12th Annual “Any Lengths” Men’s Retreat

One of the first time I went to my new home group my sponsor invited me to participate in the Any Lengths Retreat committee meeting – what the hell, I thought, I enjoy AA business meetings and the like. At that meeting I started to hear about this retreat they’ve been putting on for 12 years now, and you could hear it in their voices and stories how much they loved this thing and were looking forward to it again this year. Honestly I was reluctant to go at first, I hadn’t even made it my home group yet, these were probably some flaky guys with screwy ideas of recovery and the first few meetings I was at were flukes… Thankfully, I was mistaken. My home groups meetings are consistently on message – step, book, hope based recovery. So I started to believe maybe this retreat was going to be a good thing.

That was months ago now, I attended many of those committee meetings and having never been was unsure at times what they were talking about – the candle ceremony, the pins, the format… and golf, I guess some of them golfed. That retreat was this weekend.

The retreat was broken down like so – golf, apparently people like that Friday, then a speaker on Step 1 Friday night. We did a sobriety countdown and the person with the most sobriety lit a candle that the person with the least amount carried to every meeting/event at the retreat – was pretty cool to see that candle there.

Saturday speakers were broken down as follows, one guy did 2 & 3, another 4 & 5, another 6 & 7 and the last 8 & 9. After each session we counted off  and broke into small groups to share our own experience strength and hope. It was pretty cool – at each session you’d get to hear a different person’s experience and groups were different each time – you might get one or two guys you’d been in a group with before but that was nothing. It was an amazing way for everyone to get to know everyone else a little bit more and to learn… omg did I learn some incredibly useful tools Saturday that’ll help me. The guy for 6 & 7 had a handout and internally I groaned, but it was the best damn handout – it actually really took a good look at those steps and showed them in a little different light.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner were part of the registration – after the steps 8 & 9 session we broke for dinner, more opportunity to get to know more folks.

Then it was back to more sharing, we had two guys talk about fellowship and they were good – lots of laughs and there’s just a great group of guys that are core to this group. Afterward we had a guy share his ESH and he knocked it out of the park, great share with a balance of laughter, seriousness, hope and he showed us how he got here. Good stuff.

Then, an ice-cream social before the poker games – I played in the poker games along with about 12 other guys. It was fun – getting a bunch of sober “honest” guys together bluffing, that’s entertaining lol. I actually came out a winner, not just the money I took from guys, but getting to spend time with a great group. (I’m keeping their money)

Then this morning after breakfast we did sessions for 10  and then 11, each separately and broke into groups again. I had folks I hadn’t had yet again.. and it was good. We closed the retreat with a wonderful share on the 12th step by a guy I’ve been getting to know for a few months, really wonderful share about helping others and “all our affairs”

There was one thing that I didn’t like about the retreat – it went by too quickly.

The Journey – Bill’s Story

Several weeks had passed since Bill woke in this dimly lit room, the last thing he remembered before awaking here was his typical night at the bar, nothing out of the ordinary, he’d had too much to drink and the bartender cut him off again. He may have even gotten in a fight with Becky, but those memories were sketchy so he wasn’t certain if that was just what he wanted to do or what had actually happened, some nights out drinking his mind did that to him, made it difficult to differentiate between fantasy and reality – it’d been happening more and more. He remembered being on highway 53 on his way to the trailer – but that was it, nothing until he woke up here.

The room he found himself in was rather large, smelled a bit of something he couldn’t identify, he’d almost gotten used to the smell but sometimes a whiff would just make his eyes water and give him a bit of nausea. There was a bed of some kind that he had sweated and shivered when the nightmares came, a few times he’d pissed the bed during extreme nightmares instead of making it to the corner he’d chosen to use as his restroom when nothing else had been available. Nightmares filled with strange creatures, people from his past whom he’d hurt and a feeling deep down inside that a drink would make it all better, but that drink never came. The nightmares from the war… or operation Enduring Freedom, as they called it, were always there, whether he drank or not, but when the alcohol wasn’t there they were less muted – more real. Memories he never wanted that kept replaying again and again – damn he needed a drink.

He could hear guttural noises outside his room sometimes, unintelligible muted but barely he could hear them. For days he had pounded on the doors and walls but no one and nothing had answered – he’d given up. “Maybe this was hell,” was a thought that frequently passed through his mind – certainly withdrawal from alcohol had been, but that was days of agony and he was still here alone with no answers.

When he’d wake up in the mornings he’d find food – nothing he recognized, but food nonetheless. Piles of brown and green that didn’t taste that bad after he finally worked up the courage to try it and always a glass of water. Half way during the day the tray it was on and the glass would just be gone, he always tried to see it happen but one second it was there and the next not so much.

The noises, the smells and the strange food were enough to make him wonder where he might be – when the whole room would shake violently he started to think he was on a ship of some kind. But why and where he was headed he didn’t know. He always got seasick when he was a kid but wasn’t seeming to now – well, maybe the throwing up after the first few days were, but weeks had passed now and nothing like it used to be.

Passing the time he’d talk to himself or sing songs he could remember part of the lyrics to – sometimes when he’d sing the noises outside his cell would stop and he’d get quiet and listen to the silence. He’d always imagine his old buddies laughing at the way he sang and begging him not to – maybe they were just beyond the wall about to say this had all been a huge prank, but he couldn’t see the humor in it no matter how he looked at it.

A few days he screamed, for hours it seemed, until his throat was raw and his voice less than a mouse’s roar. Or cry, the tears would just flow for not knowing which transgression had given him this particular punishment and just how long he’d be here… forever it was beginning to seem.

Through the screams, yells, tears and pounding on walls something’s remained the same – his food and water would arrive and disappear just as mysteriously each day and the room shaking violently enough to knock him to the floor sometimes and of course he was still there, that was the same.

One day the entire room started vibrating, just a little at first and then more and more. He was frightened, the vibrations kept getting more and more intense – his bed, the floor, the walls – everything was shaking and a loud hum that grew louder and louder. He heard guttural noises outside his room and they were louder than normal but unintelligible as always. He thought that this must be the end of it all, whatever this had been now he was finally going to rest… but rest in peace. Just when he thought the vibrations and humming might tear him apart – it stopped. There was a peaceful nothingness, a feeling that everything was going to be ok crept over him suddenly, maybe I am getting into heaven after all – he thought…

Thunk

Or maybe not, he thought… just like that it seemed his room had returned to normal and the despair washed over him again. He just collapsed on his bunk, closed his eyes and hoped to die in his sleep.


When he woke the next morning he was reluctant to open his eyes again, tired of the same walls that were there every day and tired of the disturbing ramblings of his own mind. As he took a deep breath and prepared to sit up – he coughed and hacked and his eyes flew open – that smell he thought he’d gotten used to was somehow much more intense and he found himself in a coughing fit, bent over hand to mouth coughing away. It took his brain a few seconds to realize something else was different, and when he looked up he didn’t know what to think.

One of the strange creatures from his nightmarish detox dreams was there in the room with him – it seemed real. He scanned his memory to see if he’d somehow gotten drunk or if maybe the whole experience had been a hellish nightmare from the detox dream.

The creature wasn’t moving… well not towards or away from him anyway, it was just there – he could see minor movements near it’s grayish head, what must be eyes looking here or there about him and openings he couldn’t imagine the purpose of. He looked at it for a minute, still trying to determine if this was indeed the nightmare or if something else, more sinister perhaps was going on. Perhaps this was hell after all, and this was one of the many demons employed there.

The alien demon thing seemed to brighten, it’s entire body changed to a lighter shade of brown and Bill’s eyes opened a bit wider, that’s interesting. He made a decision, if this is another hallucination I’m going with it wherever it may lead.

It swept out a tentacle from it’s left side and motioned towards a door.

Holy shit! Bill thought, a door; instincts took over – he broke for it. He ran out that door and to the left and stopped dead in his tracks. In front of him was a vast array of other… creatures; different sizes, shapes… his surroundings truly alien, odd noises, lights and fear overtook him. Where do you run when all around you is chaos and the stuff of fevered dreams. He dropped to the ground… just sat there astounded at the site before him. A few things seemed to stop and look at him, but he couldn’t be sure.

There was a tapping on his shoulder and he flinched at the tentacle he saw there. When he looked up he saw the same alien he had woken up to, a different shade of gray now, almost a charcoal… he again motioned with his tentacle, but this time in the direction opposite to where Bill was looking. He stood shakily, tentacles seemed to help steady him then guide him – let them lead Bill thought. Certain he was about to be probed, Bill started crying openly… the thing next to him shimmered and changed color again, this time to a muted red.


Hours passed, Bill had been sitting in a busy area, fear all encompassing as the different creatures bustled around. It almost seemed like a busy office, conversations between individuals and movements around him just made him think that’s what it was. But he just sat there, no one tried to communicate with him and he was starting to get hungry, what he wouldn’t give to be back in his cell knowing soon piles of green and brown would soon appear. If he were home after an experience like this he’d drink himself into unconsciousness… yeah, drink would make it all better, a small part of him hoped this was all some nightmare, but he was starting to know it wasn’t.

Looking around the room he was in he tried to determine how many different types of creatures there were… about a few handfuls of the type of creature that brought him here were visible, but at this point he couldn’t find the one that had… if he or it was even here anymore. There were some short green rolling blobs that seemed to interact with others, maybe a dozen or more – Bill wasn’t sure if they were alive or come contraption, seemed they interacted briefly with all the others but if there was communication he couldn’t determine it. Odd looking was what they all seemed to be, surely something that looked closer to human had to be here somewhere, but everywhere he looked it was just strange and stranger.

The focusing on those around him was disturbing, he decided to look at what kind of room he was in, maybe a photo or sign of some kind he cold recognize or help him to find a way to communicate… he was mostly sure he wanted to communicate, to at least find out where he was and maybe see if he could get home.

The walls were mostly bare, here and there were spaced windows and when he looked out he could see the complete alien landscape, buildings and creatures walking around. He was probably safer in here, a contained amount of weird was safer than a vast unknown. One wall had something similar to a bulletin board, Bill rose and walked over toward it – no one seemed to notice him these last few hours and they didn’t seem to care what he was doing. At the board he slowly looked at the alien languages and photos and nothing seemed to strike him as familiar at all except a triangle inside a circle. At least basic shapes were the same.. well except bodies.

tricircle

A new tap on his shoulder made him jump, he turned to see a new hulking figure towering over him, it grunted at him and motioned for Bill to follow. Looking around, no one seemed to be paying any attention to either of them so Bill thought “what the hell, it can’t get any worse” and followed the hulking figure out the door and into the alien world.

When I End Up in Prison

When I start to plan on what I will do when I end up in prison I think on it fondly… maybe I’d get solitary confinement, think of all the quiet time I’d have to read books I’ve been meaning to read, just lie there on a cot and read book after book after book… especially in solitary – all that aloneness, singing songs off key, talking to myself about the secrets of the universe….

and then I remember I don’t really do things that are likely to get me in prison… so it doesn’t matter. That quiet alone time with some big muscle daddy in our own cell, so much easier to meet that kind of guy in prison rather than bars and night clubs… yeah, that’s not going to happen, I stay out of trouble now.

then I think, what if I ended up in witness protection program, that could happen… anyone can witness something dangerous just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time… a strange town working some job I never applied for and having to meet new people and make an entire new life… that sounds awful and wonderful at the same time, they’d probably try to get me to act differently and keep a low profile …

But what about AA? could I still go to AA meetings? how do you work an honest program living a lie…can you really trust your sponsor and do a fearless and thorough inventory? Maybe he’s a plant put there by the Feds to test me or working with the mob out to kill me… round ups and conferences would definitely be off the table, I’d be trapped in some small town with crappy AA BAH! I couldn’t do it… just shoot me already!

I’m probably better off here, working a job I like most of the time… going to AA meetings I love and keeping my loved ones foremost in my mind… yeah, I’ll do that for the rest of the day…

Tomorrow though, maybe I’ll get abducted by aliens… now that would be fun!

Time

I had dinner tonight with an old friend – we both talk about the rapid growth of gray hairs in places we still have hair (that’s old) – and his daughter who might be coming out this way to go to college. He now lives in Maryland, but he’s a friend from WI high school, when I moved to DC it was nice to have him there and even though I didn’t get to see him all that often, when I did I always enjoyed it. Tonight we had some small talk, a good meal, and some laughter; it was just nice.

It does make me reflect on how quickly the time goes now. Back in high school it seemed we had eternity to do all the things we wanted to do, but looking back now (some 26 years later) it seems like it just flew by and we missed it all. We didn’t of course. He spent 20 of those years in the military and I wasted six of those years in drugs and alcohol before starting a new life sober. He created families and I created new friends, he continues to cheer for the Green Bay Packers and I knew better…

But tonight sitting there with him, pausing before I say his name (I want to call him his high school nickname, but it doesn’t fit so much anymore) each time, I see my old friend with his black hat and blue car in Galesville just living and doing and being. It’s nice to have friends like that, I’m fortunate that I have him, and others, that I think of in that way.

Last night I had dinner with another friend – from Washington, DC. I know him from the rooms of recovery. He’s a great guy and comes out here at least once a year to visit other friends. I can expect to see him pretty regularly I think. It was nice to sit with him and talk about old times and current times and fear (I asked him about steps 6 and 7).

I spent 15 years in DC but that time seems to just crawl at times – not necessarily in a bad way.. but like I was there for a year or so and driving by the Pentagon I was struck by where I lived, and the significance of that place… I had driven by several times before and even been in for an interview, but that one day just stuck out and grabbed me.

But I can look back at helping Gary to set up the dial-up internet at the house and how exciting it was, and the next day there was DSL (that didn’t work most of the time) and then cable the day after… and all that happened in a blink of an eye and the longest of years (trying to connect with dial-up or diagnose a DSL issue took decades).

It’s hard to believe that I was there that long but at other times it seems I just got there and felt so scared and alone in the big city and before I knew it I was gone, off on a new adventure on the other side of the country.

I want a time machine to go back and advise myself to

enjoy

taste

savor

risk

live

love

hope

dare

forgive

forget

cry

and maybe not to get one of my tattoos… maybe.

I think as time goes by I become more of an old softie… all I really wanted to be was a curmudgeon.

Time and friendships… never enough of both and especially together.

Step 5 – Exact Nature of My Wrongs

I shared my inventory with my sponsor tonight – I think this is the fourth time I’ve done a 5th step in 20 years. I was raised in AA that, or at least I heard, we do one 4th step and any other inventory is covered in step 10 – this could bring about a ton of debate about what’s right or what’s wrong, suffice to say I can’t go back and change any of that, and it worked for me…. until it didn’t.

The first time was at RTC, a treatment center in LaCrosse WI. They had me fill out some booklet of questions about the worst things I had done or something along those lines, I didn’t really understand it and when it was time to share (Step 5) the religious minister/priest whatever they had come listen to it with me wasn’t all that engaged with me. He said when I was done “Is that it? Do you feel better now?” and that was my 5th step. I didn’t feel better, was still pretty confused and wasn’t at all comfortable with the robe wearing guy. Continue reading