I grew up in Mtn. View, California and at the age of 17, I found myself at a crossroads. Once my addiction had reached the point of requiring professional help, my Mom and I went to see a doctor that specialized in chemical dependency. When the doctor came to greet us, he was not what I expected. He was an older gentleman that appeared as if he only knew medicine rather than being able to possibly comprehend what I was going through. He sat us down and said to my Mom…”You are basically putting Band-Aids on the problem…if your son does not stop what he’s doing…he’s going to die.” I could tell my Mom was fighting back the tears and doing her best to remain strong. The doctor went on to tell us about a treatment center in Minnesota that could help.
This weekend, I will be an A.A. Speaker at the “Rogue Roundup” in Grant’s Pass, Oregon. Although I have spoken at a number of A.A. roundups, this will be the first one on the west coast. I’m the last of nine speakers, most from California, and I follow the famous Clancy I. One difference between the Los Angeles speakers and myself is that I don’t have a dramatic drinking story. I drank quietly, and I never got arrested. Because I don’t have a “war story” to present, I’m going with four important things I’ve learned in A.A. so far.
One of the great challenges for those still struggling with alcohol and drug dependency - and even for those in long-term recovery - is surrendering to a power greater than ourselves. Giving up the internal battle to control our own lives and letting someone else guide us to a path of sobriety can often feel like the hardest thing we have ever done. Until we do completely surrender, however, we will never fully know the joys that a sober life can bring. The process of surrendering our lives to a power greater than ourselves must first begin with the realization that alone, left to our own devises, we cannot solve this problem. For most of us this was a painful, lonely and at times embarrassing process to reach a point in our lives where we are truly humble and teachable. Our self-centered out of control ways drove us to a point of utter despair.
Yet, for the fortunate of us, this it what was required to reach a point of absolute surrender. We had exhausted all of our will to beat this disease and reclaim our lives. Throwing our hands up in defeat we were finally given the gift of receptivity. We are now ready and available to receive the guidance and support that will lead us to a happy, sober and meaningful life. Whether it be with an AA sponsor, professionals in the recovery field, a spiritual guide or fellow members in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) we find that we are no longer alone and that there are many, who have come before us, that can show us the way.
At the age of 23, after a nine-year battle with alcoholism and drug addiction that nearly killed me, two old-timers in AA plucked me out of my misery and put me on a one-way airline flight from Cincinnati Ohio to Minnesota. I knew when I got on that plane that there was no going back. I had burned all of my bridges. All of MY efforts to change my life resulted in more pain, more loss, more trouble. I was utterly powerless to stop drinking and using on my own and my life was a mess. I was terrified of what may lie ahead, but I was completely willing to let someone else direct the next steps of my life. I adopted a posture of a student, looking at everyone who came into my life as teachers who could show me a better way to live my life.
This willingness to go to any lengths led me to two months in treatment, eight months in a halfway house and a year and a half living in a sober house, surrounded by a community of fellow travelers who taught me how to live the spiritual program embodied in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous in my day-to-day life. I was introduced to a “Program of Living”, a community of support and a spiritual connection that for the past thirty-nine years, one day at a time, has given me an opportunity to live a whole, meaningful and productive sober life. And all I have to do to keep it is stay sober, live the Twelve Steps in my day-to-day life, stay grateful and teachable and help others.
Everybody wants a good life. Who doesn’t want health, happiness, connection and fun? Walking straight at that seems reasonable enough. And too, none of us are surprised when ambivalence dogs our progress. Positive change is still change. We don’t know how, don’t think we have the resources or are too distracted to keep moving in that general direction.
Community involvement has been a cornerstone in many human developments from building a strong educational environment to creating a network of expanding business opportunities. Like the development seen in local communities for prosperity and future growth, creating a strong community atmosphere is an essential part of early sobriety.