The Trap

I recently enjoyed a book by Lawrence Block called – A Drop of the Hard Stuff.

It’s a story about a former cop turned unofficial private eye who also happens to be in his first year in AA. It centers on one of his childhood friends whom took a different path than he did and ended up in a life of crime and even serving time for something. That friend is also in AA, with a little more time than our hero and he’s out there making amends for the wrongs he has done (Steps 8 and 9) when he’s killed – shot once in the head and after once in the mouth – a clear message, shut up. Matthew, our hero of the story, goes out at the request of the dead guys sponsor (a gay jewelry designer) to see if any of the names still on his eighth step list would be viable suspects for the murder – it’s actually quite interesting.

One of the suspects sets a trap for Matthew – when he returns to his room at the hotel he finds a glass of scotch sitting on the table staring at him – and a full opened bottle next to it. Not only that but the smell of that glass seems overwhelming. There are moments when we think this guy’s going to relapse right there the way the author is describing his mind. Seems the bad guy also dumped an entire bottle of the stuff on his bed too for the smell. That’s just not nice at all, but the killer knew if he could get Matthew drunk he’d win, knew the alcoholic obsession and a good bender would get him off the case.

The whole book was good, but I found that particular scene really good and frightening.

Reminded me of a comic book story that I read a while back – Flash Thompson is Spider-man’s biggest fan, but a bully to Peter Parker. He becomes friends with Spidey over the years and it becomes known. Flash is also a recovering alcoholic (so is Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man in case you didn’t know). Well bad guys decide to use Flash against Spidey and tie him up in a chair, force his mouth open and pout alcohol down his throat until he’s drunk enough to want to drink on his own again – I can’t recall how much time sober Flash had at the time, but it was a frightening scene for me when I read it. Damn that’s not a nice thing to do to an alcoholic.

I have a wicked mind I guess and often think of horrible things – I think that spiking a punch bowl or the like at an AA round-up would make a great story, lots of little stories would crop up as a result of that one event and many lives stand the chance of being ruined for good – but there is also the chance for change and growth for people that were spiked. I wouldn’t do that, today, but it would make an interesting story and maybe someday I’ll write that.



Programs, Pamphlets and Power

At a retreat recently a speaker shared something from one of AA’s pamphlets that I either hadn’t heard, forgot about or didn’t sink in when I read it. I loved it when he was saying it and it’s been floating around in my head for a few weeks now. What do you think?

P-41 A Member’s Eye View of Alcoholics Anonymous

Tonight, if I could find one fault with A.A., it would be that we have not yet begun to tap the potential hidden in the last seven words of the Twelfth Step: “practice these principles in all our affairs.”

It occurred to me not long ago that whenever I am sitting in an A.A. meeting, I am never aware that I am sitting next to another white man, another Catholic, another American, or a Frenchman, Mexican, Jew, Moslem, or Hindu, black man or brown. I am aware only that I am sitting next to another alcoholic. And it seemed deeply significant to me that this feeling of common humanity had been purchased by me at the cost of considerable pain and suffering.

Should this hard-won understanding of, and feeling for, others be confined to the meeting halls and members of A.A.? Or does it remain for me to take what I have learned and what I have experienced, not only in A.A., but in every other area and endeavor of my life, to lift up my head, and to assume my rightful place in the family of man? Can I there, in the household of God, know that I am not sitting next to another white man, another Catholic, another American, nor yet a Frenchman, Mexican, Jew, Moslem, Hindu, black man or brown, not even another alcoholic, and can I finally — at long last, please God — come home from all the wars and say in the very depths of my soul, “I am sitting next to another human being”?

-from the pamphlet A Member’s Eye View of Alcoholics Anonymous

There are days when I think about all AA has done for so many very different people and how amazing the transformations of their lives is. This program of action, to change and help others is really the key to what is wrong every where. Imagine a world where the everyone cared not just for themselves and their pocketbooks but for their common man – instead of reaching out their hand for another dollar for their war-chest they’d offer it to the new man and help pull him up and show him a better way.

The program of AA has been borrowed and adapted to many different fellowships – Alanon, NA, CA, SA, OA, GA… the list goes on and on. I know handfuls of people who – normal in every  aspect that I can see – who use our steps and traditions to guide their lives, they too say it’s life changing.

So why aren’t we standing on the rooftops, screaming from the top of our lungs, opening churches and the like?

In the book the Bridge Across Forever, Richard Bach and his wife get stuck traveling into different realities… in one of those realities they find a mystical book, seemingly dropped from the heavens with all the answers to lifes mysteries. Richard and Leslie want to take that book with them to share with everyone that here is finally the answer, here is something we can all agree upon. But the other Richard from that alternate-reality shows them what would happen if they did. Suddenly we’d have the War of the Book as people who interpreted it one way disagreed with anthers interpretation of it and people would die to see their way was followed.  Like the crusades of our reality the truth would be forced upon people or they’d be killed for not believing.

That’s what comes to mind when I think about an AA church or of forcing this upon others, it’s not how were supposed to do it. Its about attraction, not promotion… I’ve had many religious folk ask me about prayer, meditation, helping others and resentments – I’m glad I can help, I’m glad someone else helped me to do those very things…. that’s the key, get out of self and help others.



I found out that my first sponsee, David R, passed away yesterday. David was a real alcoholic, he struggled to find the answer in AA and was the kind of drunk who’d been in treatment centers and involved with the courts countless times. He was, for all intents and purposes, hopeless – that’s the kind of drunk you don’t think is going to make it and then BOOM they get it and their whole life is changed… but that didn’t happen for him. He had brief moments of sobriety when I knew him, and then the crushing fall back into the disease – it was hard to watch for me, probably a lot harder to watch for his family. I feel guilt – maybe I didn’t read him the right part of the book, or show him how good it would be or … I don’t know, a million things, but it’s not about what I did or didn’t do, I tried – I reached out my hand and offered a way out, the same way that was shown to me, that’s all I was bound to do.

David is the guy I wrote about and got published in the A.A. Grapevine – ( Read story here ). I was working over nights at the Fahrman Center, a treatment center/halfway house, when David called and was suicidal. I talked to him for a good long time and eventually had the police get out there to get him – he was taken to the psychiatric unit at the local hospital, but not before he made me promise to come up and see him there and bring my fellow AA’s with me. That morning, likely before the sun came up I called all the guys on my list and a bunch of us went to see him. That phone call and follow up visits by AAs to him opened up an avenue for that hospital and the District to talk to one another, we started a pager program and started to carry the message to drunks up there – it changed things.

But David didn’t stay sober, I don’t remember when he got drunk after that – but I know he was sober for a while and he seemed happy. He kept focusing on getting his family back and how he could get sober if he had them, but I knew from the book that wasn’t the case…

“Let no alcoholic say he cannot recover unless he has his family back. This just isn’t so. In some cases the wife will never come back for one reason or another. Remind the prospect that his recovery is not dependent upon people. It is dependent upon his relationship with God. We have seen men get well whose families have not returned at all. We have seen others slip when the family came back too soon.” Alcoholics Anonymous, pp 99-100

He wouldn’t, or maybe couldn’t hear that and he got drunk.

The last time I saw David he had called me and was really drunk, he was staying at a little motel down the highway and I went to see him. He looked pretty bad, was still drunk as hell and was hard to understand. He started to talk about bad things that had happened to him as a child- but then he just passed out.

I’d get reports once in a while from friends who work in the Drug and Alcohol treatment field once in a while – and I always hoped he’d show up one day at a meeting I’d get to when I was visiting, but it didn’t happen.

I’ve cried a bunch of times today – a few times for happy reasons before I heard this news – but mostly for David. I so want to grab a slipping newcomer and just slap him silly

“Don’t you see, can’t you see this will happen to you to”

“just do what we’ve asked, and you’ll see, it’ll all get better”

but I know that won’t work… I used to hear in meetings “You can’t see until you can see and you can’t hear until you can hear” and it’s sadly so true. For some there’s nothing I can do to help them until they’re ready – and some sadly will never be ready.

I was at my current sponsor Flo’s house when I heard about David today, I was helping him prepare a memorial for his first sponsor who passed a few weeks ago. And it was just the right place to be at the right time – I find it hard to cry in front of people, even my sponsor, and he left the room. Here we were, preparing to honor the man who had reach him only to hear about the loss of a man I couldn’t reach. That’s AA for you, I was where I was supposed to be today.

The old-timers and the book say that even though David didn’t stay sober, I did and that’s a good thing – that doesn’t make me feel better at all. I want it all, I want David to be next to me at a meeting grinning at newcomers who can’t pronounce anonymity and shaking hands at the door. I want them all to get it and to have a better life and to see how a few simple rules can change the world.

I believe in Alcoholics Anonymous, because it worked for me when I worked for it – I didn’t get it when I just stayed on the outskirts and watched others participate. When David was participating and shaking hands he seemed happier than I’d seen him before – I saw change in him. But our book says others are likely to see the change in newcomers before they see it in themselves, that may have been the case with David, I’m not sure.

There is a solution, I’ve found it, it was shown to me by sponsors who had it shown to them by sponsors who had it shown to them by sponsors… it’s been working for over 75 years now. We have a lot of people to try to reach out to, I want to be the helping hand to show them the way out, I want to see them help others and watch a marvelous fellowship grow up about them. I wanted that for David, I want that for all my sponsees – the fellowship I have around me is so vast now, reach across continents, internets and handshakes – I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Rest in Peace David