1 09, 2020

The Principle of Justice

by John W

Audio by John B

Whining quite a bit after my arrival in A.A.’s rooms, I felt this place was not for me. If those around me would merely heed my sage counsel, acknowledging the font of my wisdom, all would be well. As they did not, the dilemmas they confronted were predictable. My problems grew in frequency and complexity. However, I didn’t believe they were related to drinking. I saw only the penalty received, the reward denied and the justice being thwarted. Ironically, I learned the principle of justice through the steps of the program that saved my life.

After the tsunami began to ebb

In my case, after the tsunami of my bottom began to ebb, with sobriety and a sponsor I tackled the pesky unmanageability part of Step One. I was still raging about how unjust my circumstances had become. My sponsor asked questions about my drinking past. As tales of the escapades seeped out, more had indeed been revealed. 

First, there had been the teenage afternoon at Ocean Beach on The City’s fringe with my high school chums and several cases of beer. One moment I was near the top of a cliff on the beach, the next in the sand twenty feet below. That fall might have easily broken the neck of an accomplished climber, much less the inebriated kid in a blackout. 

Next came the story of the freshly minted college grad in a new (to me at least) Volkswagen Bug, driving home from the restaurant’s swing shift one evening after two too many at the establishment’s bar. I missed the freeway exit in a blackout, swerved into oncoming traffic and a head-on collision. Miraculously, bent metal was my only immediate physical consequence. My drunk’s rationalizations stretched my sponsor’s tolerance. He deftly called me on my BS. 

I tackled the pesky unmanageability part

As he then made exact the true nature of my wrongs, I began to understand justice. I should not have attained the age of twenty. Instead I deserved to be on a cold slab before weeping parents identifying their son, lost in a freak fall on a beautiful summer afternoon. Or the crashed VW Bug a decade later that brought my father to tears upon inspection with his son, the drunk driver. Dad saw repair was not an option given the extent of the damage sustained. What justice was served by my survival—simply my living to tell about it?

I survived calamities to be able to share the experience with the next guy coming in

I do not have the answers to these existential questions. I know only what happened to me. This is a personal story. Its causes and effects, while likely also familiar to others, differ from person to person. Yet those that came before me promised that no matter how far down I had sunk, my experience could benefit others. In that promise I found justice. Here was the reward I had cried for. I survived calamities and the wreckage of my past to be able to share the experience with the next guy coming in the doors. I knew how to help him stay sober through it. 

My wreckage weighed heavily on one side of the scales of justice. By admitting my faults to my fellows and turning them to a useful purpose, I began to tip the scales back towards level. One day at a time, I am justly rewarded by A.A., which gives me the daily reprieve of my life. I live, in return for my willingness and action to help others in sobriety.

1 09, 2020

Recovery Elevator

by Emily W

Author’s Audio

On November 17, 2018, I hit my bottom on a trip to New York City. I knew it was coming, but I was shocked it came so quickly. I was only 24 and thought I had more time.

I offended everyone at the place I was staying in Hell’s Kitchen, so I started walking. I had a friend in Brooklyn but she wasn’t answering her phone. Still drunk, I wandered through neighborhood after neighborhood waiting for her call.

While walking, I searched for “alcohol” in the Apple podcasts app. One of the top results was a show called Recovery Elevator with the tagline “Quit drinking now!” I spent the next few hours listening to episode after episode, crying, relating. There were people like me out there! Those first few episodes of Recovery Elevator gave me hope that I could stop drinking.

I offended everyone where I was staying in Hell’s Kitchen

The trifecta of Recovery Elevator, weed and psychedelics was my solution for my first few alcohol-free months. At the time, it seemed like an incredible solution. I didn’t have to think of myself as the “A-word.” The only thing that had to change about my life was the contents of my cup. Using the trifecta, I got through holiday parties, Vegas trips, birthdays, après skis, group vacations and nights out. I even (sort of) had fun. I spent my remaining time grinding at work, which removed any space I had to ask questions.

Six months into my alcohol-free experiment, the winds of favor changed at work. I watched the promotion I obsessed over crumble in front of me. The trifecta stopped working. I had no one to talk to. All of my friends seemed perfect and content, their Plan A going smoothly as my Plan D fell through. I had a mental breakdown. Completely desperate, I took three months off and went to outpatient rehab.

I was desperate enough

I was desperate enough to pay $7000 a month to mindfully make fruit salads, attend process groups, and pee in a cup. But I was stubborn about A.A. I didn’t understand why other people needed to be involved in my sobriety. Recovery Elevator told me what I needed to hear about sobriety from the comfort of my own home. My problem wasn’t alcoholism — I hadn’t had a drink in over six months! My problem was feelings and I didn’t think A.A. could help me there.

The only outpatient program graduates were people working the steps

My attitude started to change when I noticed the only outpatient program graduates were people working the steps. In group therapy, it was clear who was active in A.A. Members could take a step back, look at the good and the bad, and hold hope that tomorrow would be a better day. With less than a month left, I finally got desperate enough to give A.A. a try.

Today, the program is my solution. It’s not as easy as the trifecta. I have to stay sober, show up on time, answer my phone, ask for help, honor commitments and occasionally think of others before myself. The program takes honesty, dedication and hard work. But when times are tough I can honestly say A.A. works. There is so much power in the simple, but humbling act of admitting to another human being that you are an alcoholic.

1 09, 2020

Life in the Time of COVID

by John Mc (South San Francisco)

Don’t know about you, but this A.A.-er is in full COVID-19 fatigue. I’m sad and tired for all the people dying, for all the people suffering, and definitely tired of the mask debate. We wear seat belts to save lives, right? We can’t drive drunk, right? (Although many of did and do.) Those are government-ordered laws and nobody’s throwing their self-righteous arms up in the air about them. I’ll get off my soap box now, but I grow weary of sitting with these kinds of thoughts in isolation. Of sitting still with my eyes closed and breathing deep breaths to control my anxiety. Of not making plans, but schedules to keep me on track so I know what day it is.

I came into the program a hopeless, broken man who wanted to end it all in an overly dramatic way (cue the violins)

In my thirty-plus years in the program, I have acquired the tools to know how to live one day at a time, how to breathe, how to relax, how to pray, how to meditate, and how to make conscious contact with a higher power. No small feat, being as I came into the program a hopeless, broken man who wanted to end it all in an overly dramatic way (cue the violins). 

Over the years I learned how to practice the principles of the twelve steps and traditions in all my affairs. It’s quite remarkable, really, knowing my history with alcohol and the kind of hell I crawled out of to get sober. In A.A., little by little, I learned how to change my entire life from one of hopelessness and regret to one of service and freedom from fear, even in the face of a pandemic.

Now I go to meetings on Zoom in different states and in different countries

Now I go to meetings on Zoom. I go to meetings in different states and in different countries. What I see throughout the world, throughout this pandemic that touches every one of us, sober or not, is that people are still, miraculously, coming to A.A. and staying or getting sober. We still count our days, celebrate our A.A. milestones, and share our experiences, our strengths, our hopes, our fear and our sadness. We transform not only our lives, but those around us. In this day and age of magnificent change (and this alky hates change) A.A. remains the one constant in my rapidly changing world. 

We transform our lives

It’s the one place where the virus doesn’t shut me down or stop me from achieving my primary purpose. Today, I can go on a rant, mostly a mild one, as I don’t want to get too agitated (my A in HALT). I feel my feelings, witness the incredulity of this pandemic, and know that no matter what I’m going through, I don’t have to drink over any of it. Today, I know that this, too, shall pass and one day we’ll look back on this time and think it’s a miracle we got through it. The great thing is that we don’t do this alone. Just knowing there are still so many of you trudging the road with me is a comfort. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And please keep coming back!

1 09, 2020

Closer to Redemption

by Marcello C-B

Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 

I love the first passage to Step Nine in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 83 of this chapter. Good judgment, a careful sense of timing, courage, and prudence—these are the qualities we shall need when we take Step Nine. When I started this journey into recovery I had no idea or concept of courage or what qualities I even had in me at all or what it really meant to me. Like many of the words in the Big Book Alcoholic Anonymous, the idea of apologizing to people I had wronged was just an enigma. It was not part of my agenda. “Why would I do that?” I said to myself. But I also didn’t know about the steps or if they would even work for a special case like myself. 

I always thought I would just put out what they wanted to hear or keep the raw stuff out because it simply ain’t any of their business. I was just not cooperating till I heard the phrase “Surrender to win.” I didn’t quite understand that and plus I didn’t want anybody to know my deepest fears, secrets and faults. I felt embarrassed about what I had been through with people I had wronged.

My sponsor said he would help me as long as I was honest with him

This time around I decided that if I wanted freedom from myself and the alcohol I needed to go into the steps fully committed. Not how I had before, half-assed like everything in my life in the past. Especially considering the people I hold dear to me, as well as the future people to come into my life. So I started each step to the best of my ability knowing that the first step was the only one I was going to be able to do one hundred percent, right.

I made a conscious decision to do the rest of the steps and give it the best Marcello has to offer, giving my all to my recovery. That being said I started to put in one hundred percent right off the bat. Once I fully committed myself to the first step it wasn’t hard to follow through with the rest of them. I continued to do right by not cheating people or lying to them. Especially myself, of course.

My sponsor had said he would help me as long as I was honest with him. I prayed to a power greater than myself because I remembered landing at Parnassus hospital, not once but twice in just a couple of months. I wandered through the streets of San Francisco drunk, high and broken and all in my head all the time. I just couldn’t think of going back to that vicious cycle all over again. It was a very painful experience that I dare not to repeat again. 

I started with a commitment to give myself fully to God and the 12 Steps with my sponsor, with an open mind. Of course I also looked back at how my life had spiraled down from when I started using at age nine. I discovered drugs and went into a using frenzy, and my problems with my family and friends started to get bigger. My addiction drove me to do unimaginable things for a substance that had controlled me till I finally surrendered September 17, 2019. So when my sponsor said to me I’ll wait for you till you’re done testing, he meant it. To me that meant a lot.

My faith was shaken

Telling him bits and pieces of my life while maintaining the truth in each story, I started to build trust with him that I never thought I could have with anybody. All my past sponsors had either used what I told them to their advantage in order to try to get with girls I knew or talked to other people about what I had told them. My faith in sponsors was shaken and the trust was not there for anybody even if they seemed legit to other people, it just wasn’t there for me, period. I didn’t want to feel vulnerable on all fronts. 

After this sponsor shared his story with me, I began to open up more to him. Doing the steps one by one allowed me to see the real me, a person that is used to doing what’s right and who is accountable, truthful and well-mannered. 

After I followed through with the first eight steps, my horizons opened up like a flower in full bloom and I was ready to proceed with Step Nine. I began to make direct amends to the people I had harmed when I could without putting myself or them in harm’s way. I also wrote letters because there were a few people that I knew it was not possible to go near. 

This has been an out-of-body experience for me to be able to learn more about my capabilities as a “retired” alcoholic. Now I am able to walk up to people I had stolen from or hurt, face them and tell them the truth. I pay back places I stole from. 

I wrote letters because there were a few people I knew it was not possible to go near

Having truthful conversations with people today is like waking up from the nightmare I used to waste my life in. I could have done far more by staying on the course of truthfulness and righteousness from the beginning. Today I am grateful to have an opportunity to live life the way it was intended for me. I don’t put myself in situations where I need to lie or hide from anyone. I’m not going to say my life is perfect, but it sure is progressing in the right direction. 

Step Nine to me has been a true eye-opener. I have made many wrongs into rights. If I stay committed to this way of life the sky is the limit, the way my aunt tells me. I’m grateful for her words. First and foremost I know I owe my family an amends for my past behavior, no matter what. I’m not afraid to look them in the eye and tell them the truth like I once couldn’t do. For me Step Nine is a work in progress. There are days I bump into people I have wronged in the past. It gives me a perfect opportunity to make an amends on the spot without any type of rehearsal of what I am going to say so I can look good. 

One thing I can say about this step is it has cleared the way for future relationships with friends, family, and girlfriends without any type of hidden agenda. The wreckage has been cleared. Today I continue in my journey where I have 11 months clean and sober. I continue to work the steps and go to meetings. I have a sponsor and a sponsee that depend on me just like I depend on them. Thank you God for putting the right people in my life to guide me in the path to righteousness. The only way we keep what we have is by giving it away. 

1 09, 2020

Bonnie’s Story: A Self-Inflicted Life

Audio by Kathleen C

by Bree L.

 At eighteen I started drinking while at San Jose State. There was a party with a big punch bowl. I drank avidly, blacked out, passed out and was carried out. I knew I wanted to do it again. Ironically, neither of my parents were drinkers, but both my brother and I became alcoholics. He died of the disease.

In 1965, I got a job in the lab of a major San Francisco hospital. This is where I did most of my drinking. It worked for me. I had trouble connecting and alcohol did the trick. In the Big Book there’s a saying, “Alcohol gave me wings to fly and then it took away the sky.” That hit me. 

On Friday afternoons at the lab, we’d begin drinking and then make our way over to our favorite bar. After six months working at the lab, two friends and I decided to buy around-the-world airline tickets, good for one year. They returned after two months, but I continued for the next ten. Alcohol was still in the fun stage, with only occasional problems. All this time while I was quitting and traveling and returning to work my drinking escalated. At one point I moved to Greece for a year. Soon after Greece, I hit a wall. I didn’t have a place to live but house-sat, cat sat, or couch surfed. I was in the habit of drinking until I passed out. 

I turned on my radio so I couldn’t hear the voices in my head

One day, I was getting ready for work when I felt a physical punch, like someone hit me in the gut. I realized I was an alcoholic but didn’t know anything about alcoholism. I didn’t consider suicide but didn’t see any way out and figured I’d drink until I died. I was drinking every day. I’d pull the cork out of the bottle and drink until I passed out. I had no boyfriend, didn’t get along with my mother, and had huge resentments. I was disconnected from co-workers. My insides and outsides had no connection.

My father died, which I saw as a total betrayal of the only person who loved me. I went to my boss and told him I was leaving. I went home to two more years of drinking. A wall poster at Langley-Porter announced a meeting for those who had problems with alcohol. I went and was the only person who showed up. We sat face to face, absolute strangers. He recommended A.A. I called a friend who wanted her boyfriend to go to A.A., so the three of us went to a Saturday night meeting. It was horrifying. The speaker was dually addicted to alcohol and heroin. People were loud and too abstract. The boyfriend said, “Screw this” and I didn’t want to talk with any of those people.

I figured I’d kill myself, but worried about my two cats

Things got worse. I turned on my radio so I couldn’t hear the voices in my head. I was paranoid and crawled around the floor to hide my drinking. I had no curtains. It got more bizarre. One day I woke up paralyzed and couldn’t move. As the day went on, I was able to move and by three p.m. was better, so I started drinking. I figured I’d kill myself, but worried about my two cats, so I took my house key and put it in an envelope to mail to the coroner. Then remembered if I died, the letter wouldn’t get mailed. 

I decided to give A.A. another try. If it didn’t work, I’d have a way out. I started going to a meeting almost every day for a year, still drinking. What I got in that year of sitting, listening and watching was hope. After one year I raised my hand and said I was a newcomer. A woman came over and said, “You look like you need a sponsor.” She asked me to go to a meeting and call her every day. She had a posse and we all went to Miz Brown’s Kitchen for fellowship afterwards. That kept me sober: a meeting a day, reading the Big Book, doing the Steps and calling my sponsor. 

At four years sober my mother was hospitalized, and I moved to be with her. I was struggling and resented the move. Then I read in Freedom from Bondage, “The only real freedom a human being can ever know is doing what you ought to do because you want to do it” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 544). I saw my mother as a person with friends who loved her and knew I did too. Thanks to A.A. I exchanged a self-inflicted life of resentment and bitterness for a life of gratitude. My sobriety date is August 9, 1985.

1 09, 2020

Tip of the Iceberg

by Rick R

After years of out-of-control drinking in a life of undisciplined behavior, I was circling the drain. I showed up at the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous, desperately seeking how to stop drinking. The drinking was just the tip of the iceberg, as I discovered after a few meetings. I was not proud of most of my past behavioral patterns. In the Big Book it says: “Resentment is the number one offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else” (p. 64). With that in mind, you would think that it would be the first thing on the agenda, but it was not. 

As I look back on it now I had too many other things on my mind to deal with and as a result of the complacency I wasn’t motivated to tackle the resentment seriously. Apparently many of my A. A. buddies dismissed it as well. We spent much of our time pointing out the faults of other members in the form of gossip, especially when they were not present. When I did start to address the issue, I did not consider the gossip and pointing out their faults to be a problem. Dealing with past relationships was ever-present on my mind. Eventually I could not dismiss it and still sleep nights.

We spent much of our time pointing out the faults of other members

I came to understand that all of those people of the past meant something to me or I wouldn’t still be so upset about them. If I wanted to enjoy the peace of mind that is promised in the program, I would have to make things right with them. It occurred to me that no one’s perfect and I had to find a way to neutralize my resentments. 

If you have ever thrown a rock out into a pond and seen the water rings expanding outward, you would know how I feel about just about everyone that I have dealt with in the past, including myself. My rings of resentment are colliding with their rings and their rings are colliding with everyone else’s rings at the same time. In the past their rings always threatened me and I could simply drink them away.

Empathy for those poor souls that continued to struggle

In the program I come to understand I am fortunate to have found the solution to my problem. Unfortunately many people may never find the resolution. As a result, with this understanding, I am no longer threatened by what they think of me. I no longer judge them on their behavior since I was once in the same boat as they were. I am not the person I was before I discovered A.A. Whether they know it or not, I can be compassionate and have empathy for those poor souls that continued to struggle the way I used to. 

I no longer judge them on their behavior since I was once in the same boat

Bitterness and hatred are no longer part of my vocabulary. Resentment was the act of reliving all those unfortunate conflicts of yesterday. A close friend of mine once said “all forms of criticism and character assassination stem from low self-esteem.” That one statement changed my whole way of thinking when it comes to judging anyone else on this planet.

I am not God. By understanding and accepting everyone just the way they are, my self-esteem is at a level where I need not judge anyone. This does not mean that I must be a doormat for others to step on. People will sometimes cross my boundaries at one time or another, but I do not have to roll in the mud with them. I can gracefully back away and not engage. I can treat them with respect and let them be. I can still wish the best for them with the understanding that they may never find the answer to their problems. Yet I am willing to help if I can. It is as simple as that. 

1 09, 2020

No Longer a Victim

by Jill E

When I was 12 I was told there was no such thing as God. I was experiencing a life trauma no one should have to go through, the simultaneous death of both my parents. I was lost, like a ship in a stormy sea with no sails and no rudder. One night I had parents, the next day I was an orphan. I started drinking within months of that day and was immediately taken by the sense of ease and comfort I felt with that first drink. 

I started drinking within months and was immediately taken by the sense of ease and comfort I felt with that first drink

When I made it to the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, the first thing I saw was the word God written all over the banners hanging in the rooms. I thought to myself, “Well, this is ridiculous and you cannot make me believe in God.” I was closed off to hearing anything about a higher power personal to me, but I stuck around for two years attending meetings and socializing. I did not open the Big Book, get a sponsor or do the steps. My life did not change. I was miserable, unhappy and floundering. I eventually took that first drink and stayed away from the rooms for 11 years. What drove me back to A.A. was the fear of taking my own life.

I was emotionally, mentally and spiritually immature and I lived my life as a victim. I had to become willing, open and honest. I had lost the ability to trust anyone but myself. So to turn my life and will over to the care of some power greater than myself seemed a daunting task. But I made a decision to do whatever was suggested. Little did I know that decision would change my life for the better, forever. 

I was still behaving like it happened last week

Even if I thought they were stupid or would not work, I became willing to follow suggestions. I was open to hearing experience, strength and hope from other members even if I had trouble relating. I became honest with myself and with the women I met in A.A. about what I was really thinking and feeling instead of keeping my thoughts and emotions to myself. Those women were happy, joyous and free and seemed to be able to get along in the world no matter what was happening. The women in A.A. had what I wanted. I had just become willing to go to any lengths.

These women were happy, joyous and free and seemed to be able to get along in the world

But how was I ever going to change? The answer came from working all the steps. I got a sponsor right away because it was suggested. We read the Big Book and when we came to a step we worked it. A turning point came when I did my fifth step with my sponsor. I could not figure out what my part was in so many of my resentments. It wasn’t my fault that my parents were killed. After letting me wrestle with that dilemma for a bit, she finally pointed out that I was right, I had no part in the death of my parents but that I was still behaving like it happened last week instead of 35 years ago. That was like a wet towel hitting me in the face. I suddenly had a realization that all my behaviors were that of a woman stuck in a 12-year-old’s head.

I began thinking about myself and the world differently. I let go. I surrendered. My life began to change. I did a lot of service (I still do). I sponsor women. My favorite thing in the world and my biggest gift is to sponsor a woman who struggles with the “God” issue. If I can do it, really, anyone can. I am grateful every day for the steps, my higher power and all of you in A.A. who have showed me and countless others the way out.

Go to Top