1 11, 2019

Home Group at Park Presidio

This A.A. found a meeting that feels like home

by Henry Y.

I believe it was one of the first A.A. meetings I went to back in early 2013. I remember it as small and welcoming, and that is still the feeling I get each time I attend a Park Presidio meeting. More recently, Park Presidio has supported me over a period of years where I began to lose faith in A.A. and life in general. I shared frankly about these struggles—with depression, with my first onset of suicidal ideations, with a creeping cynicism that needed to be expressed to be understood—and the group members would tell me to come back the next week. I didn’t always do this, preferring to keep the group at arm’s length. I think I feared that it would eventually lose its potency and I would become disillusioned and disconnected from this group of people as well. This, it turns out, is a self-fulfilling prophecy that comes true when I believe the false prophet that whispers in my ear. Each time I returned, I was reminded that I often could not help but feel connected to these people, even if my depression told me this would be impossible.

Sometimes the meeting might be disorganized

As is so often the case in A.A., I was elected as secretary because it was exactly what I needed to remain a participating member. It is a commitment that forces me to be involved in the meeting. I can never totally retreat into my own head. Something about reading the script, remembering newcomers’ names, and noting where someone has filled in on a commitment for the week helps me get more present. To my mind, part of the beauty of different meetings lies in their imperfections. It reminds me every member shares a common goal: to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety. Even if sometimes the meeting might be disorganized, disjointed, or disrupted.

This also applies to me. As secretary, it has honestly been a pleasure to let go of the notion that I can achieve “perfection” in my role. For example, serving as secretary has required me to find a speaker each week. This aspect of the commitment is especially beneficial to me, because it forces me to connect with other people. Once I’ve exhausted the small circle of people in A.A. I feel comfortable texting on a regular basis, I am forced to branch out. Sometimes I put this off until the 11th hour. Then my self-consciousness really goes out the window and I find the willingness to ask someone whom I might not otherwise ask. In those moments, without necessarily thinking that much about it, the spirit of service is easily more potent than my self-centered fears. 

I was elected secretary because it was exactly what I needed to remain 

photo credits available upon request to [email protected]

I enjoy seeing the same people each week and hearing their shares because I get to observe them moving through different challenges and life events. I realize I sometimes prefer to play the role of A.A. drifter, never totally connected to any one A.A. group. While I think it is important to continue to explore new meetings and meet different members, I also see how playing the drifter has allowed me to avoid the more intimate connection that comes with seeing someone every week. In short, Park Presidio has shown me the importance of having a home group and holding a commitment that forces me (at times) to be of service. Oh, and it’s funny as hell. We are not a glum lot, after all.

1 11, 2019

Scaler in San Francisco, Taxi Driver in L.A.

by Rob S.

A well-known A.A. speaker from the 1970s remembered his wife asking how his very first A.A. meeting went. Well, he replied, they smoked a lot of cigarettes, they drank a lot of coffee and I am going back! Of course, it wasn’t the cigarette smoking or coffee drinking, or even the different personalities that prompted his decision—it was that invisible A.A. spirit that we all know so well.

When I was a few months sober and working at an antique store located only a few blocks from a recovery clubhouse at 26th and Broadway in Santa Monica, California. The most exciting thing at that club was a checkerboard. Yet when the newcomer heebie-jeebies began their chaos I would forgo lunch and make a b-line for that club, nervously shaking and head spinning like a top. Yet soon a mysterious calmness would take over. A much-needed A.A. style conversation would begin. Following that brief experience, I would return to work without eating a bite, mind you, but refreshed and in a pleasant frame of mind.   

In San Francisco I had belonged to the Painters and Scalers Union at the Embarcadero. Sometimes we worked with the longshoremen when they were low on personnel. One day the shipment was from England with Chivas Regal Scotch and Rolls Royce automobiles. While unloading, the crane operator swung one of those beautiful cars out too far along the side of the ship and it swung back to crash into the steel hull. We thought he might have gotten into the Chivas Regal. Ha! This was in the mid-1960s. The painters and scalers job involved scraping the internal cells of Mason ocean liners. Not a pleasant job but it paid well enough to drink.

One passenger from a bar had me pick up a pint of whisky on the way home

After I got sober I started driving a cab. During my L.A. taxi driving career there was a time when my associate driver had a part in a movie for 13 days. So I had to pay for the cab 24/7 and work both shifts. There was no time for meetings, but to be sure I stopped by one or another recovery clubhouse for a few minutes to receive my share of the uplifting A.A. spirit every day. I often would have a back-seat passenger who seemed to benefit from my chatter. Often they turned out to be members as well. One can never know where the spirit may appear.

photo credits available upon request to [email protected]

One passenger from a bar had me pick up a pint of whisky on the way home. I had to practically carry her through her apartment door. She passed out almost immediately. I sat the bottle on the table next to her bed, then brought some A.A.  literature from my trunk and laid it next to the bottle. Who knows? But this was an example of the spirit working for yours truly. 

These days I love to attend District Meetings, Area Assemblies and Intergroup

These days I love to attend District Meetings, Area Assemblies and Intergroup meetings where many members have spent years serving the fellowship in one way or another. A good feeling pervades state conventions and especially the International Conventions that happen every five years. Just imagine holding hands with 50,000 A.A. members praying the closing prayer. I’ve been to five of them and am planning for Detroit next year. 

I believe that spirit is a major factor that brings newcomers back to meetings on a regular basis. It is important to always greet the new person and make them feel welcome until they begin to feel this life-saving spirit deep in their bones. In Los Angeles many of the 90-minute meetings have a short break at halftime. I believe the reason for this is to get to know the new person and perhaps invite them out to coffee after the meeting. The A.A. spirit flows through that conversation as well. Just because I can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It works—it really does.

1 11, 2019

Too Many Years, Not Enough Days

by Bree L.  

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m one of those who came in through the back door (controlled drinking and other 12 step programs). That is, unlike those who came in the front door—the “real” alcoholics, who knew they were alcoholics out of the gate. I wasn’t all that sure for the first month or so. Yes, my life was a mess and I’d cut down to one glass of wine for special occasions. I wanted the benefits of the program without full-on signing up so I played around with my attendance those first months. Then came a time when I knew in my bone marrow I was an alcoholic and this was where I belonged if I wanted any kind of life. 

That is why when my friend Jamie M. said, “Too many years and not enough days,” it didn’t ring true with me. I’d come in slow and gotten closer while Jill came in fast and then got slower. I’d never been loosey-goosey with the program, because I was afraid of returning to my old ways. Here is how Jill explained her dilemma.

A few of us with years under our belt go through periods of barely hanging onto the A.A. lifeboat

photo credits available upon request from [email protected]

She had 21 years of “sodriety”—her program had plateaued. She maintained one monthly service commitment, went to sporadic meetings, had no sponsees, and was thinking about dropping out of the program. “I was at a crossroads,” she says. “I wasn’t drinking but I wanted more and saw it might be beyond the A.A. program.” 

She took a trip from San Francisco to Cape Cod, a vacation place she knew from childhood. While there she walked by a distinctive church she remembered from long ago. Coincidentally, there was an A.A. meeting there. She was curious about what the church looked like inside. She says, “That was probably more of a draw than the meeting.” 

She wanted more of a sense of who she was 

As the meeting began they asked for newcomers and one woman approximately the same age as Jill raised her hand to identify herself as a newcomer. As the meeting progressed the woman spoke and opened with the fact that a week earlier she’d had 17 years. Today she had 6 days. Then came the line, “I had a lot of years but not enough days.” Jill listened closely to a description of reduced meeting attendance, no service commitment, no community work and no sponsees. The woman explained that she was doing the equivalent of resting on her laurels.

This was a cautionary tale for Jill.  She returned to San Francisco and recommitted herself to A.A. Within 3 months she had 2 sponsees, 4 meetings a week, a sponsor, and she took on 2 service commitments. Now seven years later most of those things are still in place. She stresses that one is never exempt from service and has firmly placed herself in the middle of the boat. 

When Pam G. was asked how she’d accumulated 28 years, she spoke of what she was doing to keep her program alive. She spoke of a time when she strayed from the program, saying. “I’ve been away for whole years at a time. I didn’t drink but I didn’t go to meetings.” She had stuck very close to the program in the beginning but then, as she says, “The program gave me a life.”  She became disengaged. She was a teacher and a single parent who was overly conscientious about her work. When she retired in 2001, she came back to A.A.  She wanted more of a sense of who she was and has stuck more closely since. 

Pam talks of friends with many years who don’t come to meetings. They have accepted the benefits of A.A. and moved on. Some became therapists and say they’re afraid of running into patients at the meetings. She says, “Non-participation is self-perpetuating. The longer one stays away the harder it can be to return.”

A few of us with years under our belt go through periods of barely hanging onto the A.A. lifeboat. Some never do make it back. The way to fight our way back in is to gather those days and with our H.P.’s help we’ll stay.

1 11, 2019

Lush Lounge

by Carla H.

Most Saturdays, Lush Lounge looks like a women’s meeting, but appearances can be deceiving. A regular once said, “This is the women’s meeting for women who don’t like women’s meetings.” But it’s not a women’s meeting. Attendees can be trans and nonbinary people. I’ve learned to ask members what pronoun they use. We meet 2:00 p.m. Saturdays at the Dolores Street Community Center, 938 Valencia Street in San Francisco and have been a Beginner Step Study since the early 2000s. The meeting itself has proven to be consistently warm, honest, raw and healing for me. I have spiritual experiences each week listening to speaker share emotions, issues and facts of life as lived by transgender people, gender queer people and women. Issues that don’t come up in mixed meetings that often.

Lots of small talk and laughter before and after the meeting

With 17 different service commitment possibilities, Lush Lounge usually has 20+ attendees. I’ve been a regular for five years and have held several different service positions, most recently as the General Service Representative. Doing service at this meeting has changed and improved my program. I started with an easy commitment as a literature rep. It turned out to be so much fun that I next volunteered to help with setup, which required a lot of work and substantial reliability, mostly because two setup people are responsible for keys to the building and our meeting supply cabinet. 

Five years ago, it required four people to move two heavy conference tables out of our room to make space for the three kinds of chairs, which we had to arrange a certain way. I, along with the other setup person, discovered how reliable we truly were. My setup partner and I bonded easily over our shared professional backgrounds. I would have never learned as much had I not done setup. This bonding helped me feel like a real part of the group. It also encouraged me to stay after the meeting and help with breakdown, a separate service commitment. Breakdown people needed to know how the room looked before we set it up. I was able to help with that.

photos by Navarre

Lots of small talk and laughter happens before and after the meeting. That’s also when people have asked me to sponsor them. It’s why coming early and staying late is being of service. I’ve learned that my past dislike of women’s meetings meant I disliked women. Over time, I realized that my dislikes are my inner misogynist in action. I was shocked that I’m not as feminist as I had thought. Fortunately, learning that has helped increase my compassion. 

Coming early and staying late is being of service

I listened to how other members directed people with setting up and breaking down the room. They always did it with kindness. I learned how to deal with a drunken attendee who wouldn’t move or talk. (There were kind, quiet discussions about who to call for help. Someone knew the member’s partner, who was phoned and asked to help.) I’d never seen an active drunk at a meeting at that point and had no idea what to do.

As General Service Rep, I also asked for volunteers to do service each week when absent members hadn’t found substitutes. I facilitated our monthly business meetings and experienced a wide range of behaviors that can happen during them. I asked for help from my Service Sponsor, who was instrumental in helping me learn how A.A. functions as a whole—with the principles of kindness, patience, tolerance, and listening to everyone.

Commitments has shown me how important service of any kind is, and how to let go, accept, and turn it over. I’m not in charge. Hooray for that! Lush Lounge is a safe, welcoming space for any transgender, gender queer or women alcoholics—as well as anyone who needs a meeting.

1 11, 2019

Step 11: New Freedom and Happiness

by John W.

Having completely bought into the deal that I was powerless over alcohol and that the unmanageability of my life was a direct result. Once admitted, without any action on my part except going to meetings daily (sometimes more than once) I had managed to stop drinking. It was not a pretty time. With a few sober days strung together, I was able to find a sponsor. With my sponsor’s aid I worked the steps. I always knew I had not stayed stopped, or stopped in the first place, on my own. I always knew a higher power had helped me. I did not know how but I had a pretty good guess as to why. My Catholic upbringing helped me a lot there because I still believed in a loving, forgiving and merciful God (although for others with the same background, maybe not so much as I have heard). Once sober, time began to pass.

Caught in a big set of waves after a wipe out

Time has a wonderful way of passing in the A.A. program one day at a time. I had been warned my disease was not only cunning, baffling and powerful, it was also patient. After days had passed, becoming years, I was faced with a series of crises which seemed to pile up, one upon another in rapid succession. 

One time as a young teen out trying to body surf, I was caught in a big set of waves after a wipe out. Each time my head came above water, wham! There was another wave crashing down on me. The waves did not seem to want to stop and I did not know if I could keep afloat. I thought I was going to drown. I did not, but the hopelessness of the circumstances seemed almost too much—almost.

photo captions available upon request to [email protected]

My experience in the surf never left me. As new circumstances a lifetime later befell me, I almost felt un-equipped to confront them—almost. Unlike the surf, or those days getting sober, this time I had help. This time I had a Higher Power in my life. I was now able to recall the affirmative reply I had given to my sponsor when asked: Are you willing to go to any length? 

Now the rubber was really meeting the road. I was asked if I had meant what I had said those many years before when I wanted so much to just stay stopped. As suggested, I had sought to improve that conscious contact. But what would that mean, now when events were upon me and I needed it the most? As I was told would be the case, my Higher Power was there for me. I had read “There is One Who has all power” and was desired to “find Him now” but that had been to get sober. 

More doors started to open

Now I was confronted with life beyond sobriety. I thought of feelings abounding, solutions that seemed unconventional. If I did find Him, what would He do for me? That seemed like the wrong point of view. What would I do to enhance that discovery, that relationship? This seemed to be the question. As the effort to confront this question in another unconventional manner, through meditation, presented itself, I sensed more doors starting to open.

Hope in a strange way had taken on a new light. Surely I had hoped the crises I faced would, each in their own time, subside and work out in my favor. Now it seemed hope had become a goal to achieve with my Higher Power. Regardless of the outcome, I would imbue that relationship with a greater fervor, a more conscious sense of gratitude and hope. I would succeed in demonstrating that gratitude daily. One day at a time became the goal in a different way. 

I thought it meant I would be happy with a used car

To those who are painstaking comes the promise of a whole new attitude and outlook upon life. I thought that meant I would be happy with a used car or satisfied even if I had not gotten that well-deserved raise. I had not expected the new attitude would be the enhancement of my relationship with a Higher Power since I thought I already had a pretty good thing going. Yet I found the limits to that rapport were only in my head, only in my thinking. If I were only to further seek, I would surely find. I had but to push upon that door opened so long ago to the certainty. I did again, to a newer happiness. 

1 11, 2019

Writing as a Tool

by Kathleen C.

When evening comes, perhaps just before going to sleep, many of us draw up a balance sheet for the day. This is a good place to remember that inventory-taking is not always done in red ink. It’s a poor day indeed when we haven’t done something right.Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

For years I tried to quit drinking. I am a writer and an alcoholic. In my journal I wrote about each time I quit as a moment to be recorded for posterity. Who cared about the day when I quit drinking and using for good? My kids? Those little babies who were in their car seats in the back when I was driving drunk? Those toddlers who I screamed at when their shrill voices pierced my hangover headache? I am glad I wrote about my drinking and quitting. I want to remember what I was like. 

Now that I am sober I write down the good things in my life and in me. The “Twelve and Twelve” reminds me that an inventory shouldn’t be taken all in red ink. I get to write down the good stuff that I do as well. Yes, I need to inventory my resentments and my fears, but I can also list my gratitude and my good deeds each day.

I did not want to do what people told me to

photo credits available upon request to [email protected]

When I first got sober, in 1986, I didn’t want to do what you people told me to. I write for a living, why should I have to write to stay sober? Can’t I just think about my Fourth Step and then tell my sponsor? Preferably over the phone? Nope – put pen to paper. Amazing what comes out once you start to write. It took me several months to write, but I read it to my sponsor and we completed Step Five.

I had to write again when one of my children was stricken with a serious illness. There was no treatment, just watchful, fearful waiting. I asked my sponsor what to do. Her mother had been critically ill, near death, soon after we started working together. She knew how to cope with a crisis. “Maybe you could try writing a letter to God,” she said. I put pen to paper, “Dear God, I hate you for what you are doing to my daughter.” Admitting to myself how angry and afraid I was helped me share at meetings and ask for support. At a big meeting the speaker, as we stood holding hands in a circle, asked our Higher Power “to help the member whose child is having trials.”

Inwardly I groaned: Oh no, another suggestion

I got another hint in a noon meeting near my work. A man said that he kept a notebook on his bedside table and wrote a Tenth Step every night. Inwardly I groaned. Oh no, another suggestion. But it is an easy practice. I write down the good things I did during the day and the nice things other people did for me. I am amazed how many good people there are in the world and that I am often one of them. If I owe an apology or an amends I write it down. That helps to imprint it on my brain, so I remember to take care of it as soon as possible.

Then a sponsee mentioned that she writes a gratitude list every morning and it really makes her day go smoother. Here we go again! So I started trying to write a daily gratitude list. She wasn’t the only person who mentioned gratitude lists. My Higher Power sometimes needs to repeat what I need to hear. When I write down that I am grateful for my sobriety, health, family, job and home, I am more likely to notice the person in the wheelchair and to be grateful for my feet, even if they do ache.

When I write I am not just talking to myself; I am talking to the Higher Power within me. I am opening up my mind and my heart to new ideas and the possibility of changing my life, with the help of the steps and the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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