Keeping Our Focus On Sobriety

[fa icon="calendar"] Mar 4, 2020 12:00:00 AM / by John MacDougall


I’m writing this on a morning in March when the news media is full of coronavirus, or Covid-19 stories. Today’s Star-Tribune newspaper reports that the Costco store near The Retreat is out of toilet paper and won’t have any more for five days. They are also out of hand sanitizer, plastic gloves, and bleach wipes. The food aisles are decimated, as well, with non-perishables in short supply. It isn’t a full and complete panic, but it is certainly a lot of anxiety for a state that has no known cases of the virus.

When I was drinking, my emotions ran my life. By now, I would have been driving around the metro area, searching for toilet paper. I’m not sure how toilet paper will protect me from the coronavirus, but if everybody else is searching for toilet paper, they must know something, and I should leave work now, and go search for it, too!

Instead of driving around with a crisis driven shopping list after work last night, I went to my Monday night A.A. home group: Summit Hill A.A. in Saint Paul. The average attendance is 130 people. I counted heads, and there were 137 people there last night. I did not hear anybody talking about the coronavirus. It is a step meeting, and all the people I heard were relating to how they are using the sixth step to stay sober.

When I was newly sober, I tended to complicate everything. My first sponsor asked me what I thought I should do with Step Six. I responded that I thought I should try to understand the underlying issues that led me to do the things I had done wrong in Step Five. I had a complicated life, and I thought that if I didn’t understand the complex, unconscious driving forces that caused me to repeat the same mistakes over and over again, I would not be able to change. My sponsor asked “What did the first hundred men do? It’s right there in the step. What does the step actually say?”

I read from our book: “We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” My sponsor said, “That’s your next assignment: Become entirely ready. Not understand, become ready to let God change you. Simple things work. Complicated things break down.”

I remember that simple things work, and panic is a defect of character. While many people are fearful about coronavirus, I compare it to the knowable risk of the flu. Right now, there are no known cases of the coronavirus in Minnesota. 2817 Minnesotans have been hospitalized with the flu this winter and 67 have died, and yet we didn’t empty the shelves of toilet paper when that was happening. People are not rushing to the doctor’s offices to get flu shots, even though that would be a good idea.

I take every reasonable measure to stay healthy. Alcohol based hand sanitizers like Purell don’t work on viruses. The FDA sent them a warning letter telling them not to claim that they do. I use Hibiclens liquid (chlorhexidine gluconate) to wash up with. It’s what they use in operating rooms to scrub up with.

I am not giving in to unreasonable fear. Priscilla and I are still traveling to Thailand on March 18th. Thailand has fewer cases of coronavirus than the US, and no deaths. It’s our favorite place to go, and we will be careful. We already know that when we fly back through Detroit airport, we will be scanned for fevers by the US Public Health Service, which is a reasonable precaution. We welcome our government’s vigilance, but I’m not hanging out at Costco, waiting for a toilet paper delivery.

After this was written, John and Priscilla changed their Thailand trip to Puerto Rico when the Thai government imposed a 14 day quarantine period on arriving foreigners.


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Topics: alcoholism, 12 step program, Recovery, AA meetings

John MacDougall

Written by John MacDougall

John MacDougall is the Spiritual Care Coordinator at The Retreat.
His book, “Being Sober and Becoming Happy” is available from

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