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Our stories disclose in a general way… April 9, 2008

Posted by Bill G. in Uncategorized.
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This page is dedicated to all of the wonderful stories that you hear in Alcoholics Anonymous.  I am interested in how these stories evolve, their structure, how they are related to healing from alcoholism, and anything else related to these narratives.   After all, a lot of what we do in AA is tell and hear stories: beyond meetings, consider steps 1, 5, 9, and 12.

My Righteous Resentment September 8, 2009

Posted by Bill G. in alcoholism, Character Defects, narratives, resentments, stories.
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The big book says that “resentment is the number one offender” and that it is responsible for lots of relapses.  But, that didn’t seem to apply to this one.  I had a damn good reason to be resentful, and I was completely in the right.

A couple of years before I quit drinking, I was just crazy about a girlfriend of mine.  She was a wonderful person, and she could even keep up with me when I was drinking.  The only real problem with our relationship was that she was not as committed to it as I was.  In fact, she had another boyfriend.  She wasn’t sneaking around or anything; I knew about the other boyfriend.  Let’s call him Fred (though that wasn’t his real name).

One evening I went over to her apartment and she was in bad shape.  She had black eyes and her lip was busted.  She told me, when I pressed her about it, that Fred had gotten upset and beat her up pretty badly.  I was enraged.

The next night, I went down to the bar where Fred was a bartender and a bouncer; it was a pretty rough place.  I got good and drunk and then shot my mouth off at Fred.  I belittled him in front of his friends and eventually called him out.

Fred was a pretty big and pretty athletic guy.  By the time we were ready to fight, all his friends from the bar were gathered around us.  So, to show off, Fred decided to fight me with one hand behind his back.  I didn’t care, I just wanted to hurt him.  But it didn’t turn out that way; Fred beat the snot out of me.  With one hand behind his back.  Now, in addition to my original anger, I was also humiliated.

That’s when the resentment grew.  It was entirely righteous; I was completely right and he was completely wrong.  If there was ever a justified resentment, I had it.  I hated Fred; I wanted to hurt him badly or to destroy him.  I lost sleep because I would wake up hating Fred and plotting against him.  If I met anyone with the name “Fred” I almost immediately disliked him.  Anything that reminded me of Fred would make the resentment rise in my throat like bile.  What made it worse was that my ignominious defeat was so humiliating that I couldn’t even talk about this resentment to anyone.

Time passed.  The girlfriend moved to New York.  I moved to Chicago.  I got sober.  I moved to LA and got sober the rest of the way (another story).  But the resentment didn’t go away.  I still dreamed of how I would get back at Fred.

One year, I went to New York for a week during the winter.  I looked up the old girlfriend, and we had a nice evening together.  But at one point, somehow, the subject of Fred came up.  I immediately showed my ongoing resentment by cursing about him and carrying on.

She stopped me asking “Bill are you still angry at him”?

“Of course I am, after what he did to you” and I began to elaborate.

“But Bill,” she interrupted “don’t you know — he died in a car-crash four years ago.”

The Fire Keeps Burning September 4, 2009

Posted by Bill G. in alcoholics anonymous, alcoholism, meetings.
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So, here’s the way it looks to me.  You’re out in the woods and it’s dark and the wolves are on your track and they are howling and tracking you down.  They are coming closer and closer and the end is obviously near.

Then it happens, you stumble onto a group of people who are sitting around a large fire.  They welcome you and let you join their circle.  It’s safe here; the wolves cant get you as long as you stay with these people and stay around this fire.  The wolves wouldn’t dare come this close to the fire.  But for you, the fire is warmth, and light, and security.

After a while, you can almost forget about the wolves.  It is so good to be around the fire with these people.  You start telling stories and drinking coffee.  If you had hot dogs or marshmallows, you would be roasting them.  It is wonderful to be here, having fun and fellowship.

But, every once in a while someone new stumbles in out of the dark with the wolves on his heels.  And then you remember how you got here and why.  And then you feel gratitude.

Drunk Dreams September 1, 2009

Posted by Bill G. in alcoholics anonymous, alcoholism, Drunk dreams, meetings, stories.
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During the last couple of weeks, I have had a couple of drunk dreams.  This may not seem like much, but it has been a long time now since I have had any drunk-dreams.  They have been really frightening.  In one of them I “remembered” that I had been secretly drinking and that I really had only been sober for about a week.  The other one involved me actively making the decision to drink.  Both times, when I woke up, I had a moment of uncertainty — not sure if it was a dream.  Very scary stuff for me.  Of course, I know that having a drunk dream doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to take a drink, but recently my dreams have been communicating to me pretty well, and I was sure they must mean something.

Then, the other night at a meeting, I figured it out.  I remembered something I said at a meeting a couple of weeks earlier (right before the dreams began).  The topic had been “the importance of going to meetings.”  I’ve never too much liked this topic as I figure that the people who really need to hear it aren’t at the meeting.  So I was being somewhat snotty, as I listened.  Everyone was talking about how much they needed meetings and how meetings were the thing that kept them sober.

When it came my turn, I explained that I had been sober quite a while now, and I didn’t really know if I needed meetings anymore.  I figured that I might be able to stay sober without them.  I then went on to say though that meetings were very important to me because they were part of my spiritual program.  I explained that I am a miserable SOB without a spiritual progam even if I am not drinking, so meetings were important to me.  I was trying to make the point that meetings were important and were spiritual and so on.

When I looked back on it, I saw that what I had actually done was to make myself different (and superior) to the other people in the room who still “needed” meetings, and I put myself in the position of somehow not needing AA for alcoholism but only for spiritual growth.  Total arrogant bullshit!  And apparently I scared my subconscious enough that it began screaming back at me while I was asleep.

The fact is that I don’t really know how long I could go without meetings and not take a drink.  I do know that there have been long periods of time, when I have been overseas, when I have attended very few meetings.

What I really know, however, is that although I tried hard, I was unable to stop drinking on my own, and that I have not had a drink since I first began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.  I got sober when I attended meetings and I have stayed sober as I have continued to attend them to the best of my ability.  I also know that, in profound ways, they have become a home for me.  Of course, I get frustrated or annoyed with meetings at times, but they are a place where I fundamentally connect with something that I need to sustain myself.  They are not a good place for me to go and display how special I am.

Uncle Lee and Aunt Jean August 4, 2009

Posted by Bill G. in alcoholics anonymous, oldtimers, Twelth Step.
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Towards the very end of my drinking, I was sitting in a bar called “Mike’s Last Chance” in Chicago; it was one of the few places I went where I still felt like a gentleman.  The woman sitting on the bar stool to my right was reading some kind of a pamphlet before she passed out and fell to the floor.  She let me see it.  It was a meeting directory for Chicago AA.  I remember that I was very impressed with how many meetings there were; AA was a much bigger deal than I had thought.  Somehow, I had AA all tangled up with my misconceptions about the Salvation Army.  I thought Alcoholics Anonymous would just be a few people banging on tambourines and shouting about Jesus on street corners.  That meeting directory made me think that perhaps I was wrong.

A couple of days later, I was talking to my mother on the phone and I asked her about my uncle and aunt.  Specifically, I wanted to know whether I could visit them on the island they owned in Wisconsin.  For a lot of reasons, which most alcoholics will understand, I wanted to get out of Chicago for a while and let it cool down.  My mother replied that she was sure they would enjoy seeing me but that “they were kind of different.”  When I pressed her for what she meant, it finally came out that Uncle Lee was a sober member of AA and Aunt Jean was a member of Al-Anon.  Even worse, I probably wouldn’t be able to drink if I went to visit them.  I guess my mother knew to warn me about this because during her previous visit to Chicago, I had dragged her around to some of the bars where I hung out and she got to see, first hand, how I was living.

I made the choice most any alcoholic would make; I wouldn’t go visit my aunt and uncle right now.  The next day was St. Patrick’s, and I used it as an excuse to hit the bars first thing in the morning.  That led into a truly awful week, and, honestly, I can’t remember much of it.  I was drunk as hell physically and alcohol was no longer working for my mind; it was not taking away the pain.

But towards the end of that week, I found that I could not stop thinking about Uncle Lee and Aunt Jean.  See, the thing was that I liked them.  From the time I was a child they had always treated me with love and kindness.  I didn’t see them very often, but I loved them anyway.  And I began to think that if they were involved with AA, then maybe it wasn’t really all that bad.  I knew they were religious so this was somewhat of a problem for me, but the way they lived exemplified the best of religion.  Maybe AA wasn’t really all that bad.

I don’t remember my exact last drink, but it was at the end of that long drunk.  I called AA and, still full of pride, told them that I thought I “might” have a problem with alcohol.  I haven’t had a drink since I met my first sponsor the next day.

Lee and Jean didn’t know they were twelth stepping me.  Their twelth step was just in how they lived, but they saved my life.  Even after I was sober, I rarely saw my uncle and aunt.  But I would hear stories — mostly about how Uncle Lee was taking care of elderly neighbors or taking care of Jean after she got sick.  I also got cards from them on my sober anniversaries.

I had the privilege of visiting my Uncle Lee on his deathbed.  I told him this story; I am not sure I had told him before.  He told me that he was proud of me and of my brothers who had also gotten sober.  That meant a lot; it was the last time I saw him.  I am so grateful for his example.

Sometimes we do not know the impact of the way we live.

Memorable words from sponsors August 2, 2009

Posted by Dave in AA speakers, advice, sponsors.
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I couldn’t count the number of AA leads I have heard over the years, either by hearing them live at meetings or conferences or by listening to tapes. Sometimes the talk is less than inspiring, but in general speaker meetings have been a tremendous help to me. They have inspired me to work the program, helped me gain new insights, and made me laugh.

Many of the most memorable parts of leads have been conversations between the speakers and their sponsors. I have often heard these conversations as if I were speaking with my own sponsor and getting valuable advice or, as in the cases I’ll note below, clarifications.

Here are two examples I remember from speakers I heard early on in my recovery. I would love to hear your examples, so please post them.

Cliff R. made the mistake of repeatedly pointing out to his sponsor how “sensitive” he was, that this was the source of many of his conflicts, etc. The sponsor replied, “Cliff, you are not sensitive. You are an immature son of a bitch.” Cliff’s talks are hilarious, and this got a big laugh, but it made a real impact on me. I began to see my own tendency to try to euphemise my character defects, to give them an appealing label that lets me look upon them as assets. Terms like “people pleaser” started to seem a bit too gentle to me. The term “people pleaser” connotes genuine concern for others. I was really so desperate for you to like me that I was willing to lie to you or betray my own standards to make it happen.

Another great moment was when Jon A. shared his sponsor’s advice on the amends process: “The reason you feel so guilty is because you’re guilty.” It can sometimes be too easy to think that the only harm I did was to myself, and when I got sober there was a lot of “screw guilt” talk floating around self-help circles, as though feelings of guilt were always externally generated. The real problem with guilt, the thinking ran, was that it lowered your self-esteem. To be able to move forward with the program, I needed to accept that my behavior had actually been harmful and that I wasn’t the only person I had harmed.

I could go on and on with the examples, because there are so many. Perhaps one of the reasons why I have been able to get a lot out of listening to speakers is that sometimes it seems easier to take advice when it isn’t directed at me.

AA’s most Idiotic Controversy July 22, 2009

Posted by Bill G. in alcoholics anonymous, controversies, issues.
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While Alcoholics Anonymous has a number of controversies and many of them are quite stupid, my nomination for the “Most Idiotic of All” goes to the issue of “Recovering vs. Recovered.”

Those on either side of this issue are fierce in their proclamations that their word is the only correct one, and both sides point to the AA literature to bolster their case.  In fact, the Big Book uses both words frequently. For a complete listing of the uses of this term in the Big Book, I recommend that you take a look at this page on the “Big Book Group” web site.

OK, here is how I see this important issue.  Those who use the word “recovering” want to emphasize that they are not cured, that they cannot and will not be able to return (if they were ever there) to normal drinking.  Our literature says repeatedly that the real alcoholic will never regain this ability.  It is one of AA’s fundamental insights that is repeatedly reconfirmed.  They see the use of the term “recovered” as indicating that one has graduated from AA and is now like “normal” people.  To tell an alcoholic that they will someday be able to drink like normal people is indeed life threatening.  And so they are vehement in their support for recovering.

On the other hand, those who use the word “recovered” want to emphasize that AA works, that you will not remain the sniveling, confused, pathetic, obsessive drunk that you were when you first came through the doors to a meeting.  In fact, the use of the word recovering is often denounced by the psychiatric community as putting the alcoholic in the category of a victim and a sicko for the rest of his or her life.  This side argues that recovered shows the power of the program and the higher power.  Recovered is an honest word when I have not even seriously wanted a drink in many years.  They are afraid that newcomers will see the process as hopeless if they are always to be recovering.

So, basically, I think that both sides are right; they are just looking at different aspect of the same words.  Personally, I consider myself to be a recovered, but not cured alcoholic.

Where have all the Oldtimers gone? July 12, 2009

Posted by Bill G. in alcoholics anonymous, issues, meetings, oldtimers.
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Yesterday, I attended my group’s annual barbecue.  I was surprised to see Ruth (a pseudonym) in attendance.  Usually I only see Ruth once a year, when she shows up at our local meeting on her AA birthday.  This is unfortunate.  Ruth worked a pretty good program back in the day, and she is still sober.  It is particularly unfortunate because we really need her; our small town doesn’t really have any other female oldtimers and only a couple of women with much sobriety at all.  I guess Ruth may not need the meetings anymore to keep herself sober, but I wish she would come and help out the newer women.  It’s a shame.  I tried to talk to Ruth about this, and she told me that she would be glad to sponsor women and that I could feel free to give them her phone number.  I could only reply that I wouldn’t be able to do that; how can I recommend a sponsor who doesn’t go to meetings?

Why are there oldtimers like Ruth who are no longer attending meetings.  I have heard Myers R. and Chris R. argue from the podium that it is because we are getting too far away from the program, that the oldtimers are sick of whining and war stories.  Perhaps.  But when I asked Ruth why she was not attending meetings anymore, she told me that her husband wanted her to play cards with him on that night (we have 5 meetings a week in my little town).  Is that the real reason?  Are there oldtimers who simply want to play cards, or watch TV or something rather than giving back to the program?  I’m not sure.

I also have no idea how prevalent this problem is.  I do note that as the years of sobriety go by there are less and less people around from my cohort.

At the other end of the spectrum, I recently had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Mel B. from Toledo.  Mel got sober in 1950 and is still incredibly active in the program despite being in his 80’s.  Mel speaks at meetings, writes about sobriety, sponsors, and is fully involved.  So what makes one person a Mel and another a Ruth?

BTW — Mel’s home page includes over 50 of his articles on recovery.

Opinions? July 6, 2009

Posted by Bill G. in AA speakers, alcoholics anonymous, newcomers.
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Recently, I attended the Heart of the Ozarks (HOTO) convention, a great small annual convention in Springfield Missouri.  I had a great time, and I was particularly impressed by one speaker, Bill C.  from Torrance, CA.  Bill gave a great and moving talk on Friday night and then a terrific workshop on sponsorship on Saturday afternoon.  Bill had many, many interesting and moving stories, a great sense of humor, and, for me, some profound insights into alcoholism and recovery.

I would like, however, in this post, to concentrate on one tiny segment of Bill’s lead which may be a bit controversial.  Describing his early sobriety, Bill said:

I got real lucky; I fell in with a group of people that were not afraid to give me their opinion.  My sponsor told me one time, he said “My job is to guide you through the process of the twelve steps. I would be glad to sit here and talk to you about what you think your problems are, so that you will not share about them in the meetings. The meetings are for recovery from alcoholism, not about how your day went.” So I immediately reported to him that “down there at the Alano club, they’re breaking that rule right and left. Should we go tell them?” ….He said “AA is a safe place. You can go there and do whatever you want. I’m just telling you about my AA. This is my opinion.”

Don’t be afraid to give people your opinion. Don’t buy into this thing that we don’t state our opinions and we don’t give advice. If we didn’t give opinions and advice, we wouldn’t have a damn thing to say to each other… I needed some real practical help when I was new, I mean real practical help. Somebody needed to tell me.

There is, of course, another line of thought in AA which argues that we shold ONLY share our experience, not our opinions.  At first, there seems to be an honesty and humility in this approach: “I am only telling you what happened to me, and you can then decide what you want to do for yourself.”  This was the philosophy by which I was brought into AA, but the more I think of it, the less genuine it feels.  I think there was often quite a lot of opinion giving going on subtly, or not so subtly, hidden behind the facade of “just sharing my experience.”  Some, that argue this way, will quote the big book: “Our stories disclose what it used to be like, what happened, and what it is like now.”  This is true, but does it mean that all we have is our stories?  Are our stories the only things we should share?  When someone is speaking from the podium, or in a meeting, or to a sponsee is there a problem with giving advice and sharing opinions?

Obviously, we shold be careful to qualify our opinions.  It is a sad fact that too often AA members, without any training, give others medical advice.  In my opinion, this is a real problem.

But what about other kinds of advice or opinions?  What do you think?  Can your experience with alcoholism and recovery be transformed into direct advice or opinion (especially directed at the newcomer)?  Does this kind of rhetoric have a place in AA stories?

(BTW, this particular talk of Bill C’s can be purchased from Sooner Cassette.  I am sure there are lots of other talks by Bill available from other locations.)

AA Online? July 5, 2009

Posted by Bill G. in alcoholics anonymous, intergroup, meetings, newcomers, online, Second Life, speaking.
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In the last month, I have been attending some Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Second Life (a virtual online world).  I am still not sure what I think of this experience.  I miss the ease and fluency of real life meetings, the close contact with other members, the ability to hear nuances of expression, both verbal and kinesthetic, in their stories.  At the same time there is something quite compelling, for me, in these meetings.

For one thing, the Second Life meetings seem to be filled with newcomers, with people that are really struggling with the disease.  Many of them don’t seem to know a great deal about the program and the SL meetings are offering them a safe and very anonymous way in.  One of the things that I really like is the opportunity here to do some real 12th step work.  Recently, I even began to sponsor a guy in Second Life.  Of course, given my strange feelings about SL, my primary recommendation to him was to find a real life sponsor and attend some real life meetings.  He has complied with that, and hasn’t used me as a sponsor since.

It still feels very wierd to me to introduce myself and then begin typing furiously when it is my time to share.  I find myself parsing my writing into lines to try to show where my pauses must be.  The content of what I write is much less spontaneous and my words are more carefully chosen when I am typing than when I am just speaking at a discussion meeting.  And there is something frantic about it for me — I don’t want the other members to be waiting endlessly for the next line of my fine prose.  Inevitably, my real life wife will start talking to me about something during my time to share with the group.  ARRGH.

Still, there is something that feels like a real AA meeting to me, even given all of this.  I intend to check out these meetings a little more.  At the least, they could be useful if I am on the road or home in bed with the flu, or for some other reason unable to attend a real life meeting.

There are now lots of online ways to participate in AA.  The best resource for meetings is the website of the Online Intergroup of AA.  They have good information about anonymity, how to use groups, and extensive listings of online AA meetings.

I would love to hear about your experiences with AA online.   What makes for a good online meeting?  Where are your favorite online meetings?  Do online meetings work for you?

July 5, 2009

Posted by Bill G. in Uncategorized.
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AA Hate Mail July 3, 2009

Posted by Bill G. in alcoholics anonymous, alcoholism, treatment.
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I must admit that I am baffled by the proliferation of web material that is vociferously anti-Alcoholics Anonymous.  I am not really talking about sites that disagree with the AA method of treating alcoholism or that suggest other treatment options.  Rather, I am amazed and puzzled by those sites that seem to be filled with venom and bile against Alcoholics Anonymous.  What I cant figure out is where this overflow of emotion is coming from.  After all, AA is a pretty innocuous organization.  It is a group of people who are dedicated to staying sober and helping others achieve sobriety.  They don’t proselytize or even have public opinions on politics, economics, or anything else.  So, what is to hate?  Its kind of like hating the Red Cross.  Some of these sites go to great lengths to find any contradictions in the AA literature, to label it a religious program, to show that it is not all that effective, to point out how many AA’s screw up publically, and so forth.  The intense level of these attacks is astounding.

I suppose that they could be written by people who tried AA and it didn’t work for them — but, again, why the hate?  I have taken medicines that did not work well for me, but I did not start a campaign against the drug companies.  Perhaps they hate the spiritual nature, but again why not just say “it’s not for me”?  I am not a Baptist and I don’t want to be, but I don’t start web sites putting them down.  Besides, the only time they really bother me are when they mix their religion with politics (something AA doesn’t do).  I suspect that many of these writers may be practicing alcoholics who are suffering from massive cognitive dissonance and rather than cop to the fact that they did not do what was necessary to quit drinking, have turned to a career of attacking the thing that might have helped them.

This is, however, perhaps too simplistic of a reading.  I don’t really think AA is the answer for everyone, and I woudn’t like to simply claim that those who have a resentment against it are in denial.  But, I really can’t understand this phenomenon.  I would love to hear your ideas about this.

If you don’t know what I am talking about try some of these sites.  I think they are among the best (worst) of the anti-AA sites:

Stinking Thinking:   http://donewithaa.wordpress.com/

Blame Denial:  http://www.blamedenial.co.uk/

More Revealed:  http://www.morerevealed.com/

Orange Papers:  http://www.orange-papers.org/

Let me know what you think.  Oh, by the way, asking this question is not meant to open the floor to lots of AA hate mail.  Instead the issue is where it is coming from.

“Alcoholics Anonymous” on Kindle July 3, 2009

Posted by Bill G. in Uncategorized.
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The fourth edition of the AA big book “Alcoholics Anonymous” is now available through Amazon on Kindle.  This is a great day for all of us Kindle lovers.  Of course, Kindle still has not resolved the lack of pagee  numbers, so reading it on Kindle won’t help you become one of those guys who mentions “page 86.”  On the other hand, Kindle’s search feature presents interesting possibilites for students of the primary text.  Kudos to Central Office for making it available.

“in the light of our experience” April 10, 2008

Posted by Bill G. in Uncategorized.
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Appendix 2 of the Big Book says: “Most emphatically we wish to say that any alcoholic capable of honestly facing his problems in the light of our experience can recover, provided he does not close his mind to all spiritual concepts.”

I used to think that this was about facing your problems — but now I think it is about facing your problems IN THE LIGHT OF OUR EXPERIENCE.  In other words reconstructing your experience by looking at it in the framework of AA experience.  It seems to me that this is the fundamental meaning of recovery.  Chuck C. called it getting “a new pair of glasses.”  Those who would attack AA might consider it brain washing because it requires alcoholics to see their lives and their problems in a new way — that of the indoctrinator.  Others might say that the great need of an alcoholic is to learn new patterns of thought and behavior –> to see themselves differntly and act differently.

In either case, it seems to me that this is the fundamental thing we do in meetings.  By listening to each other’s stories and identifying with them, we come to think of our own experience differently, to reconstruct our life-stories and our selves.

Favorite Story February 28, 2008

Posted by Bill G. in AA speakers, alcoholics anonymous, narratives, stories.
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Do you have a favorite AA speaker (or specific lead)? Is he or she available on tape?

Personally, there is a little known old-timer named Eddie R. who blows me away. Eddie has a story about the story he heard at his first AA meeting and how he identified with it and consequently became a member of A.A. This story is not to be missed. It makes me laugh and cry at the same time. Eddie is (I believe) long gone, but he was one of the greats.

Preparation for Speaking February 28, 2008

Posted by Bill G. in AA speakers, alcoholics anonymous, narratives, preparation, speaking, stories, taboo.
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This question is addressed to AA members who have given their leads at “speaker meetings.” How do you prepare? Has anyone ever given you any instruction about what you should talk about when you speak at a speaker meeting? What are you trying to accomplish at one of these meetings?