Tales from the Lost Years (my story continued)

This is a historical representation of a pond near where I grew up. Earlier times would find me ice skating on this and other ponds (and I shudder to consider the danger of that – I would never let my kids do something like that!). However on the night of the story I’m relaying, after I had drunkenly tried to drive home in a snow storm, stopped to call my sponsor (not Elli), and gone back to my car and passed out, someone from the program found me and took my to my sponsor’s home. She rented part of one of the houses represented here, and it bordered this pond.

It was a major, local character of the program who found me. Let’s call the sponsor I had at that time, who was not the same as my two previous sponsors I had had during my period of sobriety – let’s call this new one Marva. Marva was only five months ahead of my in sobriety. She was an ex model, and a nurse (so she said and we believed), and not the best sponsor material. But to be fair, I was not an easy, nice or ideal sponsee. For one thing, I kept drinking.

Marva lived with a guy, we’ll call him Ross. He was heir to a fortune, but he had been disowned by his family when the mother of his baby girl died from a heroine overdose that Ross had administered to her. He was clean and sober in AA as was Marva. He started a business, I forget if or where Marva worked, and they rented this house on the pond.

The local character (and isn’t AA full of them?) we’ll call Filippo. He was a Vietnam vet, and looking back, I don’t know if it was Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, or schizophrenia, or a combination of those, but he was nuts. He talked of UFOs at times, or miracles, or being influenced by astrology, but nothing dangerous. He trolled local bars for AA prospects, just like in the olden days, and he bought people who would listen to him drinks. He worked for Ross at the time all this took place.

Filippo took the company van and found me passed out in my snowy car in the alley between the gas station and a dry cleaners. I honestly think this is one of the times that I likely could have died from drinking, and that only luck saw me through. I could have crashed my car and taken others with me that day. Or I could have frozen to death there in that snow covered car. It happens.

But he found me and roused me and I have brief memories of being way high up in that van, driving through the snow to Marva’s house on the pond.

The rest of that night comes in flashes of memory. Among the things I remember is that many of the good folks of AA assembled there to babysit me. I can individually remember at least five other people, and there may have been more. I remember grabbing one of them to accompany me to the bathroom, figuring they wouldn’t let me go on my own. I remember one of the guys going through my purse, finding my lotion bottle full of alcohol, and remarking that this was an ingenious idea!

I looked for a picture of the pond because I also remember sitting there. At times, when I thought no one was paying any attention to me, I made dashes for the pond. There were sliding glass doors in the room where I was, and the pond beyond them. I was trying to kill myself by drowning myself in the pond. It was the only way I could think of to do it right then. Right then, living longer did not seem like something I could handle.

Hitting Bottom

It’s come up a few times recently, in my meetings, my conversation and my reading.  I have a new understanding, and it makes sense to me in retrospect.

It is common knowledge that an alcoholic needs to “hit bottom” before he will do the work necessary to become sober through Alcoholics Anonymous.  The early cases were of people who were so bad off, they had lost many things through drinking.  When someone relapses, we tend to comment that perhaps the person has not yet hit bottom.  In other words, things need to get worse before she can stop drinking.

There’s a line in the Big Book that says something like, “Perhaps your man needs more convincing.”  We say he is doing further “research.”  We say that perhaps it hasn’t gotten bad enough yet.

I also hear people refer to “low” bottoms and “high” bottoms.  One of my favorite sayings about it is that you hit bottom when you stop digging.  In other words, it can get as bad as you let it get, stopping it is up to each of us.

My new understanding has to do with the necessary element for sobriety, that of hopelessness.  As long as a person hopes she can go back to drinking normally, maybe even if she hopes it just a little, tiny, bit, she may not get sober.  Through losing that hope, through losing all hope, a person can possibly achieve sobriety by working the program and acting on suggestions.

This sheds light on my own situation.  Although I knew I was alcoholic, and said so, I kept going back to drinking and to trying to do it differently.  This shows I did not accept my powerlessness over alcohol in a deep and final way.  When I gave up hope of stopping, and understood that I couldn’t stop, I was able to.  That is the paradox of hopelessness.

So I think that low bottom, high bottom, car, family, job and home – the loss of these do not signal the bottom.  The bottom is where we understand that drinking and drugs are not going to do it for us, not ever again.  Then we can start to move up.

The Full Hurt (The Full Retard)

I need to leave my recovery theme for a post about something that’s happening out there in real life.  It has been my privilege to make my living by working with people with developmental disabilities, also known as mental retardation.  My mother started doing this when I was five and she did it for 38 years.  I’ve been at it for about 16 years.

There’s a lot being written about a movie that is being released now that uses the word “retard.”  I know this word is used by young people and uninformed people and just plain mean people.  I also know that it’s used by responsible, loving, intelligent, compassionate and insightful people who just don’t know that they shouldn’t use it.  It should not be used.

As I’ve written before, I enjoy words and I’m interested in them.  In the novel Flowers for Algernon, it says something like we can use words that describe mental retardation only until we understand what they mean, then we need a new word.  The term of the moment is “developmental disability.”  In the past, in the US, people with mental retardation have been described as idiots, imbeciles, cretins, morons, and feeble-minded, and these were not insulting terms in their time.  They were medical, factual descriptions.  Just as they have become unacceptable ways to describe people, so has “retard” become unacceptable.

Here’s a post that explains it better than I will ever be able to do:  http://davehingsburger.blogspot.com/2008/08/words-hit-like-fist.html

In my own thoughts, words that are derogatory and that have been “taken back” by the people they seek to put down are different.  Words that describe sexual orientation, or ancestry, or skin color, are simply descriptive.  True, to some people, “homosexual” and associated words may be a put down.  Homosexuality, however, isn’t good or bad, it just is.

Mental retardation is, at the end of the day, describing a deficit.  Whatever words we use to say it, we are naming something that people do not wish to have.  To apply the label to someone who does not have a developmental disability, or to oneself, when you don’t have a developmental disability, but are being stupid, clumsy, clueless, or dumb, is wrong.  People who have developmental disabilities are often stupid, clumsy, clueless or dumb, just like people who don’t have such a disability.

I don’t pretend to understand the minds of famous people, but it makes me sad to see some of the celebrities and others who are involved with this movie, and selling this stuff.  Why?  How did this get past the first person who read it, after it was written?  Why did the writer write it?  Why is OK to hurt these people in this way, and worse, to spread the hurt and make money from it?

When someone I know with a developmental disability dies, I often picture that this person moves on to some kind of heaven, and that in that place, all souls and spirits are equal.  I picture that some sort of higher power gate keeper type entity asks this person to give me a reference and recommendation.  Yea or nay?  What did I do, when in this life, I had the ability to, say, give or withhold a drink of water from someone who wanted one, but couldn’t get it without me?  Based on my treatment of people who depended on me, will I go to the good place, or to the bad one?  I do things for people as basic as giving a drink of water, and as complicated as trying to help them navigate the system to obtain physical therapy or to determine if the way the bus driver treated them was abusive, or just rude.  Given how much we need each other and impact each other, how simple is it to let this offensive word die?

But Whenever We Had to Choose (Step Seven continued)

But whenever we had to choose between character and comfort, the character-building was lost in the dust of our chase after what we thought was happiness.

I thought I wouldn’t have much to say about the beginning parts of this step.  After all, I have spent so many years considering humility and being humble!  (Doesn’t it show?)  I am also partly back in the space where I can’t identify with some aspects of the middle aged maleness of some of the AA writing.  I know these guys took money from their families, lost their jobs, cheated on their wives, etc etc.  If I follow this thought, I will admit that I would have been headed for a similar fate, if I had been lucky enough to achieve it.  Honestly, I was probably too far gone to live that long or achieve even that much.

So yes, I chased after what I thought was happiness.  In my pitiful little world, that mostly consisted of the guy I wanted to be with, and a future dream of having children.  And as I wrote previously, even though I was only 16 when all this began, even at 16, I did know it was very wrong.  And I did it anyway.  I did it at 16 and 17 and 18, and up until I was almost 22.

It’s a little more difficult to apply this to today.  Over the years I’ve come to see that character building leads to comfort in a very real, permanent way.  Certainly the whenever aspect of that sentence does not apply any longer.  I actually think I will have to give this thought because I can’t nail down a concrete statement about it right now.  So the step I thought would be quickly done is making me pause over sentence after sentence.

Experience (my story continued – 18, 19, 20, 21)

My standard disclaimer: I don’t remember much from this time. What I do remember is jumbled, very well jumbled.

I was in college, I was living with the guy from across the street, and when he left me, I drank. I made a decision to drink, and I did it. Over the next approximately five years, I drank, attended AA, and achieved some brief periods of sobriety. All of my abstinence from alcohol was achieved through AA. I never was able to stop without. I don’t remember trying to do that.

I have one harrowing incident I always tell when I tell my story at a meeting. It encompasses many of the elements of what went wrong and what was bad with my drinking.

I remember getting up on a school day, drinking before I got in the car to go to school. I remember arriving at school, parking in a parking lot, and having to pee so badly that I couldn’t make it a building. I remember (once) peeing in the back of my car.

I remember being in class, being drunk, making loops in my notebook to give the appearance of taking notes. I remember going to the ladies’ room, taking a swig from the bottle I had in my purse. It was a hand lotion type of bottle, a successor to my frizzy hair spray bottle I had used when I first started drinking. I hadn’t been found out with the hair bottle, and I wasn’t found out with the lotion bottle either.

Next memory, I was sitting in the cafeteria downstairs in the building where my class had been. There were two guys from my class sitting at a table with me, saying things like, “That’s not right, the way he treated you.” I surmised that I had done something stupid and awful in class, and that the teacher had spoken to me about it. You have right there a classic symptom of alcoholism. The fear and dread, and no memory, of what the hell did I do, and will I be able to fix it?

Next memory, it was snowing. I was in a phone booth, speaking to some poor, good soul who was answering the phones for AA at their home that night. I was telling this poor, good soul that I was a member of that there fellowship, and that I was too drunk to drive myself home from school, and could someone help me? Well not knowing where I was, or who I knew, this person had a slim chance of actually helping me. I hung up. I hope that person didn’t worry about me too much. Too bad I can’t tell them that it all turned out OK.

Next I remember coming to, briefly, on the road to my home. Next thing I knew, I was further down the same road. I would swerve all over the place, unable to drive, then black out and come to again further down the road. I guess I was driving OK in the blackout, but I’d lose the ability as I came to. It was snowing hard and piling up, and I pulled over.

I remember being at a gas station pay phone. I called my sponsor (who else?), and I tried to describe to her where I was. She asked me, and I told her, what I saw out the windows of the place. I then decided I was too drunk to do even that, and I hung up on her. I went back to my car, I passed out, and the snow quickly covered my car.

Still More Akron

Dr. Bob and his wife are buried in a cemetery near his house.

Next to their headstone, a marble urn type thing is inscribed with these words. These are the “Four Absolutes” of the Oxford Group. It seems to me that the Oxford Group and the concepts of it get a lot more attention now than they used to. I just don’t remember hearing much about it in the past. A few months ago, there was even a special study of the group that went on in my area. I have no problem with it at all, I just honestly wonder what ‘absolute purity’ would look like. Not enough to look into it this time, though.

People leave sobriety coins at the grave. Last time I was there, I left my current coin, whatever that was. Here we left a “man on the bed” coin. One of our group left her 9 month coin. I left my 24 year coin.

I know some of this can seem cult like and bit spooky. I don’t mind. These people were real, and what they did, long before I was born, changed my life for the better and really gave me life.

We also visited the Gate Lodge, but didn’t take pictures this time. It’s where Henrietta Seiberling lived. She is the woman that got the call from the pastor that got the call from Bill W looking for an alcoholic to help. She arranged for Bill W and Dr. Bob to meet, which they did, in her Gate House.

I like the way my coin looks on that grave stone. The credit for my 24 years goes to him.

Akron continued

A room in the ……. I’m drawing a blank! This is the house next door to Dr. Bob’s house, which is also dedicated to AA history. At the left of the picture are some artifacts from Dr. Bob’s medical practice. Within the room are many many books, some photographs and other things.

This is me looking at some of the pictures of some of the first hundred members. Most of the books within these cases are not AA books, but rather are books that the early members used to study and actually develop the steps.

More of the first one hundred, as well as letters and other documents that were saved and preserved.

It amazes me when I think for minute what recovery must have been like for those early few. I struggled so, even with the vast network of people and meetings and books that were and are available to me. I owe an awesome debt to those people and their courage.

A painting of Bill and Bob.

The Mayflower Hotel, now a personal care home. It is where Bill’s business deal fell through, and where the bar and the pay phone both beckoned him. He called a random pastor, asking for a drunk to help, and from there was lead to Dr. Bob.

From there the series of coincidences is amazing, and goose bump producing. The personal care home allows AA visitors to enter the lobby where Bill made that phone call. There is a replica phone and phone list, and we sat for some time in that space. This time, with five of us on the trip, I really couldn’t think about it as much as I did seven years ago, when there were only two of us. I suppose it is a form of meditation to sit there and imagine the scene, and try to imagine myself in such a position, and to imagine all that needed to transpire in order for me personally to recover from alcoholism through the program of AA.

I have more pictures and I’ll continue with these next time. Now, though, something presents itself to me that I want to write down. It happens to me almost daily that coincidences occur that make me wonder if this is a higher power’s earthly influence. Surely the coincidences that occurred to result in the meeting of Bill and Bob seem to be just too handy to be real. It truly does seem as if there was a benevolent, guiding hand in all of it, making it happen.

OK fine. Let’s say that’s true. I just can’t wrap my mind around the pitiful drunks who died the day before this miracle. Why didn’t the higher power make this happen much, much sooner in human history? Why?

I understand this is a perennial question of human existence, and that I will not know the answer in my lifetime. And I do so appreciate the depth of what went on before me, and the fact that I benefit from it every single day. Even in the midst of my cynicism and doubt, I do get goose bumps at times. My emotional reaction is so strong, it causes my body to react.

I feel bad, in a way, putting these thoughts down together with pictures of that incredible, miraculous history. But I am, after all, trying to work the program in the 25th year of my recovery, in some new and deeper way. If nothing else, I hope this is at least honest.


Carole and I and some friends went to Akron, Ohio the other day. Carole and I had first been there seven years ago. The others had never been. Akron is where Dr. Bob lived, and where he and Bill W met. Dr. Bob and AA #3, Bill Dotson, got sober in Akron, and thus began the program as we know it. I’m going to try posting my thoughts around the pictures that we took that don’t show any members of AA clearly. I may change my mind about this method after I see how it goes.

First we went to the archives. In this picture, you can sort of see Carole’s reflection as she takes the picture of the symbol in the window. The archives has tons of stuff. There are books, letters, photographs, drawings, paintings, coins, signs. There are many letters written by Bill and Bob and other early AAs as well as notes and manuscripts. Mostly these items are on paper that is sealed in plastic or in display cases. They do not allow photographs of those things.

Stained glass of the man on the bed. The circles that are in the light blue strip that goes around the piece are sobriety coins.

The front door of Dr. Bob’s house. This is where Bob and Anne Smith lived, and where Bill W went to stay after they met. The sign on the top says “Welcome Home,” and a volunteer says this when you walk in. A potential goose bump moment!

Dr. Bob’s kitchen. Here Anne read from the Bible for morning meditations.

The dining room table. Here they wrote, first in long hand, the first hundred stories of the first hundred members.

This is me standing on the seventh step.  There are twelve!  Seven years ago, I had Carole take my picture on the sixth step.  I felt I had been there for years.  So nice to move on to the seventh!  I also think it’s cool that I’ve recorded my sixth step work here, and that I am recording the seventh.

To be continued …………..

True, Most of Us Thought Good Character was Desirable (Step Seven continued)

True, most of us thought good character was desirable, but obviously good character was something one needed to get on with the business of being self-satisfied. With a proper display of honesty and morality, we’d stand a better chance of getting what we really wanted.

I don’t know if this means anything about anything, but I thought I should get it out there in the interest of being thorough and honest. My view of myself and the way I want to be in the world has been largely a view of smallness, unobtrusiveness, meekness, gentleness, etc.

I know my family will disagree! There of course I am loud and opinionated, controlling and domineering. Sometimes.

It’s been a fascinating experience for me to walk Xandra (for lots of reasons I’ll get into, but only one reason for this purpose). She’s big, 60 pounds, and next to me she probably looks bigger. As I approach people they sometimes look visibly frightened, and at times they may cross the street to avoid us. Never before in my life have people reacted this way to me. It amazes me. I try to feel for a minute what it must be like to be greeted like this all the time, but of course I can’t. My persona and my understanding of the world and my place in it is that I am a small white woman, and before that I was a small white girl. Most people over the age of 8 could physically get the best of me, and they know it.

So I paused to reflect after writing those two sentences because I think it’s important that I try to better understand the way I’ve tried to be, and the image I’ve tried to project. I truly value the qualities of gentleness and meekness and of being non threatening, but really, did I have a choice? Acting otherwise would probably have been comical on a person like me. I’ve always been small, though now I’m just short. I’ve always been fairly weak, not good at anything physical, and I’ve even had some physical limitations like bad knees and childhood asthma. For much of my life, I’ve projected an image that is younger than my actual age. At five feet or less, I’ve weighed between 85 and 140 pounds since I’ve stopped growing.

So, what I really wanted was, what? To be liked, certainly. To get what I want by meek and mild means, at least with people outside of my family. Although it’s important for me to understand that I really didn’t have a chance to be any other way. There has always been at least a small part of me that valued good character for the sake of good character, I’m sure. And I guess it is a bit of an admirable thing to want to please people rather than be ambivalent or hostile.

Working this program asks me to value good character on a whole new, much deeper and more difficult level.

The Lost Years Continued (My Story continued – 18, 19, 20, 21)

Paraphrasing from the Big Book, and without looking, these are things I did to control my drinking:  drank only on weekends; drank only on weekdays; never drank and drove; drank only one drink when driving; only drank before a certain hour; only drank after a certain hour; only drank alone; drank only a certain amount per hour; drank only during odd numbered hours; drank only on the half hour; tried and tried and tried some more not to drink so much so quickly.

My favorite technique and the one I remember the best was the beer technique.  I never liked the taste of alcohol.  Not one single kind, not even one time.  I think my body knew from the start that it was poison.  And it is poison.  Cigarettes and coffee I learned to work my way through the initial aversion and I came to sort of like them.  Not alcohol.  The drinks I liked best tasted the least like alcohol, or had the lowest concentration of alcohol.  I didn’t have many opportunities to have mixed drinks.  The one I remember liking best was a Midori Sour.  No doubt it contains lots of sugar, to disguise the taste of the alcohol.

The beer technique had me drinking beer, because it takes longer to get drunk that way.  So many times, most of the time, I think, I just drank too much, too quickly.  I would try to delay and put off drinking more until what I had hit me, but so often I’d drink more, and more, and before I knew it I was too far gone.  Farther than I’d meant to go.

I had a few social occasions to drink, but mostly I drank alone.  Mostly I was alone.  I continued my relationship through this whole time, and so I was often alone.  Aside from being legal to buy alcohol, my drinking changed little, beyond progressing.  I could buy alcohol and so I didn’t drink the hideous concoctions I had before I had turned 18.  I heard the story tonight of someone who had been a dishwasher, and he had combined the drinks that came back to him at his dishwashing station into one, to drink later.  Everyone, me included, groans at that.  But I remember that well.

As a note to myself, I’ll say that next I’ll write about some of the things I remember from that time.  There isn’t much!  I really did lose so much of those years.