The Journey Out of AA – so far

It’s been a little over five months since I published my story “Walking Away from AA” where I talked about my decision to leave Alcoholics Anonymous after almost 22 years. I stated then that I didn’t have a desire to drink, but I had a desire to be more honest and truthful with all aspects of my life.

Being sober – living a life without drugs or alcohol – is for me. It’s a cheaper life, more enjoyable and less messy… things I need and want. Belief in a “higher power” or “faking it until I make it” aren’t for me, I can’t live that lie anymore. I gave it a fair shot – lying for AA, lol.

So what’s changed really?  Continue reading

Unity.. no thanks, I have plans

I don’t like people. (I frequently say “hate” which might be a strong word)

I’ve said that a million times before and it’s still true. One of my bosses says that too – I tell him he doesn’t because he’s so nice to everyone, but he insists that he does. Probably why I like him so much. I guess you could say I’m something of an introvert – I would rather spend time alone than in a group setting. My “fun” time is at home with a good book, writing or watching some TV. I find it very difficult to have “fun” in a group of people… can’t do it.  Continue reading

Verifying the Differences

I’ve chatted a little bit about being on a medication recently for my depression. I’ve always had a depression of some sort, the intensity varied in waves that I was able to navigate through. Until this last fall when it was as if a tidal wave struck me down and the undercurrent was helping me to drown. (Read here: Lost) . This post may be NSFW.

At the direction of my primary doctor I started to take an anti-depressant in late December (he actually suggested I take it in October, I asked him for the script in early December and finally took one at the end of the year). This happened for a few reasons:

  • I assumed it would go away like all the times before
  • that sense of impending doom that nothing can make it better, a little pill can’t possibly help
  • fear that it would change me
  • fear that it wouldn’t change me
  • fear of ostracization from AA friends
  • and that sense of welcoming the dark feelings, reveling in the comfortable dark

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Walking Away from AA

After being a member of Alcoholics Anonymous for 21 (almost 22 years) I’ve made a decision to walk away from AA.

I don’t have a desire to drink – really I don’t.

This is really about the AA programs “suggestion” that you believe in a power greater than yourself that will help you to stay sober. The Big Book itself states about itself:

“Well, that’s exactly what this book is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem.” We Agnostics p.45

That idea and notion don’t work for me and I’ve tried.

Continue reading

Keeping the Spirit Quiet

“There is, however, a vast amount of fun about it all. I suppose some would be shocked at our seeming worldliness and levity. But just underneath there is deadly earnestness. Faith has to work twenty-four hours a day in and through us, or we perish.” Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill’s Story, Page 16

“So we think cheerfulness and laughter make for usefulness. Outsiders are sometimes shocked when we burst into merriment over a seemingly tragic experience out of the past. But why shouldn’t we laugh? We have recovered, and have been given the power to help others.” Alcoholics Anonymous, The Family Afterward, page 132

People in Alcoholics Anonymous and many of the other 12 step programs, millions if not billions of people, have escaped certain death. We reached a point in our lives the way we were living it where there was no hope – many lost friends, family, spouses and careers as a result of addiction.

There was a vision in my head of what an AA meeting must look like –

old men, white t-shirts and overalls on – the smell of cigarettes and bad coffee waft through the room and man after man shares about his tragedy and how horrible life is…

That was the vision, and in truth I’ve been to a few meetings like that, you can switch out old men for young men or black women or what have you – there are meetings that resemble my old vision all over the country if not the world. Fortunately for me, and people like you, there are many more meetings that aren’t like that at all.

I had been in the background at meetings my mother attended when i was a child – they seemed pretty somber to me and I didn’t see many people happy, smiling or laughing – maybe the rose-colored glasses were covered in dirt, which is likely. So I entered my first meetings as an alcoholic myself expecting much the same. Instead I found a Pacific Group.

The Eau Claire Pacific Group in Eau Claire WI was a different kind of meeting for me. There was applause, laughter, oohing and aahing. I saw genuine smiles and people who talked about getting better. That first night I decided to stick around, because obviously these people didn’t know what AA was all about (I was a little over 1 month sober and thought I had it all figured out already).

I don’t stick around at meetings that aren’t fun with people talking about the joy of living now that we’ve escaped certain doom. I “don’t want what they have” as we say… I want more, I expect more. The Big Book even promises more – there are promises all over the book that I seek during my journey. One of my favorites that has come true again and again in my life is:

“At once we begin to outgrow fear.” Alcoholics Anonymous, How It Works, page 68

and most other people like the promises after Step 9 (I think they are over read personally)

“…We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us…” Alcoholics Anonymous, Into Action, Pages 83 and 84

So we want to shout it from the rooftops, we have found a solution – we found a way to resurrect the dead… a speaker I like says it “I’m looking at a room full of dead people sitting upright” or something like that. We were the dregs of society that no one really wanted around anymore, but here we are – recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body… “miracles” they say.

We are loud though… I guess. My home group meets at a church and we are probably 50 strong each week. We have fellowship before and after the meeting and we catch up with friends we might not have seen for a week or more. We laugh, we hug and give one another a hard time. During the meeting when we celebrate birthdays (1 or more years of continuous sobriety) we sing loudly and horribly off-key – on purpose. This is a big deal – someone who at one point couldn’t go a single day without a drink of alcohol has found a solution (most people call that solution God) and is now a contributing member of society… that’s a BFD. We have a “Rule 62” which tells us not to take ourselves too seriously – so we try to enjoy life.

But the church says we’re being too loud during the music lessons. Now as a functioning, contributing member of society – whom, according to the big book, ceased fighting anything or anyone… I’m supposed to just leave this be. But it’s hard… I would think a church would be happy that a group of men have found the spirit, the joy of living that the church talks about (or at least I figure that’s what they talk about) and would be happy to hear us laugh love and live in their basement each Wednesday night… it should be the great news that is spoken of on Sundays  “Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday nights and Saturday mornings the hopeless have found hope – here in our house of worship” I’d sell the shit out of that and encourage members of my congregation to attend and find the power greater than themselves that will lead them back to the church…

But I’m not the guy in charge there or anywhere, no matter how many times I think I am – The Director job has been taken by someone else and my job is just to help others. I have to stop and think about what would happen to the alcoholics that needed a meeting if we were asked to leave? What if all the groups were asked to leave the church as a result of my meeting being loud (and happy, joyous and free).

Each AA group is autonomous except in matters affecting other groups of AA as a whole. (Tradition 4) So there you have it… I have to be responsible again and try to get my fellow members to be a little more quiet before and after the meeting. Because we have a home here and we still have many other alcoholics to show the way out – it’s the only thing we have to do to stay sober – help another alcoholic, and to do that we have to have a place to share our message. This will be hard, but we’ll find a way to make it work.

(I thought this was just going to be a rant about asking us to be quiet, but once I started writing I saw my own defects and those of my group and that we needed to change… it’s interesting to see different results come out then I expect)

Happy 80th AA

IMG_1384I was thinking today

About the 80th birthday of AA

How much has changed from the days of old

When they’d lock us up or leave us in the cold

Back in Akron is where it came from

Two men started a journey

a movement that changed the world

one alcoholic talking to another

one hand reaching out to the hopeless

how more than one hundred men have recovered from alcoholism

that’s what the cover page on our book read all those years ago

now the hundreds are men and women and millions more

Once, a lifetime ago for some of us,

we didn’t care about anyone but ourselves

now we seek out others to help, only giving of ourselves

A power greater than yourself

Your own conception of “God”

That’s all that is necessary to make a beginning…

Well, and maybe an open mind

I have 21 years of sobriety

It doesn’t seem a possibility

That the man I am today

Could even be alive this way

Today, and every day

I reach out my hand

Think about the other man

Share what was so freely given to me

So another might be free

Exercise – Is There a Cure?

I’ve been thinking a lot about exercise recently – no, no don’t worry, I’m not going to start or anything crazy like that…. I was thinking about the characteristics of it that remind me of alcoholism. No really…

Like the first time a person gets drunk, they think it’s a good idea – all their friends are doing it and so they give it a try;  before you know it they’re falling down, puking can’t walk. Going to the gym the first time can be just like that – they’re pressured into it by their friends and society, they start out on the treadmill when they get done their legs are jelly… if they run too much they’ll throw up and get dehydrated, get light-headed and dizzy…. The similarities, just start here – lets look at more examples.

They are entirely normal in every respect except in the effect exercise has upon them. They keep exercising, nothing changes for a while (just like when an alcoholic begins to drink, all seems normal for a time) then they start to lose weight, act differently, they may start to smell. Their friends are too ashamed to say anything at first, their family is concerned – they spend hours and hours away from home at the “gym” where other people understand them and can relate. If they continue on for long periods of time their body will hardly resemble the normal body at all – their exercise life seems the only normal one. Finally the exercise becomes paramount to all other things and the gym becomes like a second home.

Doing the same thing over and over – expecting different results…sounds familiar doesn’t it? Curl that weight once, no… maybe fifteen times until it hurts. The ones who may be too far gone are the ones who say they get a high off of it, that they feel good after exercising… for them there may be no hope at all, we may have to lock them in weight room with their energy bars and sports drinks and watch in horror as they slowly exercise themselves into nothingness.

Sometimes an injury will occur. First a sprain – so they slow down, they take it easy, they can manage this… this won’t stop them, and here’s how. Perhaps a torn rotator cuff would convince them that it’s dangerous and their families beg them to stop… but no, surgery and “physical therapy” so they can do it again – pain is a small price to pay, they have to exercise. We’ve seen it on the news – those athletes whose careers have come crashing down after an injury prevents them from exercising – they sink into that pit of a recliner life, doomed to watch others workout, living vicariously through their efforts…. they cannot at this point differentiate the true from the false.

It’s an addiction now – they can’t stop. Sometimes going two or three times a day to the gym, maybe a personal trainer (a.k.a. pusher) to encourage them to branch out and try new things.. the treadmill was a gateway drug, leading to more and more dangerous things that will slowly waste them away into nothingness.  They have to keep going to feel “normal” but it’s never enough – one weight, 5 laps, 20 presses… it’ll never be enough for them – they have an insatiable craving for sweat, pain, hard bodies… sick bastards.

IMG_3625

weights

Is there hope? A cure? I’m not sure if even a spiritual awakening would be enough to help them – most are to far gone after their second visit to the gym. I have to believe there is hope for them, I have to believe one day these folks will join us on the couch, chowing down on potato chips and ice-cream with not a care in the world… maybe someday they will be free, maybe someday they can live a normal life…

 

I Know Better

I always think I know better. It almost doesn’t matter what the case is – I have a better solution than the one you’re suggesting or using. Someone suggests something – I’ll think about it, but I probably already have a plan that’s better than that.

For example, going canoeing for the first time outside Washington DC back in 98 or 99 people suggested sunscreen, but I wasn’t a city boy, I could take a little sun and be fine. Didn’t matter how long we’d be outside I don’t need not stinking sunscreen… burned the hell out of the top of my thighs, they were almost purple and it hurt pretty bad for a few days. I thought I knew better but obviously I didn’t. Continue reading

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.

 

Very Busy

I’m reluctant to ever say:

I’m Happy!

even if it’s kind of how I feel… I’m a doomsayer you know, predict the end times for myself time and again, usually just in my brain (I wouldn’t want others to worry) and I know if I were to state such a thing a meteor would be plucked from its course and given a trajectory of my destination within the next day or so… so instead, lets just say:

I’m very busy.

much safer that way for all of us… depending on the size of the meteor it could have been catastrophic to a lot more people and then I’d feel guilty. My brain is a complicated place, I shouldn’t go in there alone.

Continue reading