Alcoholism is like a colicky baby. If your life is like a bunch of spit-up, it’s telling you there’s work to do to get the burp up. There is a bunch of stuff to avoid and even more you could do everyday, or else your life will be as unmanageable as a screaming baby (all day and all night).
I’ve been in and out of the rooms for years now. I was very worried about going to meetings and having to start over again looking so pregnant. But the day before I went in for my C-section, I hobbled into the Chips and Salsa meeting, raised my hand and celebrated a month sober. It was so embarrassing… but I was applauded and congratulated like never before.
I was very worried about going to meetings and having to start over again looking so pregnant
I felt so welcome, yet the guilt of that need for a shot of liquor a day keeps nipping at my heels. The worry has eased because the very next week I came in and was welcomed back so warmly. Everybody made me feel so comfortable. I couldn’t believe it! Now I truly believe that that in itself helped heal me.
Life as a new mother in A.A. has so far been very busy. At times I worry when the baby is fussy because what I eat affects his temperament. I can’t have milk, cheese, eggs, garlic, chocolate, sesame, most green gassy veggies, or beans. Now that takes some real determination being all hungry, a new mom and stuff. Same goes for sobriety: What we put into our bodies affects our behavior and thinking. If only we ended up screaming our heads off, maybe after the catharsis we wouldn’t be so “alcoholic. ” Sometimes I imagine alcoholism is like that, or wish we realized its effects to that degree, so we would all learn after the first drink.
Once one of my favorite old timers left a meeting early due to the baby’s fussiness. Other times I’ve left due to the baby being inconsolable. But I try to get in as much as I can at meetings and that is always the goal. I make as many noon meetings as I can to stay sober. Sometimes I’ll get very self-conscious imagining what somebody might think, so I pass on raising my hand at anniversaries. Other times when asked about my sobriety I keep it at, oh I had a slip when he was conceived… But it still holds true how I am supported in my sobriety and do get encouraged when I speak up. And I thank my son for what a great motivator he is. Even though he doesn’t try, or know what that means yet, he’ll give me a coo and smile. In between feedings, burping, changing and troubleshooting his needs, I share what I’ve been learning because everyday more is revealed to me—this saying is so true.
Can’t you see the sparkle in my eye?
Oh, before I forget, if you know me, I’m an alcoholic, can’t you see the sparkle in my eye? LOL, had to have been there I guess, but now the baby gets all the attention and I so appreciate all the love and help we get in the rooms. Thank you!
I seem to be a rare find as there aren’t many other moms at the meetings I make. But there’s a playdate for that: San Francisco Public Health Nurses Dana and Steph have started a wonderful meeting at 2226 Taraval, the Recess Collective, every first Wednesday of the month from 1:00 to 3:00 P.M. And we’ve finally gotten a changing table at 2900 (24th Street at Florida), so if you are a new mom and need a meeting, 2900 is baby-friendly now.
At 9:00 AM I was just waking up with a terrible hangover. For some reason, my brain was telling me I was going to die prematurely if I didn’t do something about my drinking. But what was I supposed to do? The only thing that meant anything to me was earning enough money to support my drinking habit. I was running out of options and friends.
Desperately ransacking my apartment for a drink, for the first time I could remember I couldn’t find a drop. An hour later I was sitting in the grass on the front lawn of a small yellow house where they held A.A. meetings. Three sober members of A.A. greeted me with compassion and understanding.
An hour later I was sitting in the grass on the front lawn of a small yellow house
Two minutes later, I laid back in the grass, covered my eyes with my forearm, and said to myself, “Thank God, the nightmare is over.” And it was. That was on October 15, 1969, and I haven’t had or wanted a drink since then.
What happened to me that day? I have been an avid member of the program from that day until now. I have always strived to understand what took place at that exact moment. The best way I can describe it is: I had a profound change of perception. Some will call it spiritual awakening but that’s where, I believe, we have our most difficult challenge — defining the word “spiritual.”
I find two definitions that show the different ways we are conditioned to understand spirituality: 1) Of, or relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things; and 2) Of, or relating to religion or religious belief. Neither Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition refers to anything of a material nature.
I’ve resided in my current community for the last 40 years and attend 8 or 9 meetings weekly. After seeing the comings and goings of thousands of A.A. members, I seem to recognize a difference in the sharing of two groups of people. One will share about material problems or their drinking escapades, and the other will share about things of the inner self, the immaterial or the unseen things such as guilt, fear, shame, pride, trust, and conscience.
It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen
We all have these things, to one degree or another. The sooner we recognize the value of being right in spirit, the more we distance ourselves from the useless, meaningless thinking of the past. My heart goes out to those who haven’t experienced that spiritual awakening and if they haven’t, they may not even know that they haven’t. I wish there was a simple way to induce a spiritual awakening in someone but, without the desperation, I may never have experienced it myself. I believe the futile effort to find alcohol in my apartment that morning in 1969 was my bottom. Immediately searching out A.A. was like a slingshot launching me into the program, desperately searching for answers. Until desperation outweighed denial, my alcoholic thinking had been the only thing I could rely on for decision making. Now my decisions are based on spiritual (unselfish) principles and most of those material problems are but distant memories.
It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. We all come to A.A. with material problems and we must give them due diligence until resolved. We learn from past mistakes and find better ways of doing things. If we dedicate ourselves to understanding the spirit of the things we learn in the program, and not just settling for the letter of the law, so to speak, we can outdistance the failed ideas of yesterday. We will find peace and happiness. Life will have meaning at last. A profound change of perception (awakening) will make it so.
I thought of myself as a good mother: Didn’t I stop drinking while I was pregnant with my twin daughters? I didn’t even take any drugs when I gave birth. I didn’t have a program, I was dry as a bone, and my feelings bubbled up into rage and tears, but I wasn’t drinking, was I?
The whistle’s blast was my first inkling my babies and I were in danger
Of course, I started drinking again as soon as I decently could. Wasn’t beer supposed to be good for your milk supply? Sure, I drove drunk once in a while with them in the car, but nothing happened. I got across the tracks well ahead of that train—literally. I once drove right in front of a train in an industrial area of San Francisco. But the train was going very slowly. The whistle’s blast was my first inkling that my babies and I were in danger.
Then there was the time I was lying in bed hung-over and two energetic two-year-olds burst into my room and started jumping on my bed, as if it were a trampoline. Sarah lost her balance and landed on my stomach—hard. I grabbed her, raised her high in the air and then threw her on the floor. I will always remember the look on her face when she realized what I was about to do. Fortunately she landed on carpet and wasn’t badly hurt, but she got the message: Whatever you do, don’t make Mommy mad! I swear I feel that fear in her to this day. She says she doesn’t remember, but I remember.
I will always remember the look on her face when she realized what I was about to do
Then I lost Lynn by the side of the freeway. She was about two. I was home, hung-over and tired. She was awake but still in her fuzzy, pink, footed pajamas. “Parque, Mommy. Parque!” She pleaded, using the Spanish word for park that our Salvadoran babysitter had taught her. The park was next to the freeway, around the corner from our house. I couldn’t leave her sister home alone and I was tired and irritable, as I so often was when I was hung-over. “We can go outside, but just in front of the house,” I offered.
She grabbed her security blanket and trundled down the steps next to me. We stood together in the morning sunshine, on the sidewalk next to the low picket fence that separated our front patio from the sidewalk. The phone rang. I thought I would just run up the stairs, grab the phone and be right back. Whoever it was must have been fascinating, because in my hangover haze I forgot all about my daughter.
When I looked down the stairs, there was her security blanket, neatly draped over the fence, but no Lynn. I screamed her name as I ran up and down the street. She was nowhere to be seen. One of my neighbors emerged from her house two doors down. I told her some version of what happened.
She took charge. “You go that way,” she pointed, “and I’ll go this way.” She started around the corner. And that is where she found my baby—in her fuzzy pink pajamas with the feet, standing at the southbound on-ramp to the 101 Freeway, staring across six lanes of traffic at the park. My neighbor brought her home.
None of these episodes, where I injured or endangered my children, got me sober. It took something much more ego-driven. To hit bottom, I had to fail an exam that I needed to practice my profession. I drank all the way through school, even though my husband had mortgaged the house to pay the tuition.
The day I flunked the exam, I called my newly sober sister to whine and wail. She had dragged me to meetings and showed me the way, by her own example. I got sober, too, and my Higher Power let me keep my kids. But the journey was just beginning. My sobriety date is September 11, 1986—Sarah and Lynn were 3 years old. I passed my exam and got a job a few months later.
My life with my children began to both challenge and enhance my sobriety. For instance, when she was 12 years old, Sarah came to me one morning, with a worried frown. “Mom, my face feels funny, and I can’t taste anything.” By mid-day the whole left side of her face was paralyzed, the corner of her mouth drooping, her eyelid sagging. We took her to the pediatrician, who looked her over and then said, “It’s Bell’s Palsy.” Palsy? Wasn’t that some weird disease out of the Bible, like leprosy? How did my daughter get it, and what did this mean? The cause wasn’t known and there wasn’t really any treatment. “The safest thing is to watch and wait,” said the doctor. “But she is supposed to go to summer camp tomorrow,” I cried. “This is her first time there, she hardly knows anybody except her sister.” My mind raced.
My child’s life was about to be ruined. Her face would be paralyzed forever. How could she adapt to the new camp when her face looked weird? The pediatrician said if her eye wouldn’t close at night while she slept, she might have to wear a patch. Would the other girls make fun of her? How could this be happening?
Right away I took on all fault. What had I done to bring this on my child? What retribution had I called down upon this innocent young girl by my past and current bad behavior, this same young innocent whom I had thrown on the floor when she was a baby? Guilt and rage engulfed me.
I can be grateful my children are happy
I called my sponsor, Bonnie. For many years her mother had been seriously ill and she had taken care of her, from home to ICU and back. She knew how to cope with a crisis and stay sober. “Why don’t you try writing a letter to God?” she suggested. I tried it. My letter began: “Dear God, I hate you for what you are doing to my child!” I went to a meeting and shared my rage and despair at what was happening. At the close of the meeting, as we stood in a circle, the speaker said, “Lord, help the member whose child is having trials.”
I went home a lot calmer and helped Sarah pack. The next day Sarah went to camp, and the day after, the camp nurse called. “I am watching over Sarah, and she doesn’t know. Her eye closes at night while she sleeps, so there is no danger of infection, and she won’t have to wear a patch.” I cried, realizing my child had guardian angels watching over her. I only had to let her go, and she would be safe. The other kids and her sister all tried to help her have a good time, and she loved the camp and went back every summer for several years. She recovered completely.
I didn’t have to drink, out of either anger or guilt. All I had to do was stay in conscious contact with my Higher Power, praying only for knowledge of its will and the power to carry it out, and let it act through other people to take care of my daughter and keep me sober.
We never know what is going to make us crave that first drink. In sobriety I have lost my parents to cancer, had cancer myself twice and seen my children have frightening medical problems. My husband even had a serious accident on his motorcycle and I didn’t need a drink. Instead, the craving came on one of the happiest days of all our lives—the day we celebrated our daughters’ graduation from college.
My husband and I had booked several tables for lunch at a posh restaurant. We invited our family members and the friends who had helped us raise these two little girls to become accomplished young women. The time came for us to toast the wonderful people who had loved us and them for all these years. The waiters swiftly passed out champagne flutes and poured champagne. My sister and I were the only ones who had sparkling water instead.
In my drinking days, I loved champagne. It symbolized success, the good life and happy milestones. That day as everyone raised their glasses I felt sad that I couldn’t have champagne like everybody else. My sister caught my eye. She winked and raised her sparkling water. I remembered all those meetings she dragged me to when she was first sober and I was still on Step Zero, and I winked back. We toasted the new graduates and the whole village of people who had helped my husband and me raise them.
Today, the girls are young women, out on their own. One morning recently at a Big Book meeting, I shared how my daughters had been living in Buenos Aires for two years. They have nice boyfriends, good jobs and a congenial group of friends, both Americans and Argentines. Their boyfriends’ families love them and treat them like daughters. But what about me? “They’re 8,000 miles away!” I cry.
The other A.A.s chuckle as I rant. “What if they settle down? Get married? Have kids? It’s a long trip to go see them!” Even as I am sharing, I realize how lucky I am. My husband and I are both close to retirement. The seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere. We might wind up spending spring and summer in San Francisco, then another spring and summer in Buenos Aires—a tough life, but someone’s got to do it, right? Thanks to A.A., I can be grateful my children are happy, even if this is not how I imagined life would be. The program of Alcoholics Anonymous has given me tools—the steps, especially Steps Eleven and Three. I pray for knowledge of God’s will and then turn my children over to his care. Then we can all be happy, joyous, free and grateful!
Hi, my name is Jerry. My sobriety date is July 25, 1998. I drank and used drugs for 20 years before getting sober. For my personal life, I came to San Francisco from Seattle, Washington in 2001 for a visit and to see the sights. I had been clean and sober for almost three years when I got here. San Francisco started to get to me, because I found great new meetings, and I found great new A.A. friends. So I ended up finding a job for Goodwill but I didn’t like it.
One day I walk into the break room and saw the TV where two planes were crashing into the World Trade Centers. Everyone at work was saying they are going to be hiring Security all over the place. That idea stuck with me, and I quit my job at Goodwill. Then I went and applied for a security officer job and got hired right on the spot. I’ve been working as a security officer for 18 years, as my career. As for finding a place to live, it’s not a mansion or a one-bedroom apartment. It’s an SRO (Single Resident Occupancy) and it is the cheapest way you could live in San Francisco. But it’s my home and it’s been my home for 18 years, by keeping up with the rent, and paying my bills on time.
As for a companion, a relationship, I fell in love. I’ve met the best woman in the world: she is a “normie,” a person that doesn’t drink or use. We have been together for 16 years. But it’s all because of my program. As the years went by, I found a great sponsor with more years than myself, he helps me through the 12 Steps, and we keep each other sober. I try to go to as many A.A. meetings as I can. A.A. meetings are all over my city, so I have many choices and times to attend one.
I’ve met the best woman in the world and she is a “normie”
A.A. service is my anchor. Right now I am the secretary for my home group, The Federal Speaker Meeting at 12 noon. Plus there are many other ways to do service in A.A.: Coffee Maker, Greeter, Treasurer, Set-up, and H&I and Phone Line service. As for a Higher Power—this can be a tough one. I chose one of my understanding. This could be hard for atheists or people who don’t know God. But the more you go to A.A., and the more you read A.A. literature or the Big Book, you will get one. I’ve seen this happen and many do find something to believe in.
Drinking was my first addiction. I loved to drink beer at first, like a soft drink. Then I needed to drink something stronger because I had built a tolerance for that. Then the vodka, gin, whiskey and tequila were the next best thing, especially tequila shots. Now those made me black out, which for some reason didn’t matter at the time. But the boozing became more and more until I needed to do it every day. The drugs came with it as well and I became a cross-addicted addict. I could not stop using; I had tried everything to slow it down or to control it. Nothing would work, not even for my family, my children, my ex-wife. That’s when I lost everything and became homeless. I hit a bottom that I had never hit before. I had lost hope, and I had given up. I guess I was ready to die; I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. So that’s when God, the higher power of my choosing, gave me a spiritual awakening. I knew I had to ask for help, to find out what was wrong with me, to put myself into treatment. I did this, and I was ready to try something different.
First I had to go through detox for a week. That was a living hell, but I made it. Then I was transferred over to the recovery center for three months, not because I had to, but because I wanted to (a good idea after drinking for 20 years). While I was there one thing stood out to me that would build my program stronger, and that was what the Treatment Counselor said: You only have to change one thing, and that is everything.
You only have to change one thing
Well, today it is much better; God has blessed me with a second chance. Today I am happy, joyful and free. But it doesn’t stop there, now I have to give back to the newcomers, do service, go to meetings, work the steps and have a sponsor. Plus ask God of my choosing to help me to do better, and be better. That is my program, and if I’m not working a program then I’m working a relapse.
To me it’s how Dr. Bob & Bill W. put it: Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. That sentence has stuck with me the whole time I have been in A.A. I remember a sponsor once asked me if I had any fears, and I said many. He said to me: The opposite of fear is faith—go to a meeting. So now I pray to the God of my understanding, I meet with my sponsor once a week and I help a newcomer whenever I can. I keep it simple.
When I first heard people talk about humility and Step 9 I was annoyed at their seeming haughtiness. Later I had more reverence for the humility they appeared to be espousing. By working the steps with my sponsor, I now had a few sober days in my wake. However, I was no exception to facing life on life’s terms. My character defects were daily reminders of the baffling and patient characteristics of my disease, which were ready, willing and able to plague me at the start of each new day. I had seen the cunning of my disease, how it was always poised to attack the weakest link in my defenses against it. So when my disease unleashed a powerful assault upon me, I turned to the steps for help and protection; they were my front line of defense.
No one before me had been able to maintain perfection
I had taken my inventory, admitted it as suggested and asked to have my shortcomings removed. Then, as I made my list of people I owed amends, I found mine was the first name on that list. This realization caused me to talk about my list to another alcoholic, an old-timer who had what I wanted in this program. In this process he was able to point out in me that which I could not see for myself. While likely obvious to more than just him, I had been oblivious to my defect. He helped me to see the blind spot at which my disease had struck, for it had perceived a weakness and had sought to exploit it to my ruin. With the grace of a subtle but deadly poison and the power of a jackhammer, it had sought to convince me that my Higher Power could not be trusted: that He could not possibly have what was good for me in His thinking at this difficult time, this time of my crisis. My disease cooed that I was alone, that I had to weather this storm on my own.
But my old-timer had pegged my symptom well. He made the nature of my wrong “exact.” He said I was beating myself up because I was not believing in my Higher Power. While he agreed I had let doubt creep in, he added what I had missed, that this was a human flaw we all possess. My shortcoming was that I had let that flaw take hold in my consciousness. I then had compounded the problem by believing it to be a fundamental weakness that had no cure. The warning this would almost certainly lead to a drink was his sobering conclusion. The solution he offered was a reminder of that which I was forgetting, that ours was a program of progress not perfection. I could take comfort in being willing to accept spiritual progress rather than portending doom because I was failing at spiritual perfection. To right this wrong, I needed to make a living amend to myself – this was quite an unexpected suggestion.
The words he spoke in response to the question of how I could accomplish this have reverberated in my brain since, especially when I hear “How It Works” at the outset of a meeting. He told me: Do Not Be Discouraged. I had lost sight of the fact that no one before me had been able to maintain perfect adherence to the principles I was called upon to practice. I had somehow come to believe that I was an exception to that rule, rather than one who could live, literally, by it and because of it. So my living amend became my frequent and fervent reminder to myself that I was no saint, that the spiritual awakening my Higher Power had helped me achieve was to give me the opportunity to stay sober and become the man I had always wanted to be and to not be discouraged if I lost sight of this.
I was demanding the impossible of myself
That old-timer helped me to see how I was demanding the impossible of myself and then beating myself up mercilessly because I had fallen short. Worse, rather than returning to the path that worked as soon as I was able to, instead I lost faith. Forgetting my Higher Power might know what was best for me, I began to think I had all the answers. As I made living amends to myself, I saw the wisdom of the adage “to err is human.”
How I handled the awareness of my errors, the actions I took as they presented themselves, would become the measure of my progress. Above all else I heard: Do not be discouraged. For if I could accept life’s disappointments despite my best efforts, I might be living in the will of my Higher Power after all. Such progress, though not perfect, still led me back to the belief that all would be well, here and hereafter.
Emotionally absent, that’s what I was while either drinking or thinking about drinking. When I got sober there came a time when I wanted to make my 9th Step amends to five daughters. The last part of the amends was to ask if I’d overlooked anything and ask if there was anything I could do to help heal our relationship. All went well with the children until I came to the last and oldest daughter, 35 year-old Karen.
“Yes, there is something you can do, mother. Come spend a day with me at Glen Eden,” she said. Karen is a practicing nudist who attended Glen Eden, the nearby nudist colony.
Like a Garden of Eden with many, many Adams and Eves
“I’m not going with you. This is your deal. You are on your own,” my fiancé said. There was no negotiating on this topic and I really couldn’t play the “If you really loved me” card. In all honesty, it was my responsibility to go, not his. Knowing it was my place to go to any lengths, we set a date.
The entrance to Glen Eden was through a small store selling an extensive array of suntan lotions next to a check-in desk. Karen and I registered and were soon met by Sue and Larry, muscular, tanned, wonderfully friendly, 50-ish (my vintage) and wearing large beach towels. We were escorted through a back door to their golf cart.
“From here on it’s clothing optional,” Sue announced as they dropped their towels onto the leather seats and sat down. I quickly became the one towel-wrapped soul as we began the grand tour. Sue and Larry greeted everyone along the path, pointed out the tennis courts, the showers and the restaurant. No one wore clothes: Neither the tennis players, the bathers, nor the diners. All were tanned and toned in various degrees. Many less toned than tanned. There were hats and sneakers but no clothes.
“What brought you to Glen Eden?” Sue asked.
“It’s a mother daughter togetherness day,” I said.
“Then you’ve done this before?” Hard to see where she got that idea. I was eggshell white-wrapped, holding tight to my trusty towel.
“This is a special treat,” Karen said.
We bounced along in the golf cart. The leather seats were hot and sticky. I wanted to sit on my towel but that would mean disrobing.
“What does your husband think of your being here?” Larry asked.
“My mother’s not married,” Karen chimed in. “She’s engaged.” Luckily Karen knew the rule about unattached women. It supposedly contaminated the desired family atmosphere.
“This is lovely,” I said as we jostled along, just like a Garden of Eden with many, many Adams and Eves.
She knows the lengths I will go to heal our wounds
“This is where the tour ends,” Larry said pulling the cart up to the pool. I looked out to a medium-sized pool, overflowing with swimmers and bathers. A badminton game was in play next to the pool’s fence.
“There’s a couple of chairs,” Karen said as we made out way across the lawn. I stumbled along carrying my overflowing beach bag, my hat and my book while holding fast to my towel. Karen, tanned and slim, sprinted ahead to reserve chairs. My towel became burdensome and slowly slipped down. There were no cat calls or pointed fingers. I expected comments or at least stares but no one cared.
“Make sure you put on plenty of lotion,” Karen warned. Absolutely, there was more of me in too many places and no camouflaging towel. I did note that I wasn’t the fattest seal on the beach. So I slathered down and sank into a book, while balancing between being overly inquisitive and comatose. It became business as usual.
We went to lunch at a small restaurant. No one was clothed except the fry cook, who wore an apron. Throughout the day, I laughed and repeated my mantra, if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, which wasn’t completely accurate but it kept my vision at eye level.
After completing the nude 9th, my relationship with Karen is now at an all-time high. She knows the lengths I will go to heal our wounds. That trip to Glen Eden was the beginning. I had the opportunity to figuratively walk in Karen’s shoes (that is, only her shoes).