1 12, 2019

The Art of Living: Digging Deeper

by Rick R.

The first 164 pages of the Big Book contain the framework for how to overcome the disaster of a life consumed by alcoholism. As I drank myself into a corner, ran out of options and desperately searched for answers, something told me to read the book Alcoholics Anonymous. There I found people who had overcome troubling issues in life. Each chapter has a particular subject which explains specific areas we could improve thoughts and behaviors. It seems that if we did what they suggested in those 164 pages, everything would be fine with us alcoholics, but wait! Next, they published The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions to give more amplifying information as to how to incorporate the steps into our daily lives. 

Fear and insecurity dogged me every step 

As I continued to grow in the program, I sought more understanding of the depth of this disease. I began examining how symptoms had developed in me. The first 164 pages scratched the surface of my alcoholism and also challenged my commitment to pursue sobriety. I uncovered many character defects in the facets of my mentality. Fear and insecurity dogged me through every step.

As I became strong enough to overcome an ego-driven approach to these issues, my conscience started getting a foothold. It motivated me to dig deeper, pursue a life based on unselfish principles and abandon my faulty past thinking. I had to come to terms with a power greater than myself. I was encouraged to read a book by Emmet Fox called The Sermon on the Mount, considered to be the inspiration the A.A. founders incorporated into the solution for doubters like myself. It removed my doubts. 

The root of our troubles

Next, I had to learn how to become a good husband, father, friend and coworker. As we share our experiences with each other, we are learning how to address facets of our sick mentality. My wife came home from an Al-Anon meeting in my early years of sobriety. She was all excited about the topic of Examining our Motives. That one little statement changed my entire way of thinking about my behavioral problems. “Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles” (Big Book, p.62).

If selfishness is the root (motive), then unselfishness is the obvious solution. This simple understanding starts the habit of living with unselfish motives. As a result, I am not ashamed of anything I do today. I have a clear conscience, and it is so much easier than I thought it would be. It doesn’t say generous. It just says unselfish (duh!).

photo credits available upon request to [email protected]

My conscience started getting a foothold

The world is full of supporting information concerning psychological problems alcoholics face when seeking answers. When we use the word love, I thought it was a feeling. However, I found a version of love in a book by Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled. He defines love as caring for and nurturing another person’s soul. It is an action word. I can love everyone even if they don’t love me back by sincerely wanting the best for them and offering my help.

Using these examples is my way of encouraging everyone who finds it difficult to experience quiet satisfaction from the program. I find answers by looking deeper into the subject. We can seek out the solutions that help set in place those unselfish principles and habits which lead to what an old friend refers to as “Peace of mind and a quiet heart.”

1 12, 2019

Bucket Brigade Night Service

by Kim C.

Nearing the end of my Teleservice commitment next month, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my experience and express my thanks. Over a year ago, my sponsor and I were trying to identify a 12-step activity that would be a good fit for me. In the past, my ego had gotten over-involved in any role I would categorize as caregiving. I had to learn the difference between caregiving and being of service.

If I’m not aware, caregiving can result in my over-focus on outcomes as a reflection of me. I can fall into the trap that my job is to deliver my message, not the message. If I don’t stay attached to the program, I can become attached to the idea that it is me helping someone, not A.A. or God, and I cannot carry that load.

Part of a bucket brigade, keeping the service available around the clock

Through Teleservice, I’ve realized that delivering the message is a simple as picking up the phone. I love the continuity that Teleservice provides. I feel like part of a bucket brigade, keeping the service available around the clock. A live person can be reached throughout the day, a 24-hour offering. The day’s coordinator cheerfully requests confirmation of those taking over the line and finds substitutes from the volunteer pool if needed. I always felt appreciated and part of a team.

I chose the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift due to work schedule challenges with the other shifts. I’m not a night owl. In my using days, outside issues kept me awake at night for more drinking. Taking the night shift meant that the caller did not have a sharp talker at the other end of the line. As it turned out for me, that didn’t matter. Callers mostly wanted to talk. Many of the callers at those hours were under the influence and were arguing with the A.A. voices in their heads. There was nothing I could add but acceptance of the struggle, love for the person struggling. Others were sober and were feeling the long, dark night. Maybe they attended a meeting and were working through something they heard, said or didn’t say.

At night it’s a little different

photo credits available upon request to [email protected]

Teleservice at night is a little different from the other shifts. We have a little more time to listen and less concern about keeping the lines open for other callers or referring to 12-step volunteers.

By the end of the year I learned to be more thoughtful to my partner. I now take the calls in the living room and sleep on the comfy sofa. It’s a whole different experience sleeping on the sofa while I’m being of service (not because of an alcohol-fueled, resentment-laden fight).

I think I’m ready for an H and I commitment.

1 12, 2019

Gladly Rendered

by Claire A.

Subconsciously I think I have always known that service makes me feel good. Putting aside my own will briefly to help someone else, even if I was grouchy about it at the beginning, always wound up feeling good. It took coming into A.A. to make me become intentional about it—to seek service.

One of my first commitments was coffee-making. This was really difficult: there was a certain way to do it, a huge canister coffeemaker that I didn’t know how to use, but most difficult of all, lots of opinions about how it should be done. To be truthful the good feeling of being helpful was lost in my fear of doing it wrong. Thankfully, I kept doing it, and the opinions died down. Then I started to feel annoyed that no one was thanking me. Ha!

One of my first commitments was coffee-making

photo credits available on request to [email protected]

What really helped me most at that moment was remembering why I was there: to help alcoholics. I had no way of knowing whether someone might walk in off the street and feel more welcome because there was fresh coffee made. I had to have faith. And it was an important lesson to me, to just show up and let God do the heavy lifting. This is a lesson I need right now in my life. 

My husband’s father died about two months ago. He was a loving father and grandfather, and I loved him very much. I miss him, and I anticipate that this holiday season will be very difficult without him. His passing leaves a large hole in the extended family that seems to be getting filled up with a lot of family anxiety and anger. It’s a bit scary right now, not knowing how things will work out. And, of course, my husband is grieving the loss of his father, which is a process. The bottom line is there are a lot of big things happening around the family right now, over which I have zero control. 

It’s a good time to remember service. There are endless ways to be helpful, both in program and out. I can take a commitment, but I can also reach out at the end of a meeting and say hello to a newcomer. In a bigger way, though, I can be of service in my day. Being of service means I change my attitude from looking for what I can get to looking for what I can give. Looking at what I can give helps me to connect with others by thinking about how I might be able to help them.

Even a small, kind action helps

One of the great things about service is that it requires action. I can get so stuck in inaction! I’ll say to myself, oh, I’ll do it later. Then later comes, and I’m like, oh, I feel so tired, I really need a nap, and then I’ll get up from a nap, and I’ll be like: what happened to the day? It’s so predictable.

When I focus on what I can do for others, though, it just nudges me that little bit to get going. When I get going, I can get my stuff done and be of service. At the end of those days, I feel good. It doesn’t take a huge project to be of service. Even a small, kind action helps. And if it is a big project then often a small action, taken in faith that God is there to guide me, can be a great first step.

1 12, 2019

Step 12: Practice, Principles & Service

by Ali L.

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and practice these principles in all our affairs.

To contribute to the stream of life. To do the right thing even when no one is looking. In other words, learning how to be a responsible, decent, adult human being. I found myself getting sober at 41 (almost 9 years ago now), with really no idea of how to be a grownup, what it meant to be of service or even generally to care about others to make the world a better place.

Struggling against the stream of life

I always found myself struggling against the stream of life. The only motivation I ever had was how to make myself look better in the world to get what I needed and make sure I was ok. And that was as far as I ever got.

I really appreciate this idea of “practicing.” It does not say, mastering these principles in all our affairs, or perfecting these principles in all our affairs. It most definitely does not say, thinking about these principles in all our affairs. To practice is simply the application of a principle or belief as opposed to the theoretical ideas relating to it. 

Before I got sober, I had many high-and-mighty ideas and theories about the kind of person I believed myself to be. But my actions indicated otherwise. I thought myself to be honest, but I was lying, with every breath, about who I was. About my fears and my anger. All of it hidden at the bottom of a bottle, and even that I hid.

I thought I honored life and cared about others, but I would carelessly drive drunk with no regard for who might be hurt. I thought I loved my family, but could not be counted on to even make it to the hospital when my grandmother became ill. I was too busy partying with people I don’t even remember, in the endless and empty pursuit of “fun.”

I learned the sacred inhabits the mundane

After years and years of living this life, I no longer even clung to the ideas of who I thought I was. The discrepancy between who I thought I was and who I actually was became too great. These hollow theories were replaced by bone-crushing shame. And so I made my way into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. 

photo credits available on request to [email protected]

Through A.A. I have learned that the sacred inhabits the mundane. Everything I do becomes an opportunity to be of service and to practice the principles. Cooking for my loved ones. Cleaning up after myself everywhere I go. Watering my plants. Picking up trash. Greeting people with kindness. Waiting for my turn patiently, or even joyfully. Making my bed. Brushing my teeth. All of these simple, everyday tasks, elevated to opportunities for honesty, hope, faith, courage, integrity, willingness, humility, brotherly love, justice, perseverance, spirituality and service.

Now when I wake in the morning, I make it my practice to say, “How can I be of service today? How can I be truly helpful?” And the answer comes in everything I do, everywhere I am, with everyone I meet. 

1 12, 2019

Miracle on 24th Street

by Adam R.

On Christmas Eve 2018, I woke up to my husband having a stroke. My higher power carried me through, and I want to share my experience, and the hope and refuge provided to me. I experienced one God-shot after another. From the morning until midnight I was aided. The first miracle was to get my husband to agree to go to the hospital. We live four blocks from Kaiser’s emergency room, but we still needed an ambulance. Alone with him, I had to get to the front of our complex to unlock the gate. As it would happen, my neighbor, a nurse practitioner, was out walking to work. I asked her to watch my husband. She went straight in to our bedroom. The ambulance found our hard-to-find address in minutes. 

At the ER, I found that Kaiser had an advanced stroke intervention program. He was prepped and brought to their neurosurgery center in Redwood City. My sister and her wife met me at the ER and prepared to drive me to the Peninsula. It was a miracle I was able to reach her. 

As I was about to pick up the phone, the neurosurgeon called

The neurosurgeon called me and described the risks and benefits of the procedure: the possibility of the procedure making the brain damage worse, or the possibility of permanent disability or death. With this dismal news, I called our niece back East. We worked out how to get ready for the next family member to call: my husband’s 91-year-old mother. She had lost her daughter a few years earlier, and I was to tell her she might lose another child that day. As I was about to pick up the phone, the neurosurgeon called. I didn’t think I would hear from him for hours. Good news: the blood clot was removed successfully and the paralysis had subsided substantially. He was already stable. The sense of relief and gratitude rushed through me. I was able to call his mother at least with less than miserable news—a ray of hope. 

Christmas Eve in the hospital room was not what I had planned. I had to find somewhere to eat and bring some sense of the holiday into the room. Across from the hospital a K-Mart was still open. The store was slated to be closed. There was a shortage of staff, long lines and a credit card system that barely worked. I was able to give the cashier patience and thanks. I walked out with an oversized Christmas owl, whose head stuck out of the bag. 

photo credits available on request to [email protected]

Across the parking lot was an Applebee’s. I walked in with my owl. I was seated at the bar with sports blaring out of mounted TVs overhead. As God would have it, a drunk sat next to me, stimulated to conversation by the owl. I remembered the saying, “There go I, but for the grace of God.”

I got an Uber to the Alkathon at 2900 – 24th Street

It was time to leave the hospital. I got an Uber to the Alkathon at 2900 – 24th Street. I know that I needed to be with my fellows. I had friendly driver and we talked the whole way to San Francisco. I didn’t mention what had happened. I was grateful to have a break from the drama of the day. 

When I arrived at 9:55 PM, I was greeted by a locked door. One of the women from the meeting let me know the last Alkathon meeting has just ended. I said what was going on for me. I was full of gratitude just to be with my A.A.s, none of whom I had ever seen before. Then one of the women announced they were taking me the Dry Dock, where there is one more meeting. For me, this never happens. A group of three young women took me, a total stranger, a 61-year-old man, into their car and drove me straight to the meeting. Again, I was taken care of. 

They drove me straight to the meeting

The meeting was about to start. I sat in front of a woman who resembled my first A.A. sponsor from 35 years ago. There was another woman who I knew slightly from meetings. There was also an African American Uber driver who talked about 12 Step work he had done in his car. After the meeting ended, I walked around trying to find some food. With nothing open, I decided to wait for the 22 Fillmore. Who gets on but an old timer from the meeting! We talked along the route and both got off at Geary Boulevard. He went in one direction, and I went home. 

Instead of feeling lonely in my empty home, I felt the power of all that had happened. I was truly carried, as was my husband. My heart was full of gratitude. This was my Christmas miracle. 

1 12, 2019

Swedenborgian Meditation Meeting on Lyon Street

by Bree L.

Dunkin, a member attending the Swedenborgian meeting for the first time, said, “This is truly a gem in San Francisco. It’s one of the oldest landmarks and a real Zen place to meditate and pray.” The meditation meeting is a chance to reconnect with the origins of A.A. on a spiritual level.

The sanctuary is built almost entirely of wood such as the strong manzanita tree trunks overhead supporting the roof and manzanita branches placed above the altar. The catch is nothing is symmetrical (although not so obvious as one looks around). This unfinished affect reflects the Swedenborgian belief nothing is ever completely finished, and our own A.A. statement about progress not perfection, since nothing is ever truly completed. 

Its unfinished affect reflects A.A. ideas about progress, not perfection

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Emanuel Swedenborg . . . saw and showed the connection between nature and the affections of the human soul” (The American Scholar). There is also a connection between A.A. and the Swedenborgian Church. Lois Wilson’s maiden name was Lois Burnham. She was the granddaughter of scholar Reverend N. C. Burnham, founder of the Swedenborgian Academy of the New Church, Pennsylvania, in 1876. Lois was also a first cousin to world-famous Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, family friend and aesthetic mentee of Reverend Joseph Worcester, the Swedenborgian minister who designed and built this church. 

Bill W.’s wife Lois was the granddaughter of the founder of the Swedenborgian Academy

Every Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m. there is a candlelight gathering in the Fireside Room of the Swedenborgian Church at 2107 Lyon Street. The adjacent dining room also houses a dining table used many years ago by William James and his family. This is the same William James who wrote the book Varieties of Religious Experience referenced in Appendix II in the Big Book of A.A.

The meeting begins with a few moments of silence followed by the Serenity Prayer. The Serenity Prayer is followed by this statement from As Bill Sees It: “The other steps can keep most of us sober and somehow functioning. But Step Eleven can keep us growing, if we try hard and work at it continually.” The secretary reads an introduction to A.A. ending with Step 11.

Swedenborg saw connections between nature and the human soul

Swedenborgian detail photos by navarre

Next is a message about meditating by John G., who started this unique meeting. He expands upon the anonymous April 1969 Grapevine piece, “Seeking Through Meditation,” stating meditation had been neglected because so few know about it. Meditation is awareness, attention and listening. For one who has spent a lifetime drinking it is hard to listen, especially to one’s self. The summary is: as one’s attention drifts, one begins again. The reading suggests there need be no dismay, no discouragement and no judgement. Also, no success, no failure—just the gentle willingness to start over.

Meditation is awareness, attention and listening

The 20-minute silent meditation begins with a mindful, group recitation of the Third Step Prayer. A peaceful tranquility overtakes the entire room. After the meditation newcomers, birthdays and visitors are recognized. The meeting is then open for discussion.

The sharing has a quiet tone that honors the respectful atmosphere. This is followed by the seventh tradition and a thank-you for all the trusted servants taking care of the meeting. There is no recitation of “How It Works,” traditions or promises, yet there is a feeling of going back to the roots of A.A. and what it stands for. The meeting ends with a group recitation of the Seventh Step Prayer. 

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