30 03, 2023

The Fourth Step Inventory Process

I Got it Right the Second Time
By Rick R

My first attempt at doing a Fourth Step inventory came as I was approaching my first year of sobriety. I now realize that I was rushing into it before I understood what the objective was and after scribbling down a great number of superficial deeds that I had done during my drinking days, my project was abruptly interrupted by a flight to Asia and a four month vacation aboard a Navy tanker in the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club (being in the Navy at the time). I didn’t have the opportunity to get to a single meeting during that time, but I did have a lot of quiet nights at sea where I contemplated my life before Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), and what I was going to do with the rest of my life. It was during that time that I decided, By God; I wasn’t going to mess this thing up. I was going to do it by the book. I longed to be back in the safety of that very loving group that I left four months earlier. I knew that with their love and support I could get it right, I realized, as I was studying Step Six it says, “We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character” and in Step Seven, it says “Humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings”. To me that means, in Step Four, I should be trying to identify my defects of character and my Shortcomings. The example of this step in the Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous) shows a chart which describes what we did, why we did it (fear of something), and who we did it to. It occurred to me that if I could identify the root cause of my problems (defects/fears) that I could change the behavior that resulted from those actions (shortcomings). To explain this in simple terms, I produced this scenario that anyone could understand, and it goes like this. I purchased a large SUV off the showroom floor, drove away and, at the first signal light, I hit the brakes and it didn’t stop till I was out into the cross traffic. I drove back to the dealer and explained what happened. They checked it out and discovered that they had put the wrong brake shoes on it by mistake, they replaced them with the correct brakes and when I came to the signal light the SUV stopped, and it stopped at all the other stop lights as well. The defect (root cause) was that the brakes were the wrong size. The shortcoming (behavior) was that the vehicle did not stop properly. Once the defect was corrected, the shortcoming went away. For example, I was talking to one of my mentors, at that time, about criticizing other people and he said that the criticism of others stems from my own, low self-esteem (defect), it occurred to me that with a little self-restraint, I could slowly refrain from that behavior. Once I identify my defects of character, it seems to take all the power out of them, for instance, if I could find any value in criticizing another person, I might still be doing it but there is no value in it except to feed my ego and it shows weakness of character (Low self-esteem).

I used that template on all the behaviors that I’m not proud of, and I feel stronger for it. That four months at sea gave me the motivation to revisit the Fourth Step and get it right the second time around and I highly recommend the revisiting that step if you feel troubled by old behaviors. It did wonders for me.

30 03, 2023

My Off The Wall Higher Power

By Bree L

My Higher Power or God was never an integral part of life before A.A. Early on, I prayed up to heaven, looking for someone or something to emerge and help. I prayed a lot, even hugged a couple trees believing God was above and in nature. I fully appreciated a somewhere-God and cried a bit but not much happened. I was still the lone person praying to the heavens for deliverance.

Later, I became an avid Christian and God moved down from the sky to the church wall. God, the holy man was up front, at the alter on a cross surrounded by stained glass and Holy Water. That God was visual, an image I could see and relate to, but he remained at the church. After services, I knew I was alone. In between, I said a lot of prayers, went to a couple retreats and tried to live a Christian life on my own, but I was still going it alone .

Coming into A.A. they talked about a Higher Power. I couldn’t call it God because I already knew where God was located. But A.A. said I could have any God or Higher Power I wanted just as long as it wasn’t me. I decided to take God down off the wall and move him into my heart. The task was to think with my heart rather than my head. My mind is good for many things like paying bills, doing the laundry and putting in a good day’s work but my heart is more the architect who is wiser with more experience. Today I ask myself, “What does my heart say?” and have guidance with which I’m always comfortable.

30 03, 2023

The Chip

by Cabin Wisdom

Thirty days, 60 days, 90 days, six months, nine months, then on through the years. Go to any chip meeting and you will witness the time-honored tradition of praising in public those who have gained anniversaries of sobriety.

The 24-hour chip is my favorite as a constant reminder this is a 24-hour program. Tomorrow is promised to no one. A chip in my pocket jingles along with the coinage, keeping me mindful time is not a tool. Takes 31 years to get 31 years. Takes 31 seconds to become a newcomer. 

Early sobriety days saw me hustling to the 7 a.m. Cabin meeting. By the early morning glow of the Cabin porchlight, with cigarette embers burning, members stood outside to hail me with boisterous, “Did you drink last night?” So proud to announce I had not. Gaining that 30-day chip was like receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. After years of alcoholic living, came this one small chip. The first sense of accomplishment in years. 

At the Cabin we give out chips. When members round the corner to an anniversary, we celebrate with chips, lots of clapping, and delight on our faces. The Big Book describes how “time spent with newcomers as well as each other is the highlight of our day.” So true. A gift to the heart and soul is the inner, glowing pleasure on a member’s face as he passes ‘round his 60-day coin. Yesterday a fellow with a gleaming red 30-day chip, crossed the room to hold it aloft to his new-found friends. “Look what they give us here!” he exclaimed. 

Chips have saved my life. Celebrating a one year anniversary at the Carnelian Room in San Francisco–one of the more chichi restaurants in The City, I placed my new gold one-year anniversary chip on the table and grandly ordered dessert. I love desserts that are on fire, a la flambé. Forgot the fact flambé also requires booze with a high alcohol content. The waiter knew. He saw the chip on the table and said, “I’d hate to see you go out and become a newcomer on one of these deserts! Especially on your first-year anniversary.” Turned out, the waiter was a friend of Bill W. Saved my life and my pocketbook. Non Flammable vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce proved the best bet after all.

During that same first year, I made the mistake of traveling through Spain with my mother. The one person who could make me think of a drink while she downed quarts of scotch and brandy. In Malaga at that time, I could not locate a meeting of Alcohólicos Anónimos. When I asked if such a program was available, the hotel management thought I was drunk and required hospitalization. I was a dry drunk with nowhere to go and an alcoholic mother in tow. What to do? Eventually, I found what appeared to be a meeting. The dead giveaway was the people striding with that A.A. stride of folks needing a meeting. “Get out of my way, while I get spiritual,” they seem to say. Tip: Knowing this helps us find meetings. Look for the A.A. stride.

That A.A. stride was on a woman heading up an alleyway. While asking for her help, I pulled the one-year chip from my pocket. The gold lustered. She was in awe. Motioning me to follow her, the lady steered me toward what became daily Spanish meetings. Thank God! Before heading back to the States, I gave her my coin.

Thanks to our chips, an ancillary benefit is learning your Roman Numerals. My sponsor’s chip reads: XLVII. 

Some folks don’t go to chip meetings, feeling they are somehow vain or boastful. Here’s to share: chips are not about you. They help those around you, particularly newcomers. Watching you receive your chip, they can say to themselves, “If that son-of-a-buck can make this program, so can I! There’s a chance for me too.” You provide hope “when no one else can.”

Page 153 of the Big Book describes our text as a chip of a book launched on the world tide of alcoholism. We also provide chips off the old block/book. There’s a chip for your pocket, to lay on your altar, or to receive from the Cabin, with a host of new friends cheering you on your Road of Happy Destiny.

30 03, 2023

Higher Power and Gender

By Sandra D

When I first got into recovery I was anti-God. I had grown up in a Catholic family and then my dad started taking me to a Christian church. I joined a bible study group as a teen and quickly understood that my questions were not going to be answered in any way that I found satisfying, so I stopped going.

From that moment on my definition of God was a white male who I knew to fear and hide from. So when I first got sober I was angry at God and my family for their beliefs. 

I came out as a teenager and this also rattled my beliefs in the only God I have ever learned about. I know the saying is–to the love the sinner, hate the sin–but it all felt like hate to me. So I rejected the word God in the steps and the Big Book. As an angry lesbian woman I also resented the fact that the Big Book describes God as Him when A.A. doesn’t prescribe to any specific religion. As a newcomer I went through the first 160 pages of the Big Book and crossed out He/Him and changed to She/Her.

Being in A.A. helped me to finally feel seen and understood, and yet so much of the text in the Big Book contained underlying misogynistic themes that I couldn’t relate to. This made me feel like I was fighting, yet again, to fit in–in a place that was meant for anyone with alcoholism and addiction. 

As a newcomer I believed in God as Goddess. I made God a Her, and bristled against any implications that God was/is male. If A.A. truly doesn’t believe in any one religion why is God a He and not a She? Why not a They? Why not Gods (plural)?

My journey towards my Higher Power has been tumultuous and joyful; A solid spiritual journey that helped me to realize that God is bigger than gender. God is Everything! A baby’s laugh, a dogs lolling tongue, the taste of ice cream, the love of family, a beautiful sunset, the dear friends we make in recovery and the spirit in every meeting.

Over the many years I’ve stayed sober God has become a feeling rather than a person. When I want to feel closer to God I go to the beach and let myself be humbled by the ebb and flow of the waves and the fierceness of the wind. In those moments I have a sense of belonging and peace because I can feel and see God working her/their magic.

30 03, 2023

There are No Rules

by Sandy B

When I first came into A.A. I was totally mystified. How can something work when there wasn’t a Board of Directors, President, Vice Presidents etc.? In short, a management group responsible for setting the rules to make sure that all were on the same path did not exist. I was told there are no rules in A.A. each group was autonomous. Here was an organization that was responsible for countless miracles and we who worked the A.A. program are blessed with sobriety. Management, as I knew it, did not exist. I was in the corporate world, so this organization made no sense.

Forty one years later my heart is full of gratitude. Over that time, I have come to realize it works because our founders listened to their angels. Ours is a program with Twelve Traditions that keep A.A. on an even keel and Twelve Steps which help us gain sobriety one day at a time. Without the traditions A.A. would have folded years ago. I do not know how I would have been graced with sobriety without working the steps. Yet, there are no rules.

Sometimes it becomes difficult for us to realize that there are no rules. There are times when we want the rules to exist and in those times we may manufacture them to support our concepts of how the A.A. program works.

For now, I am focusing on the rule that “There Are No Rules.” In order to address the concept of group autonomy, it’s important to look at the A.A. traditions.

Tradition One: “ Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on A.A. Unity”

This tradition speaks to the critical nature of the group. “The group must survive or the individual will not.”

Our sobriety depends on each other. We share our experience, strength and hope with each other so that sobriety can be attained. Without the group there would be no way to find each other.

Tradition Two: “For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority–a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.”

This tradition takes us to another level. Questions such as:
Does A.A. have a leadership body in the form of “Elder statesmen”? or “Bleeding Deacons”?


Does the group conscience speak for itself where the group is led by a Higher Power, whose guidance leads to a working group where there are no rules?

As someone who has been in this program for over 40 years, I can tell you that there are times when it is too easy for an “elder statesman” to start dictating the workings of the program. We create rules along the lines of “it has always been that way!” We become “Bleeding Deacons”, because we have been around this block for some time and have seen what happens when the suggestions are not followed by others in the program. This is life and death and we have said goodbye too often. At some point, we think that rules will prevent people from going off the cliff. Are the “bleeding deacons” right, no. There are no rules. As humans we forget that fact.

Tradition Four: “Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.”

This is the most basic of all for a group. “Every group manages its affairs as it pleases, except when A.A. as a whole is threatened.”

We get lost in this one. It is assumed that what was done pre-Covid or what is done in other groups are rules that have to be carried across to the current group or other groups. In rare instances we think that every secretary should know the rules otherwise, why are they secretaries? We FORGET that There are No Rules. Overtime the machinations of our favorite group(s) are carried forward in our minds as rules. We forget that each group establishes the format they want to use for their group. Whether it is the meeting format or the way they want to run their business meeting. For example: When conducting a meeting in the SF area, we ask standard questions. When we do, we say: “It is the custom of most groups in the San Francisco Bay area to:” this is followed by asking if anyone is a newcomer, visitor, and celebrating an A.A. anniversary. In other places meetings may not ask these questions. It doesn’t mean that they don’t know what they are doing, it means they have not adopted this part of the format for their group(s). Remember there are no rules.

This write-up came about because I think we have forgotten that since Covid our groups are reformatting and growing again. The guidelines established before Covid are gone. New people have arrived and do not know about the past guidelines. It came to me that, perhaps, we needed a reminder. Please accept the following as a loving message and a reminder. It is, as always, a suggestion. For those of you who know me, you know where my heart is.

If your group wishes to establish a set of guidelines then:

Announce a business meeting to discuss the guidelines for the group. These can include but are not restricted to the following:

How often should a business meeting occur? Who should attend? How long should a secretary hold the position? Can a secretary who exceeded that time run again? How are elections to be held? And so on.

BUT remember there are no rules.

Please refer to the brochure titled “The A.A. Group … where it all begins”. It is available at the Dry Dock and Central Office for more information.

What makes A.A. work? We have a simple program and must protect its simplicity by not overthinking it. Be well and Be safe my friends. Love Sandy B.

30 03, 2023

Cleaning House

By John W

This particular winter had seemed long in the making
Even longer in leaving. . .like an end that never came
The awaited package which never arrived
A Nordic darkness bereft of light or hope. . .only isolation

A day’s sun seemed measured in minutes, not hours
The frigid cold of being alone was itself numbing
Sapping even the latent desire to live
Eviscerating the last hope of a new life, of change

But change would happen, there was no stopping it now
Except a slip of course, a relapse into “before”
It was clear one of those always lurked just out-of-sight
But not as far out-of-mind, so change was the only treatment

Another slip was certainly possible, another recovery against Big Odds
The Decision had been made, the only requirement clearly met
So being fear-less was possible. . .Without Fear, Fearless-so very doable
No false evidence appearing real, the Decision would overrule it!

The suggestion was to take stock, an inventory, a thorough one though.
No longer could I take the inventory of another and blame me on them
I had to take my inventory, all about me, a personal inventory
With a clear head I could be thorough and fearlessly cross the portal to change

The clarity induced by “without” helped me to be searching
I could more easily see the before, through the clear eyes of today
To be no longer afraid of what I would see
Promised I could not regret it or shut the door upon it

The task thus presented clear, likewise the goal,
For tales of those who avoided the task or missed the goal were gruesome
The lore was steeped in hearsay and anonymity, but ever present:
Be thorough and fearless, do the best you can with what you have or die

No “ifs”, “ands” or “buts” about this fork in the road, just the black and white
Starkness of choice, facing newcomers and old-timers alike, who
With the resolve of those in foxholes as the whistle to attack sounds
Engage daily this life and death struggle, where no quarter is given or expected

“You do not have to do this alone” this Army’s motto
My captain, my sponsor, issued the suggestions
These the same he had received as he this task had faced
My battle was his too, that is why he made so much sense to me.

One by one the resentments were sighted and mapped
My part in their making brought them closer, now well within range.
As each was then catalogued, recorded, a sense of progress becalmed me
“You need not be perfect “ I was told, just be the best you can now!

Only now I was not set up for failure, as had always been true before,
This was different, this change was a new outlook, a new attitude
How easy before it had been to blame them or it
Now the mirror of this process always kept me in focus too

The new day was dawning, I could feel it, as no feeling I had ever had,
I knew too I could admit to it, for I was no longer alone.
In the doing I was changing, in the admission,
I had hope today that the change would really come.

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