with cones. I couldn’t believe it.

The second time, I came in too close at the end of the turn, which is the equivalent of running into the hillside. Would this hell ever end? I felt like crying. I was shouting at myself to get it together. That didn’t work, surprise, surprise. Finally, in my desperate and humiliated state, I prayed.

Now, I would like to say that I prayed for acceptance and God’s will and blah, blah, blah…but I didn’t. I prayed for help in doing better on the next skill test, and for help in calming down. I wouldn’t say that I immediately felt “at peace,” but about a minute later, I had what I would call an intuitive thought, which was “slow down.” I guess in my trying to prove how good I was at all of this, I kept rushing through all of the skill tests. As if by taking the turns faster, the instructors and classmates would be impressed.

I watched a couple of the guys ahead of me and how slow they were going. Most of these guys were acing the tests, in part because they were taking their time. In the next skill test we had to take a very sharp right turn, between a very narrowly-spaced set of cones. I took a deep breath and just took my time. Focused on the head turn, turning the handlebars for the slow, tight turn while staying upright. Everything they had taught us.

I seemed to get through it okay, but I wasn’t sure. The instructor turned to look at me after I had passed him, which he didn’t seem to be doing with the others, and I was afraid I had messed up that one, too. In the last test, we had to get the bikes up to a speed of 15-20 mph in second gear, then stop as soon as the front wheel was next to a big cone, which was where the instructors were. A sudden stop. And the first skill test where I felt calm beforehand. Coincidence? Hmmmm…

At any rate, I rode the bike down to the cone at 20mph and performed the stop. It felt solid. About three of my classmates had to repeat the test, because they were going too slow. This is where my tendency to ride faster sort of paid off. I felt good about the last one, unsure about the second to last one, and horrible about the rest. I was sure I hadn’t passed and all the self-reproach crept back in.

At the end of the day we were called up one by one by the original instructor and told how we had done. It was kind of how I had feared with one major difference. I passed. I explained that I tend to psych myself out in these situations, and he said he had seen people who had done really well during the day then fall apart on the skill test portion before. “But you re-booted,” he said, “and then you did great.”

I was slightly shocked and asked him when he thought I rebooted. “Oh,” he said “Right before the sharp right turn. It was perfect.” What I take away from this is not that my Higher Power made me a better motorcycle rider. The skills were there from the training we received. What was relieved in that moment was my self-obsessed arrogance that was getting in the way of being in the moment, being “one” with the bike I didn’t like, and accepting my limitations. Which, if I wanted to try and get zen about it, means it was about acceptance after all.

1 05, 2019

From the Editor

Belong |

There is another meaning for the Hebrew word that in the King James version of the Bible is translated ‘salvation.’ It is: ‘to come home.’ I had found my  ‘salvation.’ I wasn’t alone anymore,” Marty M. once wrote. This month The Point showcases stories about the sense of belonging we find in the rooms.

We are people who normally would not mix

At first Claire thought everyone went home and had a nice glass of wine after all the talking at meetings. Then her home group taught her to laugh more (even, a little, at herself) as she learned to be social while sober. Ken J. describes the paradox of jaded alcoholics and their “yets.” Jhene traces how she practiced our principles in a motorcycle safety class. And Kathleen intuitively knows what to say to her mom in the ICU.

More is revealed for John W. and Rick R. as they trudge through Step 5. Although we are people who normally would not mix, the fellowship, friendliness and understanding we develop are indescribably wonderful.

—Michelle G.

The Point is a monthly newsletter of articles from SF and Marin members sharing experience, strength and hope they found in A.A. If you’d like to write for The Point, email us: [email protected]

1 05, 2019

Can’t Afford To Get Jaded

by Ken J.

Once you’re a pickle you can never go back to being a cucumber.  I’m not a gerkin; more like a jumbo dill … When I was young I watched people, and based on their behaviors I picked out those I wanted to emulate and those I wanted nothing to do with. Based on those ideals, I started drawing lines in the sand; points I would never cross. But as my alcoholism progressed I found myself doing just that.

The first time I would break one of those barriers I would be disgusted with myself. I’d feel demoralized, embarrassed and ashamed. The next time I would cross that same barrier, I didn’t feel quite so bad. I wasn’t as embarrassed, not nearly as ashamed, and hardly demoralized. The third time . . . was a piece of cake. I was pretty jaded.

Becoming the person they wanted to be

When I got sober I was relieved to hear that so many alcoholics were jaded as well. Listening to drunkalogues helped me to realize I was not alone, and that I could choose not to judge myself based on the actions of my past. In a sense I was able to start over.

I remember hearing someone talking about becoming the person they wanted to be. They also seemed to be attempting to distance themselves from their past by attributing all of their unacceptable history to their alcoholism. It was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing. That way of thinking led me to my mistake; interpreting starting over as innocence. In a sense, I re-wrote my experiences. They became the experiences of that “other me.”

Just because I got sober, I didn’t get my virginity back

Redefining myself in sobriety I actually became judgmental and intolerant. I was an insufferable prude. A friend of mine actually told me that just because I got sober that I didn’t get my virginity back. That’s reducing this issue down to my sex life, but it really does apply to all of my behavior and attitudes. In spite of working the steps, I was still living in a black-and-white world where everything was good or bad, right or wrong, and functional or dysfunctional.

Unlike pregnancy, where you either are or you aren’t, life is a spectrum of gray. The reality is that I came to Alcoholics Anonymous jaded, and I can’t undo that. Add to that 20 years as a nurse, and 33 years of sobriety, and I’ve encountered the unimaginable. I had a professor in nursing school who said, “If you can think of something, someone else has probably already done it.” And it’s essentially the truth. I can’t remember the last time I heard anything in a meeting that shocked me.

I am able to turn that into understanding and compassion

photo credits available upon request from [email protected]

Years ago I was in my hometown in Nebraska. They were dealing with a local incident of child molestation, and it was a huge deal for them. But then, there hadn’t even been a murder in that town since 1969. I’d been living in the big city for decades, where we are inundated with horrible crimes on the nightly news.

It occurred to me that being jaded isn’t just due to personal experiences, it comes from the world around us as well. So that’s kind of the key for me. I can’t be “un-jaded”. There’s no going back on my experiences. And it’s impossible to live in a vacuum. Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Taking all of the darkness and sadness that has caused me to be jaded, I am able to turn that into understanding and compassion. The insulation from shock and horror allows me to be strong and supportive. For me, being jaded prepares me to move forward.

1 05, 2019

Surviving the ICU

by Kathleen C.

My two sisters and I clung to each other as our mother clung to life in the Intensive Care Unit. Chemotherapy for cancer had thrown her into septic shock. She spiked a high fever, suffered a minor heart attack and was receiving oxygen, transfusions and powerful antibiotics. She was heavily sedated but flailed around so violently she had to be tied to her bed. We were all embarking on the Third Step ride of our lives.

The Third Step ride of our lives

When my father had cancer 18 years before, I only had one year sober. I was still numb. But now, with 19 years of sobriety, I was actually feeling my feelings. I was scared and angry. Fortunately one of my sisters had gone online and found an Alano club close to the hospital. We ducked out for a noon A.A. meeting. We shared why we were in town and afterwards the local A.A.s offered encouragement, sympathy and prayers.

When we returned to the ICU, a compassionate nurse took us aside and explained what an ordeal it would be for Mom to be resuscitated and intubated if her heart and breathing stopped. We conferred in the waiting room, collapsed into each other’s arms and wept floods of tears. We never thought that we would have to make such a decision. It was a bittersweet gift of sobriety to be the ones our mother entrusted with this responsibility.

I thought of the Eleventh Step and prayed for knowledge of God’s will for us and for Mom and the power to carry that out. We finally changed her status to DNR-DNI – Do Not Resuscitate, Do Not Intubate. We resigned ourselves to losing our mother. We turned her life over to the care of a higher power.

It was a bittersweet gift of sobriety to be the ones our mother trusted

photo credits available upon request to [email protected]

For days she sank deeper into fevered delirium. She pulled off the oxygen mask and the blood pressure monitor. Sometimes she knew us and sometimes she didn’t. I had just hung up the phone with Hospice when my youngest sister called with the good news: Mom was sitting up in bed chomping on a piece of chicken and demanding the parsley garnish too!

To my surprise I was angry. Damn! I had resigned myself to my mother’s death. Now it looked as though she was going to live, at least for a while. She still had cancer; she probably wouldn’t survive another round of chemo. One day at a time, I had to practice the Third Step and let my mother’s life run its course while I prayed to know the right thing to do. After hugs of relief my sisters went home. 

For two weeks she hung on. By then she could no longer eat. She struggled to breathe. One afternoon I called my sisters to say they should probably book flights and come as soon as they could. I spent that night on a cot in Mom’s hospital room.

She had trouble with the noise

She said she had trouble with the noise. I asked if she wanted me to close the door to the busy hallway. “No,” she replied, and pointed to her chemo-bald head. “Inside.”

“Oh,” I answered. “You want to quiet the noise inside your mind?” She nodded. I told her, “Sometimes I just say the Serenity Prayer to myself over and over. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” She nodded again, smiled and slept. My A.A. tools had come to me with no thought on my part. With no mental defense to prepare me for this experience, I was running on my past program, the meetings and step work with my sponsor and the sober women I work with.

The next afternoon my sisters arrived and we gathered around Mom’s bed. This time there were no monitors, no IV bags, only a plastic catheter in her vein, where the nurses injected the morphine which helped her to breathe more easily. We sang to her, as my youngest sister played guitar. We hugged her and whispered that we were there and that we loved her. She smiled and breathed more and more slowly. As we held her hands and gazed into her seemingly sleeping face, she slipped away. We let her go. To God. How did we cope with our mother’s death? The same way we coped with our own lives. We worked the steps, went to meetings, and didn’t drink between meetings.

1 05, 2019

The Step 5 Ball & Chain

by Rick R.

Don’t think I’ve ever witnessed an alcoholic that came to Alcoholics Anonymous that loved themselves or that wasn’t riddled with guilt and shame. It’s hard to understand why alcohol affects some people differently than others. I’ve observed members who came from good family environments but ended up on the streets and others that came from alcohol-infested families and turned out normal as can be.

It’s the past that torments us

Alcoholics seem to have something missing in their mental states. We need to find a way to neutralize this negative self-image. That first drink of alcohol gives us the relief that makes us feel somewhat normal.

I’ve heard it said that once a person starts to drink to cover up these feelings, especially in adolescence, they stop growing emotionally. When they finally show up at A.A. they have the emotional state consistent with the age they were when they started drinking (absent of the coping skills of a normal person). They’ll have to revisit all those underdeveloped behavioral patterns and replace them with mature and healthy thoughts and actions. Easier said than done!

When I look around the room at an A.A. meeting we all seem to look about the same in the way we dress and in our outside appearances. The only thing that makes us different is what is going on in between our ears. If we all woke up this morning with amnesia, we would all be the same. It’s the tortures of past that torment us and therein lies the problem and the solution. If we can understand and accept this well-established approach to our mental condition, we can take actions that will restore our self-esteem and live incredibly happy and peaceful lives.

Therein lies the problem and the solution

We cannot change one moment of the past, but we can resolve the issues in our lives that brought about the need to escape from those horrible memories and things we regret. The habits that led us to seek relief in the bottle can be reined in. If you are fortunate enough to believe this, you may want to revisit the Fourth and Fifth Steps.

photo captions available upon request to [email protected]

Identify those deeds you drag around like a ball and chain which keep you from actuating the rest of the program. “Even A.A. oldtimers, sober for years, often pay dearly for skimping this Step” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 56). Those things will not go away but the mental and emotional pain we drank to nullify can be arrested. We can finally put it all behind us and live a wonderful life. I know this from experience.

When I revisited my Fourth and Fifth Steps, I was stronger and talked to someone about those deeds from the past that plagued me. I realized most people who abuse alcohol have them, to one degree or another. If they are willing to address the past, they can be free of it.

My experience is: Step 5 freed me up to continue the rest of the steps with pleasure. From the day I entered A.A. to the day I mustered the strength to do this, I had no comprehension of the effect it would have on me. Otherwise I would have cut to the chase much sooner. I would have avoided several years of discontent.

As long as those deeds were in the past and not habits of the present, this process worked exactly as it was intended as per the program. I hope that this encourages at least one person to find someone they trust to work these steps with and find the relief I experienced as the result of cleaning the slate. I wish them a happy life. It worked for me.

1 05, 2019

Tradition 5: Primary Purpose

by Claire A.

Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

“My sponsor sold me one idea … Sobriety. At the time, I couldn’t have bought anything else.” This Irishman’s quote takes me back to working with my first sponsor and her use of the word “sober.” It wasn’t just her. Suddenly, the word “sober” was everywhere I looked. I was lucky enough to get a copy of the book Living Sober, and of course I heard people in meetings talking about living a life in sobriety. This was hard for me to swallow. Actually, I didn’t even believe that people were telling the truth, at first. I thought that they, like me, intended to go home and have a nice glass of wine after all that talk at the meeting.

I wanted to lighten up, not sober up.

I had a different experience from the Irishman in this story, but carrying the message as the primary purpose of each A.A. group still resonates with me. The reason is that no matter how much chaos goes down in a meeting, when it comes to our singleness of purpose, we generally settle down to work. My sponsor’s story and life are totally different from mine, and it makes zero difference: we’re both trying to stay sober by working the program of A.A.

I didn’t like the word sober. It made me think of the Puritans and judges. I didn’t want to be serious and boring—I was already serious and boring enough! I wanted to lighten up, not sober up.

Gradually, though, I saw that we actually aren’t a glum lot. My first sponsor had a great sense of humor. She enjoyed life. And my home group taught me to laugh, even at myself. Especially at myself. I still need groups to help me do that.

I went to a Burning Man fundraiser sober

It took a while for me to understand that life didn’t end at the beginning of sobriety. A big turning point came to me when I went to a Burning Man fundraiser sober for the first time. I could not imagine going to Burning Man sober. I probably wouldn’t have gone, actually, but I was married to a longtime Burner. If I wanted to hang out with him over Labor Day weekend, that’s where he’d be.

So I went to this fundraiser, certain I would not have a good time. Imagine my surprise when the very first person I met was running a sober camp at Burning Man. Would I like to join them for meetings out there? Um, yeah! We had a lovely conversation, and my mind was blown.

That was one of many great early moments for me in early sobriety. The thing is, I thought my life was over. I had reached a depression so murky that I couldn’t continue. I was looking at suicide. If I didn’t want suicide, then I needed to end the drinking life I was leading. That sounded to me like social suicide. Go to a party and not drink? Go to a wedding? Dance? Go out? Talk to people? What would I do with my hands? The Living Sober book helped with those questions a lot, and so did meetings.

So I had to relearn how to be social. I also wasn’t prepared for the sheer joy of being sober. Waking up and knowing everything I had done the day before. Waking up without a hangover. Not needing to buy liquor, not needing to worry about whether there would be enough. That is a freedom I never, ever want to give up.

1 05, 2019

More Will Be Revealed

by John W.

Like many others before me, I had heard the mantras: Don’t Drink, Get a Sponsor, Work the Steps—Your Life Will Change. I thought of this change as being of a tangible nature. Things would quiet down at home or in the office (in my case maybe in both places). This financial insecurity thing would be gone and I would be good to go, for life. I mean, weren’t my difficulties to be taken away, so as to mark this way of life to the newbie just struggling in the door?

He smirked a little as I explained

With wife and children back, my job roses, my IRA soaring, I could shout the praises of A.A. from the rooftops for anyone with a problem and an interest (anonymously of course). This was my plan. My guy, Owen, then with 26 years behind him, smirked a little as I explained this. He gently responded, “More will be revealed.”

Owen wouldn’t tell me what he meant by that quip, just said to integrate it into my Eleventh Step meditation practice. Sooner or later I wouldn’t need to keep asking him. I would know. His unexpected passing in 2011 sealed his silence on further enlightenment, but not on the wisdom of his retort from so long ago. As suggested, I gave this advice some thought. I listened at the meetings to “hear” him. But while the gift of sobriety did indeed change my life and gave me the beauty of days to experience, I am sure it would not have been mine had I continued to drink. My plan of what my sober life would be like must have been great comic relief for my Higher Power.

These things should not be happening to me, a sober man

As I continued to live life on life’s terms, I found myself confronted with issues, problems, and just plain old tough stuff. I was sure these things should not be happening to me, a sober man. These had to be exceptions, mistakes in God’s world that are not supposed to be there. Yet each one seemed to exacerbate the other and confound any perception of a solution. My hope was fading. The storm clouds were gathering and life was not looking pretty. In fact, it was getting pretty ugly. I thought of Owen’s advice: More will be revealed. So I asked what step applied, was searching and fearless about the moral inventory I took, and made my list. I admitted it readily to myself and to my Higher Power, but how could I to another person? I should not have been surprised, but I was, about how the answer to my silent, private question manifested itself.

Literally the very next day, an old-timer I had not seen in weeks showed up at my new Home Group for his first time there. He heard my self-pity clothed in justifiable anger and resentment before the meeting when he made the mistake of inquiring, “How are you?” After the meeting he volunteered that I really should consider doing a 4th Step on this and discussing it with my sponsor.

I proudly and a bit smugly pulled my notes from my wallet. I was way ahead of him. I had done so already. Smiling he asked when I was to do my Fifth Step. My fumbling response confirmed I had not decided on that yet. So when he accepted my request to be that other human being, I felt vindicated. But when deciding about when, he rebuffed my notion of “maybe sometime during one of the upcoming weekends.” How about now, before we each headed off to our respective jobs? Oh my! Gone was my veneer of rhetoric. The rubber was meeting the road right now, in this moment.

The admissions that followed were heartfelt and honest, albeit unexpected. As we parted company, I thanked my listener for his time, his ear, and his making exact the nature of my part in the drama. His were observations I had wanted to overlook completely or justify.

This time it was different

photo credits upon request to [email protected]

In the parking lot at work, as suggested, I reviewed what had just happened. It was then that more was to be revealed. Although I had done a Fourth Step many years before, this time it was different. As I reviewed what had preceded these recent admissions and the disclosure and discussion of them, I began to feel something different. Whether it was the nearness of my creator or not, I would be unable to verify with scientific precision. But it was real, it was there! Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly … Mine it seemed was of the slow variety, but after the work the materialization followed. Life’s difficulties may have remained, but I knew this day I was no longer dealing with them alone. From the power of this way of life, I had victory over them.

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