1 03, 2020

From the Bay to Poway: Evolution of a Home Group

by Rick R. 

Being on active duty in the Navy when I got sober, it was hard for me to establish a home group since I was traveling all over the Pacific during the Vietnam War. I spent my first 13 years in A.A. on active duty attending meetings everywhere I could. 

Prior to getting sober, I spent a year and a half on the ship station at Mare Island and eventually transferred to a ship in Long Beach. There I attended my first A.A. meeting on October 15, 1969. One year later I was transferred to a ship in Alameda, Ca. and spent four-and-a-half years attending a meeting at the Five Cities Fellowship in Fremont. My final tour of duty in the Navy was Recruit Training Command in San Diego. My role involved training company commanders or drill instructors, if you like. That experience is responsible for most of the discipline I have in my life today.  I retired and bought a home just north of San Diego in the small town of Poway, California. 

In 1983 we established an Alano Club

In 1983 I was one of 25 members that established the Poway Alano Club. I eventually got in the habit of attending the 7:00 AM meeting 7 days a week. I consider the Monday through Friday Unconditional A.A. Meeting to be my home group. To be clear, I believe that every A.A. group appeals to certain members of the program. Most alcoholics will attend meetings where they feel comfortable. 

I have cycled through quite a few different groups and each of them has resolved an area of my thinking. As I grow in the program, I am drawn to meetings with a literature-based format. The Monday through Wednesday meetings are based on the Daily Reflections. The Thursday morning meeting is a Big Book study, and the Friday morning meeting is a Step and Tradition Study. 

Alano Club

We have a core group of old timers that are there every morning. Other members have varying lengths of sobriety. We go around the room in order to allow everyone a chance to share. When an out-of-town visitor shows up at a meeting, they usually share about how comfortable they feel based on the individual shares as we go around the room. 

Newcomers do not have to protect their turf

It is very gratifying to watch the progress of newcomers, overwhelmed with typical alcoholic problems, explaining them to the group. Within a month, we see their whole outlook on life change to one of reconstruction and restitution. The maturity of group input, quoting the Big Book and the 12 Steps and Traditions becomes a stronger influence than their own rationalizations. The group has a pattern of not being judgmental about a person acting or displaying symptoms of the disease of alcoholism. They patiently allow the person to assimilate values expressed in the program. Newcomers develop at their own pace. There is a constant air of ego deflation when old timers express the values of the program based on compassion and understanding. 

Our goal is to provide a safe environment where newcomers do not have to protect their turf. They can feel safe and stop rationalizing alcoholic behavior. We are blessed with a handful of elder statesmen that set a non-threatening tone that appeals to the newcomers and the occasional visitors. I feel fortunate to be a part of it. 

1 03, 2020

Leap of Faith

by Karmann R.

Click for audio by author

Someone told me eight months ago it was time to take a leap of faith. God has walked with me through some hard times in my life and put me in a job that I had been at for eight years off and on. This job came with security and benefits. I feared leaving this job, but I was dying inside because I couldn’t show my true self and skills. I was going back and forth with looking for a new job for about two years. I became so depressed that my doctor put me on antidepressants. I spoke to many people and I even asked God to send me a sign what I should do. 

This job came with security and benefits

The sign came through a voice from a person I didn’t even know who said it’s time to take that leap the faith because you’re holding yourself back. Don’t worry about the security and the benefits. God has been walking with you all this time and he’s not going to let you down now. So I did! I got a great new job with more money than I ever made in my life and I felt good, but I was still taking the meds. As time went on this new great job became the worst great job and just recently, I decided to quit, due to my health. I started having headaches and stomachaches that made me miss a lot of work. 

Right before I stopped working, things in that part of my life started to improve and the doctor helped me wean myself off the meds. But I needed out of this job. I quit and then began to regret my decision. Then things started happening that I could have never predicted. 

Things started happening that I could have never predicted

See, I was going to start school in November, and it got pushed back five times. As soon as I quit the job, my schooling was  approved and I found out I could start in two weeks. My son’s hearing aids are fully covered under a plan I didn’t know I had paid into, and my monthly rent for our apartment actually decreased as I looked for work. 

photo credits available upon request from [email protected]

Soon I have an interview working for another school district not too far from my house. I also got a call for a job working for Apple in the subjects I studied in school. The moral of the story is even though I don’t have any income currently, and I didn’t have a backup plan, I am happy. I feel so free of the burdens of failure and disappointment. Not only did I take one leap of faith but multiple ones, and I might end up with a better job then I started off with. I believe you can do anything you want in life, whether it’s stopping drinking or drugs, or finding a new place to work. You can take that leap and know there will be help to support your success while you work to achieve your goals.

1 03, 2020

Marin the Easier, Softer Way

by John W.

Click for audio by Henry Y.

How often I have heard the words “I stopped going to meetings” as an explanation for a slip, a decision to have a drink after a period of sobriety. Whether it was one drink or many did not seem to matter. Sometimes years followed the slip. Nor did it seem to matter how much time the speaker possessed before succumbing to the desire, impulse, or just plain lie which preceded the drink. I never heard anyone describe the wonderful time they had while out. Invariably they mentioned regret, remorse, frustration, horrible loss and the progression of an illness that was relentless in its effort to devour and destroy its host. No wonder many believe the most important person in the room is the newcomer. Newcomers are escaping this horror and reminding us of it and how close it lingers to each recovering alcoholic.

A painting, by an ex-con A.A. who attended meetings for 20 sober years, hangs on the wall as a reminder of how this program turns lives around

During a meditation/discussion meeting I had recently attended, the topic posed was one’s favorite, most memorable meeting. In my mind the clear choice was my local 7:00 a.m. Mill Valley Log Cabin, 7-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year, meeting where I got sober on Tennessee Valley Road. Although not a log in it, in those early days the fireplace could be used to burn logs. This fire often made the smallish “L-shaped” room quite cozy, despite the benches and hard folding chairs. A painting, by an ex-con A.A. who had graced that Log Cabin for 20-odd sober years, still hangs on the wall as a reminder of how this program can turn a life around. 

Upon the reflection promoted by the meditation aspect of the setting, I realized that while this was my favored meeting on so many levels, it was quickly challenged by the 7:00 a.m. at the Masonic Hall. This was a larger, open room, which was always cold, even in mid-summer, belying the warmth of its members.

photo courtesy of Christine R.

Then I thought of my home group at 7:00 a.m. in the Alano Club in San Rafael. I liked it because it was A.A. on the ground floor. It had the frankness of one drunk talking to another at the most basic level. If you could not find a person there who told your story, you were not trying hard enough. 

Although a bit of a longer drive for me, there was also the daily 7:00 a.m. Attitude Adjustment Hour in Fairfax, in the large room which, I was told, doubled as the City Council meeting location (46 Park Road). Great pastries in the morning, often home-made and great sobriety there. Everyone seemed to have at least 100 years, except the frequent newcomers who were welcomed like family, at least the family you wanted to be part of. My son got this caring treatment while he was there attending meetings and I could never thank those folks enough for their kindness to that stranger to them.

Then there was the 7:00 a.m. Urgent Care meeting. This smaller, more intimate group’s die-hard persistence stressed in personal, actual terms, the seriousness of their purpose. On Wednesdays, it seemed like half the drunks in Corte Madera showed up on Meadowsweet Drive.

I looked for a common thread

As I mused about the attractions of each of these meetings I looked for a common thread. I saw these meetings were all at 7:00 a.m. It dawned on me that whenever I traveled, whether New Jersey, Los Angeles or anywhere in between, I always looked for a local meeting which started around 7:00 a.m. Over the years of practicing the principles of staying sober which my sponsor had drilled into me that those folks at the 7:00 a.m. meetings, no matter the city in which they convened, had what I wanted in A.A. That was not to say similar experiences did not occur at other meetings. Of course it did. Yet I experienced a whole new attitude and outlook upon the day in front of me when I was able to start it off with a meeting. It was also what my sponsor did and what his sponsor did.

This practice worked for several decades for each of them. Who was I to knock success where before had been only failure? So 7:00 a.m. meetings remained my favorite. Focusing back on the reflection from the meditation/discussion meeting earlier, my alcoholic “monkey mind” continued to spin despite my efforts to contain it. What else was I missing?

Meadowsweet Drive

I remembered a beautiful Friday afternoon in June of 2005: high blue skies, with white clouds, a perfect afternoon to start the weekend. “Favored or memorable” had been the topic. Although my drinking had caused quite a rift in my 14-year marriage, that iceberg had been struck months ago, but I had been sober for 10 weeks. That ship would soon be righted as the collaborative divorce attorneys were working on my drinking’s wreckage. I was home earlier than my previous normal. Funny how not stopping in transit for a quick drink, or four, now got me home at a reasonable hour. My three children, none yet a teenager, were having a great time with the neighbor kids in our quiet court. All was well as I exited my car. 

The young man who spoke my name caught me off guard, so I replied “yes” without a thought. The kick-out order and subpoena he handed me did not warn me that I would never spend another night in that home I loved with the family I adored. In the span of 60 seconds I had become homeless with nowhere to go. Although sober for only 10 weeks, my sponsor had done me well by then. I am grateful that generous and loving soul is in my life. My first thought was not which bar, but what meeting I could find. 

The 6:00 p.m. at The Loft was only minutes away and had just started when I arrived. Shortly before it ended, I shared my experience. Too numb still to think, after the meeting I received in return the experience of several who had been through what I had. They added their hope for me that I too could survive as they had. They shared their strength with me when I had lost all of mine. 

I did not drink that night, nor have I had a drink since. But I know most certainly that it was because of that meeting and the fellowship which was so freely given to me, that I did not go out that night. Wearing the same wrinkled suit and tie from the day before, I was at my Log Cabin at 7:00 a.m. the next day neither bright eyed nor bushy-tailed, but sober and not hung over. I have since heard attendance at meetings described as the easier, softer way. This program and fellowship supported me well when I needed it the most. I follow those ways now, one day at a time.

1 03, 2020

Sobriety by the Bay: Grace Cathedral

by Teddy H.

Seeing the Nave in Grace Cathedral full of excited sober alcoholics was an amazing experience. This year’s Sobriety by the Bay Conference held meetings in a historic and beautiful location. Gathering with alcoholics who traveled from all over the Bay Area made for an electric atmosphere. You could feel the gratitude!

Kent C. gave a powerful share on Saturday night. It was great to be able to laugh and hear a strong message of recovery at the same time. Other speakers, including Paco D., Nichole L., and Steve B., all gave engaging shares each touching on how special it is to bring our A.A. community together. 

The nave in Grace Cathedral was full of excited sober alcoholics

We have had incredible speakers come from all over the country to share their experience, strength and hope. Clancy I., Ben W., Teresa F., Lyle P. and Bob D. are just some of the speakers who have devoted their time. The combination of dynamic speakers and A.A.’s primary purpose of helping alcoholics are the foundations for this special three-day conference in San Francisco. 

The fourth step workshop lead by Paco D. was full of both oldtimers and newcomers. Everyone came together to put pen to paper and get into action. Many members donated sponsorships to alcoholics who could not afford to get into the conference.

Grace Cathedral Labyrinth

Putting pen to paper, getting into action

This generosity allowed recovery centers in the San Francisco area to bus over newcomers to the workshop. Many of them had their first taste of working the steps this way. Some of them even left with sponsors.

The Sobriety by the Bay Committee would like to thank all the members who participated and attended the 2020 Conference. The conference was extremely successful, and due to your effort and enthusiasm, we were able to donate $3,398.00 this year to San Francisco Central Office.

Since 2017, Sobriety by the Bay has donated a total of $10,799.00. The committee is looking forward to the 2021 Conference. We will be back at Grace Cathedral and Chris R. will be the main speaker. We would love to see new faces and our hope is to continue the growth we have been having since 2017. 

If you would like to be involved with the conference, please reach out to [email protected]

1 03, 2020

Wake Up on Third

by Bree L.

Meetings in the Bayview can be few and far between, but there is one excellent speaker discussion meeting on Saturday morning. The address is 5048 Third Street at Revere. The meeting is in a brand-new well-lit building with hot coffee and a nice array of pastry from Daly City Donuts. Arrival at 8:00 a.m. is an hour before parking restrictions are enforced. The meeting recently moved to the new Salvation Army Impact Center. This new building is open during the weekdays and is dedicated to helping people with everything from legal or financial problems to everyday domestic concerns.

Third Street

A brand-new, well-lit building with hot coffee and a nice array of pastry from Daly City Donuts

Mike M., who started the meeting in 2013, says there were no A.A. meetings in the Bayview, Excelsior or the Crocker Amazon area where he lived. He was in touch with the Salvation Army on Third Street. They actively supported 12-Step meetings and offered their storefront location for after-hours meetings. Prior to that there had been a meeting at the public library on Revere and Third but that folded. As Mike says, there may be 600 plus meetings in San Francisco but few in the Bayview.

The building is easy to find and there is ample street parking. The meeting moved around a year ago from the old Salvation Army storefront a couple blocks away. It had a much smaller meeting area with a small loft for the speaker. All in all, the Salvation Army was wonderfully supportive about starting a meeting in the Bayview. A few representatives still attend the meeting as sober A.A. members. 

The speakers speak, then return for their own recovery

This is a speaker discussion meeting with two rotating secretaries who have the uncanny ability to find excellent speakers. One secretary attends West Bay Alano club searching for potential speakers. Another brings speakers from El Sobrante. Not to mention the excellent pool available in San Francisco.

There’s a strong foundation of members who regularly attend. Judith K. has been sober since 1981. She says there was one N.A. meeting in the Bayview when she moved there in 2012. She came to the Salvation Army storefront location for many years. It was makeshift, but it was a meeting and that was what she needed. 

Steve R. is also a regular on Saturday mornings. He came along with Mike to those first meetings when there were only three or four people. Steve says many who now attend started out first as speakers, since Wake Up is a speaker discussion meeting. When he was the secretary/ speaker-getter, many of the speakers came from the Hilldwellers Monday evening meeting on Potrero Hill. This is a theme with the speakers: they speak and then return for their own recovery.

The regulars also include those with single digit recovery. Brad O. discovered Wake Up after completing his 30 days. He also just completed a secretary stint. There’s Jamey R., the coffee maker extraordinaire, who supplies the delicious Top of the Hill Cafe donuts. Jamey says the timing is perfect as she comes over from Daly City. Eight o’clock in the morning works for her exercise schedule. If you are looking for meeting to start your weekend, Wake Up on Third is a great choice. Easy parking, great coffee, donuts and terrific speakers to aid you along on your path to recovery.

1 03, 2020

Carpe Diem: Tales of the City

by Dan F.

One month after the first edition of the Big Book was published back east, I was born in St. Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco in May 1939 to John Flynn and Elizabeth (Stumpf) Flynn. They were both born at the end of the 1800s: dad to two migrants from poverty in Ireland, and mom to two migrants from poverty in Germany. Mom’s dad, it turned out, was a sometimes raging alcoholic. She and her mom and her brothers abandoned him in Montana in 1920 and moved to San Francisco. In 1934 they purchased a gorgeous house at 54 Sea View Terrace in the Sea Cliff District. There were wonderful cocktail parties in the house before dad died in 1949, but I was never attracted to alcohol then. There was a bar-room attached to the Marine Room which overlooked the Golden Gate Bridge, western part of the Presidio, Bakers Beach, part of the Marin headlands, part of Mt. Tam and part of the outer Bay. 

There was no alcoholism in the immediate family. Dad’s only brother, my dear Uncle Frank, it turned out, was a maintenance alcoholic who worked for the California State Alcohol Beverage Control Board. So, I inherited alcoholism from both my German side and Irish side. I don’t have any alcoholic stories to tell from my first 22 years in San Francisco. When I left in 1961 I thought I would move back. I was born restless, irritable and discontented, but turned that into positive energy, becoming the top over-all graduate of St. Ignatius High, the top of three Catholic high schools, in 1957. 

There were wonderful cocktail parties in the house 

My first two years out of San Francisco were spent as an Army Lieutenant on a Nike Hercules anti-aircraft missile site protecting the City of Chicago from Russian bombers. Then in 1963 I studied philosophy at Georgetown University Graduate School trying to find the meaning of life. I didn’t find it, but I fell into a Human Resources career and discovered what a glass of good wine could do for me. I drank for 13 years until I crash-landed into A.A. at a noon-time meeting in Washington, D.C. near the White House on December 7, 1976. I took my last drink the next day. 

Sea Cliff

I was born restless, irritable and discontented

I returned to San Francisco frequently over the years with my first wife, second girlfriend, second wife, and now my third wife of 30 years. We always stayed at the Laurel Inn at Presidio and California and have fond memories of our visits. However, my last brother died three years ago and the family house has been sold. Each year more of my classmates passed away, so my wife Kate and I haven’t been back for a few years. My first primary school, Notre Dame des Victoires, is planning a reunion in March for all graduates from the 1950s of the co-ed grade school and girls high school, but with no family left in San Francisco, I may not be up to taking another 12-hour flight. 

The last time I was in the City I spoke at the Waterfront Meeting one Sunday evening at the Palace of Fine Arts. I learned that Judge O’Day, the father of the girl I took to my senior prom, turned out to be an alcoholic who got sober in A.A. He had helped get me a job in City Hall in 1957, and started Serenity House not far from USF for alcoholic priests. I have also spoken at Serenity House and enjoyed its welcoming atmosphere.

Today I do service

Our life is mostly in Europe now. I have been invited to speak and lead a Life Reflections workshop at ITALYPAA 2020 in Bologna, Italy at the end of April or the beginning of May. I continue to serve as tech host of online voice meetings out of Europe for the “First164” A.A. group. When asked to be a nominee for the General Service Board of Trustees for English language A.A. in Europe seven years ago, I prepared a service CV. I wasn’t selected, but the interview process was helpful in my spiritual journey.

Today I do service for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) headquarters in Brussels as a volunteer teacher, translator and editor. More recently, I published an international newsletter for the Quakers. Life is full for my wife and me now. We are grateful for our health, sobriety and community. Carpe diem! It’s the only day we ever have—today.

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