I’m pretty sure “someone” is looking out for all of us, if we care to acknowledge there’s a higher power we can tap into. I don’t mean to be grouchy, but I don’t completely agree with that saying – I’ve seen plenty of alcoholics who are struggling. What does it mean that someone is looking out for them? They aren’t dying? What about those that are dying?
It’s easy to think that someone is looking out for me personally, because I can’t even believe I ever made it to A.A. It’s a huge blessing. And I have certainly heard plenty of stories in the rooms about people who have survived insane car wrecks and multiple suicide attempts. But for every one of us who survives and gets sober, how many others are out on the street or on the bathroom floor? How many are driving into a ditch or hitting others with their cars?
I stopped growing emotionally when I started drinking
Coming at this saying from a different angle, I feel it invites comparison between children and alcoholics. And though alcoholics (this one, at least) lack the innocence of children, there are similarities.
It took me a while to realize that I stopped growing emotionally when I started drinking. The moment I felt the relief of that first drink, that liquid courage, I stopped needing to find my own source of courage. When I drank to relieve stress, I stopped learning to seek stress relief in exercise and meditation (or doing less!). When I drank “socially,” which was actually anti-socially, I didn’t need to learn how to manage social situations, how to get along with others, or how to leave at a reasonable hour.
It’s astounding to me how many examples of stunted growth I have. I couldn’t dance without drinking – I didn’t learn how to be comfortable in my own body. Internally, I reacted to others at work in a juvenile way. Because I was too terrified to actually confront anyone, I gossiped about the people I feared. I couldn’t communicate with others. I couldn’t really stand other people. Toward the end, I couldn’t stand myself. It was thoughts of suicide that drove me to get help which eventually led to A.A.
Basically stuck at a much younger emotional age
In A.A., working with a sponsor, I started to see how immature I was. In working the 4th and 5th steps I saw how I held grudges, obsessed about what others thought of me, plotted revenge in my head, fell prey over and over again to my own fears, and was basically stuck at a much younger emotional age. Looking at my character defects and taking responsibility for my actions has let me grow up a little. I’m a work in progress.
One of the greatest teachers and joys in A.A. has been working with other alcoholics. Seeing another person’s eyes light up as they take hold of the program, laughing with them over our crazy behavior, sharing what worked: these are all things I never dreamed of, and they are one of the greatest satisfactions of being in A.A.
Now, I suppose the “someone” in the saying could be me and possibly you. As the A.A. saying goes, “I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there. And for that I am responsible.” Obviously, I’m a tiny part of this thing, but I and thousands like me are looking out for alcoholics who are ready to try this program. I suppose that is someone after all.
Step 2: Came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
A new year with perfect vision. “I can see clearly now the rain is gone, I can see most obstacles in my way” with the help of the steps and my sponsor. If my words can be of service I’m happy to reach someone.
To me the beginning of Step 2 means came to a meeting. Came to: woke up. Came to believe there’s something or someone out there (or even inside us) that could restore us from the despair of alcohol and drug addiction to being happy, joyous and free? From powerlessness to letting go of our fears, we walk into the sunlight of the spirit.
This is what Step 2 promises: hope
This is what Step 2 promises: hope. I’m living proof of that. Six months of my late teens to early twenties were spent in an assortment of psych wards in two states, thanks to being under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Maybe some of that is bipolar disorder which exists in our family’s genetics. And alcoholism didn’t help. I had dropped out of college by then, and was completely lost and drifting. These episodes brought me to California in the late seventies, determined not to go back to the psych ward.
At 21 I had left behind Albert, my sweet two-year-old son from my first marriage. I made the decision to surrender custody to his father but it left me broken-hearted and gave me more reasons to drink myself into oblivion. A family tragedy brought me to A.A., but not right away.
My brother was almost killed at the hands of my violent, alcoholic boyfriend. The knife came very close to my brother’s heart. I felt I had to choose between the two men, and I chose my boyfriend who later became my husband. I can’t describe the crippling guilt and shame I lived with for so many years. Together we drank up and down the Coast, from San Francisco to San Diego and back. We stayed in run-down hotels, complete with cockroaches, drinking until we passed out. I felt like a fugitive – on the run with a would-be murderer and cast out of the family I loved so much.
And we had a son together. My twisted thinking was that this child would make up for losing Albert, and this time I wouldn’t lose custody. After five or so years of dragging Billy along with us on our drunken adventures, we settled for a one bedroom apartment. This was a huge step up for us. And I got a look at the lives we were leading, though still managing to hold down jobs.
Gifts of the program
I came into recovery through Al-Anon. I told myself I was through with drinking, and now I could focus on getting my husband sober. After several hundred Al-Anon meetings, I realized I had one finger pointing at my husband and three fingers pointing back at me. I started attending A.A. meetings.
That husband never got sober and eventually died of cirrhosis. We had divorced by that time and I lost track of him. A social worker called me to tell me he’d died and was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery. As far as working Step 2, I believe the principle behind it is humility. I work the step by praying and meditating. I have a “God jar” that I use to place things or people I need to turn over.
A postscript: I have a continuing relationship with my first son Albert and attended his wedding. My second son Billy and I also have a very close relationship. And I’ll be attending my nephew’s wedding this March. I’ve just retired from the school district and was able to buy a little cottage up near Mt. Shasta. I was happy to be asked to contribute to the Point at a meeting yesterday. All these are the gifts of the program. I continue to come to meetings, I continue to believe, and I hope you find the sanity and health I’ve found in these rooms—beyond your wildest dreams.
The Big Book implies a vital spiritual experience is necessary for alcoholics to face and be rid of the obsession to drink (p. 27). Yet paradoxically we are told that belief was not necessary to accomplish this miracle—we need only become willing to believe (p. 46). I found it wasn’t necessary to define God before doing the 12 Steps, but I began to see the result of my willingness to believe several months afterward. I experienced a release from the deadly mental obsession that had plagued me for nearly 30 years. My willingness to believe came before doing the steps, but my belief came afterward.
Pouring whiskey into milk
I had been released. I had experienced the personality change sufficient to recover from alcoholism. It took about a year before the release took place for me. Program language explains I had a spiritual awakening (slowly) rather than a spiritual experience (suddenly) as mentioned in Appendix II (p. 567).
The Big Book does not say I must understand God, but it speaks of God as we understood Him in Steps 3 and 11. This idea simply means we each may entertain different views of a higher power. Although I may not understand completely, I can see results—we have over two million sober alcoholics in A.A. Many of us claim to be saved from the pit. Sam Shoemaker, Bill Wilson’s Oxford Group mentor, thought Step 2 was not theological but evidential. The evidence of our willingness is in the meetings.
Not theological but evidential
As I studied the Big Book I realized the authors used certain words in a unique way. One of these is “sanity.” Sanity, in Big Book-speak, is when an alcoholic can see and act on the truth concerning the matter of drink. Alcoholic insanity is when they cannot.
Here are two examples. Alcoholic insanity: Jim pouring whiskey into milk was “plain insanity” (p. 37). Alcoholic sanity: Fitz Mayo “couldn’t drink even if he would” (p. 57). I believe I am—as are we all—endowed with a powerful truth that can override the false ego which tells us to drink. We just have to be willing to listen to it. The Big Book tags it as “The Great Reality deep within” (p. 55). Some call this spirit, soul, overself or God Self. The true self has the ability to encompass and overcome the false ego-driven self. However, this blessing is manifested only so long as we remain in fit spiritual condition (p.85).
No longer in my emotional vocabulary
It has become A.A. cliché that an alcoholic cannot drink on the truth—only on a lie. My false self usually believes what it wants to believe in spite of anything standing in the way of a drink. It has the unique capacity to believe a lie, even when it knows it’s a lie. For me, alcoholic insanity resulted in 24 unsuccessful years of “quitting” forever.
Today, drinking is no longer in my emotional vocabulary. Seemingly gone, as the Tenth Step promises, “the problem has been removed” (p. 85). Someone wrote, “The better I understand God, the less I know God.” Came to believe is a decision of the heart, requiring willingness, rather than of a conclusion of the mind.
Ursula Le Guin called home an imaginary place. “Home, imagined, comes to be. It is real, realer than any other place, but you can’t get to it unless your people show you how to imagine it—whoever your people are. They may not be your relatives … They are your human community.” Join us and share stories for February about coming home, coming to, and coming to believe in ourselves again.
From the depths of despair to being happy, joyous and free? Bara from Sunset 11’ers on Judah Street talks about redemption we used to think was impossible. But it happens more than most people think. Jym went from being drunk as a lord to finding a home group that worked for him. And met Bree.
Rick wasn’t sure what he asked for guidance: Possibly someone or something looking out for little children and alcoholics. Claire muses how this might happen and breaks down the work in progress. Three other members from San Francisco and Marin, who each like different poetry styles, transition from the brink of hell (John W.) to the grace of memory (Michelle B.) and the infinite beauty of nature (Forrest C.). In A Decision of the Heart, Robert describes the personality change when sanity returns after 30 years of mental obsession. Then just for fun our cartoonist this month, John P., imagines Sylvester the Cat finding help at Birds Anonymous. If home is where the heart is, the rooms were where many of us found it again.
Went to see a Dr. John show at Battery Park in New York on July 4th, drunk as a lord. I went to buy a tall boy and ran into a policewoman working the bar for charity. She was the prettiest cop I’d ever seen. She looked better in her uniform than any of New York’s finest. It fit her perfectly. I started rapping a bit with her and she fell for it, hook, line and sinker.
I hassled her and asked, “When are you off?” Then I gave her my number and said, “I want to see you again.” Meanwhile her sergeant gave me a look that said leave her alone, so I made a quick escape. I never, ever expected to hear from her, but she called. Our next date was to an arty movie. I can’t remember the movie’s name, but her name was Sylvia. That was the last and only time she saw me drunk.
I’d been quitting my drinking and failing for a while. In New York, at that time, you couldn’t buy liquor on a Sunday, so I’d buy a fifth of tequila on Saturday night. The shopkeeper would say, “You know we’re closed tomorrow,” as a warning to stock up. I’d buy my liquor in different stores, so they wouldn’t know how much I was drinking.
Jimi had no Y, so I traded in my I for his Y
There were many episodes where I tried to stop but always went back. But when I met Sylvia, the cop, that was it. I had no interest in drinking from that day on. I stopped and went to meetings religiously. When I had about two weeks of sobriety, I saw that same shopkeeper on the avenue. He waved me over wanting me to buy something, but I told him I wasn’t drinking. Guess he thought I’d be back as in the past.
The first year I went to a men’s group. It became my home group. They met once a week and that first year I went to 51 of those meetings. Figure I went to 360 meetings that first year. The one time I missed was when we went out of town. Sylvia made sure I went to meetings. She’d take me and wait outside.
Collect a couple numbers every meeting and call that person to tell them thanks
Sylvia was a significant harbinger of my future sobriety. We got along wonderfully for a long time and then we didn’t. It was one of those come here, go away relationships. We’re still friends but she has her life back east now and I have mine.
Two years ago, I had an aortic dissection. It’s a miracle I’m still alive. UCSF saved my life. I had been in a blackout out on my floor for three days with a broken shoulder earlier this year and my neighbor found me. I had surgery and am now better.
Today I don’t attend as many meetings as in the past, but I still go. My highest week was 16 meetings including Al-Anon and A.A. I sponsor people. I’m not a helicopter sponsor but I collect a couple numbers every meeting and call that person to tell them thanks for giving me their number.
It’s not what I did but what I do today
My professional life is more interesting than my sober life. I had a weekly radio show as a rock journalist and did a bunch of specials. I did about 60 shows a year, writing and producing. I hung out with rock stars mostly through my work and as a “harp player” (playing my harmonica). I’ve played with many of the best rock musicians and interviewed them as well. I took my name Jym in honor of Jimi Hendrix. Jimi had no Y, so I traded in my “I” for his “Y.”
My sobriety date is September 9, 1999 (9-9-99). As my son now tells me about my drinking, “That’s what you did, but not what you do today.” This keeps me in the present. Today I’m in an entirely new place and thankful.
I watch the ocean, Not a wave folding the same, White foam marbled swirls.
As hard as I look I cannot see tomorrow Thank you for today.
Set free your worries We cannot see tomorrow Just live for today.
I watch patiently The horizon calls my soul I know you are here.
The 5th Floor by Michelle B.
On my way to 5th floor memory care Where my mom continues to lose her memory I get to meet all the residents I feel like I’m in a John Steinbeck novel
Mac walks the halls He wanders into Paul’s room I hear Paul yelling at Mac Get out, get out, it’s my room I go and guide Mac Out of the room and down the hallway With the help of another resident Elsie
Elsie has a boyfriend at the last place she stayed He calls to talk with her She tells the staff She will call him tomorrow She can’t be bothered
My Mom tells everyone who visits She lives in a shopping center In her room They all try on her hats She tells them just wear one And you will want to buy one
We run into Tom who is new He seems lost I ask him if he is looking for his room He tells me “I’m just looking for something real”
Beautiful Faye perfectly coiffed hair and make up Only wants to wear skirts no pants She looks like Debbie Reynolds She calls out from the living room Miss Miss Miss She calls everyone Miss
Bobbi looks after my Mom They are friends They hold hands She tells me when my Mom falls asleep at the table She uses a knife to bang on the table to wake my Mom
In the dining room while everyone is eating their lunch I ask each one at the table What is your favorite dance Faye says, the waltz Bobbie says the swing Lynn says Country Western
Then I ask what is your favorite movie? Faye says Gone with the Wind Then everyone says Gone with the Wind
I ask what is your favorite music?
Faye says, the waltz Bobbie says the swing Lynn says Country Western
Birdie is sweet She is from Ireland I think she is my favorite One day she was upset I asked the staff why she was upset They said someone sat in her place at lunch
She went to her room and didn’t want to eat Sitting in “her seat” Is important to her It might be one of the few things she remembers
My Mom is sitting with several ladies On the back deck having lunch Everyone is wearing a hat and has their nails painted bright beautiful colors When we are leaving to go back to her room She thanks one of the workers for the nice party
June is in her wheel chair She is tiny She holds my hand Sometimes she smiles She notices the heart-shaped lanyard I am wearing She likes it saying it will attract a man
My Mom likes her apartment It is her world now I fill her room with things she loves Trying to make it feel like her home Poetry books Her art Albums of her life Photographs of her second husband Tony Her nine sisters Her kids and grandchildren Hats Scarfs
Every Thursday Is non-alcoholic Happy hour I found the only bottles of non-alcoholic red wine At the Safeway down the road I bought all 6 bottles
The ladies sit outside The staff serves their drinks And hors d’oeuvres It’s like a scene from a 50’s movie
She asks me where I am living Tells me I can get an apartment there too She asks me if anyone is living in her home I say no
In the living room everyone is watching the news depressing I ask why the news The staff says because they are all waiting for wheel of fortune to come on the TV.
My mom has been leaving us for so many years Now she needs to be here In a place where she is safe Not in the home she loves I can’t tell her we have to sell her home to pay for this new home
My mom has been leaving us for so many years Now she needs to be here In a place where she is safe Not in the home she loves I can’t tell her we have to sell her home to pay for this new home
In the living room there is dance music playing Joan is dancing by herself She signals me to come and dance with her We dance and giggle Everyone is the room is smiling and laughing
Everyday I’m filled with sadness Letting go of my Mom Letting all the staff become her new family I’m cleaning out her home Getting ready to put it on the market I feel like the enemy
This is the new world For all these lovely people Who had lives Ted told me he was an engineer Thelma worked for the County Beth used to make jams and jellies Connie was a nurse Elsie was a dancer Beth has two daughters A gathering of lost memories
A Big Rock
by John W.
He awoke as the new day dawned
To face his life or death choice
He had bottomed out so long ago
or was it yesterday?
The simplicity of his decision,
belied the difficulty to see it through
The boulder was large
Easily as tall as he it seemed
Its surface smooth, like
A big rock, a perfect sphere, he
called it sobriety
Each morning it was the same
just he and his rock
With measured step, he assumed his
The heat from hell in the
depths behind him
Already provoked his fear of
As was his custom when he
started his task anew each day
His thoughts turned first to family
To a loyal and supportive spouse
he had driven away
To those beautiful children he
Over time he had learned to
recall his past without regret
For he knew now he could alter none
In those days long gone, his will
alone had not been enough.
His disease had been too cunning,
too baffling, too powerful.
As she started to push her sphere
The strength surged within her,
she loved that feeling
She loved it more than her life,
for it had saved her,
It had snatched her from the brink
Nor had her higher power
Even when she went out, even
when she had slipped.
For she had remembered to ask
And she had spoken the word thy
will not mine
Was it the sun that was high
overhead, she did not know.
Did it even matter she thought
as her goal was in sight
Still she toiled hard, as day
was becoming night
Always pushing, pushing that rock
up the hill of today
As if on cue she heard them, the voices.
First softly, then building to
She knew each by their unique
She recalled their phone calls
and visits, as if they were yesterday.
Some had met the challenge, she
smiled while she pushed,
But she remembered too, those
who had shortcut the steps.
The dissonance bespoke their failure,
For she had known their hell
and wanted it no longer.
Still they pushed their rocks
upward, their goal was at hand
As the sun began to set, they
doubled their efforts
This day they had each escaped their
This day they had each tapped the
divine, to live not die
Elated for this day well-lived
Exhausted, for each had labored
To move their rock, and to help
Who were moving theirs, to the top
of the hill of today.
Each had indeed earned their chip
for their feat
In the peace of contentment
Each collapsed in the bosom of their
Their dreams were bliss, their sleep
She awoke as the New Day dawned
Just her and her rock, she
called it sobriety
The heat from hell in the depths
She pushed her rock up the hill
of today, one step at a time
When we are born, we come into the world perfectly innocent and untainted. From that time on, we are influenced by everything we experience in life, good and bad. If we are loved and nurtured, we may develop feelings of trust and safety. Or if, as it sometimes happens, we get our hand slapped when we pick up something from the coffee table, it may trigger an attitude of defiance and resistance. These two opposites are just examples of the conflicts we encounter in a lifetime. We are conditioned to think and react in a certain way as a result of the influences we are exposed to.
The biggest hurdle we must face in our search
Newcomers in Alcoholics Anonymous, and even some seasoned veterans, often find it hard to grasp a concept of “a power greater than ourselves.” This is probably the biggest hurdle we must face in our search for a happy and meaningful life. Once we come to terms with the concept of a higher power, it becomes much easier to proceed with the rest of the program. The word God means something different to just about everyone having difficulty with it, and if God alone was the answer, why do priests and ministers come to A.A .for solutions? Why not just go to church?
A.A. is here for all alcoholics that want to get sober regardless of their approach to faith. Anyone that thinks that we are trying to convert someone into a religion or out of a religion is simply mistaken. The Big Book and the 12 and 12 have many comments about this, but unfortunately old conditioning, bolstered by the ego can block some from breaking down the resistance. Some members may fake it to appear to be going along with the program, but never getting results. If we denied the possibility of a God of the different religious groups, they could not have A.A. available to them. And if we made it a requirement that we picked one of those beliefs, atheists would be left out.
Everyone finds their own brand of enlightenment
If a person believes that s/he doesn’t have a higher power, I might remind him/her that alcohol was more powerful, or else why did they need A.A? With this in mind, I might suggest they may only need to find a power greater than alcohol to begin with. Then, as it says in the 12 and 12, “To acquire it, I had only to stop fighting and practice the rest of A.A.’s program as enthusiastically as I could.” As I look back on it now, I realize that was exactly the way I found my way through the dilemma. I find absolutely no conflict in any approach that others discover on their own. I only hope they practice the rest of the program with enthusiasm. What it seems to imply is: if we trust the process and follow the suggestions, we will find a suitable understanding of a power greater than ourselves we can do business with. I’m still not sure what or who (if you like) I am asking for guidance, but I’m open minded about these things.
I must let everyone find their own brand of enlightenment, without prejudging anyone else’s approach. I believe that changing my perception was what put me firmly on the road to recovery. The only thing that I must resist is my ego, and I do that by following sound and unselfish principles. Many of these are discussed in A.A. meetings. It’s not that complicated. If I don’t get caught up in debate and just follow the simplest suggestions, it all works out just fine. Therefore, Step Two is the rallying point for all of us. “Whether agnostic, atheist of former believers, we can stand together on this Step” (12 Steps and 12 Traditions, p..33).
Hope the family and you are well. I’ll be keeping all of you in my prayers … As for publishing my artwork, it’s quite all right with me. Just to let you know I’ve borrowed the idea from a coloring book … put my own little spin on it. I’m glad you all enjoyed it so much … Well, that’s all for now—God Bless!