When Rick R’s grandson was five he was learning about space, animals and what “bad” behavior was. In a moment of irritation, grandpa resorted to blaming. His grandson reminded him of a better way to look at things. Since Steps 8 and 9 are about improving personal relationships, we learn to stop personal attacks (from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 77 and Concept XII, AA General Service’s Warranty Five).
Kathleen C describes her living amends with a family member—without worrying about doing it perfectly. An anonymous member gives us more tips for smoothing out the process by promoting unity. John W, good drinker and great forgetter, found a friend’s share reminded him what the past was like and why he didn’t want to go back there.
Standing alone on Hope Street in Tiburon
Christine R tells us how standing alone on Hope Street in Tiburon underscores her commitment to answering the AA helpline phones. Another living example of The Promises, Bryan L traces his life experience and how it was valuable training for his job as a counselor in rehab. These stories show how members avoid going on the defensive, clear past wreckage and find hope for living better lives.
My name is Bryan, and I’m an alcoholic. I’ve been blessed to have over 24 years of continuous sobriety and have been a grateful member of Alanon for the last 34 years as well. After a 24-year career as a probation officer I retired, went back to school and became a drug and alcohol counselor in 2009. And for the last 12 years I have worked at every level of drug treatment available from detox, to high end residential programs, to running groups inside homeless shelters, to teaching DUI classes, to doing counseling groups inside the county jail. I, the recovering alcoholic/addict, have been the person folks like us meet when the bottom falls out and we wind up in jails or institutions and deal with our addiction.
Folks like us meet when the bottom falls out and we wind up in institutions
It’s a crazy business working in recovery with a very high (50%) rate of relapse amongst counselors, for the same reason everyone else relapses — folks stop attending meetings that got them sober in the first place, convincing themselves working in the field is protection enough. It isn’t. I love the work and I was “trained” to do it from a young age growing up in a violent, abusive alcoholic home as so many of us in sobriety do. As I was growing up, I was my mom’s shoulder to cry on as well as her punching bag when she was drunk. No doubt she influenced my decision to work in social services for the last 35 years.
As I wind down my work life, getting more comfortable with retirement while continuing to fill in occasionally at the shelter, I am reminded each day that I could not maintain my sobriety and my mental health working in rehab were it not for my continued active participation in Alcoholics Anonymous and Alanon. When I think about all the places I’ve worked and clients I’ve interacted with, I’m reminded of a quote from John Bradshaw, “We are who we are, because of, and in spite of.”
We are who we are, because of, and in spite of
Rehab is the one form of employment where our experiences in addiction turn out to be valuable job training skills for future work in the field. The things I’ve witnessed from clients in groups has been equal parts shocking, humbling, terrifying, entertaining and heart breaking. From working in detox where an incoming client murdered one of my colleagues on duty, to having to extricate a 45-year-old naked woman from her room at a 50k a month rehab, to listening to a 19-year-old woman in a group I ran in the jail say, “My relapse on meth led directly to my participating in the murder of two innocent people.”
My experience working with clients has confirmed for me the life and death nature of our shared disease and made my work that much more humbling and meaningful. I remember my sponsor early on asking me why I wanted to work in rehab when, as he said, “It’s full of a lot of crazy people.” I told him, “I know, and some of them are clients.” I’m glad to still be of service to others.
Eventually through going to additional meetings I got a sponsee. She opened my eyes to the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. Going to chip meetings, going out to dinner after a meeting, celebrating people’s birthdays, you know: just having fun. There is fun in sobriety. Everything, a lot of things are a lot easier sober. Including fun things. Yes, all the responsible things like paying your bills and showing up on time and making appointments and keeping them, but also things like appreciating art, music and other people. I got to really appreciate my husband.
It takes a village to keep me sober
Dick and I were together for 41 years. The first 12 I was drinking and using, and the last 29 I was clean and sober. I think we had so much more fun when he didn’t have to worry about what kind of weird, crazy, irrational thing I was going to do. I was still a little difficult. I’m no day at the beach in relationships. He used to say, “And people think you’re the nice one!” Not necessarily true but I really was so grateful for this program because we do get to do fun things. My sponsor Bonnie and I do things, like there’s a particular mural artist down in San Jose and Los Gatos who’s got stuff all over the place. We go hunt down his work.
On a more serious note, I also got to take care of my husband for the last year of his life. That was an amends. We had a heck of a lot of fun. We did things that we wanted to do that we had always wanted to do. There are a lot of back roads up in Inverness. Dick would say, “You know, I’ve always wanted to go up there and see what was back there in the woods.” I’m driving him, in my Lexus, which is bottoming out on every corner. We’re driving past the signs that say, “No Trespassing, Private Road.” You know, we had wonderful adventures.
We had traveled the world. We had done so many wonderful things with our kids. They actually wanted to spend time with me. They lived in Argentina for about five years. They were calling and emailing and texting. I would tell people, “I probably hear more often from my kids than people whose kids live in Oakland.”
I feel that I’ve gotten back my life. What living sober is about is living my life. It’s not perfect, it has challenges. There’s a lot of potential out there. One huge difference between me drinking and using and me sober, is now I say yes. Back then I always said no, I was afraid, I couldn’t do it. You know that thing The Big Book talks about: we don’t want to try something unless we can do it perfectly the first time. That’s the way I was when I was drinking and using. Also just the fear of people seeing who I really was and how I really was. I don’t have that so much anymore.
People think you’re the nice one
I will try things and reach out to people. I’m very, very grateful to the women I have sponsored because they keep me sober. I was on the phone one time and Dick was listening to me talk and he said, “How many women do you sponsor? Isn’t it a terrible burden?” I said, “Honey, you just don’t understand; it takes a village to keep me sober.” I think that’s true of all of us.
We don’t have to do this alone. We will never walk alone. We will never dance alone. We will never sing alone. It’s one big karaoke party. You don’t have to be drunk to do it. I don’t have to be drunk to do anything now. I’m really super grateful and very happy to see all of you. Thank you so much for letting me share.
When my grandson was in preschool I spent many hours with him, talking about everything from stars and space to bugs and animals. I wanted to give him the best perspective I could about how to respond to life issues at a level that he could understand. He came home from school one day and told me one of the boys in his class was being bad and had gotten into trouble. I tried to explain to him the boy was not bad, he was just misbehaving and that at five years old, he was too young to be bad. I explained to him that maybe that boy did not have someone who could teach him how to behave properly.
Who said that you were a bad boy?
He said, “Grandpa, if someone said I was a bad boy …” I stopped him mid-sentence and asked, “Who said that you were a bad boy?” He replied, “No one, but if they did …”
I stopped him again and said, if anyone says that you’re a bad boy, you can just say, “I’m not a bad boy, I’m just a kid learning how to do life.” I was at a meeting shortly thereafter and the topic was resentment, and, for lack of a better analogy, I told the story of my grandson and how I look at everyone in the same way. I believe most people act out to compensate for deeper-rooted emotional problems. None of us are perfect. We all have shortcomings and for me to condemn someone else, who is still plagued by these things and has not resolved them yet, would be like piling on.
I always feel worse when I resort back to those old behaviors and strive to never let my emotions, or my ego, draw me into conflict with other troubled people. I must always try to take the high road in these situations. But what about when other people cross my boundaries in a negative way? Do I have to be a doormat? No, I do not have to participate in it with them, if there is a way to remove myself from the situation. I aim to not be judgmental, either.
I’m just a kid learning how to do life
I must refrain from pointing out that other person’s faults. To me, they are like my grandson’s young classmate. They are all like kids learning how to do life. For me to engage in criticism would be like two old men in a care facility hitting each other with their canes because one was not walking fast enough for the other. It sounds funny, but we do it every day. I am no better or worse than the next man. I may be further along the path than him, but no better. I pray for understanding and compassion in these situations. I must never judge a man on his surface behavior, I must have the strength to look deeper. As far as I am concerned, we areall just like those kids learning how to do life.
A few months after that discussion with my grandson we were running a little late taking him to his Taekwondo class. He was in his child seat behind us and I was bickering with my wife about getting there on time. He interrupted us saying “Guys, I can hear you.” I said, “You should have been ready yourself.” He responded, “Grandpa, I am not a bad boy, I am just a kid learning how to do life.”
When I first arrived at Alcoholics Anonymous, I did not have a clue about the depth to delve into past behaviors to free myself from the guilt and shame that had resulted from them. I thought that all I would be talking about was my drinking habits.
When faced with the steps I was selective about which part of the suggestions I would embrace and which suggestions I would dismiss as OK for you but not necessary for me. I did not think my problems were about mental, emotional or spiritual matters. If I could just stop drinking things would be fine.
I ask, “Have you ever done something you really regretted?” The answer is usually, “Hell yes, who hasn’t?”
It didn’t take long to realize what they were explaining about the wreckage of the past and how to relieve myself of the horrible memories from all the way back to adolescence. I was one of the fortunate ones that lost the obsession to drink from the very first day so that was never a problem for me. I had taken step one. I dismissed steps two and three as being OK for the religious folks, but I could do without them. Steps four, five, eight and nine were the ones that I did not want to face.
By the time I was sober for about two years I finally let down my guard and did steps four and five. The relief I got from being fearless and thorough gave me the desire and courage to proceed through steps six and seven. Those steps will never be finished: they are basically about spiritual growth concerning my thoughts and actions. Then came step eight and the need to identify people I had harmed in the past, to make amends to. Can they be serious?
I don’t think that a day ever went by during my drinking that I didn’t do something to harm someone. This list would be endless. With that thought in mind, I delayed doing it until I settled down and came to the understanding that I could start my list and see where it led to.
Do not be bogged down by over-thinking this step
I began with the people I let down the most such as my first wife, my son, my siblings, my mother and my closest friends that were like family. Then I spiraled outward to the people I worked or played with, such as golfing and fishing buddies. Then, as I started to remember all of those drinking buddies, bartenders and girlfriends I had to be realistic. I could spend the rest of my life chasing people down to apologize. That is when I had to step on the brakes. Thinking that I would need to chase down all of those ships in the night was what held me back from doing step 8.
What I finally did was first: make be sure I no longer did those regrettable deeds of yesterday so I was not being hypocritical. Then I handled the ones that were renting room in the front of my brain box. As I said, I spiraled outward and handled the ones that were closest to me. As time went on I found the occasion when I would run into an old friend. If I had anything left undone, I would ask, “Have you ever done something you really regretted?” His answer is usually, “Hell yes, who hasn’t?” Then I say, “Can we talk?” This leveled the playing field. Who can fault a person who has made mistakes but then corrected them, made restitution and lives an honest, unselfish life? None of us are perfect. Do not be bogged down by over-thinking this step. On the other hand, be prepared to jump at the opportunity when it arrives.
At my usual early Monday morning meeting in Mill Valley, the reading is from As Bill Sees It, Page 217. The topic: humility and responsibility. Believing I had nothing to share, I remained quiet, silently checking in from time to time with my higher power, listening to hear if there was anything to share or to say.
The inner voice said, “Talk about the AA Responsibility Statement and what it means to you.” So, I did. Starting with: When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA to always be there. And for that, I am responsible.
I recalled standing on Esperanza in Tiburon (“Hope Street”)and I had no hope
I told of my experience trying to get sober, when I went to a meeting listed on the meeting schedule that had disbanded. I recalled standing on Esperanza Street (“Hope Street”) in Tiburon and I had no hope. There was no one to talk to. Never have I felt so starkly alone in my life as standing on that hillside, looking out across the San Francisco Bay, wanting to die right there on that hillside. Hopeless, lonely, sick and afraid.
From that experience, I vowed to do my best not to let that happen to any other alcoholic needing the hand of AA to be there. I feel a deep responsibility to keep my hand reaching out to newcomers. One of the ways to accomplish this is answering the phones for Marin Teleservice. Mine is the quiet voice to direct you to your next meeting; to share where the meetings are and at what times. If you need a call back, I make sure someone calls you right back.
Sometimes the newer person can help the newcomer even better than the old timer
I mentioned my sponsor, who taught me everyone is important in AA. Each one of us has something to give, something to share. A person with one week can help the person struggling to get 24 hours. Sometimes the newer person can help the newcomer even better than the old timer, because the new person remembers all too vividly the horrors of the recent weeks and days.
When I finished, suddenly, a lady’s hand shot up to share. She said, “At the risk of cross-talk, you were the person who answered the phone when I first called AA four years ago. I remember your voice! You were the one who guided me to this 7:00 AM meeting all those years back. You were the one who phoned later to see if I was okay. I am so grateful to you for answering the phone when I needed help the very most.”
A thunderbolt to my heart was this lady’s share. I had no idea. Tears flooded my eyes and are here as of this writing. So often we wonder about our places in this world. “Do I account for anything?” we may inwardly ask. Just that one early morning exchange raised my whole attitude and outlook upon life. One alcoholic talking with another, sharing for one another, answering the phones for one another — our hands, hearts, and minds in service. I learned yet again this morning, hands in service don’t have time to pick up a drink.
At almost two decades of continuous sobriety, with daily meeting attendance a workable goal and a guide for my program, I have often heard the adage, “Time is not a tool.” The image of taking my usual seat, next to or as close as possible to the bartender’s pouring station came seemingly out of nowhere. The utility of that choice was to allow me to receive my first drink, and those following it, faster. The near opaqueness of the golden fluid, neat, almost filling the eight-ounce tumbler set in front of me, was the next cel of the movie I found myself watching. The taste buds in my mouth seemed to almost sense the tequila, to remember the burn of that first drink of the day, before they became numb to the river that followed (before the blackout). In my brain I was always fighting the good fight, yet my body and spirit were telling me I was KO’d. I just could not, would not, dare not hear that I had lost that fight once again.
Like so many other drunks, I had suffered though the 15 or so months of COVID-19 and the isolation from meetings it had brought with it. I found salvation, my daily reprieve, in the Zoom Rooms of recovery, literally scattered around the world in that difficult time. But as restrictions began to lift and my Home Group once again opened its 7:00 AM doors, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, the Zoom choice quickly became Plan B. Face to face with my peers, alcoholics in recovery, was the real deal. I could not wait to embrace that reality again.
My body and spirit were telling me I was KO’d
I had also heard that it takes a habit to break a habit, as in “90 Meetings in 90 Days.” So the habit of Zooming, which had served me well indeed, could best be addressed by reviving the habit of daily meeting attendance. The vivid reality of that decision took only several meetings to sink in, underscoring the depth of my disease. My alcoholism had been doing pushups outside my home group all through COVID. It was as cunning, baffling and powerful as ever. My disease had not been on a COVID sabbatical.
At my in-person meeting, one member of the group had a particularly powerful share. They spoke of how alcohol in their disease in their word was their lover, always caring about feelings, always ready to address them and make things “better.” This struck a chord in me. There I was on that barstool, right in the middle of the meeting, at 7:30 AM, with years of continuous sobriety. I heard the echo: Time is not a Tool.
But why in the middle of this meeting was this happening? Baffling. The clever images conjured up by me, in my private, separate little brain: cunning. The feel of my bottom on the barstool, the look of the tequila in the glass within my reach, the taste in my mouth — powerful. In this moment I remembered I was indeed powerless over alcohol. I listened to my friend speak of unmanageability of life which they were confronting, sober. I latched on to their candor and blunt honesty. As they now proclaimed before our group, I again admitted to myself what was also true for me, I too was powerless. I silently mouthed the prayer to my higher power: thank you for my sobriety and please help me stay sober today.
It takes a habit to break a habit
I heard from my friend that day, face to face at our meeting, the siren call of their “lover” luring them towards the bottle and the shipwreck that was certain to be their fate if indulged. In my friend’s brutal honesty came their hope that the step-work they had done with their Sponsor would carry them through the hard times they now faced. The three minutes of that share had seemed outside of the constraints of time, as well as my reaction to it. Gone was my veneer of recovery, revealing the alcoholic me who had never left. In my friend I heard the strength of their program, pulling them through what appeared to be, even to the casual observer, quite traumatic. They professed reliance upon the experience of their sponsor who exhorted them to remember that all would be well if they did not drink and they attended meetings. It was as if my higher power was speaking through my friend: reminding me I had admitted I was powerless over alcohol and life was unmanageable as a result. I must not forget this admission or why I had made it.
As I was both a good drinker and a great forgetter, I needed to hear my friend’s share. I needed to remember that this program had picked me up off the fight ring canvas, a defeated drunk. It showed me I had a choice to enter a new ring in which to face life on life’s terms. In this new ring I had only to cease fighting everyone and everything. In that surrender I was told I would receive the gift of the life I had always dreamed of but thought could never be mine. This became my choice. I found no lies in it. The decision in my sober ring has been the gift of this new and wonderful life, one day at a time.