Carry This Message

SAM_2399Saturday night I was asked to lead my meeting with two minutes warning.  I think that’s the least amount of warning I’ve ever had when asked to tell my story.  I didn’t hesitate to say yes (though I didn’t want to do it).  I was told to say “yes” to anything anyone asks me to do in AA (within reason, and having to do with AA, and that I can possibly do) and that was an excellent idea for me to internalize.  Left to my own desires, I would never want to tell my story and I probably never would.

For the topic for discussion I chose “carrying this message.”  People talked about some of the many ways AA members carry this message.  The literature tells us that we must carry this message to stay sober, and that working with alcoholics is the surest way to ensure personal sobriety.

All acts of service are carrying this message as we keep AA going for ourselves and for those yet to come.  And even though the concept of carrying this message appears in Step Twelve, the newer newcomer is also doing it when he or she helps someone who is even newer.  Also anytime we encourage someone or help someone or share our experience to ease the way of someone we are carrying this message.

Someone mentioned being “out” as far as the people in his life know he is in AA, so they can come to him for help if they want help.  It made me think about a few of my favorite active alcoholics, all family members.  My mother and my uncle certainly know that I was a big bad problem drinker way back when, but I don’t know if they, especially my uncle, ever thinks about those times or realizes that I am 100% sober.  He surely doesn’t know I’m in AA.

I struggle with things like that, and years pass during which I offer no help to anyone outside of AA.  Within AA I’m rather poor at reaching out as well.

On to the character defect list I go . . .

Understanding is the Key (Step Twelve continued)

Understanding is the key to right principles and attitudes, and right action is the key to good living; therefore the joy of good living is the theme of A.A.’s Twelfth Step.

I feel like there is so much in that sentence that I don’t understand.  Among the things I don’t understand are the joy of good living and the proper use of semicolons.  I am ever grateful that Bill W was such a good writer.

I need to wrestle with it, and still come out less than half-assed.  Understanding what?  The right principles are, I think, helping God and others, blah blah blah.  The right attitudes are being grateful, optimistic, hopeful and helpful.  The right actions are taking care of myself, taking care of others, taking care of the environment, keeping commitments, living up to my potential, voting early and often, being responsible, cleaning up my messes – all these things and more are the key to good living.

So given all that (therefore), the joy of good living  . . . I like that, because I think it acknowledges, in some small way, that good living isn’t necessarily always a joyful thing.

I need to wrestle with this some more.

These Little Studies (Step Twelve continued)

These little studies of A.A.’s Twelve Steps now come to a close.  We have been considering so many problems that it may appear that A.A. consists mainly of racking dilemmas and troubleshooting.  To a certain extent, that is true.  We have been talking about problems because we are problem people who have found a way up and out, and who wish to share our knowledge of that way with all who can use it.  For it is only by accepting and solving our problems that we can begin to get right with ourselves and with the world around us, and with Him who presides over all of us.

As I was writing that I heard someone on TV talking about he Boston bombing.  He said that he lives by spiritual principles and basically wakes up and asks God to show him how he can be useful that day.  Carole wasn’t paying attention, but I said to her, “AA?”  Because that’s what we do!  When we remember.

I’ve heard it said as a criticism of AA that we dwell on problems.  Even the way we introduce ourselves, “My name is ___ and I’m an alcoholic,” or some version of that.  I’ve heard people say that this focus on the problem, this giving it priority, keeps us sick.  But I disagree.

” . . . we are problem people . . . ”  We are.  That’s why we go to AA.  No one goes there because everything is good.  And when people go to AA and don’t accept and solve their problem, their problem gets worse, and the havoc they wreck gets worse.

Even so, I don’t think the majority of the talk I hear in a meeting is negative.  I’m curious and if I remember, I’m going to try to keep track for a while.  I hear lots and lots of positive things and so many of us feel that we wouldn’t change our alcoholism even if we could, because the solution is so wonderful.  I never want to be without it.  Waking up and asking God how I can be useful that day is a wonderful way to live.  But I wouldn’t have even tried to live that way had I not been forced to by alcoholism.

There are a few more lines of Step Twelve and I’ll be at the end of the steps.  I’m going to start at the beginning because I began writing at Step Six . . . several years ago now.

True Ambition (Step Twelve continued)

True ambition is not what we thought it was.  True ambition is the deep desire to live usefully and walk humbly under the grace of God.

I’ve listed ambition as one of my character defects.  It’s a confusing one in that it also has a positive connotation, as when someone takes on something difficult with lots of energy, being “ambitious.”  But as a character defect, I understand that it is the distinction and honor aspects of it that are defective and wrong and, possibly, the wealth and power aspects as well, though those can be put to good use.

I’ve never much striven for distinction, honor, power, or wealth, though I can get awfully nervous if I think my middle-class status is in jeopardy.  I have a desire to live usefully and walk humbly.  I don’t know how deep my desire is.  Surely not deep enough.

Living usefully.  As I’ve written, and people who know me in real life know, I work with adults who have developmental disabilities to the extent that they need major help in all areas of life.  I work in their day program, and I got there because my mother has done this since I was five, and she gave me my first job.  I got my second job when I moved to be with Carole, and I’m still at that job.  It will be 15 years in June, and how that happened I just can’t understand.  But I’ve moved from the day-to-day hands on working folks to managing the folks who work with the folks, and it’s just not clear at any given moment that I’m doing something useful.  Not as clear as it was when, for example, I was giving someone a drink of water who couldn’t get it for himself.  Now that is useful.  Telling someone else how to give the water, or making sure they gave the water, or critiquing their water giving method, now that is just not as much–

I will be honest.  That is not as much fun.  Of course it’s useful.  But while I felt I was good at giving the water, and knowing when and how to do it, I don’t feel I’m as good at telling someone else.  Especially if they are not doing it well.

Anyway, a very useful way to make a living.  I love it, which I don’t think lessens its usefulness.  I think it is better for the people I’m helping if I love it, and I do.  And it’s wonderful for me.  I honestly feel a little guilty about that.  Probably because of my Lutheran upbringing.

So useful at work.  I want to live usefully at home, and that is generally not as much fun.  The aspects of it that I like, I’m good at, and I want to do more.  I think that being a pet of mine is a pretty good deal.  My biggest deficit there, I think, is the anxiety I experience about being good enough, especially to the dog, but also to the cats.  Other aspects of being useful at home I’m not as good at.  I started to write and deleted a few things about that.  I’ve come around to thinking this about it:  my so-called “deep desire” is only as good as the actions that result from it.  Doesn’t that fit every situation?

–these are the permanent and legitimate satisfactions . . . ” (Step Twelve continued)

–these are the permanent and legitimate satisfactions of right living for which no amount of pomp and circumstance, no heap of material possessions, could possibly be substitutes.

And, for me–and, I kid you not–no amount of “slight buzz,” the type of which I chased relentlessly almost literally to the gates of hell and the jaws of the death.  The actual gate, and real jaws.

The exact satisfactions came earlier in this paragraph and the previous paragraph.  I’m no longer (not that “I” was ever doing these exact things, though surely I did my own version of all of them and still do to a lesser degree)

  • striving to dominate or rule
  • trying to gain self-importance
  • seeking fame, honor and praise

I am now

  • understanding that leadership depends on love, service, and able example
  • gladly rendering service
  • squarely meeting obligations

It continues on.

I’ve recently talked to two women, one who is new to the program and one who has struggled.  The new one is on work release from jail, because one of the few things she has left is her job.  The struggling one hasn’t yet lost her job.  The new one is about ten months sober.  The struggling one stops drinking for several weeks at a time, then drinks again.  Both are over 40.

I just leave these encounters with such a feeling of gratitude that I got so sick so quickly.  The work release one is optimistic.  She’s been forced into trying a life of sobriety and, as difficult as her situation is, I can whole-heartedly assure her that she is on the right path, that things were bound to get worse for her the way she was going, but that now, though it’s very difficult, things will get better.  I’m just about as sure that things will get worse for the struggling one.

The choice between a drunken-stuporous life and a spiritual existence seems so silly now.  Of course I would choose this path.  If only the other way lead to the drugged semi-consciousness I craved.  It didn’t.   It’s not like I even ever had an actual choice.

. . . the surety that we need no longer be . . . (Step Twelve continued)

. . . the surety that we need no longer be square pegs in round holes but can fit and belong in God’s scheme of things–

For me one of the greatest gifts of Alcoholics Anonymous has been the opportunity to know so many people on such a deep level.  I know that many people on the outside know it’s true that to some degree, most people feel they don’t belong or fit in, that there’s something different and usually wrong with them.  It can seem like other people hold a key to friendships and relationships, work and study, that I just don’t have.  Listening to thousands of stories in AA lets me know that this is a universal feeling, again to one degree or another.

Truly drinking I could not fit in any hole of any shape, and I believe now that I was actively working against God’s will by poisoning myself, wasting time and resources and generally being self-centered and destructive.

But of course sober I can feel that I’m still missing one or several vital ingredients in human nature.  Now, I know that it’s not true.

The people I work with can teach me humility every day that I will let them.  Some of them have very severe disabilities.  I can easily see their place in God’s scheme of things.  Or, for times when I can’t, like at times when I wonder why some people are born to suffer so, at least I can imagine that, because we’re all human, we’re all just a variation on each other.  Including me.

” . . . the certainty that we are no longer isolated . . . ” (Step Twelve continued)

. . . the certainty that we are no longer isolated and alone in self-constructed prisons . . . “


From time to time, Carole and I discuss this.  Our experiences are certainly different, since I’ve spent my whole adult life sober in AA and she had lots of adult life on the ‘outside.’  Also because I’m an introvert and she’s an extrovert.

Last night at our meeting a young lady spoke who was born in 1982 (so, yeah, young).  I got sober in 1984, when she was 2.  She is living in my city but not from here.  She moved a great distance to live here and is looking at another big move in the near future.  She has a young child and is pregnant.

Lots of those details mirror mine, when I was a bit younger than her and with a bit more sober time, but lots of those details are the same.  She chose for a topic “one day at a time.”  It’s interesting for me to reflect on all the “one” days I’ve spent since I was sitting in her place, pregnant, sober, moving.

I can’t imagine how people who don’t have AA do it.  I see my daughter, who is a much much friendlier person than I am, but maybe not up to Carole’s degree of friendliness, make friends at the school she’s been at for almost three years.  Her friends come and go, and she makes new ones and keeps up with some of the old ones, but it isn’t nearly the same.

As I told the young lady last night, there are rooms of people who already love her and understand her, though they haven’t yet met her.  I know it’s very hard with little ones to get out and make connections and socialize pretty much at all, but she’s got the one resource that I think is better than all the others put together.

Isolated and alone is great way to describe the way I was before I came to AA.  I would say before I quit drinking, but I didn’t quit drinking.  I attended AA for six long years, drinking.  And at times that made me be isolated and alone, but the good folks of AA always reached out to me, always welcomed me, and always helped me out of a life-threatening jam when I asked them to.  I wasn’t alone, even though I was still in that prison, I had visitors.

OK these metaphors have gotten away from me.  The fellowship is one of the things I would choose not to give up, if I could by some miracle drink “normally.”  I don’t want to.

. . . the proof that love freely given . . . (Step Twelve continued)

 . . . the proof that love freely given surely brings a full return . . .

I’m just wondering if there is a choice.  I mean it only makes sense that in order to receive love, you have to give it.  Maybe the fact that we are (most of us are) loved so much and so freely when we’re born and haven’t done anything to deserve it spoils us for the rest of our lives.

The love in AA is a special kind I certainly don’t see it anywhere else.  That we have to give it away to keep it is a fact, but it’s also a joy and I’m sure, for me, good practice for the rest of my life outside of AA.  People in AA (most of them) genuinely like to help newcomers and people who are struggling.  It is a corner-stone for the success of AA and I’m glad every time we applaud someone’s sobriety.  There were times when I couldn’t stop drinking that I was jealous of the success of others.  Aside from that I have always been glad and, as my years pile up higher, I’m more and more glad to be in the presence of people who have more time than me.

” . . . the well-understood fact that in God’s sight . . . ” (Step Twleve continued)

. . . the well-understood fact that in God’s sight all human being are important . . .

Like anyone, I struggle with understanding and placing, in God’s universe or the family of man or what have you, people who are truly evil.  I’ll leave that question aside for now.

And I’ll just claim and be grateful for my very liberal upbringing.  My mother has worked with people who have severe, multiple disabilities from the time I was five years old.  She’s also been a pretty much by the book bleeding heart liberal Democrat, so realizing the importance of people who I perceive to be somehow less than me, even as I know that concept is very, very, wrong – this has not been a problem for me.

The main part of my struggle takes place in realizing the importance of people who I perceive to be, well, intolerant, even as I struggle to tolerate them.  As I think that my philosophy, my politics, my religion, my spirituality is all superior to theirs, I know that I have just done what I accuse them of.  I am them.