7 02, 2022

The Sobriety By the Bay Conference Returns to San Francisco

Written by Laura V.

On January 7th, 2022, The Sobriety by the Bay Conference returned to San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral to do what it does best; bring hundreds of sober alcoholics from across the Bay Area together in unity, service and recovery. Over the last two years, the pandemic has had a profound impact on Alcoholics everywhere, isolating us, closing down our meetings, and limiting our ability to connect in person. So, to say that this year’s Conference was a much-anticipated beacon of hope would be an understatement. Throughout the entire weekend, the enthusiasm & excitement was palpable. Sober alcoholics from fellowships all around the Bay & beyond came to connect! And the experience was transformative.

This year’s Conference promised a roster of impressive speakers, each with an impactful, AA message. One by one throughout the weekend, these powerhouses took to the SBTB podium and delivered! On Friday’s opening night, Sobriety by the Bay attendees excitedly flooded Gresham Hall to hear the weekend’s first speaker, Greg H. of Brentwood, CA kick things off with a clear and powerful message, setting the tone for the rest of the event. Saturday morning, Samantha B. brought down the house with her chair, taking her listeners on a heartfelt recovery rollercoaster of laughter, pain & healing. It was a message that hit deep and stayed on the heart well after the morning meeting commenced.

All weekend long, old-timers & newcomers enjoyed the opportunity to experience sobriety together, sharing themselves, listening, and learning from one-another. Many individuals came from rehabs & detox centers from around the Bay, newly sober and eager to begin the steps, find a sponsor and connect in fellowship for the first time. Early risers gathered Saturday morning for the Too Early Big Book Study. Later that day the 4th Step Workshop drew quite a crowd, bringing members of all lengths of sobriety together to work on one of AA’s most transformational steps. Over the course of a few hours, Paco D. lead everyone through the process of writing a thorough 4th Step, sharing insights and wisdom garnered over 31 years of sobriety.

Saturday night, Chris R. of Ingram, Texas took to the Sobriety by the Bay podium for perhaps the most anticipated event of the weekend. Known for his strong stance on AA and fiery words, Chris R. filled Grace Cathedral’s stunning Nave with a message of depth, weight and clarity for old & young members alike. He spoke of relapse and he spoke of being recovered. Tears filled his eyes as he shared a moment from his early sobriety when an elder AA member looked at him and said the words, “We need you.” He reminded the crowd of the importance of connection and of action, and they thanked him with a thunderous standing ovation when he was done.

This year was The Sobriety by the Bay Conference’s most successful year to date, bringing more alcoholics together than ever before, and raising a whopping $7800.00 to donate to AA’s San Francisco Central Office. To put that into perspective, the previous four years’ donations COMBINED totaled $10,799.00! What a testament to the enthusiasm and generosity of Bay Area members of Alcoholics Anonymous, especially on the heels of the pandemic. Putting on an event like Sobriety by the Bay is no simple task, but being a part of the Conference’s Committee is an amazing & rewarding way to be of service. The planning and organizing begins months in advance, and the committee is always looking for new members from San Francisco and beyond to help bring this transformative event together for our city! If you’re looking for an exciting new way to be of service and would like to be a part of the Sobriety by the Bay Team, please reach out and connect with us by emailing our volunteer coordinator at [email protected] !

7 02, 2022

Step Two – When the Chips Were Down

Following the suggestions I had been hearing at meetings, shortly after the miracle of sobriety had come into my life when the obsession to drink had literally vanished on Saint Patrick’s Day, I got a sponsor. The decision to select one, although made in March, remained pending until Summer. The delay was due to my fear of being honest with another person about my drinking, the wreckage it was causing and what I was going to have to do to address my alcoholism. Because I had a strong and positive religious background, although different from that of my sponsor, Step Two seemed a real “no brainer.”

Of course I believed in God, I had for as long as I could remember. I had no trouble with the concept of God. I did not need to find Him in a quiet moment in the Redwoods or atop the rocks at Lands End, the surf pounding in my ears. I knew He was always there, heck He had taken away the obsession. If He could do that, He was powerful enough in my book to do anything – almost.

Thus became the dilemma. Sure this power greater than I had flexed His muscles and relieved me of the obsession to drink, of that there was absolutely no doubt. My sponsor and I affirmed that reality in short order. He next presented the compelling and wonderfully logical argument that, if this Power was so great and it could relieve in me my obsession to drink, why would I not consider it powerful enough to turn my will and my life over to its care? Later in the process of working the Steps, succumbing to the same argument made taking the book down from the shelf, to contemplate the work so far done and Steps Six and Seven which were to now follow, so much simpler, so straightforward. But as the one days-at-a-time of this program keep marching along, I heard things like “More will be Revealed” and “Life on Life’s Terms” at my meetings. I paid particular attention to the warning that I would be in trouble if I were to think I had this program “wired” and could afford to rest on my laurels.

Since so much of what my sponsor shared with me had come to him through his own schooling in the class of hard knocks, I expected things could go South, even if I was fortunate enough, as I had been, to remain sober during and in spite of my early trials and tribulations. Though it seems not to be so with every alcoholic in recovery, many, as was the case with me, at one time or another do get some real challenges tossed in our path. It has been said that real growth can only come from confronting adversity and surviving it with integrity. So it was with the challenges with which I had to contend and my cases arose on several different battlefronts.

Though each of us likely have stories of our life’s struggles which we have overcome, it seems too that we can come to a junction, we can come to a line, a level of pain, a point in time were we just silently scream for all and none to hear: This is too much, it must stop or I cannot go on another step. As I hit that point I did so without Jose Cuervo, my former bodyguard, I was defenseless, I had no power. I thought I was doomed, all the imagined scenarios were ending up under a freeway ramp, alone, dying of cancer by week’s end.

This is where my disease was leading me in its ruthlessly cunning and oh so powerful way. Its lure had all the subtlety of the sounds of frivolity that Bill spoke of coming from that bar on the other side of the hotel lobby. Just as he was running out of nickels then, my disease was working me now, it was All-In on this deal. I was sober and had been for many moons. I was working my program, I had commitments, I sponsored other men, but I had not been cured of my alcoholism. I had just been living my daily reprieve in recovery. So when the crisis hit and hit hard, with wave upon wave of problems, for days without end, I got to the point where I was sure it would overwhelm me, where was I to turn.

This was when I really began to understand what gratitude truly meant. Gratitude for those who come before me, for those who started the Fellowship to which I now belonged, for those who held out the hand of sobriety at my meetings. I heard of their lessons learned and asked of myself the question they had suggested I pose When the Chips Were Down: What Steps could I apply to the challenges which confronted me. Although it had been years since I had “let” [ha, ha] my Higher Power restore me to sanity, I began to see in this intense adversity what the words “came to believe” were all about. For if I truly did believe in this God of my understanding, then I also had to know, I had to have come to the belief that, all would be well, despite my perceptions of the injustices which beset me and my fears of what the future had I store.

More had indeed been revealed. With the serenity of being at peace with the notion that all would be well, over time all was well. The complexities of the problems, seemed to melt into unexpected clarity. Instead of continuing to bang on the doors that had been welded shut against me, I saw new doors appear, these were ajar with hope, so that when pushed with honest action, they opened to resolution. All did not break my way, but my difficulties had been taken away. I was in the aftermath able to bear witness to the truth that When the Chips Were Down, I could turn to my Higher Power and know, really know, all would be well. This was a whole new attitude and outlook upon life, it was a promise made and a promise kept.

7 02, 2022

Two Aspects of Step Two

Step Two: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

BELIEF: William James taught: “pragmatic rationality.” That is to say that under certain conditions, it is both right and reasonable for us to choose beliefs that promote our interests. In other words, if it is beneficial to you: go for it!

As soon as few marbles began twirling the same direction in my noggin, my choice became quite obvious, I could choose to believe and have a good chance for sobriety, or choose to disbelieve and doubtless end up with the DTs (delirium tremens) one more time. What a seemingly easy choice! My heart said yes, let’s go for it! So, I did all those things AA said to do, but yet my stubborn head continued to come up new bright ideas. Dangerous ideas!

I could faintly hear that song from Porgy and Bess: “It Ain’t necessarily so.” Now that voice is the very same voice that I followed into the barroom time after time. Later on in AA I learned that Bill Wilson tagged it: Mental Obsession. In retrospect I can now see that my debating mind would get me drunk, but my willing-to-believe heart would allow me to remain sober. Thank God I allowed my heart to lead me; in finality, my willingness to believe overcame my doubting mind.

I like the story about Fitz Mayo on pages 56 & 57 where he “. . . seemingly could not drink even if he would.” And this was simply because he was “willing to believe.” So it doesn’t matter what my mind thinks so long as my actions spring from my believing and trusting heart. Someone said, “When I gave up on a conclusion of the mind, and made a decision of the heart, the static stopped.

Well, my ‘static’ stopped many years ago; God has protected me from that first drink since my very first AA meeting, and my heart still sings: I believe! I believe!

INSANITY: I came into AA after a long nonstop toot with the usual accompanying delirium tremens. During my first meeting I was still hearing non-existent “music” and for several weeks my emotions were a roller coaster. For a normal person that might warrant a diagnosis of a schizophrenia with a bipolar disorder, e.g., INSANE. However, I have come to believe that the Big Book use of that word is in the context of something quite different.

I finally realized the Big Book was trying to get across to me only after studying the Big Book for some time. Two examples:

  • In Jim’s story on pages 35-37, Jim came to the erroneous conclusion that he could safely drink whiskey so long as he mixed it would milk. As foolish as this may sound, no medical professional would clinically declare him insane. Alcoholic, yes. Insane no.
  • Then later on page 37 I found: “Whatever the precise definition of the word may be, we call this plain insanity.”
  • We fellow alcoholics might simply consider this as “Alco-logical” thinking.

I believe this is what Bill meant to get across to us:

  • Sane: When an alcoholic can see and act on the truth in drink.
  • Insane: When an alcoholic cannot see and act on the truth in drink.

Bob S

7 02, 2022

Desperation is a Great Motivator

Sincerity is a Great Healer
Rick R.

Recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) affects people in many ways. The first and most obvious is their ability to abstain from the use of alcohol, for without that there can be no recovery. Next is the willingness to abandon the idea that they can do this on their own and to seek the help of something outside of their own failed way of thinking. Third is the act of surrendering and “buying in” completely (so to speak).

At this point, the recovery process may differ depending on your age, your gender, your economic situation, your marital status, your legal woes, and other side issues. It is not our role to judge anyone who comes to A. A. seeking help, nor is it our job to bail them out of their current situation out of sympathy. That does not mean that we cannot buy a meal for a hungry soul or give them a few bucks for gas.

We are recovering alcoholics and our role is to listen and to try to understand what they need from us consistent with the principles we have learned, and relate our experiences with them. Younger arrivals usually are dually addicted. The average long-term alcoholic that has not experienced the drug culture lifestyle may have a difficult time identifying with them. Recovered addicts usually share about their Rip Off mentality as a user, while the average common variety alcoholic talks about the guilt and shame and the need to pay their bar-tab.

A high percentage of our membership arrive in their forties in the middle of, or on the cusp of the threat of a divorce, loss of employment, or serious health issues, and without experienced feed-back, make bad decisions where, in some cases, they could have salvaged their marriage and saved the children the damage caused by divorce, kept their job and/or resolved their heath issues.

My main question when greeting a newcomer at a meeting is usually “What brings you to A.A.?” Usually, their response comes in the form of a complaint about the situation they are in, (divorce papers, DUI, being fired from their job, etc.) My next question is, “If that hadn’t happened, would you be here today?” Their response is usually, “Probably not.” I then explain that my first wife could have filed for divorce ten times before she became desperate enough to do it and, had she not, I would still be out there circling the drain or worse.

For two years I tried to convince her to take me back, but it did not happen. Desperation brought me to the door of A.A. where I began the life I live today. This type of perspective usually gets their attention, and they often turn out to be more accepting of the need to change.

Next, I share the experience that worked for me. It may come in a sincere statement such as,” I know that I have been wrong about what a husband’s/father’s responsibilities are and that I am an alcoholic, and I believe that I’ve found the solution to my drinking problem. You have suffered from all of this, and I have learned greatly from the mistakes I have made, and I intend to do my best to make it right. Whatever the outcome is, I want to minimize the trauma to the children as we move forward.” This type of sincerity sometimes takes the pressure off and gives the suffering souse/boss etc. some breathing room and in some cases, opens the door to salvaging the marriage or the job. My question is: Can you live up to these proposed actions?

Another area where sincerity and ownership of past mistakes has an unexpected outcome is in the courtroom. Judges have heard every flimsy excuse in the world and can see right through all the BS of con artists, and they are not fooled by them. Believe me when I say that I have witnessed more than my share of these two approaches to resolving the damages of alcoholic behavior, and the sincere approach far outweighs the con job, most of the time, and you cannot fake sincerity.

7 02, 2022

The Pearl Necklace

Days of sobriety are like pearls on a necklace. One pearl at a time, one day at a time, pearls line up on the strand of life. Each day of sobriety is like a pearl of great price. A great price paid for our sobriety. The car crashes, the sanitariums, the courtrooms, the prisons.

One such gem happened when I was new, desperately trying to get sober. Slipping and sliding over several months, there were no footholds or handholds in this grease pit of despair. Some people call slips “convincers.” Some say SLIP is the anagram for Sobriety Loses Its Priority. No matter what you call it, few things are worse than a belly full of booze and a head full of A.A.

I had a home group. I had a commitment. Those two anchors brought me a third one. A woman who would eventually become my sponsor. Because I went missing and because she had great sobriety, she called me. She called right a time when I was drinking. I cried out, “Kathy, I got this glass of wine in my hand. I can’t put it down.” Kathy answered, “Promise me you won’t hurt yourself and I’ll meet you at the 7 a.m. Cabin Meeting tomorrow morning.” Sure enough. 6:45 a.m. standing in the porchlight was Kathy. Kathy is a Native Alaskan. There she was in her Alaskan outfit of turquoise, fringed black leather, a bright red sweater. So beautiful, wild, and strong. Here I came: sick, white-faced, alone, and frightened. That moment of our meeting under the starlight of morning and the welcoming warmth of an AA meeting is my forever treasure.

Straightaway, she took me to those bad window shades on the wall we call “The 12 Steps.” Surprisingly, Kathy pointed not to Step One but to Step Six. “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” Kathy asked, “Are you done now? Are you done yet? Are you entirely ready to have these defects of character removed?”

Those three questions rolled into one brought the realization of what caused me to drink: my defects of character. My arrogance, my resentments, my self-pity, my fears. They say, “alcohol is but a symptom.” By reading Step Six with Kathy came the awareness of the “causes and conditions” for my drinking. I sensed a chance for victory over alcohol so long as I had a sponsor to guide me and the willingness to look deeper into what was really running the show.

Kathy went on to say, “The Steps are user-friendly. They are like a chest of drawers. You can pull out different ones for different occasions.”

Where there is resentment at someone for not keeping their commitment, I can say the 5th Step Prayer, “This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry.” (Sometimes it takes a Supreme Being to save me from being angry). With the 3rd Step Prayer, turning the situation over to my Higher Power, I return to my day and into the sunlight of the Spirit. “Nothing grows much in the dark,” says our literature. Mushrooms and negatives are developed in the dark.

The practice of the Steps suggest we do the opposite of our character defects. Each Step contains a principle, or counterbalance, to those character defects.

Pearls form through the agitation of grains of sand. As a newcomer I arrived agitated, restless, irritable, and discontent. All that agitation, swirling about in the early dawn of my first day of sobriety, were the seedlings for a great necklace; to priceless pearls of sobriety.

7 02, 2022

An Anonymous Story

We are all spiritual beings having a human experience.”

I went to my first meeting in Turlock, in 1980. I was eighteen years old. I’d left home at fifteen. My folks gave me a choice, I could quit selling pot or to move out. They were wonderfully liberal but not liberal enough to have their entrepreneurial son carry on with his successful drug business. I moved over to my girlfriend’s place and became the pseudo male of the family as there were no other male figures in the mix.

Around twelve or thirteen, I started daily drinking and using and quickly realized I had to develop an income if I wanted to continue my lifestyle. I was successful from the start and gravitated into the restaurant business working first as a waiter at fourteen and moved up the ranks to management, while continuing to wait tables and sell drugs. I was drawn to upper-end eateries and utilizing my skills, many doors were opened. A fellow worker saw how intensely I drank and used, he recommended that first AA meeting.

After graduation my girlfriend wanted to study fashion in L. A. We broke up when I was twenty-one, but I followed her to Southern California and continued to work at high end restaurants. I started out at the Polo Lounge and Scandia but would go anywhere they wanted me. In 1984, I went to my first rehab, a Care Unit in Southern California. This began many varied, experiences in drug and alcohol rehab. In 1988 I moved into the Salvation Army, and this was followed by Walden House and Kaiser’s CDRP. I kept thinking if I went to rehab, they would fix me. It took a while to realize it was an inside job.

Almost all my formative years, I’ve been in AA, in and out of recovery. Program offered an opportunity to learn life’s lessons, and, in the process, I learned how to be a human being. We are all spiritual beings having a human experience. It’s messy by nature. We always make mistakes and I see those mistakes as defects of character. The great thing about AA is that people in recovery are patient. We watch people come in and out while they get what they’re supposed to get on their time, not ours. Over this period, I accrued two, three and five years or recovery before my present sobriety date, October 13, 2003.

Over all those years of recovery, I chose to date women within AA. It was all I knew, and dating fellow alcoholics offered my strongest likelihood for recovery. Normies don’t understand out disease.

The problem today is that because of my “within house” dating, it has all come back to bite me. A “Predator List” of some members has come to my attention. This is a list of men to stay away from because of inappropriate behavior. My name is on that list. I’m sick about this. Yet I can do nothing to remedy it and I’m not sure what I did, exactly. I want to make amends and don’t know how it can be done. The whole purpose of AA is to make amends for wrongs done and hopefully be forgiven. I don’t deny my past, but I’d sure like to shut that door on it.

Page 69 of our Alcoholics Anonymous book says, “We do not want to be the arbiter of anyone’s sex conduct.”

Today, I’m active in my AA program. I love sharing my years of fighting for sobriety. I don’t sign up to be anyone’s Higher Power, but I happily share the story of my journey with anyone from those in the Bleachers of Golden Gate Park to inmates at San Quentin. I’ve traveled all over the world, thanks to AA and still wait a table every so often. I may never be able to pay AA back for what it’s given me, but I’ll give back all I’m capable of.

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