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Rebellious Attitude

by Kathleen C.

As a teenager I was proud of having a bad attitude, of being a rebel. My opinion was that I was right, and anyone who told me what to do was wrong. Drinking was part of my rebellion. I went to Catholic school and we had lots of rules, written and unwritten. One of them was that good girls shouldn’t drink or have sex.

So of course I had to get drunk to have sex. I lost my virginity at a party, drunk, in bed in the dark with my boyfriend and two other couples, all also drunk and all fully clothed. One of the other girls was from my same Catholic girls’ high school. When we emerged we were both amazed when we saw each other in the light. “Kathy?” “Mary Ellen?” We were rebels on the inside but we were good girls on the outside.

I tuned in, turned on, and dropped out

Sophomore year at a Catholic women’s college, my drinking and drugging finally caught up with me. I was flunking out, I was dealing a little marijuana to my classmates, and I thought my part-time job with a radical student organization was way more interesting than classwork. So I tuned in, turned on, and dropped out. Now I could devote myself full-time to rebellion against the Establishment, and even get paid for it. I didn’t last long. My body couldn’t handle nights of drinking and drugging followed by days of work. Before long I was back home in my parents’ house and then briefly in the hospital, recovering from a bout of hepatitis. 

“Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 84)

I found a part-time secretary job with some old comrades from the student organization, who had found a refuge at a prestigious university. It was previously a men’s college, and the powers that be decided to start admitting women. I talked my way in, despite my wretched grades from my previous school. I knew I wasn’t qualified, I didn’t fit the profile, but I threatened to just show up for classes, whether the school accepted me or not. They should admit me; the rules didn’t apply to me. They did. I accepted their financial aid, but I continued to drink, skip classes, and miss deadlines. Imagine the surprise of my classmates at the nighttime Women in Literature class when I walked in with my thermos of brandy and hot tea, which I generously passed around. 

I somehow graduated, even got a Creative Writing master’s degree, and moved to San Francisco. Now I was in the headquarters of sex, drugs and rock and roll. I should be right at home! Everybody in San Fran was a rebel of some kind. I found a job and a new boyfriend, and proceeded to make his life a nightmare with my drinking and using. He loved me enough to marry me and assume major responsibility for our twin daughters, while I pursued yet more education.

However, after graduating by the thinnest margin, I couldn’t pass the qualifying exam to practice the profession that I was supposedly studying for (with a glass of white wine in one hand and a joint in the other). Flunking that exam was when I hit bottom. I finally realized that being a rebel wasn’t working any more. 

Her life looked really good to me

photo credits available upon request from thepoint@aasfmarin.org

My younger sister had been sober for a few months and had started twelve-stepping me, dragging me to meetings in Los Angeles, where she lived. She lured me with stories of all the movie stars we would see. She was right about the movie stars, but what convinced me to give A.A. a try was the way her life had changed once she got sober. I saw her practicing the principles of the A.A. program in all her affairs. I saw her being honest toward people she had hurt, taking care of herself, and helping others. Her life looked really good to me, and I wanted what she had. I quit drinking, passed my exam, and got a job, at 90 days sober.

Attitude: opinion or way of thinking. Outlook: prospect for the future; mental attitude (Oxford American Dictionary)

I was still a rebel. I thought the rules of AA didn’t apply to me. I should be allowed to work the program my own way, not like other people. My sponsor didn’t try to make me do anything. She told me the Steps weren’t rules, just suggestions.

She showed me by her example. She was a regular at our home group, she answered my phone calls, and she even had an H & I commitment. I admired her but thought I was too busy to do much more than attend that one meeting. I mostly practiced the program of A.A. one night a week for the first five years until a woman at a conference took me aside and told me that doing the minimum wouldn’t keep me sober. “If you’re not moving forward in your program, you’re sliding back, you’re going to drink!”

I started going to more meetings and worked the Steps again with my sponsor. I actually did what she suggested. I felt better. I heard things at meetings that helped me. Do a 10th Step now and then, pray and meditate, be available to the suffering alcoholic. Eventually, someone even asked me to be her sponsor. My new sponsee was an A.A. enthusiast who went to chip meetings, to dinner with groups of sober alcoholics, to celebrate somebody’s A.A. anniversary or just for the fun of it.

My A.A. life was starting to get mixed in with my “real” life. I invited my sponsor to dinner with me and my husband, who really liked her. I invited my family to my home group’s annual holiday pot luck. My husband and I just had a party to celebrate my retirement after 24 years at that job I got with 90 days sober, as well as my husband’s birthday, and our 30th wedding anniversary. There were a lot of A.A.s there, and a lot of our other friends too, and everybody had a great time. I hate to admit it, but following the suggestions of A.A. (I’m glad we don’t have any rules) has given me a lot better life than being a rebel ever did.

Living Sober 2019: New Freedom and New Happiness

by John A.

In early 1976, several members of the gay A.A. community began a conversation geared toward starting a conference for the sober LGBTs here in San Francisco. The fruit of those conversations bore the first LGBT conference later that year, Western Roundup / Living Sober. It was a small event held on the University of California San Francisco campus but it proved to be the seed of not only a much, much larger event here but of other LGBT conferences throughout the country and throughout the world. In its heyday, Western Roundup / Living Sober drew more than 5,000 people in recovery from all over the world.

In 2002, I attended my first Living Sober roundup when it was located at the Bill Graham Center. I was not prepared for what I found when I walked in. More than 3,000 people filled the space and I was overwhelmed to find that many LGBTQ people in recovery in one place.

Conventions are an integral part of my sobriety

In 2006, I moved to San Francisco and Living Sober became a regular “must” for me. It holds a special place in my heart. The hard work that the sober community invests in the roundup gives it a true feeling of camaraderie and builds close, lasting connections that continue long after the last meeting.

The underlying theme that I re-discover each year in every person who attends Living Sober is that strong, dedicated and passionate work to “carry the message.” Since my early years in A.A., conferences, roundups and conventions have played an integral part of my sobriety. Living Sober is one of my cornerstones and will continue to be long into the future. I get so excited about the roundup because everyone involved from the early, early newcomers to those of us who have been around since “Moses was a baby” is dedicated to carrying the message of Alcoholics Anonymous and how our simple program has changed all our lives.

Photo credits available from thepoint@aasfmarin.org

Speakers always spark that hope

Our 2019 theme is “A New Freedom and a New Happiness,” and Living Sober will once again rise to meet that theme. We are reviewing speakers now, and our job choosing amongst the group of great sober voices we have is very tough. As with any A.A. conference, the workshops are targeted to carry the message and, of course, the general fellowship is always an incredible part of the conference. The results will be a testament to the hard work the planning committee put into staging another successful event.

Western Roundup / Living Sober ranks at the very top of the list of conferences that inspire. Each year every speaker speaks to the heart. We all have times we struggle in sobriety and so many of the speakers relate their struggles and the solutions they’ve found since they sobered up. They remind us that after we sober up, we still have to live life on life’s terms, not ours. Their messages carry the hope and solutions we need to walk through the difficult times. Just because we are sober, we don’t get a pass on tough times. Our speakers always spark that hope that helps us through the difficult times and remind us we don’t have to face any of our adversities alone.

We are incredibly excited about the progressive changes and new energy the folks who are working on this year’s conference bring to an event we can all share in. For a perspective on the conference from a newcomer to A.A. and to Living Sober, check out Maggie R.’s article. And we want to remind everyone in our fellowship: While the conference is billed as an LGBT event, please know you are welcome no matter what your orientation is. We hope to see you there!

From the Editor

The Point is a monthly newsletter of articles from SF and Marin members sharing experience, strength and hope they found in A.A.

Proud of her bad attitude, Kathleen C. thought anyone who told her what to do was wrong in Rebellious Attitude. Ken G. was drinking Pepto Bismol with vodka until Small Nudges to Change brought him into the rooms. John W. broke through cords of resentment when Step 7 opened his eyes. Rick R. describes supporting his son’s recovery in Breaking the Cycle.

Carla H. enlightens us about the most mysterious job in A.A.: General Service Representative. John A. remembers how his first Living Sober Conference in 2002 at the Bill Graham Center inspired hope and became an integral part of his sobriety. Judy G. shows how she creates new neural pathways in Let Go or Be Dragged. We would love to hear your story, too! If you’d like to write for The Point, email us: thepoint@aasf.org

—MICHELLE G.

Small Nudges to Change: Ken G.’s Story

by Bree L.

Ken’s father was a convicted murderer, a member of the Hells Angels and a heroin addict who died after serving 15 years in prison for murder. His mother was a Hells Angels old lady, meaning she was the property of her husband, Dingo. Dingo was seen as an Alpha Dog to the group. Ken started using at age nine in fourth grade, mostly alcohol and pot. The pot was a gift from his then step-father.  It all began in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Ken’s usage progressed through junior high and high school. He added cocaine and crack to the mix. He also started “muling” drugs for the local motorcycle club around this time. Prior to high school graduation he became a three-time convicted felon (aggravated premeditated burglary, breaking and entering and possession of cocaine). 

He was fired  while in a blackout

Drugs and love brought him to San Francisco. It was his first geographic. He arrived with a girlfriend and a desire to figure out his life. He began working as a server in an Italian restaurant and moved up to work as a short order cook. This is where he was introduced to amphetamines. His girlfriend returned to Michigan, but Ken stayed here and found a new girlfriend. The drinking and using increased but his life still seemed manageable. 

In his mid-twenties he was introduced to I.V. heroin and cocaine, shooting speed balls while the drinking continued. His goal in life at that time was to be a functional junkie and social drinker. Vanity and ego helped keep it all together. 

Ken was arrested in San Jose and by this time had accumulated three additional felony convictions (possession of heroin, cocaine and possession of criminal tools). Criminal tools are anything from a needle to a crowbar, whatever a junkie might have. Meanwhile he continued to advance in the restaurant business moving into upper management and fine dining. He became a sommelier (wine expert) and decided to taper off into just being an alcoholic.

A friend overdosed and died. Ken also had many abscesses that wouldn’t go away. As he says, “Small nudges, like that.” He continued working and drinking, got married, had a child and by this time moved up to general manager of an upscale restaurant.

Photo credits available from thepoint@aasfmarin.org

Third time’s the charm

In his mid-thirties, he started blacking out. This was unpredictable whether it was 2 or 15 drinks. His body just unexpectedly quit. There was also some internal bleeding. He was fired  while in a blackout. He had no recollection of the dismissal but found out when he went to work the next morning. He was down to drinking Pepto Bismol and vodka to treat his internal bleeding. At this point he decided he needed to quit for his family.

On April 9, 2012, at age 37, he went to the Dry Dock. He’d stopped with A.A. in the past, but it hadn’t seemed to stick. This time he asked the first man he saw to be his sponsor. Luckily the man said yes. This was followed by a week of cold turkey and detox with the DT’s. He spent his time going to meetings and started working the steps. Soon he landed a job overseeing food and beverage concessions in five card houses. 

Ken continued with that same sponsor until he relapsed at five years. Ken now has a new sponsor. He’s still married with a wonderful child and goes to four to five meetings a week while actively working the steps and mentoring sponsees. The thing he appreciates most is the camaraderie and the spiritual understanding of the program. Before A.A, he says, “I had no spiritual practice and now have a new way of thinking. A.A. completely changed my life and made me a different person. I was a three-time convicted felon and now have changed to a loving father and a successful businessman as well as being a gracious member of A.A.”

Humbly Asked (Step 7)

by John W.

Something had to change if I was to stay sober. The key to change was my own, personal willingness to go to any length, to want this like my life depended upon it — because it did. I was promised a new freedom and new happiness, a serenity, would be experienced in my journey to a “spiritual awakening” which itself would be a result of working the steps. But I had to work these steps, not just talk about working them, nor rest on my laurels. 

Confronted with life on life’s terms

So it was that, when confronted with life on life’s terms, my sponsor recommended I bring the steps to bear upon the problems which had surfaced, real life problems, issues of home and heart. For my disease was baffling, it was convincing me I did not deserve to be besieged by such calamities as those I faced, I had stopped drinking after all, I could expect better. My disease was cunning: It told me others were really at fault, their actions bought about my problems, and I was certainly justified in seeing how they were not upholding their end of the bargain.

My disease was also powerful, reminding me I had been without for so long, so this time would be different. It cooed warmly that if for some silly reason just the one drink caused any problem at all, I would certainly know what to do. After all, it purred, “You’re a double digit A.A.er; you could handle a problem if one ever came up.” The committee between my ears which comprised my disease was patiently weaving its cords of resentment, it was working overtime on its net to snare me.

Eyes wide open as they had never been before

photo credits available upon request to thepoint@aasfmarin.org

Yet my sponsor had been right. For as I penned my resentments and took the inventories of those I was angry with, I began to see the other side of the street — my side. As I admitted these observations to another alcoholic, he helped me see my shortcomings with greater precision. If he asked me once, at least a half-dozen times he inquired: Where is your Higher Power in all of this? For the common thread in all was fear (“False Evidence Appearing Real”). I was not seeking to explore this false evidence through any attempt at conscious contact. I was just accepting it as real because that was the way it appeared. 

I removed my Big Book from the shelf. In that moment, the eyes of awakening became wide open as they had never been in me before. Indeed, I was now entirely ready, but to do what? What was my next step? I had needed help, I had sought it out, my sponsor and another drunk like me had extended their hands and help in guidance and assistance, I had acknowledged my part and was entirely ready to be rid of it. I knew this would aid me to confront life’s pressing circumstances sober. What was left to do? Then I heard the echo from earlier: Where is your Higher Power in all of this?

I knew all would be well

It had been all about me. In that moment it seemed to dawn upon me, whether finally or in the rush of a brilliant new sunrise, that I needed to ask HP for help, too. In the same tone in which I scribe these words, in just these same real terms, I needed to ask HP for help. More importantly, I needed to know and believe that HP heard my request. In that moment, for the first time I could recall, I did know and I did believe my Higher Power heard my request for help. In that moment waves of freedom and happiness and serenity washed over me. I knew all would be well. I understood as I asked for my shortcomings to be removed, that though things might not turn out as I wanted, they would be well none the less. 

The intensity of the moment had come from my taking the book from the shelf as instructed. It seems that by acknowledging my lack of faith, the root of my fear, the shortcoming which had caused me to request help in the first place, I had become open to perceive the gift I had already been given. It was wrapped in the certainty that all would be well.

Breaking the Cycle

by Rick R.

Early in my first marriage I could easily rationalize all of my alcoholic behaviors. These things meant nothing to me, at the time, but that all changed the day that I became a father. It didn’t change my behavior but it did affect my conscience. From that day forward I felt guilty about my inability to be a good father and as the result, my only son developed problems as bad as, or worse than, mine.

My wife and I separated and divorced within two years of his birth and I got sober one year after that. Have been sober ever since. My current wife of 48 years and I have done everything we could to be supportive of my first wife and my son from a distance. As he turned 10, she asked us if we would take custody of him since she was still having difficulties of her own. We understood and gladly accepted her offer. This was the right thing to do but it didn’t solve my son’s problem. He was damaged and the die was cast. He struggled with drug and alcohol problems into his late 40s and is now in the program, sober for 7 years and doing well.

Every minute counts if we want to break the cycle

From this experience and from observing newer members that come to us in the midst of a divorce or a marriage influenced by alcohol or drugs, the children are often emotionally damaged. I’ve read children of alcoholics endure chronic and extreme levels of stress. At times, children of alcoholics may begin to feel as though they are responsible for the family’s problems and are likely to develop problems with drugs and alcohol themselves. These are just a few of the things that my family and I have experienced first-hand and it was not a pretty sight. There were many sleepless nights in sobriety wondering where my son was and fearing the worst. It took many years of anguish before he finally surrendered and we finally had some peace of mind.

I hope reading my story can help others experiencing emotional damage when families split up. Divorces are messy, with the pain and disappointment of a failed relationship. My divorce was no different. Fortunately, I realized my child would witness how I treated his mom. From that day forward I have not been critical about her in or out of his presence. I speak with understanding and compassion and I taught him that same principle. In time, she came around to the same way of thinking, and we all moved on with grace.

Photo credits available upon request from thepoint@aasfmarin.org

We don’t judge, but we can help them when they are ready

When my grandson was born, the same thing happened when his mom and dad separated. My wife and I had the chance to provide virtually all of his daycare. We had the opportunity to shield him from most of the trauma by providing him with a safe environment, with love and comfort, explaining to him that they were good people but they have problems. We cannot judge them but we can help them when they are ready. 

The main thing was the safe environment part. We had the opportunity to walk him through these things with compassion and understanding. I am happy to say that he just completed his first year of college at the age of 19 with virtually no signs of emotional damage, no drugs or alcohol, and no smoking of any kind. He is very mature. He talks to us freely about any and all subjects. We can break the cycle but we must get our priorities straight as soon as possible, consider damage to our children, put the past behind us and be strong enough to forgive. Every minute counts if we want to break the cycle.

What is a General Service Rep?

by Carla H.

Possibly the most mysterious job in Alcoholics Anonymous, the General Service Representative, is the link/channel/delivery vehicle in human form who shares information from meetings to the broader service structure of A.A. Before I became a GSR, I had no idea what they did. I said yes out of curiosity and because I met the requirements: at least two years of sobriety and willing to serve for two years. I was willing to do this because A.A. astonishes me with its longevity, poverty and democracy. 

So what do I do as a GSR? I run my group’s monthly business meetings but that isn’t required. I asked someone with a lot of experience in service to be my service sponsor, so I’ve learned a lot from him. I go to the monthly GSR meeting, listen, take notes, and report back to my group any things that I think would interest them. 

After about six months’ worth of GSR meetings, I finally understood that issues, concerns, problems, changes to our literature and ways to reach out to more newcomers (without violating our traditions) are the things discussed locally and at the annual business meeting in Manhattan. 

Service is critical to our survival

These issues are called Agenda Topics. They are published in the late winter every year and sent to each GSR. I read them and choose a few that I think my group would be interested in. For several meetings in a row, I read the topics aloud and hand out copies I’ve created so anyone who is interested in participating in a group conscience has time to read, consider and form an opinion. I announce the coming group conscience meeting several weeks in advance. 

Photo captions available upon request to thepoint@aasfmarin.org

Some meetings have a special group conscience meeting outside the regular business meeting, and that’s how I do it, especially after attending two workshops, put on by volunteer former GSRs who have become District Committee Members. Then I share my group’s conscience with our delegate to the annual business meeting. This is grass-roots democracy in action. 

GSRs are encouraged to go to various monthly service meetings held all over Northern California, where Agenda Topics, among other business, can be discussed during the year. I went to one called a Pre-Conference Assembly in San Jose. Three or four hundred GSRs were gathered to share their group consciences over two days with our delegate, who then had them to inform how they would vote or speak at the annual General Service Conference in Manhattan.

Eventually, what happens at the General Service Conference is shared with all GSRs, and I then can share relevant information with my group. This is the flow of information from the broader organization to each group. This is the essence of what a GSR does: get informed, loving group consciences from our meeting, share it more widely, then take the result back to our group, usually months later. I also do as much service as I can for the group I represent. 

How dedicated A.A.’s trusted servants can be

For years, I’ve wondered how A.A. stays together. How is it possible, given who we alcoholics can be, how little money A.A. survives on, and how life-changing this organization is for millions of people in recovery, that A.A. lives? At the Pre-Conference Assembly in San Jose a year and a half ago, I saw how: Several hundred GSRs from all over Northern California gathered for two days in one huge room and shared their group consciences on a wide range of Agenda Topics so the delegate and the rest of us could hear. All kinds of people, all walks of life, all in service to keeping this organization together to carry the message of recovery, unity and service.

Being a GSR has given me an understanding of how dedicated trusted servants can be, how devoted to putting principles before personalities, why service is critical to our survival, and the importance of trust in our Higher Powers. 

Let Go or Be Dragged

by Judy G.

One of things I love best about A.A. is the slogans. Easy does it. One day at a time. Don’t let the life that A.A.  gives you get in the way of your A.A. life.

Another favorite is: Let go and let God. In Step One, we admit we are powerless. In Step Two we came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity, and in Step Three we made a decision to turn our will and our life over to the care of the God of our understanding. We are powerless over most things and the sooner we admit it, the sooner we can reach the state of serenity necessary to stay sober.  So, the best thing to do is to let go of trying to control everything and put it in God’s hands. Let go. I always say you can accept something or you can rail against it.

Neither one of us could put down the phone

What is going to bring me peace? Railing against someone is not going to change the situation. It only keeps me in a state of agitation and negativity that puts sobriety at risk. Another way to phrase this is: Let go or be dragged. What a visual!

When I started this recovery journey, I was beginning a bitter divorce. Five sponsors in three programs told me not to have contact with my ex, but I couldn’t let go. If we couldn’t have good contact, it became horrible and destructive. On more than one occasion, we were on the phone for two hours shrieking at each other and calling each other names. I called it being in the gutter. Neither one of us could put down the phone. Talk about addiction. The next day, I felt hung over. Because I couldn’t let go, I dragged myself through the gutter. It actually felt like being tied to the back of a car and being dragged through the gutter. Let go or be dragged. Letting go is so much better.

Another example: I play in a women’s band, and one Sunday we drove all the way out to Manteca to play a benefit for a well-known musician who had medical problems. There were a lot of other bands slated to play, and through a series of mishaps and misunderstandings, we never got to play.

There were a lot of other bands slated to play

photo credits available from thepoint@aasfmarin.org

All the way home in the car, the band leader was going on and on about how messed up and unfair it was. I kept saying, “Let it go, let it go, let it go. We got to hear a lot of great music, and life happens. Let it go.”

She said, “I wish I could be like you.”

I said, “You can. Just let it go.”

When she got home, she wrote a scathing post on Facebook about the producer of the event, who happened to be the brother of one of our band members. Needless to say, that band member quit. It was all so unnecessary. She couldn’t let it go, so she created a bigger mess and dragged herself through it.

The state of serenity necessary to stay sober

Life really is much better, and it is much better for maintaining sobriety, if we can live in gratitude and acceptance. Gratitude actually changes the neural pathways in our brains, but it involves a lot of letting go.

Acceptance doesn’t mean that you like it. It just means that you are powerless over it, and if you can let go, you don’t have to be dragged through the mud on your knees. Letting go—it’s really the easier, softer way.