I received my three-month medallion on October 22, 1978. I was fifteen, sober and I was thrilled. To add to my excitement - weeks earlier I had scored tickets to see Bob Dylan at the St. Paul Civic Center on October 31, 1978. This would be the first time that Bob Dylan would play a concert in Minnesota in 16 years. The concert had sold-out immediately and I had managed to get tickets. I was stoked. I was three-months sober and I was going to see Dylan.
When I was a boy, I eagerly read each issue of Mad Magazine. It’s fictional editor, Alfred E. Neuman, had a quote above the index of each issue. One of my favorites was “Some minds are like concrete: all mixed up and permanently set.” A Peanuts cartoon of that era had Lucy shouting “If you can’t be right, be wrong at the top of your voice.” I’m writing this newsletter during the Senate hearings on a Supreme Court nomination. It seems as if nearly everyone is sure that they know what happened at a high school party long ago: the nominee is guilty, or innocent, depending upon whom you ask. I’m not hearing the more humble opinion of “I don’t know, I wasn’t there.”
Alcoholism is a disease of self-deception. We can be taking all twelve steps, and still avoid the spiritual growth of the program. “Remember” the Big Book says, “that we deal with alcohol---cunning, baffling, and powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power—that One is God. May you find Him now!” (p.58-59)
The A.A. Big Book, on page 60, states “The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.”
Recently during the U.S. Open a professional golfer swatted at his golf ball while it was moving. He knowingly did this in violation of the rules that govern golf. In a subsequent tournament another professional golfer took a drop with a golf shot that was controversial at best and which some of his fellow players characterized as cheating. Both of the situations were unfortunate and sullied the reputation of both players. It is said that golf doesn’t build character – it reveals it.
She sat next to the bed. I hadn’t touched her in months. She didn’t seem to notice - she didn’t say a word. I felt guilty. I felt ashamed. I felt like I had been unfaithful.
There had been so many excuses. “I’m too busy. I’m too tired. I’ve got more important things to do”. Excuses all...
Finally, I reached over and gently brushed off the dust from her jacket. I started my daily readings – again.
I worked 20 years in Rehab, and for a long time, I saw it do a lot of people a lot of good. As rehab has evolved over the years, it has moved from an introduction into the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous into a medical, medication, and mental illness model of treatment. The old model was “one drunk helping another over a cup of coffee.” I remember when there was a sign at the admissions entrance of my old rehab that said “AA Members Always Welcome”. I remember when my first morning staff meeting would tip the phones off the hook so they wouldn’t ring. We would shut the door and spend 20 minutes in prayer and meditation for the spiritual well-being of the unit. We would read from “Twenty-Four Hours a Day” and “As Bill Sees It.” The unit supervisor used to say “The patients will always reflect the spiritual well-being of the staff” and “They won’t get better than we are.” We thought of our unit as one recovering community.
I have had a misunderstanding about Bill Wilson’s “White Light” experience in Towns Hospital in 1934. I got my impression of that evening from watching a movie with an actor portraying Bill W’s experience. In the movie there is a supernatural experience, complete with a blinding white light and a rushing wind, a combination of a science fiction movie and a horror movie in its special effects.
I always learned that the cure for any hurdle was to “try harder.” Struck out in Little League? TRY HARDER next at bat. Low grade on a test? STUDY HARDER next exam. Didn’t close the sale at work? TRY HARDER next customer. The message was to keep doing what you’re doing…but TRY HARDER! Can’t stop drinking? TRY HARDER. When I tried as hard as I could to stop drinking and using drugs and found that I could not on my own will, I tried harder in other areas of my life. Surely success in those areas would offset my utter failure to control and enjoy my drinking! That logic seemed unbeatable. But experience taught I am not. And thus the great paradox of recovery reared its beautiful head in my life. To make progress, to find sobriety, to find happiness, I had to STOP TRYING. (WHAT??)
Every morning at The Retreat I look at the in-house email. It tells me who has the day off, the lunch menu for the day, and any special events. It tells the number of admissions and discharges at The Retreat, and how many guests we have. It also lists the number of openings in the six sober houses that The Retreat owns and operates in Saint Paul. Usually the number of openings is “0”.