1 01, 2020

Only as Sick as your Secrets

by Michael W.

In A.A., we join the fellowship if we have the desire to stop drinking. The word fellowship means “friendly association, especially with people who share one’s interests,” which certainly qualifies as a strong common interest. As we join the fellowship we often think our lives and challenges are unique. Sharing our experience and hope requires a new form of humility: Can I admit I’m powerless? Can I find a higher power? Can I take a moral inventory of my behavior and secrets? 

I didn’t arrive at A.A. in a limo

When I was an active alcoholic, I did many things that I’m not proud of and of which I’m still sometimes ashamed. My behavior in active addiction led me to “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.” I didn’t arrive at A.A. in a limo. Everyone I loved had either sworn to never speak to me again or joined Al-Anon. I was convinced my actions, thoughts and behavior were so demonstrably unique and destructive, that I would never tell another soul as long as I lived.

When I started working the steps, I noticed many folks would fear the fourth and fifth steps, myself included. We have to take a thorough (complete with regard to every detail; not superficial or partial) and moral inventory of ourselves. Telling my secrets to a sponsor and my H.P., I remember being quite terrified the first time. I had a lot of living amends and restitutions to make to others. My attendance at meetings didn’t start voluntarily. It was a requirement. These secrets were not just eating away at me from the inside out, they were blocking me from the spirit of the fellowship. My addiction placed me into deep isolation from all people. I had to re-learn how to communicate. 

I clearly remember the overwhelming relief, humility and gratitude to be free of these secrets. Moreover, I learned that my experiences could help others. On occasion, I realized that among certain recovery friends, we can even find laughter at the insanity of the disease.

When I am humbly ready for my daily Steps Six and Seven, I am telling my secrets. Whether talking to my higher power, my sponsor, sponsees, A.A. friends, I cannot stay sober without asking for help and telling my secrets. “To thine own self be true” requires me to stay humble and honest. If I connect with alcoholics, my H.P., share my secrets (or even seek professional help), these secrets will never, ever harm me or my recovery again. If my recovery is on track, I can be of service to others in Step 12. 

Everyone I loved had either sworn to never speak to me again or joined Al-Anon

The Promises tell me “we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.”  They read, “We will comprehend the word serenity and will know peace.” This promise comes through every day I am given the gift of sobriety. Secrets must be told, whether by inventories, prayer and meditation, or by helping others. Telling secrets removes all their power and brings peace and serenity.

1 01, 2020

Sometimes We Pick the Fruit Before It’s Ripe

by Rick R.

How disturbing it was to hear a member of A.A. with four or five years sobriety share at a meeting the opinion Alcoholics Anonymous has an abysmal rate of success. I wonder if he is in the same program that I am. I got sober in the late 1960’s and my copy of the Big Book is the second edition. The foreword to that issue reads, “Of alcoholics who came to A.A. and really tried, 50% got sober at once and remained that way: 25% sobered up after some relapses.” It goes on to explain about the others. 

Before 1970, very few alcoholics under the age of 40 came to A.A.

The second edition was printed in 1955 and up until that time there was very little help for alcoholics. In 1956 the American Medical Association (AMA) declared alcoholism a disease and sometime after that rehabilitation clinics were funded. Many alcoholics were sent there whether they wanted to quit drinking or not. Before 1970, very few alcoholics under the age of 40 came to A.A. I was the youngest member in my home group for quite a while. 

In the middle 1970s many of those that called themselves alcoholic/addicts were much younger than the typical alcoholic. I recognized that drug addiction progresses much faster than most cases of alcoholism. Another dynamic in the equation is the court system. It seems that before an alcoholic is sent to jail these days, they are given the option to attend A.A. meetings instead of jail time.

The main requirement to become an A.A. member is “a desire to stop drinking.” I believe that A.A. is flooded with addict/alcoholics who have been sent to us long before they suffer the desperation and desire to stop drinking or using, and we embrace them with this compassion and understanding. With that in mind, I believe that A.A. does more today than we did in the days when only those who had a serious desire to quit drinking showed up at our doors. 

Welcome them with open arms and give the best we can

photo captions upon request to [email protected]

I am sometimes misunderstood when I try to explain things as I see them. I don’t want to see Alcoholics Anonymous being misrepresented. I believe that, of those who come to us with a desire to stop drinking, the success ratio remains the same as it always has been. For those who have been sent here through the courts or the rehab programs, how many of them truly have a desire to stop drinking (or using)? When I greet a newcomer to a meeting I usually ask him/her, “What brings you to A.A.?” About nine out of ten will say the courts or other influences. The ones that say, “I just can’t live this way anymore,” I believe, have a good chance of staying sober for the rest of their life.

We do not discriminate against those that are sent here through outside programs. We welcome them with open arms and give the best we can. I believe the majority of members at any given meeting were initially introduced to A.A. just that way. The meetings were much smaller before the influx from outside programs and the rate of relapse seems higher now. Considering that many of those members may never have made it here on their own, and that would be truly tragic. An old country boy named Phil was asked, “Why do we have so many relapses in A.A.?” He replied, “Well, sometimes we pick the fruit before it’s ripe.” That’s exactly the point I wanted to make. We do often pick the fruit before it’s ripe—but we never discard it.

1 01, 2020

The Incredible Lightness of Being Sober

by Carla H.

Actually many weights have been lifted from me over time. Done mysteriously by my higher power, often in the guise of my sponsor, a co-worker, a parent, a sibling, a sponsee, a friend—even an enemy has lifted weight from my shoulders. 

The first time I felt lighter was at my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The meeting opened my eyes to the humor of sober alcoholics, the fact that everyone there was working on themselves, and there wasn’t shame or guilt in the air. 

The meeting opened my eyes to the humor of sober alcoholics

A second weight was lifted when I surrendered to the fact that I was powerless over alcohol. It happened in my therapist’s space in New York in 1981. That’s where I took the First Step the first time. Flash forward 30 years and another great weight was lifted when I said yes to my first sponsor. I was so fearful of life (and death) that I was willing to work with a sponsor for the first time in my decades of sobriety. I was terrified of people, places, and things as well as afraid I might relapse after 30 years. 

Great weights have been lifted with every step I’ve worked. At the Second Step, I wrote a letter to my four-year-old self, giving her one thing she didn’t have then. The comfort, safety, relaxation, lightness and fearlessness I included my letter to her are the things that make up my higher power today.

photo credits available upon request to [email protected]

When I let a higher power take the wheel in the Third Step, the great weight of figuring life out was lifted. I am responsible for taking action, doing the footwork, but my higher power steers. In the Fourth Step, I felt very heavy but it was all in my mind. And in the Fifth Step, the heaviness disappeared. Sharing it all with my sponsor made everything lift. I got many new perspectives on my skewed views of people, places and things and began learning how to let them go, set boundaries and use the skills and tools that my sponsor was giving me.

The Sixth Step was like taking a breather from all the spiritual and emotional exercise. And even at the Seventh Step I felt lighter, because memorizing the Seventh Step prayer was so much easier than the Third Step prayer. I let my higher power (HP) take the wheel again. That’s who/what lifts my character defects. I do the footwork, my HP does the heavy lifting.

I felt like I’d lost 50 pounds of solid rock I didn’t know I was carrying

I must admit, making a list of all the people I’d harmed felt heavy. But that was just the fear talking. Everyone has been hurt by someone and I’m a worker among workers in that arena, too. The Ninth Step relieved the greatest weight from my shoulders. It started immediately after my first in-person amends and continued for several years of living amends when, after four years of stalling, I finally made my financial amends to a former employer (who suggested I donate the money to charity). I felt like I’d lost 50 pounds of solid rock I didn’t know I was carrying. Working the Tenth Step allows me to keep the weight off. I work it daily.

The Eleventh Steep keeps me in fit spiritual condition. I meditate several times a week and I pray every day to help guard against the weight of irritation, impatience, superiority and pride. The Twelfth Step keeps me light with simplicity: my only job in life is to be of service. 

1 01, 2020

Local Focus: Hilldwellers

by Kathleen C.

Hilldwellers Monday Big Book Discussion meets 8 p.m. at 953 DeHaro Street, Potrero Hill Neighborhood House in San Francisco. Every Monday, regardless of holidays.

With a year and a half sober in 1988, I was finally looking for a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I had been in another 12-Step program but, surprise surprise, I really needed A.A. Sobriety even without a program had given me such a busy life it was hard to fit a meeting into my schedule. I was married, working full-time and had two kids. I settled on a Big Book meeting, since it was the easiest way to read Alcoholics Anonymous, which I had been told was essential to staying sober. Monday nights my husband was available to watch our five-year old twin daughters. 

That first Monday I hesitantly crept into a meeting room in a rambling brown-shingled building on the windswept peak of Potrero Hill. The Nabe, or Neighborhood House, was designed by renowned architect Julia Morgan and has spectacular views of downtown San Francisco and the Bay. 

I was handed a cup of coffee and made to feel at home, choosing a chair at the non-smokers’ table. Over the years I have been to many other meetings, but Hilldwellers is my home group. It’s an open meeting. Anybody can come, even if unsure whether they’re an alcoholic. We also have no problem signing court slips.

We are especially proud of our hospitality

We read the Big Book, one chapter or story a week, going around the table, each of us reading a paragraph or two at a time. Inspired by the reading, anyone can discuss whatever they need to talk about as it relates to sobriety. Reading the entire Big Book takes about a year. I’ve read the Big Book more than 30 times, something I would never have done on my own. It is enlightening to hear others’ interpretations of the chapters and stories.  We laugh with each other over life’s challenges and how we deal with them sober. The sense of community runs deep. Sometimes there have been four or more generations of sponsors and sponsees in the room.  We are especially proud of our hospitality. The coffee, tea and cookies are often supplemented with a home-baked cake or pie brought by someone celebrating an A.A. birthday, and we have a big Holiday Potluck every year open to everyone.

Hilldwellers has been part of my entire sobriety. It’s where I came as a fearful, desperate newcomer to Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s where I learned how to live sober and be grateful and happy about it. Because it’s a book study we are always reminded to stay in the basics. It’s the kind of home group everyone should have. We absolutely insist on enjoying life!

1 01, 2020

The Light that Was Once Dimmed

by Marcello C-B

My journey started back in 2015 when I first heard the idea in Hellenvine detox of going into a program. My mind thought it was like a camp. Over the years my behavior has caused me to go in and out of rehabs. I have used various types of drugs and alcohol has been my gateway into everything else. It’s been one hell of a self-destructive path which has not been easy to get out of. Even after growing up in the rooms of A.A. it still didn’t click. I chose the drug scene since the lifestyle was the one I gravitated towards instead of the clean and sober lifestyle. 

For years I failed myself, my family and countless friends that tried their best to sway me away from continuing the life I had built in the streets. It became clear that a change needed to happen in my life. I started to go in and out of programs in the City and each time I left or got kicked out. 

I decided there was a better life than the one I was living

Finally I started to take recovery a bit more seriously, not to mention the countless brothers I met in programs that have passed away due to overdosing because they thought they could take the same amount as they did before. Even after losing several brothers to addiction I myself returned to it a few more times. Every time I came back I felt nothing—until this last time I relapsed. A power greater than myself touched me and I decided that there was a better life than the one I was living. There was so much I was desperately looking for. 

When I was offered a unit in an SRO (Single Residency Occupancy) in SOMA/South of Market on 6th Street, an area where I had actually bought drugs and used before, I relapsed on the same day I moved in. I didn’t hesitate to throw away the 45 days I had accumulated in MSC South, St. Vincent de Paul’s Multi-Service Center. I knew I’d had reservations in the past, since I’ve never in my life worked the 12 steps of A.A. or any program thoroughly and honestly. Still I wasn’t so sure why I was so easily falling back into addiction every time! Wondering why I couldn’t get 24 hours to a week together sober.

I started to talk to my current sponsor at High Noon

I started to talk to my current sponsor at High Noon. This is the meeting I frequent most of the time which is located on 23rd & Capp Streets in the Mission District. I’ll be honest, he looked a bit like he wanted to be left alone, right, so who am I to disturb that or get caught up in a disgruntled situation. After a while of going to that meeting I gave it a shot: I asked him if he would sponsor me. To my amazement he said yes.

I started to work with this sponsor who has shown me nothing but respect, dignity and trust the whole time. He has been with me from Day 1 in recovery and my insanely many relapses in the past four months. I tell you I don’t know where I would be today if he would have dropped me. 

photo credits available upon request from [email protected]

Today and every day now I see recovery as a beautiful thing in my life. It’s got a grip on me like the dope did once, but it’s much stronger, like my faith in a higher power. I am so grateful to be sober today and i never thought those words would ever come out of my mouth. Even at 72 days clean and sober today I feel like I have a year clean and sober. My family is in my life today more than ever. I can only say they are happy I’ve finally made a full-time commitment into recovery.

The light that was once dimmed finally got a chance to shine bright again. Instead of cries and doors being closed on me, now I see smiles, laughter and open doors—as long as I continue on this path. I am really, really happy to be on this new journey and so much growth is taking place that I didn’t even know was possible. I honestly live recovery today to the fullest. 

Today I’m trying new things like meditation

Today I practice honesty, integrity, loyalty, truthfulness and self-love like gym time. Plus I’m trying new things like meditation, and soon I’ll be trying out a bit of yoga per my therapist’s suggestion. I have to take positive suggestions for a better me. Who knows? It might be something I’ve been missing in my life. I’ve changed so much about myself this past 72 days, from the music I listen to today to how I behave towards others. Today I can honestly say I love my life and all the people involved in my journey. This wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t put my faith in God’s hands from the beginning. Now I have to let him guide and shine the way on my path. My sponsor has been a big part of my recovery since he stuck with me when no one did (Thank you, Tommy).

1 01, 2019

Step 1: Powerlessness and Accountability

by Judy G.

None of us can do this alone. I always say that if I could do this alone, I wouldn’t be sitting here in this proverbial church basement at 7 AM on a Sunday morning.  We need to be accountable to each other to stay sober in mind, body and spirit.

The first step begins the beautiful, life-saving journey of recovery. “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable.” One of the most crucial words in this sentence is “we.” 

If your leg is broken you need a crutch

I always thought that Step 1 was a license to drink. I am powerless over alcohol, so what can I do? But once I admitted I am powerless over alcohol, that I am indeed an alcoholic, then I could work the steps in sequence (what a novel idea for this rebel) and learn where the power to stay sober would come from.

We sit in meetings and introduce ourselves as alcoholics. We say it out loud for everyone in the room to hear. That is the first step toward surrendering the old life that kept us in the gutter, lying to friends and family, waking up in strange places wondering where the car is, and not living the life our higher power wishes for us.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a rigorous program—a program of honesty, of showing up for meetings, of doing service, of being accountable for our behavior. Admitting we are powerless over alcohol makes it that much easier to dedicate ourselves to our recovery.

Not only are we powerless over alcohol, we come to learn that we are powerless over just about everything except our own reactions to things. We pray for serenity in every meeting because serenity helps keep us sober. We need to be free from anger and resentment to stay sober. Thinking that we can change other people’s behavior is sure way to not live in serenity.

Acceptance doesn’t mean that you like it

A program friend of mine was very upset with how her goddaughter was living. We were talking about acceptance of her goddaughter’s choices. My friend said it felt like accepting it meant that she liked it. I said acceptance doesn’t mean that you like it, it just means that you are powerless over it. That resonated and she could let go of some of the fear.

photo captions available upon request to [email protected]

The second part of Step 1 is the idea of unmanageability. When I first contemplated 12-Step recovery, I thought it was a crutch and I should be able to do this on my own. But if your leg is broken you need a crutch. If your life is broken, you need a crutch, but first you have to admit that your life is broken.

“I’m not that bad.” “I don’t drink as much as Joe.” “I’ve never had a DUI.” “I always hold down a job.”  There are so many reasons why we can’t admit that our lives have become unmanageable, but everyone has their own personal bottom. If you have ever gone to an A. A. meeting, or thought about going to an A. A. meeting, trust that little feeling in your gut that you need help. 

The Big Book talks about alcoholics as being maladjusted to life. Relief washed over me when I heard those works spoken aloud. I was not alone. There were words for how I felt. My life was unmanageable in so many ways, even though it didn’t always look that way from the outside. There is no shame in admitting that we need help. It is the first step to recovery and living the healthy life that the universe desires for us. 

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