Stories of Experience, Strength & Hope

Sharing our Experience, Strength and Hope with other members is a foundational part of the A.A program. Sometimes we struggles, sometimes we fall, but if we keep moving forward there is a light at the end of the path. You are not alone. 

If you are struggling, connect with us.

Service can seem like an overwhelming part of recovery, usually because we believe it requires endless time and commitment. It doesn’t have to do either.

Here are some easy forms of service to get you started working Step 12.

Ask the newcomer or the member who is struggling to coffee and get a few more to join in – more if it’s fun – and it will be. 40-60 minutes.

Help to set up and/or tear down the meeting. You’ll enjoy the meeting before and after. 30-60 minutes.

Go with the Intergroup Rep. or GSR to see what the meetings are all about. Become the Alternate. You’ll be with the “winners”, the ones who are active in service. 60-90 minutes per month.

Donate your old Grapevines to Corrections or Detox.  5 minutes and a good feeling.

Be the greeter at your Home Group – one of the best jobs. 15 minutes.

Write to a loner, prisoner or someone in a remote community. You could be saving another life as well as your own. 15- ? minutes.

Get a car load together and attend a meeting in a smaller community such as Cedar or Ladysmith. Build Unity by inviting their members to your  Home Group. Again, you’ll get the meeting before the meeting and the meeting after.  90+ minutes.

Become a backup for the afternoon phone shifts. 1-4pm Mondays to Fridays.

Leave Grapevines or AA pamphlets at your doctor, dentist or lawyer’s offices.

That takes no time at all and spreads the message to professionals.

Lyla M.

“When I Came Around I Used To Walk From Lantzville To Brechin Church To A Meeting Because I Wanted To Stay Sober”

Interview with Steve B, an A.A. old-timer

How and where did you get sober?

I got sober in Nanaimo…here in Nanaimo in 1983. And I’ve been sober going on 29 years. It was very difficult in the beginning because I had no skills and no education and so I started coming to A.A. For the first five years it was go to a meeting every day and I needed to learn about the Steps, Traditions, and the Big Book. The Big Book is a textbook, so I studied the textbook and did the Steps and have been sober ever since.

What was A.A. like in the early days?

In the early days A.A. was far more…I think far more better than it is today because there were smaller groups and it was more intense. And sharing…everyone got a chance to share because I’ve been at meetings where there were two and three people. And it really got into depth about the emotional sobriety and how to deal with different emotions that came up.

Seeing I was angry when I got here I had a difficult time believing because my first introduction to A.A. was in 1961 and with a fellow and we were working in Timmins, Ontario. We went into a restaurant or a bar…I just forget…to get a meal after a work day and he ordered beer for himself and for another friend and they started drinking. Then when they were getting quite inebriated he asked me…he said, “When we get back home, don’t tell anybody that I’ve been drinking.” And I thought it was very strange because I didn’t understand about A.A.

So initially, when I finally got to A.A., I had a difficult time because of trusting people and believing that they were sober. Some people were saying they were sober a year or five years or whatever and it was very difficult for me because I thought, well they drink for a while and then they come back to A.A., and then when they feel like drinking again they go out again.

As time went on in A.A. realized that this was not so. I ran into old timers that told me, “Just keep coming to meetings and study the literature and things will be fine.” But it takes time…as time went on, I got a year and then I got drunk and then I got two years and got drunk. Then I got just about four years and I got drunk. And then the last time I drank…it was in ’83…and I haven’t drank since.

I remember you talking, or sharing, about walking a great distance to get to the Brechin group when you talked about how few meetings there were in the early days.

When I came around I used to walk from Lantzville to Brechin Church to a meeting because I wanted to stay sober. I think there was one more meeting at a house…I forget the fellow’s name. And there was a meeting at the Library. And that’s the only two that I remember at that time. They were once a week. During the week sometimes it was difficult because we didn’t have a lot of meetings to go to. But as time went on it grew and grew and today it’s grown enormously and there are meetings every day of the week.

What advice do you have for the newcomer?

For the newcomer today…get a sponsor, join a group, and pay attention to Step One and Tradition One. Go to meetings every day if possible…every day until the magic happens…until you want to go to a meeting. There’s times when I was going to A.A. I didn’t want to go because I thought that maybe I was much smarter than they were. Sometimes I didn’t want to go to a meeting. But there’s times, after a while, that I was accustomed going to meetings. I got lots of help from meetings by listening and hearing what people were saying. Some opinions were valuable to me because they changed my point of view.

I think for newcomers it’s a little difficult today with the drugs and the alcohol. I’ve sponsored many people and I think if they just keep coming to meetings…keep coming every day and listening…time is their best friend.

How has the Big Book been part of your recovery and your sobriety?

I studied the Big Book and I realized, when I read The Doctor’s Opinion and Bill W’s story and the stories in the back, that it was good for me, because I studied it. I didn’t just read it. I read it once—164 pages—and I really didn’t get any value out of it because I didn’t study it. When I started studying the Big Book I always looked for an action word pertaining to a sentence which helped me immensely because then I could understand. I know that in How It Works…they say it every day at meetings…they say “Here are the steps we took which are suggested as a program of recovery.”

I’ve asked many sponsees what was the action word, and they always go to “suggested.” But I always try to explain to them the first one hundred in A.A. took the Steps—and it says, “Here are the steps we took…”. The first one hundred did that. And it worked for them, and that’s where A.A. began.

I listened to oldtimers because they knew what the book was about and they helped me a great deal in learning about the book and learning how to stay sober.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I think A.A.’s of great value to people if they listen…if they listen…because some people come to meetings and they listen but they don’t hear. I think the valuable thing is to hear.

I remember being in a meeting where I guy used to rattle a bag of peanuts and I was listening to the speaker and it was really important for me to listen to that speaker; he was well-spoken and he really knew what he was talking about about the Big Book.

I told the guy to stop rattling the peanuts and he said, “Why?” and I said, “Because I’m trying to listen to him and I can’t hear him with this rattling going on.” And I said, “You’re disturbing me—because it’s very important that I hear what he has to say. And what he’s been talking about has really helped me this evening.”

He never rattled peanuts again—and he’s been sober a number of years.

—Steve B is a long-time A.A. member from Nanaimo, B.C.


“No Matter What I Did I Couldn’t Change It. I Was Assured By My Sponsor That I Just Needed To Work The Steps, Clean House, Not Drink, Go To Meetings, And Help Others”

Thanks to my Higher Power and Alcoholics Anonymous I have two dozen years of sobriety. I went to an addictions doctor because I was concerned about my drinking. He said that if I was worried about how much I drank, that I was an alcoholic, and I should go to Alcoholics Anonymous.

He had me answer the questions in the pamphlet he gave me and then convinced me that my concern was justified. He called a woman from his 12th step list and I asked her if she’d take me to a meeting that night. She did and I have never had a drink since. The obsession was lifted from me entirely.

However, as soon as I stopped drinking I stopped breathing properly. I felt like I was smothering and was aware of every breath I took and of my heartbeat. Crazy-making! No matter what I did I couldn’t change it. I was assured by my sponsor that I just needed to work the steps, clean house, not drink, go to meetings, and help others. I did all that and more.

I was encouraged to get into service so I could get out of myself. Right away I got active in service to my group and AA as a whole. I had a phone shift for seven years, was on the 12th step list, took on being Intergroup representative for my group, and became finance chair for Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. That was terrifying as I was almost phobic about figures but I was taught that “you don’t say no to an AA request.”

I took AA into the women’s prison, got active on the rally committee, wrote to an AA loner in Thailand and a woman in prison, had a monthly column in the Grassroots and contributed articles to The Grapevine. The CPC committee got me interested in helping graduating doctors to diagnose alcoholism. Etcetera, etcetera, and etcetera.

Women asked me to sponsor them. All the wild women with their hair on fire came to or were directed to me. At one point I had ten sponsees. Too much has never been enough for me. I once sponsored a severely schizophrenic woman who would do things like cut her arm into the bone because I wasn’t instantly available to her! Imagine how stressful that was.

“Still, The Promises Eluded Me”

Still, the promises eluded me. I was sure it must be my fault so I took on more and more. More steps where I dug until I bled, more sponsees, more service work, more, more, and more. I ran and ran until I hit a wall—hard. One night at my home group, there I was, Mrs. AA, eight years sober and unable to move or speak. Breakdown!

At times during those years I had talked to my sponsor about going into therapy. I gave her way too much power, instead of talking to my Higher Power. She assured me that if I just kept working my steps I’d get well.

When I came unglued I was fortunate, thank God, to have a sponsee who was a therapist and had shared her journey of depression with me. When she told me she was on medication I had a hard time to keep myself from saying what my sponsor had told me: “Meds will shut you off from the sunlight of the spirit.”

Anti-depressants were a hot-button topic back then. Never shy to speak out, I stood at the podium and strongly suggested that AAs who didn’t have an M.D. degree should keep their damned opinions to themselves. I spoke about one poor man I knew who was told he should give up his medication because he “wasn’t really sober” if he took it. He stopped and his schizophrenia caused him to try to kill his family and himself.

A mentally ill friend committed suicide after he and his wife were hounded by AA members. She ended up in the psychiatric ward. Both were sober, and both were mentally ill. Suicide occurs too frequently and people wonder what they could have done to help, when it’s too late.

“Many Of My Behaviours Are Caused By Mental Illness And Are Not Character Defects”

What helps me is even the minimum of understanding that I can’t do more than what I’m doing and that many of my behaviours are caused by mental illness and are not character defects. This is not to say that I don’t have many faults! I have faults, just as we all have faults, and I humbly ask my God to remove them.

Back to my falling apart. Suddenly I wasn’t the active, vibrant Mrs. AA that everyone had been seeing. I was hurting, confused, and distraught. I had to let go of all my sponsees. They all cried and some got angry. How could I do this to them? I had no choice. I had to drop all my service work and there I was—the hole in the doughnut.

I had become so depressed that I couldn’t go to meetings. When I shared at my home group that I was feeling suicidal, people avoided me and didn’t call—despite my being in bed for five weeks. Where was this famous love of one alcoholic for another? Disillusionment quickly followed.

I left AA and entered therapy with a psychiatrist who told me that AA didn’t keep me sober—that I did. Soon he became my Higher Power and I became totally dependent on him. I had had a childhood full of pain and terror with a criminally insane, violent mother. My alcoholic father hid behind a newspaper and appeared not to notice the bruises and welts that covered my body. I ended up in braces from ankle to hip, because of her neglect. My feet and legs had been damaged by shoes that were much too small. At 2 ½ years of age she took me to a man who abused me for years.

My psychiatrist’s diagnoses were: severe depression, bipolar disorder, high anxiety and panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, etcetera, etcetera.

Once therapy began and started opening the cans of worms that my drinking had kept a tight lid on I became suicidal again. Therapy was like boiling in oil—steps 4 and 5 for eight years without the release of steps 6 and 7. I made lots of amends; I gently confronted my abuser and forgave him and myself. His was the only “love” I had known in childhood and I was willing to pay the price of pain and shame, hoping that he’d adopt me as he said he would. Try trusting after that. Try loving a God who had turned His face like my father had, and ignored my agony.

“I Did Try To Love God And Today I Believe That God Was The Reason I Survived”

Still, I did try to love God and today I believe that God was the reason I survived. When I moved to Vancouver Island and left therapy I was lost. Terrible people came into my life and one tried to kill me. I tried to get back to AA meetings when I was fourteen years sober but I couldn’t hold on. My mind was too disordered. Daily I walked on the edge of the abyss; I prayed to die. Only my cat kept me alive! I couldn’t abandon this poor little creature that had been given to the SPCA, was adopted and then abandoned again. She was living wild when I found her.

I was in so much emotional pain I called my psychiatrist only to be told that he couldn’t help me any further. I was on the maximum dosages of my medications. He suggested I go to church or back to AA. Anywhere where there were good people. I thought I’d try church even though I wasn’t religious. They spoke of a loving father/mother God and I cried through the first two services. In the leaflet for the order of the service I saw that there was an AA meeting at the church on Tuesdays. How’s that for a God shot?!

I staggered back to AA. Literally. I was disoriented, stuttered, had meltdowns, and said stupid things I regretted. I stayed, though, and took all the suggestions and started working the steps. Still very ill, I attempted suicide. A woman whose face I’d never seen climbed into the truck where they were trying to keep me warm. She took me into her arms even though I was soaking wet and talked of God’s love for me.

The emergency psychiatrist released me when I told him that I’d go to my AA meeting that night. I shared about my suicide attempt and only one AA member spoke to me. An Alanon woman, who I’d never seen before, held me in her arms and spoke of how much God loved me.

Again I wanted to leave AA but where could I go? Outside of AA I knew that there was only madness and despair. I stayed and worked the steps to the best of my ability. My ability to concentrate and retain information is impaired by both my illnesses and the side effects of my medication. When under stress, my brain disconnects and I break off in mid-sentence and can’t get back on track. How embarrassing is that?!

When I told an AA “friend” about my suicide attempt, she called me “selfish.” I can tell you this: I was in an altered state as I walked into the sea with my clothes full of rocks. All I wanted was to end my pain and despair. It says right in How It Works: “there are those too who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders.” In The Doctor’s Opinion it says: “there is the manic-depressive type…about whom a whole chapter could be written.”

“To The Best Of My Knowledge, Nothing More Has Been Written”

To the best of my knowledge, nothing more has been written. Yet I’ve spoken with many AA members who have shared with me their own stories of mental illnesses and how they feel isolated in AA. We are the “crazies”, the “sicker than others”, that other AAs talk about. “We are like men who have lost their legs, they never grow new ones.” Alcoholics Anonymous has given me freedom from the insanity of alcoholism but no matter how hard I work my program I still have a malfunctioning brain and I won’t grow a new one.

Alcoholism took away my choice whether to drink or not; mental illness takes away many of my choices. Resentment can go round on an endless loop and the only way to stop it is to increase my medications. Medication doesn’t remove character defects but it can alleviate the worst symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I have come under a lot of criticism in AA. I was told that I have negative vibes, that I’m negative and nit-picking, that I should stop hiding behind my mental illness, that I’m self-pitying. None of that is at all helpful to me and it has triggered panic attacks. I’ve run out of meetings so that I won’t share my hurt, weakness, and despair—instead of my experience, strength and hope.

On days that I feel very depressed or unstable I stay home, pray and read our literature. God has given me two sponsees that I love. Through grace I have been empowered to help and encourage them. They are a joy and a blessing.

“Like Bill W, I Try To Live The St. Francis Prayer”

Like Bill W, I try to live the St. Francis prayer. I try to love those who don’t love me, to understand those who don’t understand me, and to forgive their remarks which probably stem from fear. As far as I know, Bill never recovered from his depression but maybe he, like me, learned to accept and live with it.

My home group, Sunday Serenity, has introduced a motion that General Service Office publish a pamphlet for the mentally ill alcoholic. Other local groups are voting to support the motion.

My hope is that mentally ill members and newcomers will feel that they too belong in AA and that having doctors share their opinions will help those who don’t understand to be understanding. We need acceptance, not criticism.

Bless you all with endless sobriety, one day at a time. And thank you for mine.

—Anonymous, Nanaimo, BC

How remiss I’ve been in not sharing the remarkable recovery I made from mental illnesses.  This happened about four years ago and I have remained well and free.

It was very difficult to get the motion for a pamphlet for the alcoholic with mental issues passed.  How painful it was, even at my own home group to have members speak against it.  I looked at the closed faces and defensive body language and my heart sank as the motion was being discussed.  Eventually, I could contain myself no longer.  I asked for a show of hands as to who had read the background material I had sent out prior to the business meeting.  Three out of 16 people raised their hands.  My reaction was anger rather than despair and that fueled me to persevere.  In my early years the manager of the Intergroup office in Vancouver, told me that he had never encountered anyone with as much “stick-to-it-ive-ness “as I had.  If I believe in something I commit to it and there is little that can stop me.  This is both a defect and an asset, I realize.

Eventually, the motion was passed after a four-year battle.  During those four years, I had worked hard writing and re-writing the motion.  At times I despaired and, one day, after a contentious meeting on the motion, I sat and wept and wondered what the point of it all was.  I reached into a little cabinet beside my chair and came out with the Emotional Sobriety book in my hand.  I’m sure I had previously read the first story; that of how Bill W. struggled with depression and overcame it.  However, I saw it with new eyes.  At first, when I had finished reading, I cringed because the words applied to me in spades.  Essentially, Bill had found, on self-examination, that he was still, at 57, childish.  His life, like mine, was based on having his dependencies taken care of and, again like me, demanding what he thought he needed in terms of security, prestige and the perfectionism which drove the whole mental illness.

Then I laughed.  Here I was at 67, experiencing exactly what Bill was talking about.  My whole trouble was, even after many years in AA and in many types of therapy, still childish, still looking to the world to take care of me, validate me and give me what I believed would make me feel OK.

Bill’s article, Emotional Sobriety, was the start of a whole new life for me.  Bit by bit the depression, OCD, anxiety, and PTSD left my life and has not returned.

This feels miraculous to me.  Along with Bill’s article, I realized that, by working so hard to serve other AAs like myself who have mental issues; my focus was not so much on myself and the very real miseries of mental illness. I was thinking of others and what they may need.  My doctor had mentioned that it was now more difficult to get our nutritional needs met by our diet as the land is depleted.  I Googled the orthomolecular approach to healing depression and I added supplements to my diet.  AA history {Pass it on has a whole chapter about Bill’s struggles with depression} talks about Bill trying to get acceptance for his ideas about supplements and how he was defeated.  I know that, if I miss a couple of days of certain supplements, I get grumpy.

I hope that my story will help those who still struggle with mental health issues.

Thank you for my recovery.

Lyla McL.

I’ll say it – I’m basically obsessed with myself. I think about myself far too often. I replay things in my head that have already happened, and anticipate things that may happen, most of them with a flourish of my own imagination. Either way, I would like to think about myself less.

I stopped taking cakes (celebrating yearly milestones) over three years ago. My last cake was a one-year, my second time taking a one-year cake, during which I talked for nearly 40 minutes about myself. Sure it was great to share more about myself with other members, but it felt highly unnecessary.

Since getting sober I have travelled at least once a year. I have been to Eastern Canada and the U.S., the Los Angeles area, and 13 cities across Western Europe. I have been fortunate enough to attend meetings in most of those cities. Not once have I been to a celebration of a milestone where someone shared about themselves for even close to fifteen minutes. In fact, at many of the celebrations a member who is not taking a milestone is chosen to share by the person taking the milestone on their own experience, strength and hope. This person shares for maybe ten minutes and the rest of the meeting is like any other meeting. I’ve seen people take over thirty years and share for maybe three minutes. I have been told that this is not the case at every meeting in all of those cities; that in fact some meetings do have the person taking their cake share for a good chunk of time, choose the topic of the meeting, etc. but I was never witness to it. Further, when I would tell members in those cities how cakes were celebrated in Nanaimo, almost all of them were left speechless. Imagine a New York member trying to wrap their head around our cake meetings!

I am an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. To this day, I attribute much of my addictive tendencies to self-centeredness and an expectation that outer things should make me feel whole. The last thing I need is to be obsessing for days (maybe even weeks) about talking in front of a group of people about myself. I have seen countless people get negatively worked up over their cakes simply because they put too much pressure on themselves to do a “good job.” I have also heard how it’s common to relapse around the time one is taking a milestone, and again, I wonder if it is partially due to the pressure one puts on his or herself to make sure that their cake is great. We are repeatedly told that AA is a 24-hour a day program, but with so much emphasis on milestone celebrations, it doesn’t really seem fully genuine. Additionally, many people wake up the next day after their cake and wonder “is this it?” simply because they have assigned so much emotional significance to the milestone. The day after a recent milestone in which I decided not to take a cake, I woke up feeling as I always did because the milestone was just another day for me. I felt that I was fully practicing the 24-hour principle of the program.

In Buddhist terms, the root of all suffering is attachment. With cakes, there is great opportunity to form all kinds of attachments: how many people came/didn’t come, did I share too much/not enough, did the person giving me my cake or medallion share positively about me, was I funny, did I seem nervous, etc. etc. For a sensitive egomaniac like myself, the way most people celebrate cakes in Nanaimo is just too much. The ego, which the Big Book and 12×12 states must be deflated, is fuelled greatly by how recovery milestones are commonly celebrated here.

We are told that taking a cake is not about the individual, but I have to ask myself, how is it not? Many of us, myself included, have made meetings almost entirely based on ourselves by choosing the topic of the meeting, the person chairing, when the cake-taker is going to speak, and sometimes even exactly who shares. If I give the chairperson a list of people’s names that I’d like to share, I’m essentially asking individuals to provide me with accolades of my achievement, or at the very least, I’ll be talked about in some positive reflective light.

I am not at all against cakes entirely; I absolutely love hearing people’s stories. However, I am against how much cakes are focused around the individual. My proposal is to have cakes celebrated once a month at the latter half or even last ten minutes of a meeting. I absolutely love hearing members’ stories, so I would additionally like to propose more speaker meetings where a member gets to share their experience, strength, and hope, but does not receive an onslaught of praise. I believe hearing other members’ stories is incredibly important in creating great opportunity for connection and ability to relate to others, essentially the opposite of alcoholism. Connection to something is vital for the alcoholic, and hearing others’ stories is one of the best ways to do that.

I am open to my view regarding cake celebrations being perceived as cynical and negative, but I ask you, as a member, to critically think about whether the way we commonly celebrate cakes in Nanaimo is conductive to the principals of recovery. Just because something has appeared to be right in the past, doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do things today. The phrase “that’s the way things have always been” needs to be abolished. Recovery is all about figuring out what’s working and what isn’t, and ultimately, the unexamined life is not worth living.

Candice

I tried for many years to actively and effectively immerse myself in a 12-Step program. I made three solid attempts in three different cities, spanning two different countries, and too many years, but it never seemed to click with me. Or, rather, I was unable to click with it.

Perhaps it was a lack of readiness, having not met my ultimate bottom yet, or maybe it was the unwillingness to become teachable, flexible, or both. But whatever the cause, my desperate need to fit into one specific box rendered my efforts fruitless for so long, as I felt my Monster bridged the divides between AA, NA, and CA equally.

Alcohol was always present in my life, and provided the fuel for a fire that blazed for nearly a decade, just about leaving me in cinders by 27. However, as I’ve come to hear many AA members in Nanaimo utter, “drugs are a part of my story” as well. A big part of my story. In fact, they were the sole antagonist in many chapters, even though booze somberly narrates the sad tale throughout.

In Toronto, I was elbowed once after mentioning a specific substance in my very first AA share. “Outside issues,” she whispered. “Excuse me?” I asked. “We don’t talk about drugs here, we call them outside issues,” she clarified. It was the first time I’d ever dared to choke out words at a meeting, and I’d already done something wrong. I never spoke again at a Toronto AA meeting.

I wished desperately for an EA meeting, an Everything Anonymous group that met and shared freely and openly, in a general way, about the act of substance use, not placing limitations on the substances themselves. Disheartened, I learned no meeting like that existed in the typical 12-Step format, no matter which city I ultimately relapsed in.

Finally, I began coming to meetings in Nanaimo, and suddenly I felt at home. Perhaps it’s the “island way” or just the simple fact that we have one of the strongest, most loving, and inclusive recovery communities I have ever encountered. No matter the reason, the fluidity of our meetings have allowed me to carve out a space for myself and finally begin to heal. For just over two years, I have been able to share honestly about my struggle, in all of its forms, without fearing judgment, or the elbow of a stranger. I recognize Nanaimo as being an Anonymous melting pot, where we focus more on the present than we do the specifics of our pasts; where we let our disease – the disease of addiction, whether it be to alcohol or something else – unite us, rather than push us apart into corners.

We are a progressive group, concerned less with convention, and more with compassion. What a gift! Being here has allowed me to live one day at a time in sobriety, without being charged with picking my poison based on the day of the week, or the chair that I’m in. I remain mindful, of course, keeping details to a minimum while voicing a message, but here I have the freedom to help ANYONE who wants to stop use of ANYTHING, and, like me, couldn’t do it alone.

Carli

Many of you have heard the formula for how you get to be an A.A. old-timer:  Don’t drink and don’t die!  True enough, but not always as easy as it sounds.  Nevertheless, there are means to improving your odds of fulfilling the former of these conditions, if not the latter.

I once attended an A.A. meeting at which the topic was achieving long-term sobriety, and the room was heavily over-weighted with what they now call “long-timers”.  It was interesting to hear the variety of beliefs and behaviours to which each attributed their sober success: belief in a higher power, good sponsorship, strong group membership, regular attendance at meetings, talking about feelings, positive thinking, being sensitive to others, not being too sensitive to others, daily meditation, daily reading of the Big Book, practising humility, accepting responsibility, living life based on some combination of faith, hope, and charity—the list goes on.

I listened attentively, but it was obvious that, however much these beliefs or practices might enhance an  individual’s sobriety, they were neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for sobriety in general.  There were older members there who did not believe in a higher power, who had never had a sponsor, who rarely shared their feelings, who never read the Big Book, who (in my humble estimation) were not particularly humble, faithful, hopeful or charitable (though I hope a little less judgmental).  We are not Saints! Still, these people (including me) continue to be sober.

I forget what invaluable advice I offered on the subject at that meeting, but the topic caught my imagination and I’ve continued to ponder the question of long-term sobriety.  What is there in common with all the old-time members present at that meeting, and all the others I’ve encountered throughout many years in the program?  For my money, the answer is commitment, commitment to life in the A.A. fellowship.

Whatever those old-timers’ failings, whatever mine—we were there for that meeting, we are there for the duration.  Our commitment to the A.A. fellowship is not contingent upon current feelings or future whims, or an unvarying set of beliefs or practices.  We are, as they say in poker parlance, all in!  In part, perhaps because we have nowhere else to go, but even more because we recognize that there is no better place for us.  For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…It’s that kind of commitment, and one that I’ve never regretted.  Unlike similar vows I’ve made, this one I’m confident I’ll keep.

A.A. Long-timer

Step 11 starts out, sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with god as we understood him. To me prayer means talking to god, but what about meditation? I’ve heard that meditation literally means ‘to listen.’ But.. listen to what?.. Or to whom? If one thinks of meditation as being the flip side of prayer, one can think of meditation as listening to god. It would make sense then that doing these two things would help us to improve our conscious contact with god because prayer and meditation would effectively amount to having a conversation with him.

If I speak to God in the language of English when I pray, in what language does he speak to me when I meditate? The answer to this question depends on what one listens to when one meditates. I myself focus on how feelings manifest themselves within me as bodily sensations. So for me at least, the God of my understanding speaks to me in the language of feelings.

But this strikes a dissonant chord. If God loves me, and he speaks to me in the language of feelings, then why at times can feelings be so horrendously uncomfortable that they’ve nearly driven me to suicide? How could what is supposed to be the word of god be so savage and merciless?

The answer to this question, I believe lies in the way that god’s message is interpreted. Insofar as God loves me, his message is always loving, so if it doesn’t feel that way the problem lies with me, not with Him. So how might I reorient myself with respect to God so that I can take his words for what they are?

According to Buddhist wisdom, what turns pain into suffering is one’s resistance to it. Resistance compounds pain because when I resist pain I effectively become in pain for being in pain. I become sad that I am sad, angry that I’m angry, I’m hurt that I’m hurt. These feelings build on themselves when, for example, I become angry for being angry for being angry for being angry, ad infinitum. This vicious cycle of negative emotion then becomes self-perpetuating, spiraling out of control and yielding horrific and terrifying results. The way to break this loop is through practicing Step 1, thereby acknowledging one’s powerlessness over the feeling. In realizing the futility of trying to control these feelings I cease in my resistance to them and prevent them from growing in intensity.

This as it happens, is exactly what I seek to do when I meditate. In acknowledging my powerlessness over feelings, I strive to allow all them to come and go of their own accord, like a leaf floating in the breeze. By ceasing in the struggle against these feelings, I can feel them for what they are, unobscured by all the layers of secondary feeling. What’s underneath is always beautiful, whether it’s sadness, anger, joy or hurt and that’s because it is literally the voice of god.

I am 14 years sober this year and have been sponsoring women for the last 10 years. I say that not because I am wanting to impress or because I think I am somehow special but because I want to emphasize just how important sponsorship is to my sobriety.

I know that without the gift of sponsorship I wouldn’t have the same quality of sobriety that I have today and who knows I may not even be sober. Having a relationship with my sponsor and also sponsoring women has kept me in the middle of Alcoholics Anonymous which is essential for my long term sobriety.

Being in the middle means I am accountable, that I have responsibility and that I am connected spiritually and physically to the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. All of this is vital to my sobriety and provides purpose and meaning.

I must admit I didn’t start sponsoring until I was 4 years sober, in fact until that time I was rather closed minded to the whole idea. I had moved here to Nanaimo from Vancouver less than a year before and was getting settled in nicely. I had a sponsor, I had a homegroup and was regularly attending 3-4 meetings per week. I was starting to feel a part of Nanaimo’s AA community. Then life happened. I experienced a significant uprooting in my personal life and I didn’t know how to cope. I was going to meetings and talking to my sponsor but I still felt like my emotional sobriety was taking a real hit. During one of these emotionally charged phone calls to my sponsor she gave me a ridiculous piece of advice; she told me I needed to “work with others.”

I asked, “What does that even mean? And how is that going to help ME and MY situation?”

My sponsor patiently replied that I needed to get a sponsee and carry the message. She further explained that working with others would help me get out of self and improve my sense of purpose and gratitude.

Now, I trusted my sponsor and so far her suggestions had been bang on and even helpful but at this point I couldn’t fathom why she thought I had anything to offer anyone. But I had been in the program long enough to know that I don’t always know what is best for me and I don’t always have the best ideas. Also my sponsor was kind enough to point out to me that I had already received the miracle of sobriety it was time that I shared that with someone else. She may have even said, “Good for you for staying sober but shame on you for not sharing how you did it.” Hard to argue with that!

Of course at first I wasn’t very willing, so my sponsor told me to pray for the willingness to be of service to others. So I did. And If I have my dates correct, 3 days later a young woman approached me and asked if I would be her sponsor!

And that is how it started for me. In the 10 years since, I have been blessed with the gift of sponsoring many women (and I do mean gift). These women have taught me so much that I am not sure I can articulate it here. But I will specifically speak to how it works in my life.

1) Because I have sponsees I cannot ever be thinking of only MY sobriety, they give me the opportunity to think of others and how I can help.

2) Sponsees continually allow me to see how AA and sobriety have worked in my life and have given me a life. They come to me to learn how to do life and because they “want what I have” but all that I have today is because of my continued commitment to the program of AA and its principles. That is a miracle.

3) Sponsees allow me to do actual work on building meaningful and often lasting relationships. When I arrived at the door of AA, I had no idea how to have a healthy relationship (no exaggeration here). Sponsorship gives me a unique opportunity to work with others in a meaningful way that ties me to them but also insists that I work on tolerance, love, patience and boundaries.

4) Most importantly sharing my story helps me with step one and acceptance. Because I share my experience, strength and hope freely with sponsees I am deeply rooted in the understanding that my story is valuable, I am valuable and it has helped me release the shame I carried with me about my alcoholism.

Today I can truly say that I am grateful for sponsorship. I am grateful for the lessons I have learned and the growing up I have done and firmly believe that this would not have been possible without the gift of sponsorship. Sponsorship is giving freely what was given to me by the women and men of Alcoholics Anonymous that went before me.

As I pack my bags with all of the belongings I’ll be needing for the next two days, it’s easy to wonder why I’ve willingly agreed to spend my weekend in a full assembly room surrounded by three hundred alcoholics, while my other friends get to spend the weekend taking pictures of their pets and catching up Netflix.

I don’t exactly remember what possessed me to put up my hand when I heard that the home group I had just joined needed a GSR, but I know why I kept showing up and was eager to do more service after completing my two-year GSR rotation.

Four times a year, alcoholics from 48 districts meet as Area 79, which includes most of BC, Yukon and one small section of Washington.  These weekends (called either Quarterlies/Assemblies) are full of brainstorming, passionate sharing, presenting motions and voting.  Much as I’m healthier and happier when I’m in touch with other alcoholics, my home group thrives when it is linked in with our General Service Office and the rest of AA, by being registered and having an active GSR (General Service Representative).  The group’s GSR acts as a two-way street to share information from their group with the area and district, and then back from the area and district to their group.  This way, each group is informed as to what’s happening in AA and the group is able to impact the direction of AA as a whole.

Being the representative of only one group at this huge Assembly, I was skeptical that I could actually make an impact.  But I’ve had the experience of watching one voice from one AA member travel all the way down the triangle and make it to the General Service Conference in New York.  This is what it’s all about!

The passion at these events is contagious.  Although motions don’t always pan out the way that my group has voted, watching the process makes it all worth it.  Being surrounded by hundreds of alcoholics who love AA and who would rather do what is right than be right is a truly humbling experience each and every time.

If you’re curious about service, we have a Voting and Elections Assembly coming up on October 14th through the 16th in Campbell River that any alcoholics can attend.  Although all of the Quarterlies and Assemblies are interesting, this will be a particularly good one to check out since it’s here on the island, and we will be having some exciting voting and important elections.  Visit bcyukonaa.org for more info, or feel free to get in touch with dcmdistrict07@gmail.com and Ed or I will be happy to answer any questions that we are able to.

As much as I go to the Assemblies and Quarterlies because I believe in AA’s upside down triangle and I believe in GSRs linking their groups to AA as a whole, I go just as much to learn, grow, observe and absorb the energy.  I return feeling grateful, inspired, connected and very full spiritually — exactly the opposite of how I felt when I drank.

While our program is simple, recovery is not an easy process for the vast majority of people. Despite working two thorough sets of steps, I spent my first year bouncing back and forth between a total preoccupation with alcohol and faith that personal recovery was possible for me. I believe that my desperation to develop integrity, and discover my authentic self through the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, in many ways has kept me sober for past two years. Some time ago I realized that the obsession to drink had been lifted and I began to feel grounded and surrounded by loving teachers, who have found serenity through this design for living. My abject fear of relapse served me well. It carried me through those early milestones, by an obstinate wilfulness to remain abstinent.

There has been no pink cloud for me. I am searching for hope, peace, and happiness – to go beyond what I previously was – amidst life’s grief, losses, and disappointments. My story primed me for the turbulence of being; however, the challenge that I did not anticipate was how my close connections and loved ones relapsing would impact me. Logically I knew that for most of our members relapse is a part of recovery. As my sponsor always reminded me: we don’t all recover at the same speed. “Into Action” is a fearful and daunting process that takes tremendous effort and an open heart and mind. For most of us honesty, and the willingness to face past and present, does not come easily.

The empathy I felt for peripheral characters in my life that relapsed was challenged with those closest to me. In my first year one of my dearest friends relapsed in a tragic and unending manner. An angry and resentful woman replaced this beautiful and funny soul, who had once graced my life. As our Big Book describes: “He does absurd, incredible, and tragic things while drinking. He is a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He is seldom mildly intoxicated. He is always more or less insanely drunk. His disposition when drinking resembles his normal nature but little. He may be one of the finest fellows in the world. Yet let him drink for a day, and he frequently becomes disgustingly, and even dangerously antisocial.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 2001, p. 21) Her behaviour was no different from mine before I sobered up, yet the hurt that I felt and the power the bottle held over her severed the connection.

I identify as double blessed both very much codependent and fundamentally a true alcoholic. For a long time I was so uncomfortable with the former that I engaged in active denial. Accepting that individuals must own their own recovery, and that I have no power to control the health and wellness of those I loved, was incredibly difficult for me. I met my partner of two years in a treatment centre at the beginning of my sobriety. When he relapsed I hit an emotional bottom and was forced to face the reality that I am powerless over the recovery of another. I felt tremendous anger, frustration, self-pity, and shame. I fluctuated between feeling personally responsible for the relapse and blaming him. The 12×12 suggests “It is only where ‘boy meets girl on A.A. campus’ and love follows at first sight, that difficulties may develop. The prospective partners need to be solid A.A.’s and long enough acquainted to know that their compatibility at spiritual, mental, and emotional levels is a fact and not wishful thinking.” (Twelve steps and twelve traditions, 1989, p. 119) The very nature of beginning a relationship at the start of our recoveries made it impossible for either of us to be solid A.A.’s and find individual identities before coming together.

Although I had a wonderful home group, loving sponsor, multiple service positions, and was actively working steps, given my codependency the first 18 months of my recovery was essentially tied to him. It was only once he relapsed and I required him to move out that I was able to utilize tools, which I had been searching for in both A.A. and Al-Anon, and learn how to develop healthy boundaries in practice. For me I needed to cut off contact for a period of time to begin to develop an identity outside of another person. At 27 I have spent 15 years in active addiction, complete with codependent romantic relationships with active alcoholics. I am still learning how to identify the space between where I end and another person begins. I am fortunate that his experience of relapse brought about a more rigorous application of the program for him – in place of another institution or death. The irony of the situation is that while my experience of my partner relapsing was devastating, the event resulted in tremendous personal growth and recovery. I often say that other than working the steps and coming to terms with grief rooted in my family of origin, the space created by my loved one relapsing is the best thing to ever happen to my recovery.

As a young woman in early sobriety I struggle with low self-esteem and the belief that I am not enough as I am. The manifestation of the unconscious idea that the love of another will help cure this underlying insecurity is an innately human practice. The time I continue to take for myself has begun to lay a foundation for greater self-esteem and authentic discovery. I am closer with my support network and sponsor, I spend more time sitting in my own skin and processing my strong emotions with the help of women in recovery. I encourage women entering the program to take time for themselves before engaging in a romantic relationship, with the caveat that if they do fall in love on A.A. campus to work hard on developing an individual identity (and stay out of their partners recovery). The phrase “suggestions are free, you only pay for the ones you don’t take” applies to everyone as an individual. While I don’t regret the past and I am thankful for the teachings of relationships and relapse, I am principally grateful for this program and it’s enduring gifts of self-respect and a loving community.

One night I was sitting in my living room watching TV, whilst being tormented by uncomfortable emotions. Trying fruitlessly to focus on the show I was watching, my thoughts kept turning to a subject matter sufficiently dark for me to be disinclined to share it with an audience as large as this newsletter’s readership. The pain and anguish I was experiencing reached such a level that it finally managed to propel me to lift that ‘hundred pound phone’. I called a friend of mine and shared with him what was going on in my head. The root cause of my troubles it was determined, was anger borne out of resentments that I was harbouring that had not been expressed. This anger having not been released had nowhere else to go but inward, manifesting itself as depression.

My friend’s prescription was to pray for those that I have resentments for every night for two weeks. More specifically, he told me to pray for those people to get the things that I want for myself. So I’d sit on the edge of my bed before going to sleep and I’d ask myself, what do I want for myself in this moment? The answer might be something like, to feel comfortable in my own skin, to have piece of mind, or to find beauty in everyday moments. I would then proceed to wish for the person I had a resentment towards to get whatever it was that I wanted for myself. The remarkable thing was that not only did the resentment begin to fade, but I found myself being granted whatever it was that I was praying for in the other person!

So paradoxically it was only when I thought of others that I could help myself. A strange paradox of the AA program is that it is often referred to as being a ‘selfish program,’ yet helping others is one of its central tenets. We help others for selfish reasons, because it indirectly helps ourselves. Praying for those that I have resentments towards turned out to be among the most magnificent gifts that I have received from this program.

I have been living with women in recovery for close to two years now. Something that has been both challenging and rewarding. I believe it’s helped me grow immensely. When I finished treatment I was hell bent on living on my own. I thought. “don’t you know that I had done it before and been just fine!?” I truly believed that to be true at the time. As I make my way through early recovery, I now feel differently. It was strongly recommended that I live with some women, at least for my first year. I reluctantly agreed and set out to find a place to share with other members.

A friend offered me a room in her house. Her and another friend had been living together for a while and asked if I would join them. It seemed like a good choice,
so I made the arrangements and moved.

Upon reflection, it was a difficult time for me, in my recovery, while I was living there. We were all on different pages. I learned that in those kinds of situations it was so easy for me to focus on what the others were doing, instead of looking at myself. As a result, I felt very isolated and intolerant. My experience was one of unbelievable anxiety, during this time.

It didn’t take me long to figure out what I didn’t want my living situation to be. So when I was asked about finding a house and living with two other women in the fellowship, I jumped at the chance.

I was nervous about the fact that there would be three of us. For my entire life, any situation where I was doing anything with two other women had never gone well. I put my reservations aside and become willing to try, since I had never been sober when things hadn’t worked out before.

We found a beautiful house to rent and in August the three of us moved in. It has been such a growing experience for me. While it’s been full of growth, there have also been some hard times. When two of us aren’t necessarily getting along, it can get uncomfortable for the one of us that is getting along with both.

For me, acceptance has been the biggest part of things working for me while living with other sober women. Also using my voice has been tremendously helpful. This means speaking my truth instead of stuffing everything in and building resentments. Talking to the girls about what I need from them, or what’s ok with me, helps me grow and learn how to connect with other women. These are things I have never done before getting sober.

One of the girls is planning on moving soon. Which means we will be looking for someone new. This is a scary thought for me, not knowing who will be filling the space. However, because of this program and all of the people in the rooms, I can trust my higher power and have faith that it will all work out in the end exactly how it’s supposed to. That is something I am so very grateful for.

I recently found myself in the appropriately common discussion about how spirituality manifests in early recovery. My friend and I laughed about the skepticism we had both had when hearing members share about their spiritual experiences. Before working the 12 steps, the idea of having a spiritual experience seemed on par with the probability of finding Bigfoot. Like many before me, I had read the Bigbook and thoroughly examined Appendix II for clues to how I might become aware, if at some point in time, I was having one. Erroneously I assumed that given my agnostic upbringing mine would be of the educational variety. As I shared my story about my first Step 4, and the clarity and serenity that followed, I realized that defining a spiritual experience is challenging; like our stories there are common threads that bind us together but the authentic experience is deeply personal. And so with a curious mind I went looking for more information and came across a special issue of the Journal of Addictions Nursing that focuses on the role of Spirituality in Addiction.

The journal examines how spirituality plays a central role in most addictions prevention, treatment, and recovery, while it lacks a clear definition. For centuries, people have made efforts to document and account for spiritual experiences, and modern science attempts to interpret these and the role they play in the restoration of wellness in us alcoholics. Ann Solari-Twadell and Joan Kub, both nurses and researchers in the field of addictions, touch upon the importance of the “We Agnostics” chapter of the Bigbook, and how it differentiates spirituality from religion and belief in god. “As described, it is acknowledged that this journey will entail talking about God and that this may stir up ‘‘anti-religious’’ feelings…the emphasis here is not on the formalized religious understanding of God that is often derived through prescriptive rules…but through the creation of an individual relationship with a God of one’s own understanding. The intention in this text is that the ‘realm of the Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; and never exclusive or forbidding.’” For me, the distinction made all the difference in both my willingness and openness, when approaching the idea of having a spiritual experience.

 In my quest for more answers, only more questions were presented. Research identifies vagueness and “a lack of consideration of the dynamics of the ‘‘spirit’’ in the prevention, treatment, and recovery from this chronic progressive illness.” When I reflect upon the spiritual experiences I’ve had since I began my journey of recovery it seems unlikely that I will ever be able to truly express to another how they’ve felt and shifted my paradigms and perceptions. In a world filled with categories and boxes, perhaps the inability to define or label something speaks to its weight, and that maybe it’s not meant to be described, but rather lived.

“Spirituality in Addictions Research” Journal of Addictions Nursing 2013, 24(2), 207-208

The past is like an anchor stuck around a 100 lb. rock; no matter which way you pull on it, it will just not shake loose. With repeated efforts the anchor finally moves, but the rock is still holding on. Another way to look at it is this: it is like a ball and chain. I am putting one foot forward in my efforts to hold onto whatever spiritual understanding I have, while the past is holding me back.

Step 4 in the Twelve and Twelve refers to this state of being and tells us that, “emotional turmoil must come before serenity.”

Fact is, we must stop dragging the past around and get on with life today. “Easier said than done,” you say? You got that right! So how DO we “get ‘er done”?

Step 4 is the beginning of freedom from past bondage.

 

In the Big Book it appears as a complicated and difficult-to-understand process. However all the remaining steps fall upon our efforts with Step 4. It seems we have a complicated step for complicated people. The good news is, like everything else in life, there is a silver lining; we just need to come to see it. Step 4 in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous is not only a simple process, but with concentrated effort, it is life changing beyond understanding.

Yes the Big book is the guide. There are only three things to be done. They are Searching, Fearless and Moral.

Here is how it works:

1. Searching:

a. Analyze resentments
b. Review fears
c. Review sex conduct.

2. Fearless: In a, b, and c, above, I look for my own faults. What is my part?

3. Moral: List assets and liabilities as stated in step 4 in the 12 & 12 or ‘goods’ & ‘bads’ referred to in the step 7 prayer.

Sound too simple? It may, but with the Big Book open before you, it will serve your purpose well to follow what the book says. When it tells you to do something stop and do it. When the book says write it down, write it down. Your inventory has no power whirling around in your head with all the unmanageable thoughts already there.

Don’t stop now, apply the rest of the steps and you will be amazed before you are half way through.

It has taken many years of sobriety to stop playing the blame game, which kept me in turmoil as I played out in my head just how others were responsible for the way I felt. If only they wouldn’t do, say or act in the way they do, I would be happy. When I’d think of the phrase “It’s a spiritual axiom that, when I am disturbed, there is something wrong with me,” I felt that I was being blamed for my reaction. So that led to the justification for how I was feeling. I could not grasp that owning my own feelings and being responsible for bringing myself back into a state of serenity put the power back to me and my God and that it was nothing to do with others.

 

Today if I’m annoyed or feeling rejected or offended I start questioning myself. Why am I allowing what some other human being does or says to have power in my life? Why am I feeling rejected and do I really want a relationship with someone who is cold or rude to me? If someone called me a purple chair, I would see it as that person being silly. So why does criticism, which is also just another’s thought in that moment (and has more to do with them than me) affect me. Am I feeling insecure? Am I agreeing with another’s assessment of me as being lacking in some way? Those kinds of feelings come from childhood and have no place in today.

This is self-examination. If I’m disturbed the first thing I need to do is to quiet the disturbance. I love the writing that Doctor Bob kept on his desk. It shows me how to quiet myself.

Humility

“Perpetual quietness of heart. It is to have no trouble. It is never to be fretted or vexed, irritable or sore; to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me.

It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised, it is to have a blessed home in myself where I can go in and shut the door and pray to my Father in secret and be at peace, as in a deep-sea of calmness, when all around and about is seeming trouble.”

Meditation has become a daily practice for me and the results have been incredible. No depression this year, OCD gone, anxiety disorder not experienced, a sense of calm and a new relationship with my Higher Power.

I pray differently too; more of an affirmation of truth rather than asking for anything. I’ve stopped tormenting myself with trying to figure out what God’s will would be. All the great spiritual traditions have love at their core. If I make everything I do and say about love, I feel I can’t go wrong. I was never too sure about the statement ‘God is Love’; however, I could accept that love is God.

These are only my own thoughts and my life is immeasurable better today because I stay aware of what I’m thinking, knowing that my thoughts produce my feelings and my feelings produce my actions.

Anonymous

“We were astounded to find that we were as tight as the bark on a tree.  So A.A., the Movement, started and stayed broke, while its individual members waxed prosperous.” 

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 161.

Spirituality and money seem like strange bedfellows.  Materialism is seen as a fault. “The love of money is the root of all evil.”  Here in AA, where so many things are the opposite of the ways of the world in general, money, gratitude, love and spirituality are all closely tied. Where they meet is in the basket passed at meetings.

 

As a newcomer to AA many years ago, it was suggested to me by my sponsor that I put $2 in the basket at my home group and $1 in the basket of groups that I also attended. Back then a dollar or two was a generous contribution.  The same amount today simply won’t buy what it did then.  Prices have soared.  Everything costs more including the rental for AA meeting rooms, the literature and refreshments, the travel expenses for our GSRs to attend the Quarterlies. When new to AA I had no idea of where the group contributions went. I wouldn’t have known a Quarterly if I’d been bitten by one.  However, I learned and was amazed.  There is a huge world of AA out beyond my home group. The Intergroup Office is the first place many people call when they want to get sober.  It’s where our literature comes to be purchased by the groups and where calls come in for information and for 12th step calls. Then there is the District.  Group contributions keep the Districts afloat and allow the business of AA to continue.  Everything we do in AA is for the purpose of carrying the message to the still suffering alcoholic.  Then there is the Area, the General Service Office and the General Service Conference where the decisions, made at the group level on how to better carry the AA message, are discussed and voted on.

As AA does not accept contributions from outside sources, it’s the money from the basket being passed, along with literature sales, which fund this whole life-saving organization known as Alcoholics Anonymous.

How does Tradition 7 work in my life? I’m constantly aware that without contributions the life-saving message of AA will not be carried to those who need it.  The money is not going to come from anywhere else, as AA does not accept money from outside sources.  I also have to be aware of my tendency towards selfishness, self-centeredness and rationalization.  I always had the money for alcohol when I wanted it, for my own pleasures, for the coffee shops in sobriety.  I can’t afford the $4 latte today and still be generous when the basket is passed at meetings.  So, the lattes had to go.  Weighed against saving the life and sanity of a fellow alcoholic it’s a very small sacrifice indeed.  Those who came before me gave so that AA was here when I needed it.  All I had to do was walk through the doors.  The room rent was paid for, the coffee was on, a display of literature was available at cost and the pamphlets were free for the taking.  I went home with a Big Book and a handful of pamphlets. That was the beginning of a journey of sobriety, spiritual growth and fellowship, a journey toward love and contentment.  I truly believe that as I give I am giving to my Higher Power through AA.  What has come back to me is priceless.  Serenity, love, a fulfilling life of service and also of enjoyment and much improved relationships with others, a certain knowledge that I can stay sober for the rest of my life by following a few spiritual principle are all gifts I received through AA.

So, there it is.  In the end, when I give to AA, I give to my Higher Power and to myself. Gratitude is a loving action.  My sobriety is a gift for which I thank you and all the AA members who have gone before me.

Anonymous

Just a short while ago, I had the privilege of visiting some of the historic sites of Alcoholics Anonymous. At twenty-two-years old, and a member of AA for several years, I never in a million years would have thought I would be choosing to visit historical AA sites (of course being an alcoholic wasn’t really in my plans either).

For the month of October and early November I travelled around eastern Canada and the U.S. It was a glorious adventure! I went to meetings in Toronto, Montreal, New York, Queens, Washington, and Chicago. At first I didn’t want to go to meetings; I would tell myself “when you go to a meeting you’ll have to sit and really feel your feelings… that’ll be hard!” You see, when travelling one is usually feeling quite high-energy and excited; I didn’t want to have to sit with what was below the surface. But meetings absolutely saved me. Throughout my month-long journey I ensured I went to a meeting every few days. Every meeting was just like a meeting here in Nanaimo; the people in the meetings looked different, but the feeling and message was the same. It was all very comforting and I felt incredibly grateful to be a member of AA.   My first historic stop was at the General Service Office (GSO) in New York City. Although the GSO has had several location changes, it has been in its current location for over twenty years.

The office takes up the eleventh floor of a large building. While at the GSO I was given a fairly extensive tour of the office and educated on the many types of work it does. Frankly, I was overwhelmed at all that was done in its office! There were about forty employees, so one can imagine the GSO does a lot!

While at the GSO I was given a fairly extensive tour of the office and educated on the many types of work it does. Frankly, I was overwhelmed at all that was done in its office! There were about forty employees, so one can imagine the GSO does a lot!

A few days later I arrived in Akron, Ohio. During my brief stay in Akron I went to Dr. Bob’s house, his grave site, St. Thomas’s hospital, and the Mayflower hotel.

When I arrived at Dr. Bob’s house I was greeted by an older man who calmly said, “welcome home.” I felt overwhelmed when he said that. The house was kept in a lot of its original state. The tour was wonderful and ended with coffee at Dr. Bob’s kitchen table where thousands upon thousands of other alcoholics have sat. I had coffee with the tour guide and two women, one from Kansas and the other from Arizona. After coffee, the two women and I went to Dr. Bob’s grave. We each took one of our AA chips, said a prayer, and placed them on his gravestone. It was a very serene moment. Next we went to St. Thomas’s hospital. In this hospital Dr. Bob and Sister Ignatia worked together to help others get sober. Sister Ignatia is rumoured to have been the one who started giving out AA chips for sobriety. When patients would leave the hospital newly sober, she would give them a token and tell them to bring the token back if they drank again. Lastly, we visited the Mayflower hotel. The phone that Bill W. used to call Dr. Bob still exists in the hotel today.

Truthfully, before my travels I knew very little about AA history; in fact, I still know very little today. Sure Alcoholics Anonymous isn’t perfect, but I am beyond grateful to those who came before me.

Anonymous

Each with nearly seventeen years of sobriety, Bev and Sandy share their experience with service work.

“Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics.” Big Book, pg. 89

  1. In early recovery, how did you get involved in service?

Bev: I started by getting the key to my home group. I was stepping out of my comfort zone doing this; it allowed me to get to know people as they arrived instead of just going to the meeting and getting there just before it starts. When it came time to give up the key I didn’t want to!

Sandy: I started by greeting for my home group. My home group was big on rotation. At business meetings I was gently encouraged to take on many different service positions in the group: the Nanaimo rally and social committee. I was filled with fear every time I did something new. After a while the fear didn’t last as long, or go as deep. My sponsor walked me through a lot of it. I spent a lot of time with newcomers, driving people to meetings, phone conversations, coffee, and sponsoring. I also went to lots of meetings.

  1. What types of service work have you done?

Bev: I’ve done a lot of service work over the years, starting at the group level; opener, secretary, treasurer, intergroup rep. and GSR. At the district level I’ve been DCM, and corrections chair. The best service work I’ve done has been getting involved with the correctional facility; I’ve done this for the past fourteen years.

Sandy: For my home group I have been greeter, opener, coffee maker, set-up, clean-up, secretary, treasurer, literature, birthday card/cake, detox, alternate intergroup rep, and intergroup rep, alternate GSR, and GSR. For the district I have been detox chair. I have also been on the social committee where we used to organize many dances. I have also held different positions for the Nanaimo rally, and just helped out as a member of AA. I have held rally meetings, step studies, and tradition studies in our home. I am a sponsor and have a sponsor. I’ve also participated in 12-step calls, spoke at schools and treatment centres.

  1. How has service work impacted your recovery? What are the benefits?

Bev: I have met so many people I wouldn’t have normally met had it not been for service work. A lot of those people have become close friends over the years.

Sandy: Along with the steps, it has built my confidence, and greatly lessoned my fears. Going out of my comfort zone, or facing the fear of people just seeing ‘me’ used to stop me from leaving the house. After doing service work and taking small risks, with the support of the fellowship, I have a new freedom. Service work has given me more faith in my Higher Power. It has taught me how to “play with others” and chipped away at my ego.

  1. How can a newcomer get involved in service work?

Bev: Start by doing something simple like making coffee. Attend your group’s business meetings and listen to what positions have to be filled and volunteer for one of those. Try to be open to anything.

Sandy: By talking to other members, and going to tons and tons of meetings. By getting a sponsor that has been involved in service and knows the rewards first hand. By saying yes (when it is right to say yes. I do not believe I have to do everything AA asks me to do – that’s where my sponsor comes in). By joining an AA group that is involved with AA service, attending the business meetings, and taking on responsibilities in that group. By going to “the meeting after the meeting,” out for coffee, walks, and fellowship. Find the “like minded” people, the people that like to do the things that you like to do, and ‘practicing all our AA principals in all our affairs’. Join a step study. Join a tradition study. Go to all the events that the district holds.

  1. Is there such a thing as too much service?

Bev: Sure there is. Just like everything else, balance is the key. We also have to remember about the spirit of rotation. Don’t hold on to a position too long; let someone else have the same opportunity as you did.

Sandy: There sure is; that is why we have the spirit of rotation and group conscience. Often, our egos want to take control of a home group or service position; AA needs a balance of what the newcomer brings, what the old timer brings, and what the coming-back person brings. No one in AA has all the answers.

  1. Outside of AA, how do you give back to your community?

Bev: I try to volunteer when I can and also do work for the neighbors when I can.

Sandy: That is the best gift I have gotten from AA! I can now go out into the community and just be. I am part of a few other service groups in the city. I attend different courses offered in the community. I am there for my family and my neighbors. With the help of my sponsor, sponsees, and home group I can ‘practice these principals in all of my affairs’. It is a wonderful feeling to give back and be a part of; all thanks to experience I have gained by doing service for AA.

Taking a personal inventory was a challenge for me because I loved to play the part of the “Innocent Victim!” I was unable to see what part I played in most situations. With the help of my Sponsor, he showed me my culpability when I could not, or would not.

 

I remember a situation where I was so sure that I was right. When I spoke with my Sponsor about it, he said I was “Dead Wrong!” I had to write a letter of apology. He helped by saying, “It takes a very big man to admit when he is wrong!”   I am striving for spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.

Doing thorough 4th and 5th Steps have helped me see if it was “me or them”? If it was me, then I could remedy the situation promptly even though there were times where I dragged my feet. I paid for my procrastination with emotional pain because “I knew what I had to do”!   If it was them, then I did not need to react to their antics. I could “Live and Let Live”.

This step does not say anything about “ya butt”. The only butt I got is the one I sit on! I am here to clean my side of the street! Also, as soon as I admit my mistake, the war is over. There is nothing much else to argue about.

When I have made mistakes in my sobriety, this Step has been an excellent tool for me to deal with it, learn from it and then carry on. Reading page 86 at the beginning of the day has proved invaluable! “On awakening…..…”, is an excellent daily read for my new Spiritual journey.

“It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.

A.A. offers many tools to have a “Good Day Today”, if I choose! Going on a Retreat was a real Spiritual High for me! Practicing one “Just For Today” each day. Asking myself questions like: H.A.L.T. – Am I Hungry – Angry – Lonely – or Tired? Or, “What is not going my way today?”   My Sponsor taught me that people never have and never will do what I want them to! They are not the ones who must change, it is me!

In A.A. I have learned how to take the “High Road” in all situations. To not press “send” for 24 hours. How to say “Yes” to life and give it a try. That it is okay to feel and I am allowed to be me.

Clifford T.