by Bree L.
Brad O. is a San Francisco born native, born in the Mission District, moved to the Bayview and Sunnydale during his growing up years. He had his first drink when he was twelve. This was the same year his mother was shot by an uncle’s girlfriend. Brad looked for a way to deal with the trauma.
His first solution was brandy. It was too strong so he spit it out. He didn’t touch alcohol again until college, surviving high school with football, swimming, and sports.
Attending City College, he worked at being cool with a cool girlfriend who happened to have brandy, coke and weed. He joined in and his insecurities vanished. He became invincible. They would party together, but this stopped when she became pregnant. He dropped out of school and found a job at Kaiser in the surgical suite, environmental services. His girlfriend worked in communications.
What started as a favor in surgery expanded as he moved into other department
His dealing started when a co-worker asked him if he knew where they might get some drugs. Brad was savvy and began his business as a supply agent of cocaine to Kaiser. What started as a favor in surgery, expanded as he moved into other departments. He was invited to many parties and expected to supply drugs. He started only dealing, but this graduated to using every day with customers and he developed a dependency. His work was affected. The boss said if he called in sick, he would get fired. That night he used, called in sick and got fired. Afterwards he found there was an undercover person who had been hired to bust him, but he was fired before the arrests started. Soon after there was a huge newsworthy bust. Many lost their jobs. Interestingly no nurses were fired as this impacted patient care, a liability issue. The year was 1985.
Brad moved over to the Hilton, doing security with a side job selling drugs. He became a limo driver, still drinking, still using, still calling in sick and was fired for falsifying timecard documentation. They said there was a ten-minute discrepancy in his log. Along with this, there were racial comments creating a biased work environment. Brad sued and got $400,000 and his attorney got $200,000. Brad bought a house in Sacramento and started working for Muni.
While working for Muni he returned to counting days. His routine was to use on Friday, call in sick on Monday and have a clean UA for Tuesday. He eventually tested dirty and ended up in a twelve-step program. He went to New Bridge in Berkeley for thirty days. From there he moved to Kaiser CDRP, going every day. He accumulated 100 days clean, without working the steps. One hot day while commuting from Sacramento, he had a beer, returned to drinking, using and had another dirty UA. He was fired from Muni and returned to his familiar ways.
He next found a job with Yellow Pages, where he could drink, meet clients at the bar and sell ad space over the phone. All went well until the internet phased out Yellow Pages, producing less clients and more drinking. He stayed home and drank. In 2008 he tried to hang himself, but an uncle found him. He was 5150’d into San Francisco General Hospital. He started to see a therapist, got on antidepressants, but continued to drank every day.
In June of 2016 he was admitted to SFGH vomiting blood. The alcohol had torn into his esophagus and every morning he gagged and spit up blood. He was discharged after one month. His son’s mother said he could come and stay with her in El Sobrante for one month. She also suggested he talk with Steve, her best friend’s husband, who was in AA. After the month, Brad moved into a sober living house. Steve recommended he stay there. Brad’s sobriety date June 24, 2016.
Brad was now on disability, so he developed a routine: a meeting in the morning in El Sobrante, work on his house in the Bayview, return to El Sobrante for an evening meeting. He did this for a year and in that time became secretary of the Saturday morning meeting, Wake Up on Third. The year was 2017.
She suggested he talk with Steve, her best friend’s husband, who was in AA
In December of 2019 Brad had a massive heart attack followed by heart surgery the day after Christmas. A.A. became a more active part of his life with the Sunshine group bringing meetings to his house and A.A. friends staying in touch.
Today A.A. is very much a part of his life, as a Secretary at High Noon on Tuesdays. He hosts the Wake Up on Third on McKinnon, Sunday mornings in Brad’s Bayview back yard. He says, “A.A. is the best thing that ever happened to me.’’
by John B
Some time in 2013, I got another DUI. Lucky for me, the last one had been over ten years before so I was tried and convicted as a first-time offender again. I had the same attorney (a friend of the family, so I could afford her) and received the minimum required sentencing. Did it get me to stop drinking? It did not. Did I stop driving as my license was suspended? I did not.
I did lose my job, again, and ran out of money for rent, for food, for medical insurance. My partner of almost 20 years covered my part of the rent the first month, but she couldn’t do it a second month. Finally, I ran out of money for booze. Something had to be done, so I reached out for help, and was directed to a detox center in San Francisco. After a few days, and a grand mal seizure followed by a stay in the St. Francis Hospital ICU, I was eventually admitted into the rehab arm of the detox center, the “Big House.” I thought six months was a little extreme but signed on the dotted line. I was out of options.
Something had to be done, so I reached out for help
Along the way I got a sponsor, worked the steps and got service commitments. I went to a meeting every day. My favorite meetings were the 10 PM weekdays at 2900, the Mission Fellowship. I could get out of the fishbowl I was living in and participate and make it back by curfew. I was used to taking the bus to get around town and didn’t really give much thought to the car I had left at my ex’s house in Alameda. That changed when she told me that I had to get it out of her driveway; she was tired of looking at it.
So I went back and got it. Started using it to get around, while being fearful of being arrested for driving on a suspended license, but felt I had no other options. When my sentencing had occurred, I was pretty much drunk all the time and had no idea what to do to become legal. I was pretty sure I could never afford whatever lay before me, and the complications were baffling.
As luck would have it, one night while leaving the Mission Fellowship, having graduated the rehab by this time, after dropping my new S.O. at BART, I ran into a sobriety checkpoint. Stone sober, and full of fear. The police were very nice, and after running my ID, told me that I had almost a half hour before the tow company arrived to get someone with a valid license to drive the vehicle away. It was almost midnight, and while I had a phone full of AA numbers, I couldn’t raise anyone in time to avoid the impound. I was almost ready to just walk away from the whole thing again. I had no idea what to do. And I had a fresh misdemeanor ticket to boot.
Brad from the Mission Fellowship offered me a ride to 850 Bryant to help get the car back
The next morning Brad O. from 2900’s Mission Fellowship called me back and offered me a ride to 850 Bryant to help get the car back. I was delighted for the assist, and off we went. But it was a weekend, and almost nobody was there. We did get news that there was a cop shop out by Townsend that was open, and that they could help me get a release to get it out of impound. So off we went, again. That station told us that the guy at 850 Bryant was crazy and I had to wait until Monday. Sigh. I had been sober for a little while by this point, but without having an AA friend to be solid moral support at this point, I probably would have gone off the rails, yelling at anyone within earshot. I absolutely would never have gotten my license back; the whole ordeal was too frightening.
In the end, they wouldn’t release my car until I signed up for a year of DUI classes. So I go to register for those, and I’m told, sorry, can’t do that until I install a Breathalyzer in the car. The closest install technician was in Hayward. Okay, so I made the call and went to get the keys to the technician who’s headed in from Hayward, only to find out the car wasn’t even in the impound next to 850 Bryant, but in South City. Thank goodness the technician picked up his phone in transit and was redirected to the other impound lot.
A few years later now, I have unrestricted license privileges, liability insurance (full coverage will be too expensive until 2023), current registration, and even a motorcycle license. By the grace of God, certainly, but absolutely through the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. Thanks, Bradley O.
by Rick R.
“We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 84). How many times in your life have you been faced with a decision and you did not know what to do about it? Then a day and a half later, you awakened in the middle of the night, sat up in bed, and said to yourself, “Aha,” then went right back to sleep? Somehow the answer came to you without having to go through days of research.
In the early days of 1970, I was going through a course on human behavior. The instructor was trying to describe how the brain functions. He explained that the human brain has approximately ten billion cells and we only use about one billion of them. He then explained that these cells store everything we experience in our lifetime. The more current events are easier to remember than the things that are off in the distant past, but they are all in there somewhere.
It does not get any simpler than the mental file cabinet theory
He then likened it to a file system where, if you ask a question, the more current answers come immediately. But for those more distant memories, the brain starts searching the files and it may take a while. Eventually the answer will come.
With all the mental chaos that we bring with us when we enter the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program, we have lot of unlearning to do. We go through the process of trying to rid ourselves of alcoholic thinking and to replace it with sound principles and values. If we are fortunate enough to buy in completely, and do a thorough job of house-cleaning, we start using the ideas that we hear about others using successfully. We can get a surprisingly good results.
We may hear as many as twenty or thirty people share at any given meeting. Can we remember everything we hear? To me, the answer is yes. I could come up with a dozen boilerplate AA clichés about how the answers come to me, but it does not get any simpler than the mental file cabinet theory. Sometimes it seems to me that I am learning when I am not even listening, almost like getting it through osmosis.
If you have ever heard of the police trying to get a witness to remember a license plate number by hypnotizing that person, you understand what I mean. The answer is in the subconscious and there is a curtain-like screen between the conscious and subconscious mind. This is what keeps us from going mad due to the busy-ness of it all.
We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace
I never underestimate the capacity of my mind when it comes to problem solving. Attending AA meetings on a regular basis and interacting with people who have had similar experiences and found similar solutions to their problems gives me an encouraging outlook for the future. Many of the answers that I am seeking are right in front of my face and some are deeper in the file cabinet.
Most of the time, when faced with the dilemma that is causing me distress, I can refer a simple request of my higher power: “God, please show me what to do and please give me the strength to do it.” I do not do well on my own. It is surprising how often I awake in the middle of the night, say “aha,” and go back to sleep again. It seems that intuitively the answers come.
by Christine R
When we hear the words, “willing to go to any length for victory over alcohol,” let’s say, “Yes!” Willing to go to any length is another aspect of the first step in sobriety. As we grow and flourish, we expand our willingness to go to any length for a lot of things. For wide-ranging commitments – some not so comfortable, but so rewarding.
In early days, I could not figure how going to any lengths to show up for a 7 a.m. meeting as the Butt-Can woman would keep me sober. How could picking up your butts keep me sober? I was there to save my own butt! Alcohol is mentioned only once in the 12 Steps. Where was the secret handshake or magic elixir to keep me from drinking?
Resentment at having to rise before dawn was percolating faster than the coffee
Another incomprehensible commitment was Set Up. Like a lot of long-time AA meetings, we had the beat-up, tarnished percolators from the early 60s to keep us going. Phenomenally, painfully slow percolation. Therefore, to set up a 7 a.m. meeting means starting the coffee by 6 a.m. Which means a person has to be up by 5:30 a.m. How was this going to keep me sober? Resentment at having to rise before dawn was percolating faster than the coffee.
I tried to wriggle out of Set Up by telling my sponsor, “I don’t have a car. I can’t make it.”
Thank God for a wise sponsor who queried, “Do you have a flashlight?”
“Do you have tennis shoes?”
“Then you can keep your commitment.” Busted!
The other side of the meeting, the Clean Up Commitment, also held dubious value to staying sober – until I gave up my contempt prior to investigation by raising my hand to say, “Yes” when a request for help arose. For all of the above, here’s what I discovered.
Where was the magic elixir to keep me from drinking?
Butt Can, Greeter, Set Up and Clean Up held unimaginable rewards. They got me to the meeting early and allowed me to leave late. As a newcomer, I had it the other way around: Come late, leave early. Now by arriving early, I came to know the meeting before the meeting. The “secret handshake” came as Greeter to a host of newfound friends. The camaraderie outside the front door was the magic elixir I’d been seeking. Like a floating fog bank, the magic had a way of following us into the room and stayed on through, even after the meeting.
With Clean Up, I found I could not leave early and disappear. With suds up to my elbows, and a sink full of coffee cups, I came to listen to the talk around me. I came to chime in a word or two. I came to believe I was understood and welcomed.
We hear how people go out from not attending meetings. People also go out from not having commitments to bring them to the meetings in the first place. Having a commitment takes us out of the “me” and into the “we.” The commitment pulls us in when we would prefer to stay away.
A Vietnam veteran once said if he were to write a book, he would call it “No Regrets.” Soldiers coming home from wars many times have loads of regrets, shame and stress disorders, having slain men and women in combat. Knowing this, I was impressed at the intensity with which the man said, “No Regrets.”
Today, I know what he meant. With our program, working the steps, and showing up – even when all the inner voices dictate otherwise, and our backgrounds feel so shameful we don’t want to join – we can pen our lives with a coda, “No regrets – because I went to any lengths.”
Now with forty years sober, Iudita appreciates old-timers and their stories as a way to continue her sobriety. At twenty and thirty there are always teachers available, but now at forty there are not so many ahead of her. She looks for the wisdom of old timers with their stories.
Upon her arrival in AA she described herself as very sick, and incapable of bringing herself to a meeting. It was a co-worker who brought her, saying she would drive Iudita home afterwards. That would save her two bus rides home. It was an offer she couldn’t refuse.
She heard a speaker tell how she tried to kill herself. Iudita found herself crying for some unknown reason and couldn’t seem to stop. She went to the back of the room into the kitchen to hide her embarrassment and soon realized she couldn’t hide in an AA meeting. Everyone came back to the kitchen and sought her out. Getting home she remembered two beers in her refrigerator waiting for her. The only thing she remembered from the meeting was the statement, “Just don’t drink today.” She did something she had never done before and closed the refrigerator door and figured she had been “Struck sober.” Prior to that she had been drinking ever day. It was amazing.
The ticket to an easier life is to ask for help
To this day, she has connected her ability not to drink with the power not to drink, found in the “We” part of the first step; she is convinced of this. Somehow, she believed what she heard at the meeting. It was an amazing reprieve and she realized she’d probably never get it again. This was her chance. She wanted to hang onto it for she didn’t know if she’d ever get another chance. This was her new beginning.
Iudita was born and raised in Romania until age thirteen when her family migrated to Cleveland. Her mother had family there that sponsored her whole family. Her parents were both teenage holocaust survivors, so the move to Cleveland was a big one. There was the knowledge they might never again have the chance to escape, so the family took advantage of the offer. They were very poor and there was no such thing as birth control. Her one brother was born mentally challenged. He remains in Cleveland and is doing very well.
She didn’t know if she’d ever get another chance
She had a trait of extreme self-sufficiency and never would ask anyone for help or advice. She married at seventeen wanting to get away from her mother. She divorced her husband at age nineteen, now with a young son. As she says, “I drank my way through all my problems.” She remarried but got her second divorce after two years of sobriety. She was twenty-nine. That was when she really experienced the AA community around her and their support.
Fifteen years ago, she started a morning meeting in Cleveland. She realized the morning meeting made her day so much easier, and has gone to at least one meeting a day for the past fifteen years. She wants to hear real people talk about real things and how they stay sober along with the connection of friendship she gets in meetings. “I do not have a tolerance for not feeling okay. I cannot afford thoughts that I’m doing fine. I’ve never played with my sobriety. It’s the only thing I haven’t tested myself on.”
A few years ago, she connected with a fellow in San Francisco and now spends the greater part of her year in the Bay Area. She remained in San Francisco throughout the recent quarantine. Today she regularly attends the Bernal New Day, starting the day with an AA focus. It meets at 7:30 AM Monday through Friday and 8:00 AM on Saturday and Sunday. Her sponsor, in Cleveland, is an old friend and they call regularly. When asked what she’s learned over her forty-plus years, she says, “It’s really important to ask for help. That’s the ticket to an easier life.” Her sobriety date is February 17, 1981.
My husband asked me once, as I was putting down my phone after a long conversation, “How many women do you sponsor? Isn’t it a big burden?”
I laughed and told him, “Honey, you don’t understand. This is a team effort. It takes a lot of sober women to keep me sober!”
My own sponsor didn’t have a rigid format for working the steps. When I was ready for the next one, she was available, even though she had a full-time job and was taking care of her mother, who was seriously ill. If I needed a deadline, for example, to finish my Fourth Step, she gave me a deadline. When I called her, she called me back. We went to the same home group, a Big Book meeting. After a few years, we started going out to dinner together and she introduced me to her sponsor and then the three of us started going out to dinner together, and showing up for each other at chip meetings. Before long, I was sharing more of my life with my sponsor and eventually we became like sisters.
I imagined myself in a coffee shop surrounded by admiring, newly-sober women
Being a sponsor is not what I thought it would be when I first got sober. I imagined myself in a coffee shop surrounded by admiring newly sober women, with them listening to my every pronouncement, maybe even taking notes. We would read the Big Book together, go to meetings. They would ask my advice on how to make their lives better.
For my first eight years of sobriety I didn’t have a single sponsee. No one wanted what I had. A sober friend consoled me when I whined to him about it: “Your Higher Power probably doesn’t want you to have any sponsees yet because you are a screaming co-dependent.”
Unfortunately, he was right. Early in sobriety, I was dragging people to meetings when they didn’t want to go, sometimes when they were drunk. My first sponsee was passed along to me by her first choice, a woman with terrific sobriety who was on the verge of moving to Arizona. “How about Kathleen?” the first sponsor asked.
So the hand-me-down sponsee and I started working together. She was an inspiration. She and her husband gathered an AA crew around them. They all went to meetings together, got chips together and celebrated sober birthdays with dinners together. My program up to then had been very solitary and she showed me what fun an AA social life could be. She moved too, to Nevada, but we stayed in touch by phone and e-mail and eventually my sponsor and I took a road trip to visit her for a conference.
Being a sponsor is not what I thought it would be
What happens now is I call my sponsees and they call me when we are feeling restless, irritable and discontent and need an attitude adjustment. We go to meetings together and chat in coffeehouses, for sure, but it is usually about mundane topics like men, money, work or children. Once in a while, we do get around to talking about the solution in AA. Which of course is spiritual and has nothing to do with the problem.
I try to pass along what my sponsor communicated to me, in the years we have been working together. Mostly I try to live my life as a decent sober human being who insists on enjoying life. My sponsor didn’t tell me how to be a good AA; she showed me how to be a good AA. That’s what I try to do for my own sponsees.