30 09, 2021

From the Editor: Rescue Dogs and Zoom Newcomers

This week I braved scads of phone calls and emails to Humane Societies to “rescue” a dog for the family. We finally found a dog named Rei in Sonoma County. Yet I hadn’t expected self-centered fear to take over as I was driving up north. Apparently Google Maps has a glitch and sent me 14 miles in the opposite direction. Luckily when I called them, the Humane Society staff gave me the correct directions. So I was encouraged to read Michael W explaining how fear is optional in his story, Doing the Work. He writes, “The 12 steps remove the fear … after all, if I were drinking, using and in self-pity, I’d have no life. Instead, AA gave me back my wonderful family and an awesome life in sobriety.”

Also in this issue: Christine R shows us how she escaped from a cesspool of despair in Sparkles in Your Eyes. John W reminds us how much better life can be when we keep on trudging the road to happy destiny with Step 10. Bree L tells the story of how Laurie got sober on Zoom in August 2020. And Rob S describes how he handled resentments, the luxuries none of us can afford, while driving a taxi in L.A. Drunks vomiting in the back seat and passengers who take off running to avoid paying were no match for resolutely turning our thoughts to someone we can help.

The new dog and I are getting to know each other. When more self-centered fear arises because I think something bad might happen: I change focus and remember how fear is optional.

—Michelle G

30 09, 2021

Step 10: The Road of Happy Destiny

by John W

At a speaker meeting early in my sobriety I was to hear a claim that puzzled me greatly at the time, because I was on no pink cloud and the wreckage of my present lay strewn about me. The speaker had observed, “You can take the alcohol out of the alcoholic, but you can’t take the alcoholism out of the alcoholic.”

I had wanted so desperately of course to not be an alcoholic. You know what I mean – one of those falling-downers, wearing a trench coat on a hot summer day, slumped over in dark places, trying to bum spare change. That was an alcoholic and that sure wasn’t me. I had some trouble with the law (that crashed car in my history was never an easy memory) but I lived in a nice house, had a wife and kids and a good job. I may have had trouble with booze every once and a while, but nothing I could not handle, nothing I could not fix.

The rude awakening of my bottom replaced my fantasy of life with reality. While the spiritual awakening, which I was to find as a result of working the steps, was on the horizon, it was still quite a distance off when I heard this speaker’s comments. These words had dashed my hope of a miracle cure I had been expecting. I wondered if I would ever be OK again. As the sober days began to mount, I was graced with a sponsor who has managed to stick with me through thick and thin. But at our first meeting, after my affirmation that I was willing to go to any lengths, he asked me what I thought things would look like in 365 days. Ruling out a PowerBall winning ticket or Bill Gates giving me his fortune, he asked for my realistic future outlook.

I had underestimated the benefits of the program

I was graced with a sponsor who has managed to stick with me through thick and thin

After some reflection I gave my reply. He responded that I had underestimated the benefits of the program on which I was beginning to embark. He then guaranteed me that things would be so much better than I had just declared I would consider fantastic if they materialized in the next year. In the days and with the work that followed, when my reticence to do the next right thing confronted me, he would remind me of the affirmative reply I had given to him before. These reminders became the antidote for my fear when it reared its ugly head, disguised as uncertainty or “wrong place, wrong time.” So although our journey was indeed painstaking, his guarantee to me proved no idle ploy. He made good on his promise. Though my play had not followed the script I had written, I had won a personal Tony nonetheless.

As we had then moved to Step Ten, my question to him was, “Now what?” His reply was as if set to a familiar lilt: Keep on Trudgin’. What I had started to integrate his help into my daily life, it would be with me for the rest of it he said, I needed but to Keep On Trudgin’.

However, because I am the kind of person I am, always in search of the easier, softer way, I sought a second opinion. I asked a fellow with time and who had what I wanted how he had kept on trudging over the years and hurdles of his sobriety. I wondered and asked him what the key to Step Ten was for him. “Discipline” was the one-word reply. After he let that sink in, he said I would never be cured of alcoholism (where had I heard that before?). My best hope was for a daily reprieve. But he said that for him, an atheist, his focus on the spiritual challenges of this task required he stick to it in a rigorous, disciplined way. As a result, he said he had found that regardless of one’s concept of a Higher Power, in his time he saw that those people who worked the steps and did not just “talk the steps” seemed to persevere. He said that I was likely to find that the traits I exhibited when I was drinking were still behind that face I saw each day in the mirror. My demons were there, ready to ensnare me if I failed to stay focused on the program that had brought me that gift of sobriety in the first place.

My question to him was, “Now what?”

My sponsor, my second opinion, and now so many others, too, have all echoed the words of that speaker from my past. Those comments were now no longer a puzzle to me: they had become an insight into my disease. The spiritual awakening of which they had been a harbinger could and would be achieved, today, as long as I was willing to Keep On Trudgin’.

30 09, 2021

Laurie’s Story: Sober on Zoom

by Bree L

During the pandemic, Laurie realized how bad her drinking was. Every night she’d drink, feel good for a brief time, pass out, wake up in the middle of the night feel remorse and say, “I’m never going to do this again.” Then she would repeat the exact same cycle, again and again.

She started out with wine, moved to hard liquor, then back to wine, but always drinking more than she’d planned. She began with cans of wine and graduated to two small single bottles of wine from the liquor store, to control her drinking. The quantity turned into the same as half a bottle, much the same as before.

She talked with a therapist all through these tribulations, saw it was getting worse and tried to figure out remedies. She tried group therapy, a harm reduction group. Throughout, she was trying to avoid AA, saying to herself, anything but AA. She could not say she was an alcoholic. Then when the pandemic hit, she’d done everything she could and realized she couldn’t hide from herself anymore. She googled “AA.”

Always drinking more than she’d planned

“I need help,” she told the woman on the phone. The kind woman asked, “Do you want to go to a meeting?” She explained there were meetings on Zoom and how to find them. Laurie started attending AA meetings. It was easier to attend Zoom meetings as she didn’t have to dress and could appear as she wanted. Meanwhile, she looked at all the little boxes and started listening.

a daily group felt like home

It was a blur in the beginning as she went to many different meetings at different times of the day. She went before work, during lunch hour, after work and found relief.  She watched people clap and smile, and felt the support, knowing she was in the right place. She listed her number in the chat. People called her. Why would they call me, she wondered? One woman arranged an outside conversation and Laurie decided they could work together.

A few weeks later Laurie relapsed. Her new friend said she might not be ready, and they separated. She took to heart what the woman had said about being ready but kept going to meetings. She continually asked herself if she ready or not. Over time, she became less disoriented, foggy, and approached someone else who regularly spoke with knowledge at her meetings. That person became her sponsor.

Returning to the same meetings as best as one could

She’d heard the term “home group” and realized it meant returning to the same meetings as best as one could. She hooked up with a daily group and this felt like home. The faces became familiar, and she was able to meet them in the outside world. She felt like she was being carried by the people in the Zoom boxes. It just took a while to see how much they were carrying her. She thought she needed in-person meetings until she realized there was a way to connect between phone calls and meetings. Her sobriety date is August 15, 2020. She now has one year and two weeks.

30 09, 2021

Action Now

by Rob S

As a Los Angeles taxi driver during the 1980s, many “adventures” took place, calling for immediate use of Step Ten. For instance: Drunks vomiting in the back seat, passengers who take off running to avoid paying. One mentally ill guy announced he had no money but just wanted to go for a ride, which cost me about ten dollars on the meter. A rich family, after a thirty-mile trip to LAX, which included my heavy luggage handling, left no tip. After these sorts of adventures I was naturally experiencing anger. Maybe worse!

Luckily, AA had taught me that repeated thoughts of anger and resentment could threaten my sobriety – but what to do? This is where page 84 from the Big Book came in handy. It said to ask God, at once, to remove my anger and then to discuss my defect/shortcoming with someone. LA has clubhouses galore so “at once” was no problem. Lastly it suggests: ‘We resolutely turned our thoughts to someone we can help.” I think this could be a prayer for someone, or even planning a birthday gift. Bill Wilson’s Oxford Group mentor, Reverend Sam Shoemaker, summed up A.A. as: “Out of self, into God, into others.”

AA has provided the ability to control my mind, to some degree – at least better than before. I like to think before I think! When I feel thoughts of selfishness, dishonesty, resentment or fear coming to consciousness, I go to God for help. A simple statement such as, “Be still and know that I am God,” seems to calm me down enough to stymie destructive thoughts. What freedom!

Anger and resentment could threaten my sobriety

I have learned that when negative emotions begin to take over, Step Ten has taught me what to do. Step Ten is indeed an all-day-long step! Its rewards are beyond belief: “The problem (mental obsession) has been removed. It does not exist for us” (p. 85). That is, so long as I remain in a fit spiritual condition, Step Ten allows this to happen.

clear-cut directions in the Big Book, p. 84

Its rewards are beyond belief

Of course, the clear-cut directions mentioned on page 29, are not laid out on pages 59 and 60 of the Big Book, or on the pull-down “window shades” on the wall. These are only a preview, or a table of contents, if you will, of the Twelve Step process that is explained on the following pages of the Big Book. Bill Wilson tells you what he is going to tell you; then he tells you; then he tells you what he told you.

It was pointed out that there are five clear-cut directions on page 84, and I believe it is important to be aware how I learned how to live them in my life: “Watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fear” was from Step Four; “When these crop up, we asked God at once to remove them” was from Steps Six and Seven. “We discuss them with someone immediately” was from Step Five; “Make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone” was from Steps Eight and Nine; “Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help” was in Step Twelve.

Following all this is progress, not perfection, for yours truly. Sometimes I don’t even come close. Yet, I have not had a drink since my first AA meeting. For this I remain eternally grateful.

30 09, 2021

Surviving Fear: Doing the Work

by Michael W

Addressing fears is like doing the dishes. There will always be dishes, and we just keep doing them (doing the work).

 Alcoholics like me, are always in fear. Although most times it is “False Evidence Appearing Real. ” Sometimes fear is real. Fear can also become as cunning and baffling as alcohol. Whereas I’m unaware of the fear which can be insidiously chipping away at my serenity and acceptance. We must do the work and give away our fears to a Higher Power (HP). 

I could no longer see literally, but I could see more clearly

A few years into my early recovery, I was diagnosed with a genetic corneal disease called, keratoconus, to which my condition was one of the most advanced the eye surgeons had ever seen. Multiple corneal transplants would be mandatory and even those procedures would have limited effectiveness. At 5 years sober I was legally blind; I could only see blotches of colors, no form. 

Fast forward through multiple transplants and stitches in my eyes, I was able to stay sober, work and could see reasonably well for over 15 years in recovery. I could even drive a car and easily fly around the world for work.  As time passed, I noticed a gradual shift whereas I couldn’t focus easily and required hundreds of eye drops a day due to severe dry-eye from the multiple transplants. Ironically, I was also chasing some of my defects of character in a workaholic-type pace, but still very much inside of AA service and meetings. The fear gripped me that I’m going blind again, but I gave all this fear to my HP. And what about the new ego-car in the driveway? I couldn’t drive it! Oh the irony and sense of humor from my HP. 

I have my wonderful family and an awesome life in sobriety

Too much fear is not an option for this alcoholic

Living in fear is optional. It’s a choice we must work in Steps 1-3 and action steps 6-7. Too much fear is not an option for this alcoholic. To those afflicted with my condition, I’ve often stated, “There are much, much worse diseases. We will be ok.” Today I’m walking and running to work, healthier than I’ve ever been. Although I cannot legally drive a car, I’m able to work just fine. I use very large fonts and technology keeps improving. One day there might even be synthetic corneas which will cure this disease for millions of people. The 12 steps remove the fear, because after all, if I were drinking, using, and in self-pity, I’d have no life. Instead, AA gave me back my wonderful family and an awesome life in sobriety. 

I was told in the beginning AA was a simple program for complicated people. It helped to go to meetings, work the steps, get a sponsor and be of service. I’ve followed these simple suggestions to the best of my ability. They’ve helped keep me sober, one day at a time, these past 21 years.

30 09, 2021

Sparkles in Your Eyes

by Christine R

“There are sparkles in your eyes.  You must’ve have been to a meeting.”  So said my co-worker who worked alongside me in a busy, bustling office.  She had nine months on the program.  I had denial. I had not stopped drinking and lived in a grease pit of despair with no footholds or handholds to grasp onto.   What I clung to was the value of meetings where I knew I would feel “less bad.”  With all the pains of a newcomer, less bad still sounded like a step up.  Sometimes, later in the afternoon she’d sidle up to me again, gaze into my eyes and say, “The sparkles are gone.  You need to get to another meeting.”

I had not stopped drinking and lived in a grease pit of despair with no footholds

Sparkles are defined as bright moving points of light.  In AA literature the image of light is found frequently.  “Darkness into light”; “Light and new confidence”; “Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot in our lives.” We are like bright moving points of light for one another.

Some years and sobriety later, thanks to researching this light observation, I sense the sparkles.  The sparkles in my eyes as well as in others. They come from meetings.  They come from connection with my fellow alcoholics.

When the sparkles leave my eyes, I know it’s time to refill the spiritual tank.  A spiritual light tank, if you will – rather like a lighthouse.  Time to take out the Spiritual Windex and clean the windows so the light and sparkles can shine forth for the next wayfarer to avoid life’s rocks; to stay in life’s shipping lanes.

When my chaotic life gets put on hold, if only for an hour, that hour provides an oasis for the needed pause for perspective to “regard things in a different light.” Funny how once my ears were opened, I could see.  “The problem for us is to discover a chink in the walls the ego has built, through which the light of reason can shine.”

discover a chink in the walls the ego has built, through which the light of reason can shine

In early days, I remember romancing drinking again, ruminating this with my sponsor.  Thankfully, my sponsor got ahold of me like an errant puppy and took me outside the meeting room. She shook me awake saying, “Before you take that drink, try phoning up your friend who went out last week.  Give a call and find out how fantastic it feels to go out.  Ask how wonderful the experience is to raise her hand as a newcomer for another 30 days.”

She hotly added I was a garden variety drunk.  No greater or less than anyone else in the room.  I was instructed to call a newcomer and have the privilege of listening to someone else for a while.  Have the privilege of listening to someone else for a while.

Have the privilege of listening to someone else for a while

The penny dropped.  And so did my ego.  Ego deflation, ego puncturing, with every step one more veil is taken away.  As Bill W. said, “The scales of judgment fell from my eyes.”   Scales of judgment blind me to what is the Truth and shut me off from the sunlight of the Spirit.

Our 11th Step Prayer reads, “Where there are shadows, I may bring light.” Like sticks need one another to create flame. We need one another to channel light.  As one person phrased it, “I didn’t catch alcoholism.  Alcoholism caught me.  I caught the light from coming to meetings.”  With every meeting, a new light falls into the dark world of the alcoholic. And fills our eyes with sparkles.

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