“he will know loneliness such as few do”

….a little blurb from the Big Book chapter “A Vision for You.” This loneliness can settle in when we are successful enough at withdrawing from life that almost no one can get in the way of our drinking. The latter was something I wanted for years. Ignorance and alcoholism led me down a path where I believed that I would be better off if everyone would just leave me alone. While I was relatively young when I bottomed out, I had managed to do fairly well in cutting myself off from most people.

I had a few friends but did not see or speak with them regularly. I was good at being evasive, being emotionally unavailable, and trusting no one. I had developed a habitat of speaking softly and mumbling my words as I really did not want to talk to people. With the possibilities that drunk driving and blackouts brought, it had become somewhat dangerous for me to go out and drink. I had learned it was safer to get drunk at home, which I usually did alone. All of these things led to a lot of isolation.

It is not inevitable that being alone will lead to loneliness but I had also developed a sense that I was somehow different from other people. This feeling of being apart, actually keeping myself away from others, and the opportunity to drink regularly was a bad combination. My life was like a black hole, sucking the light out of my surroundings in a way that expanded the darkness. The emotional pain I felt as a result of this and other problems was thankfully tempered by my drinking. Like every seasoned drunk, I was a pro at denying or escaping from emotional turmoil. Still this was no way to live and I was truly killing myself a drop at a time.

When I came to AA I was offered an opportunity to try and regain a saner way of living.

The fellowship and my sponsor supported me in beginning to live a life that included budding friendships, attending social functions without being afraid of what I might end up doing, and opportunities to just hang out with a group of people after meetings. All of these activities were emotionally painful. I discovered I had a lot of fear and anxiety that would get tweaked whenever I was around other people. Fortunately the fellowship was consistently supportive and safe. I learned there that my worries and fears were almost all unfounded. This knowledge helped but did not necessarily put an end to my discomfort. Eventually I learned to relax, to speak up and voice my opinion in discussions, and to be more open about how I felt.

Those baby steps I took in AA eventually were put into practice outside of the fellowship. Today I risen all the way to the level of normal in my social interactions. I have friends that I keep in touch with on a regular basis. I rarely feel the need to revert to being a shady con artist that will tell anyone anything to get what I want. I no longer attempt to isolate myself as a matter of course but I do still cherish being alone. It is time I often use to recharge myself spiritually.

Having others in my life is so important that it is difficult for me to fathom how I survived, virtually alone, when I was drinking. AA helped me to escape that insanity and still provides reminders of how bad things had once been. Every so often I have a conversation with a newcomer who is mumbling, talking softly, and very obviously scared out of their wits to be talking to someone. It is chilling to see this as a reflection of who I once was but it also fills me with gratitude that I am sober today.

Wishing you all the best in sobriety,

The great I meets the more powerful we

The first AA meeting I attended had the steps posted on the wall. I read them, as this was about the most comfortable thing I could do. I did not want to talk with or look at anyone. It may have been that very day but if not, it was within my first few meetings, that I realized what these “12 steps” were all about. I had never heard about them, or AA, before this. I immediately realized I could never do the steps. I arrived at meetings as an atheist but surprisingly it wasn’t God that was standing in my way. It was steps five and nine. I knew that I could never tell someone else the true nature of all my wrongs and I could never make amends to even some of the people I harmed.

I was absolutely right. I never did the fifth step and I did not make amends. As a drunk I am of course stricken with a bad case of self-centeredness. There are so many things I cannot do. Like quit drinking. I believed God did not exist therefore it was not possible for me to even guess that I could be provided with enough guidance, strength, and courage to do many things with God’s help that I could not do on my own.

The island that was the great “I” slowly become part of the “we” that Alcoholics Anonymous tells us about. I would occasionally speak up at a meeting. I started to talk with people before and after the meeting (babble on my part, lots of patience and tolerance from someone else!). I asked someone to sponsor me and this man got me started on working the steps. This led to my trying to pray and working on forming a relationship with a power greater than myself….that I totally did not understand.

I was told to work on one step at a time. Don’t worry about those I haven’t done yet. That was fine until I got to step four. Now I could think of nothing but step five – it was coming up right after four!!!!! I thought there was no way I could go through with it so I procrastinated. I was finally forced into one of those put up or I-might-as-well-go-get-drunk places. I had a really, really bad day, went to a meeting, and was too scared and disturbed to talk to someone afterwards. I was a mess as I was driving home. I was thinking how bad it was that I couldn’t ask for help at an AA meeting, which was one of few places I knew was a safe refuge for me. I realized I was screwed up in ways that needed to get straightened out or I was sure to drink again. It dawned on me that taking the fourth step inventory might help in figuring out what was wrong with me. Of course I had read and heard this before but now it made sense and might even be something that was necessary. The fifth step be damned – I had to try to work on step four.

The next morning I prayed for God to help me and within a few minutes my list was started. That experience, and a few others that had come before, provided me with enough faith to eventually have the courage to take my fifth step. My sponsor and God were in the room with me while my sponsor talked me through telling him what was written in my inventory. We did my fifth step, not the great “I” that was incapable of taking this action.

As I made my way through the steps my sponsor eventually helped me to work up a plan of action for making my amends. My first was to be to my mother. I found myself sitting at her kitchen table one day, scared as to what would come of trying to make amends. We were having a normal conversation – as I had not specifically told her I needed to talk to her about making amends – but I just couldn’t begin to do what I needed to. I eventually got up and told her I was going for a walk outside. I made my way to a place where I could sit on a bench and there I began to pray for help, courage, and the words I needed to say. I got up after a few minutes, walked back, and made my amend. Just like my fifth step, there were two people and God there for this. My mother was not as concerned with past events as I was, and just wanted me to be well, happy, and sober. A loving response and very consistent with how my mother always acted towards me. It of course made no sense that I expected this experience was going to be very bad.

While it was not easy to make my amends, for whatever reason getting through that first one proved to be the biggest hurdle. I now knew I needed God there with me as I made each amend. A prayer was all that was necessary to make sure I was not alone.

The steps have changed me into a different man than I was, have taught me how to find the strength and courage to carry out many worthwhile actions that I would be incapable of on my own. I am glad to be a “part of” rather than the the island I once felt it was so important to be.

Wishing you all the best in sobriety,

What are AA meetings for?

This question was asked by a newcomer in a recent meeting. Others said things such as “meeting makers make it” and “I have to go to meetings to stay sober.” Nice ideas but these are ways meetings can help us and not necessarily what meetings are for.

The primary purpose of an AA meeting is to carry the message to the still suffering alcoholic that there is a solution to their drinking problem. We should convey that our best self-directed efforts to control our drinking are insufficient and we must tap into a power greater than ourselves for help. The twelve steps provide a path to achieving this solution.

I have attended thousands of meetings and more than a few have not touched upon this primary purpose at all. Of course there are a lot of different things said at any meeting and not everything is all about recovery. Regardless, by the time a meeting is over one should at least be left with some sense that they were at an AA meeting. I do not go back to meetings that totally ignore carrying the message of recovery and sobriety.

Going to meetings will not cure our alcoholism but can, for an alcoholic:

• be one of the ways we learn that working the steps will solve our drinking problem
• bring us together so that we can help and support each other
• provide a means for us to learn about our alcoholism
• show us that other people have the same problems we do
• provide a relaxing respite from our day and any attendant pressures or problems we may be facing
• teach us things about how to live sober by seeing both positive and negative examples of how others are trying to get sober and deal with their problems
• be a place to find a sponsor

This list can be made much longer but……one can work the steps without ever setting foot in an AA meeting (the original reason why the Big Book was written!) and get sober. The opposite, going to meetings but not working the steps, does not bring about the same result. Working the steps changes in our thinking, our actions, and our intentions in ways that will not happen if we just sit around talking about sobriety.

When I first started attending AA meetings I was frightened. Of everything and everybody, not just of AA. But I listened to what people said in meetings, and in some ways, how their words, actions, and deeds fit together. Drunks tend to not have their shit together, and it shows. Sober people stand out in a roomful of others that may want to be sober but have yet to work the steps.

I was convinced when I arrived that I was a drunk and that I was powerless to stop drinking on my own. Sober drunks told me they were once in the same situation. They said they worked the steps, developed a spiritual life, have been able to stay sober, and have left behind many of the problems they had when they were drinking. These were the people I wanted to be like. They seemed relatively happy, which was way different than how I felt. I did not have any more good ideas about how to take care of myself so I began to do what these people suggested. Get a sponsor to help me work the steps, keep going to meetings, change my playmates and playgrounds, and many other things.

Back then I knew nothing about trying to carry the AA message, I just needed to hear it. Today I feel it is important to talk at meetings about what alcoholism is, what it does to us, and how it is possible to escape the downward spiral of alcoholic drinking. This is, in part, what the AA responsibility statement conveys;
“I am responsible . . . When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there. And for that: I am responsible.”

People who had worked the steps and embodied this notion of being responsible were there at meetings when I arrived. Their willingness to carry the message to me saved my life.

A rare comment from the old version of this blog that was transferred to this current site……

Danny Schwarzhoff Says:
June 1st, 2006 at 5:04 pm

Someone told me not long ago that they were uncomfortable with the slogan “meeting makers make it.”

I am too, but only in-as-far-as it implies that meeting attendence is all I need to concern myself in order to stay sober. I love going to meetings today, whereas prior to recovering , I secretly watched the clock and eagerly anticipated the end of the meetings. I am at a point where I am no longer meeting dependent to stay sober, but God dependent instead.

I know that the groups are more than people gatherings. They are living, breathing spiritual entities where our message of hope can be announced to a sufferer of this disease My article in the September issue of Grapevine expounds more on this. If interested, feel free to read it in this groups FILES section found to the left on your screen.

I found it interesting that as life throws its curves and bumps in front of me, there is no longer the urge to “get to a meeting” to settle myself. I no longer get “squirrelly” if I miss a few days, or even a week of meetings. As far as I know, no one regularly characterizes me as a “serene” man. But certainly I do KNOW serenity, which is one of the hundreds of promises made to me by the authors or the Big Book provided I take other simple steps. (And in the case of “knowing serenity”, made my amends)

If to lack of a meeting began to once again affect my serenity, I’d have to take a real serious look at my spiritual condition. Being dependent upon meetings to keep my head on straight doesn’t sound like very much freedom to me.

Danny S

Unreliable Drunkeness

Last year I worked in a western city for the summer. My employer rented me an apartment and provided some furniture. There were a lot of household things I was not told I was going to have to provide myself: pots, pans, silverware, etc. I proceeded to buy apartment “stuff” as needed but was as frugal as possible. I would only be using these things for a few months and, since they would not fit in the car for the trip back, I did not anticipate keeping them.

AA was great in this small western city. I quickly found a few meetings I liked and quickly made some new AA friends. There was this one group of three guys, each sober less than a year, that lived in a rented house near me. I could show up at their place anytime and there was always plenty of talk of sobriety when I would go over there. When I left in mid-August, I asked them if I could leave a few boxes at their house (they had a large garage with ample storage space) until I returned for my second summer of work in this city. They were more than happy to help. Being sober I have learned to temper my expectations to match reality. My reasoning about this situation included knowing:

* the things I left behind were worth a few hundred dollars
* if I returned and got these things back, it would be great
* my chances of getting these things back were not high – most drunks do not stay sober and the odds all three of these guys could maintain a household for 7 months, well lets just say miracles happen all the time but we don’t get to choose when and where they occur
* there were not any other reasonable options as I could not fit this stuff in my car

In sobriety I can now generally think a situation through without unknowingly including too many unreasonable ideas. I’ve gone from being a bumbling idiot (vodka decisions!) to a more or less normal fallible human-being. A huge step up and I still make plenty of planning mistakes. I did not bring any household goods with me when I returned here this summer. I had actually spoken to the fellows who were keeping my things months before. I had the impression the impossible had happened and I was excitedly anticipating seeing them all again. The added bonus to all this would be getting my belongings back, which I had truly not counted on seeing again from the day I left them in their garage.

My first clue that all was not well with my friends was when I drove over to their house the day after I arrived. Tacked to the door was an eviction notice. The “vacate the premises date” was only a few weeks ago. The house was empty. I called Bob (one of the three guys) on my cell phone and found out that one fellow had moved to San Diego, the other two fellows (Bob and Dan) were now in an apartment, and there was some vaguely explained misunderstanding involving the landlord.
The next day I stopped over another AA member’s house (John) and surprisingly discovered Bob was staying there. Bob had gotten into a physical altercation with Dan a few nights before and John had told Bob he could temporarily stay at his house . In talking to both Bob and John I found out some details of what had been going on. All of the three one-time roommates had relapsed at various times in the recent past. Dan and Bob were drunk the night of their recent fight. Bob told me he had been sober for a few weeks and that he had been going back and forth from drinking, to a few weeks of sobriety, to drinking again since January. He was ostensibly trying to get and stay sober. In the first week I was back in town the following occurred:

* Bob was drinking every day but was trying to cover this up as best he could
* Bob bought a new Jeep (a surprising purchase considering his rather poor financial situation) in anticipation of his getting his driving privileges restored; he apparently was also now driving around, probably drunk, without a license
* John found beer and vodka hidden in various places around his house
* Bob’s girfriend called John a few times, worried about Bob and his strange behavior, and eventually broke up with him
* Bob became progressively more scarce (presumably to be able to drink more) and erractic in his behavior (e.g. practically parking his jeep on the front porch of John’s house one night)
* by the time it was clear Bob was drinking on a regular basis, he simply disappeared (no call or message that he was not coming back to John’s house)
* Bob apparently went back to his apartment, with both he and Dan now back to full time drinking

Trying to get my things back was a trivial matter, compared to seeing someone slide back into the misery of active alcoholism. My attempt to reclaim my stuff though was interesting in illustrating what being a drunk is all about. Bob had told me he still had my stuff “in their apartment storage place,” said on numerous occasions that I could pick my stuff up “tomorrow” and then was unreachable, talked about “drinking a little yesterday” and pretended he had not taken a drink on any given day we spoke, and progressively said things that were less and less plausible. It was bizarre to see how fast he was falling into living in full flight from reality. I did not ask him about my things but a few times, and I am still not sure if my stuff was ever taken away from the house these guys rented when they were evicted. He pretty much stopped answering his phone and the last time I spoke to him he must have answered by accident; he told me he would call me right back. The return call never came.

I am so grateful I am not drinking today.

Well, I have to stop blogging and go to Target so I can get some things I need for my apartment……