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Promises of NOT working the Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

If we are NOT painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be drunk before we leave the parking lot.
We are going to know a new pain and a new misery.
We will regret our deeds and repeat them over and over.
We will comprehend the word chaos and we will know calamity. No matter how far down the road we stagger, we will still wonder where we are going.
That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will intensify.
We will lose interesting things and gain relations with strange fellows.
Self-seeking will be constant.
Our whole attitude will be on the lookout for the cops.
Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us – homeless. We will intuitively know how to stay drunk with little or no money. We will suddenly begin to think that God does not exist.
Are these extravagant promises?
Probably not.
They are being practiced daily, sometimes insanely, sometimes deadly.
They will continue to happen if we keep drinking.

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Ebby T. (Bill W.’s Sponsor)

Ebby had been enabled to bring me the gift of grace because he could reach me at depth through the language of the heart. He had pushed ajar that great gate through which all in AA have since passed to find their freedom under God.”–Bill W., AA Grapevine

While attending the annual Bill W. dinner in New York in October 1963, I noticed a man with a sad expression seated at the table that Bill and Lois shared with close friends. Since the general atmosphere in the large banquet room was festive, his sadness seemed out of place. Someone told me he was Ebby T., the friend who had called on Bill in late 1934 to bring him the Oxford Group’s spiritual message that helped Bill get sober and helped form AA.

Several months later, during one of the last discussions I ever had with Bill, he told me that he had been able to place Ebby in a country rest home in upstate New York. Ebby died two years later from emphysema, the same affliction that would claim Bill’s life in 1971.

Ebby’s physical problems had been compounded by his frequent bouts with alcohol during the years since he had carried the message to Bill. His was the kind of story that causes continuing anguish in AA: a wonderful burst of initial sobriety followed by a devastating slip and then a pattern of repeated binges despite his best efforts and those of his friends. He had a tortured life, and yet there were times when he struggled valiantly to put his demons to rest.

I never actually met Ebby, but I kept learning more about him as the years passed. While serving as a contributing writer to Pass It On in 1980 and 1981, I had access to the correspondence that flowed between him and Bill. There was also an opportunity to spend a day with Margaret, the kindly nurse who cared for Ebby during his last two years of life.

In Albany, New York’s capital city, there is archival information in the state library about Ebby’s distinguished family members and their achievements in politics and business. Three members of the T. family were Albany mayors, and one lost a gubernatorial nomination by a very narrow margin. Ebby’s parents were also prominent in social and church affairs. An assistant to the mayor at that time told me “you couldn’t find a better family than the T.s” and put me in touch with Ebby’s nephew, Ken T., Jr. When I returned to Albany some years later, Ken took me to visit Ebby’s grave in the Albany Rural Cemetery, just north of the city.

There’s no denying that Ebby was the “lost sheep” of the family, but it never completely rejected him or lost hope that he might someday recover. His last surviving brother, Ken T., Sr., stayed loyal to him right up to the time of his own death, just a few months before Ebby’s passing.

But if Ebby had a friend who was unfailingly loyal and devoted, it was Bill W., who always called Ebby his sponsor and seemingly moved heaven and earth in trying to help Ebby regain sobriety. Indeed, it almost seemed that Bill threw his own good judgement out the window and became an “enabler” when Ebby was involved. The late Yev G., a member of the Manhattan Group since 1941, told me in 1980 that Bill seemed to lose all perspective when Ebby went off on another drunk. Yev recalled it this way:

“Bill was so definitely concerned about Ebby and so fond of him and felt so grateful and indebted to him that he would do anything rather than have anything happen to Ebby. Some of us were Bill’s selected emissaries to find Ebby when he went out on one of his episodes. We knew his watering holes, the rooming houses, and the places where he went. So we’d get him and bring him back in the group, and he’d go along very well. But we had to observe, really, that Bill did not treat Ebby with the same kind of approach that he realistically would with the average kind of alcoholic member we had in those days in New York.”

But even Bill became exasperated with Ebby at times, and this is revealed in some of his correspondence with and about Ebby. But he never lost hope that Ebby would recover, and years after his own recovery he would tell Ebby of his gratitude. It was an astonishing friendship, and one early AA told me that Bill and Ebby were almost like brothers.

A brief outline of Ebby’s life goes this way: he was born in Albany in 1896, the youngest of five brothers. His father headed a family-owned foundry that manufactured railroad-car wheels, and Ebby entered life with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. Like his brothers, he attended Albany Academy, a prestigious private school that is highly regarded and whose graduates usually go on to college. But though his brothers excelled at the academy, Ebby was a lackluster student and did not graduate.

The family spent their summers in the resort town of Manchester, Vermont, seven miles south of Bill’s hometown, East Dorset. Ebby’s father was a golfing partner of Robert Todd Lincoln, a wealthy industrialist and the only son of Abraham Lincoln to reach adulthood. Lois’s family was also a member of this social group, the “summer people” who awed Bill as he was growing up. Although Bill felt inferior in status to Ebby’s family and Lois’s family, he was something of a hero to other boys in Manchester because of his skill as a baseball pitcher. Ebby remembered meeting him in 1910 or ’11 and perhaps watched him play.

Ebby may have sipped a little wine on family occasions, but he didn’t have his real first drink until 1915, at age nineteen, when he walked into Albany’s Hotel Ten Eyck and ordered a glass of beer. At about the same time, he went to work in the family business. By the time the firm closed in 1922, Ebby was getting drunk frequently. Later on in the nineteen-twenties he worked in the Albany office of a brokerage firm, but there’s reason to believe he was never a real producer. In the meantime, Bill W. had become a New York stockbroker and was soaring with the surging market on Wall Street.

In January 1929, Bill stopped in Albany on his way to visit friends in Vermont, and he gave Ebby a call. He and Ebby spent the evening drinking and then agreed on a daring way to arrive in Manchester: by air, a risky action in those early days of aviation. They hired a barnstorming pilot to fly them to Manchester, which had just built an airfield, and they arrived, very drunk, the next day. Bill recalled (as quoted in Pass It On): “We somehow slid out of the cockpit, fell on the ground, and there we lay, immobile. Such was the history-making episode of the first airplane ever to light at Manchester, Vermont.” Their drunken venture may have created an odd bond between Ebby and Bill that would be among the reasons Ebby would call on him in 1934.

Ebby’s drinking worsened, and by late 1932 he had become such an embarrassment to his family that he slunk off to Manchester, and moved back into his family’s summer home. He had periods of sobriety, but by mid-1934 his drinking had led to troubles and arrests in Manchester. While his brothers were still actively employed or in business, the family money supporting Ebby had largely run out. According to some tales circulated later, he sold some of the family furniture to buy booze.

About this time, several Oxford Group members in the area chose Ebby as a likely prospect for their spiritual message. They were Rowland H., Shep C., and Cebra G. He resisted their approach, but became more receptive when another drunken incident brought him before a judge in Bennington. He expected to be jailed for the weekend, but was permitted to go home on the promise that he would return–sober–on Monday.

And it was at this point, I think, that Ebby won a battle that became important for all of us. Waiting for him in the cellar at home were several bottles of his favorite ale, which he planned to drink immediately after the local constable let him off at the house. He was in agony when he raced down the stairs to get them. But then his promise to the judge stopped him cold, and he began to wrestle with his conscience. After a fierce struggle he took the bottles over to a neighbor. The action gave him peace. That was his last attempt to drink for two years and seven months.

I like to think of this moment as Ebby’s Magnificent Victory. I’ve wondered whether, if he’d lost this struggle, he might not have stayed sober and been able to carry the message to Bill. In any case, he returned to court sober and was released to the custody of Rowland H., who then became what we AAs would call a sponsor. Along with giving Ebby a grounding in Oxford Group principles, Rowland took him to New York City. After staying with Shep for a short time, Ebby moved to Calvary Mission, run by Dr. Sam Shoemaker’s Calvary Church on Gramercy Park.

One November night in 1934, Ebby came to see Bill, who was then living in Brooklyn with his wife, Lois. Ebby told Bill, “I’ve got religion,” and while Bill drank gin and pineapple juice, Ebby recounted his friendship with Rowland, described the principles of the Oxford Group (like the importance of absolute honesty when dealing with defects), and talked about his growing belief in God and the efficacy of prayer. Ebby’s words, and his sober demeanor, stayed with Bill, who later recalled, “The good of what he said stuck so well that in no waking moment thereafter could I get that man and his message out of my head.” Bill kept drinking, but he decided to pay a visit to the mission, which he did after stopping at a number of bars on the way and hooking up with a drunk Finnish fisherman. When he arrived at the mission, he ended up giving a kind of drunken monologue at the evening meeting where the derelict men gave testimonials about not drinking. On December 11, Bill checked himself back into Towns Hospital, where he’d previously been treated. Ebby visited him there, and a few days later, Bill had his “white light” experience and never took another drink.

Ebby stayed on in New York, continued to work with Bill, and moved in with Bill and Lois after Calvary Mission closed in 1936. But by 1937 he was back in Albany, working in a Ford factory. While he still worked with alcoholics and apparently kept up his Oxford Group connections, tensions were building up in his personal life. Finally, on a trip to New York City, he drank again, after two years and seven months of sobriety.

His life then became a nightmarish succession of binges followed by short periods of sobriety. He held jobs briefly and sometimes performed well for short periods of time. During World War II, for example, he worked as a Navy civilian employee and was well-liked by his superiors. He was given opportunities by other AA members, and both Bill W. and his older brother Jack sought ways to help him back to continuous sobriety and well-being. In the following years, he often lived with Bill and Lois for months at a time–something Lois tolerated for Bill’s sake.
It also became a sort of a game by AA members to become the person who helped Ebby recover. In 1953, a New York member named Charlie M. collaborated with AA members in Dallas, Texas, to take Ebby to the Lone Star state for treatment at a clinic run by Searcy W., an early member who still recalls his years with Ebby. After initial troubles, Ebby found sobriety in Texas and stayed there for eight years. He also found steady employment for several years.

It’s clear that Ebby’s Texas interlude was the best period of his adult life. He was lionized by grateful Texas people who went out of their way to meet him or hear him speak. In 1954, Ralph J. and his wife Mary Lee even invited Ebby for a two-month stay at their sheep ranch near Ozona, Texas, and loved every minute of his visit. Two members, Olie L. and Icky S., virtually adopted him, and Searcy became Ebby’s Texas sponsor.

But one of Ebby’s obsessions had been the belief that “finding the right woman” would be his salvation. He did find a woman in Texas who seemed to be the love of his life, but when she died suddenly, he began taking mood-changing pills and soon was drinking again. He returned to the New York area in late 1961 and stayed for a time with his brother Ken.

Bill W. had continued to help Ebby with occasional checks, and now he came forward again to manage Ebby’s life more closely, partly because of Ebby’s declining physical condition. With help from others, Bill had created a fund for Ebby to cover his expenses at a treatment-type facility. Health problems were closing in on Ebby, however, and it was clear that he could no longer live independently. And that’s probably why Ebby appeared so sad when I saw him at Bill’s banquet in 1963. He was in very poor health, to say nothing of the other demons that plagued him.

But there was a miracle of sorts waiting for Ebby. In the final two years of his life, he would find peace, sobriety, and tender loving care given by Margaret M. and her husband Mickey at their rest farm in Galway, near Saratoga Springs, New York. Symbolically enough, the farm was on a road named Peaceable Street!
Bill had met the M.s and when he learned that Margaret was in New York attending a nurse’s convention, he asked her to come over to talk with him at GSO. She agreed to give Ebby care at the farm for seventy-five dollars a week–a cost Bill could easily manage with the fund and Ebby’s Social Security payments.
Bill drove Ebby up to the rest farm in May 1964, and turned him over to Margaret and Mickey. Ebby was angry and defensive at first, but soon responded to their attempts to help him. Usually a likable person, Ebby even became popular with the other residents and awed them by his ability to work The New York Times crossword puzzles. The farm was only twenty-five miles from Albany, so he also had visits from his brother Ken and other friends and relatives. There couldn’t have been a better place for Ebby’s last years. Bill, writing to Ebby’s old friends in Texas, would comment on the fine care Margaret was giving Ebby, and would also note that she had a good doctor on call.

When Ebby’s brother Ken died in January 1966, Ebby was too weak to travel the twenty-five miles to Albany for the funeral. He seemed to lose the will to live after that, and one morning in March the housekeeper told Margaret that Ebby couldn’t come down for breakfast. He was rushed to the nearby Ballston Spa hospital, where he died early in the morning on March 21.

Bill and Lois were on a trip to Mexico, but returned quickly for the funeral in Albany. It was a small funeral, and one woman who attended thought it symbolic that twelve persons were there to see him off. A brief notice in the local newspaper mentioned that Ebby was the brother of a former prominent mayor.
In death, Ebby rejoined his prominent family at the Albany Rural Cemetery, where he lies next to his brother Ken. The large plot is defined by the monument of his grandfather, who launched the family business and also served as Albany’s mayor during the Civil War. (Ken, Jr., who was so generous in supplying information about Ebby and the family, passed away two months after showing me Ebby’s grave. He is also buried nearby.)

I felt some of that gratitude myself when I visited the old farmhouse with Margaret in 1980. She had operated it after Mickey’s death but finally closed it in 1979.
When AA members learn that I’ve become a student of Ebby’s life, their first question is usually, “Did he die sober?” I believe, as did Ebby’s Texas sponsor, Searcy W., that Ebby was sober two-and-a-half years when he died. This may have taken lots of supervision by Bill and Margaret, but he did put this much together in his final years. We should give him credit for that, because he gave us so much–particularly when he won the battle with ale that weekend in 1934. Without that magnificent victory, the outcome could have been much different for all of us.

Mel B.
Toledo, Ohio
Grapevine September 1999

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12 Warnings of Alcoholism from the Big Book

The book Alcoholics Anonymous contains a series of propositions and proposals, the successful outcome of these depends upon the actions of the reader.
The book directs us as to what we must start doing, what we must stop doing, what happens when we fulfill the propositions and proposals and what will happen if we fail to fulfill them.
These are the Twelve Warnings as to what will happen if we fail to heed the directions.

  1. For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead. (p14)
  2. The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us. But that in itself would never have held us together as we are now joined. (p17)
  3. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness, we must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. (p62)
  4. Though our decision (Step 3) was a vital and crucial Step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face and be rid of, the things in our lives which had been blocking us. (p64)
  5. It is plain that a life, which includes deep resentment, leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and with us to drink is to die. (p66)
  6. Concerning sex. Suppose we fall short of the chosen ideal and stumble? Does this mean we are going to get drunk? Some people tell us so. But this is only a half-truth. It depends on us and our motives. If we are sorry for what we have done, and have the honest desire to let God take us to better things, we believe we will be forgiven and will have learned a lesson. If we are not sorry, and our conduct continues to harm others, we are quite sure to drink. We are not theorizing. These are facts about our experience. (p70)
  7. If we skip this vital Step (5), we may not overcome drinking. Time after time newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their lives. Trying to avoid this humbling experience, they have turned to easier methods. Almost invariably they got drunk. (p.72)
  8. We must lose our fear of creditors no matter how far we have to go, for we are liable to drink if we are afraid to face them. (p78)
  9. We feel that a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough. (p.82)
  10. It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. (p.85)
  11. Our rule is not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there. That includes bars, nightclubs, dances, receptions, weddings, even plain ordinary whoopee parties. To a person who has had experience with an alcoholic, this may seem like tempting Providence , but it isn’t. You will note that we made an important qualification. Therefore, ask yourself on each occasion, “Have I a good social, business, or personal reason for going to this place? Or am I expecting to steal a little vicarious pleasure from the atmosphere of such places?” If you have answered these questions satisfactorily, you need have no apprehension. Go or stay away, whichever seems best. But be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good. Do not think of what you will get out of the occasion. Think of what you can bring to it. But if you are shaky, you had better work with another alcoholic instead! (p.101)
  12. The head of the house ought to remember that he is mainly to blame for what befell his home. He can scarcely square the account in his lifetime. But he must see the danger of over-concentration on financial success. Although financial recovery is on the way for many of us, we found we could not place money first. For us, material well-being always followed spiritual progress, it never preceded. (p127)

Ronny H.

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Spirituality in Recovery

Chemical dependency has long been a misunderstood and harshly judged condition. Alcoholics have been stereotyped as down in the gutter, wino’s who have nothing, nobody and no place to go. They are thought to be the homeless and seedy of our society. Recovering alcoholics know these accusations to be untrue. Walk into any Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and you will find doctors, lawyers, accountants, mechanics, housewives, students, or any number of career paths and personalities. These are not the rooms of the degenerate. In the Dr’s opinion, (AA Big Book, 2001): “Then there are types entirely normal in every respect except in the effect alcohol has upon them. They are often able, intelligent, friendly people.” (pg. xxx). These are the rooms of the individuals, who, like Bill, (AA Big Book, 2001) thought they were destined for death or insanity. There was no hope. They had a moral disease that consumed them. They had not the willpower to beat it. It couldn’t be done. Then, they discovered the AA way. They worked the twelve steps after finding a Power greater than themselves. The AA Big Book (2001) recounts several stories of how this God of their own understanding could restore them to sanity. Bill, one of the co-founders of AA states (AA Big Book, 2001), “…I humbly offered myself to God, as I then understood him, to do with me as He would. I placed myself unreservedly under His care and direction. I admitted for the first time that of myself I was nothing; that without Him I was lost. I ruthlessly faced my sins and became willing to have my new-found Friend take them away, root and branch. I have not had a drink since.” (pg. 13). Steps one through three of the program tell you God can if you let Him, then the rest of the steps help you “clean house” in order to serve others with God’s help. Serving others is what most people feel keeps them sober (Larsen, 2007). Faith put into action. Essence first, action follows (Larsen, 2007). Thousands of individuals who have found their Higher Power are the testament to the Power of spirituality in recovery (AA Big Book, 2001). This report will show that people are more likely to maintain sobriety when spirituality is the foundation of their program of recovery.

Weil (2004) defines alcoholism as a person’s habitual and excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages, involving many unsuccessful attempts to stop. It describes their continued drinking despite adverse consequences to health, responsibilities, and personal values.He sums it up by saying it is not a psychological or pharmacological problem. He believes it cannot be solved with psychology or the use of pharmaceuticals. Its root is a spiritual concern. It is the misdirected attempt to achieve wholeness, inner completeness and personal satisfaction.

Alcoholics Anonymous (2001) states:
“But what about the real alcoholic? He may start off as a moderate drinker; he may or may not become a continuous hard drinker; but at some stage of his drinking career he begins to lose all control of his liquor consumption, once he starts to drink. Here is the fellow who has been puzzling you, especially in his lack of control.” (pg. 21).

AA is founded on spirituality. Spirituality is different from religion. Religion is based on a specific organized faith. Brown, et al, (2006), Collins (2006), Okundaye, et al (2001), Larsen (2007), and Kurtz & Ketcham (2002) all agree that spirituality has a broader belief base pertaining to higher purpose, meaning and value. Trustful prayer and meditation to a guiding higher power plus connection to others who have the same beliefs is fundamental to twelve step programs. Most individuals need help developing these behaviors to participate fully in the program. Okendaye, et al (2001) liken the “coming to believe” to a journey. Not all those in recovery come by it quickly. “Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly”, the alcoholic forms this spirituality (AA, 2001). Covington (1994) and Collins (2006) state that religion, without true spirituality, is about beliefs, structure and rules. It often involves adopting someone else’s idea of spirituality. Covington (1994) states that many women have said they would not know spirituality if it weren’t for their addictions.
The AA big book (2001), states the twelve step program of Alcoholics Anonymous is necessary, in fact, vital, to recovery from alcoholism. They go on to say that they found they could not manage their own lives; no human power could relieve their alcoholism. “God could, and would if He were sought” (pg. 60). That takes you through step 3. The following nine steps lead the alcoholic through “cleaning house” with identifying character defects, humbly asking God to remove them, making amends to those offended by the alcoholic, and asking God to continue working in our lives. Then, the alcoholic seeks to maintain sobriety by passing these messages onto others in need of sobriety. The program’s components of fellowship and storytelling, with guidance from the 12 step process and the key element of spirituality are the key ingredients that make the program a success. (Green, et al, 1998)

Brown, et al (2007) conducted a study of using spiritual intervention in a seven week project titled “Knowing Your Higher Power.” They found that the individuals who were part of the program had a much higher incidence of maintaining sobriety than those who were not included. This behavioral study was applied along with the twelve step program and then followed up after 12-weeks to assess the longevity. It led the authors to believe clinicians should apply these behavioral concepts in treatment.

Green, et al (1998) observed AA and NA groups during fellowship and also in the halls and interactions at the clinic. Spirituality was a primary focus of the witnessing that occurred with AA/NA participants. It was noted that those who had not come to believe in a power greater than themselves did not have as much success with sobriety. Group members pointed out to these individuals that incidents were not co-incidences. More often than not, they were God’s way of sending a message. Some new-comers to the program could not relinquish his or her own will and accept that a spiritual being was more powerful. Fellow AA’ers saw the reluctance toward spiritual principals as a block to recovery success. The AA Big Book (2001) refers to “stinkin’ thinkin’”; this terminology is known in the rooms of AA as what led to the members’ issues with chemical use and what kept them from being freed from its power. This, in turn, kept the addict apart from God and others, including the addict him/herself (DiLorenzo, et al, 2001). Non-recovering alcoholics or active addicts are said to have negative spirituality and strive for the positive through chemical use (Warfield and Goldstein, 1996).

When we look at controlled vs. uncontrolled drinking, we can go to the AA Big Book (2001) which states, “We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking.” “All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but such intervals—usually brief—were inevitably followed by still less control.” (pg. 30).

Most alcoholics felt they were the exception to the rule; they could control this and they denied the disease had taken that control from them. Inevitably, the chemical use got worse and worse. One drink and they were sunk. Stopping after one as many people are able to do was not within the grasp of the alcoholic, as hard as he tried.

Instead of quitting, the addict starts to bargain. As the Big Book (2001) states, he tries switching to beer or wine, only drinks on the weekend or at special occasions. He deludes himself into thinking he can manage. It’s the fault of others that his life is in shambles. He is not the reason things have gotten so out of control.

Eventually, the disease proves too powerful to ignore. Addicts say the moment they realized their lives had become unmanageable was when they “hit bottom” (Kurtz & Ketcham,1992). Everyone’s bottom is different but what is similar is it is a turning point. The admission is made of being powerless over alcohol or drugs or whatever the source of their addiction is; at that point, a willingness to accept the need for a power greater than oneself is needed to overcome what seems hopeless. The AA Big Book (2001), outlines the steps in which this acceptance takes place. “I can’t”, “God can”, “if I let Him” sum up steps one through three and often the new comer to recovery is told to come back to these three steps often throughout recovery. They truly form the base of recovery.

A surrender of one’s will to the God of their understanding is sometimes a long process. Okundaye, et al, (2001), state that many treatment programs don’t emphasize the spiritual side of recovery enough. They outline the strength’s perspective and how enabling the recovering alcoholic should include helping them gain spirituality. As outlined earlier, many individuals early in the recovery process struggle with “letting go” and “letting God” (AA, 2001). Okundaye, et al (2001) discuss six strengths concepts including empowerment, suspension of disbelief, dialogue and collaboration; membership; synergy, and regeneration. They state that the spiritual disease of addiction has led to separateness, emptiness, meaninglessness, and a lack of purpose in one’s life. The result is moral compromise leading to decreased self-esteem and a lack of self-worth. They propose that using a holistic approach, the addict can address coping patterns, interpersonal perceptions, and social environments. Painful experiences have led to growth and the desire to change. By empowering and stressing a client’s potential, clinicians can help clients overcome stigmas and break patterns learned in dysfunctional atmospheres. By walking with the client through the process of learning spirituality, we are able to help them steer an otherwise rudderless ship. Ethically, helping professionals can, and should, encourage spirituality. Especially since spirituality is a personal understanding, clinicians can help individuals find their own perception of a Higher Power.

Larsen (2007), Dayton (2007), and Kurtz & Ketchum (1992), all point to the brain’s role in chemical dependency, a disease of mind, body and spirit. Many individuals with chemical dependency “come by it honestly”. Growing up in families with generations of addiction has caused the “tree to become bent” (Larsen, 2007). Larsen (2007) also points out that we all have a core need for love. We strive for that fulfillment. We grow in the direction we are nurtured. We begin our using habits based on what we’ve learned or by what we feel we need to put a band aide on our emotions and the quest for love. Our limbic brains control our emotions and survival mechanisms. These are the primitive parts of our neurological system (Dayton, 2007). Just as the body needs food and water to sustain itself, the body that uses chemicals begins to think that’s what it needs to survive. The dependence occurs when the brain starts to crave the substance more than the food and water. Support of the habit is what drives the dependent individual. Even when the addict/alcoholic quits drinking, the need continues. Abstinence is the key to keeping the lion asleep; that lion continues to grow even though the person in recovery does not feed it. Awaken it, and it is mightier than ever (personal communication with AA groups).

The AA Big Book (2001) tells us that when the addict is successfully in recovery, he learns what is needed to reconcile the emotions that once pushed him to put the band aide on. Through the twelve step process, he recognizes his character defects with the help of his Higher Power who is then humbly asked to remove them. This healing occurs through a process of self-forgiveness and seeking forgiveness from those harmed through the addiction’s downward spiral.

Once the “junk” is removed, the individual has room to be filled with the spirit. It is a “hoop” (Larsen, 2007) in that it comes full circle: By asking a God of our understanding to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, achieve abstinence, we are able to use that power to make more room for Him to be part of our lives. By reconciling our conflicting emotions, we are able to return to functionality.

Participation in AA is part of the reconciliation process. A unique combination of storytelling, group support, responsibility to a membership and one another sets the healing in motion (AA Big Book, 2001). Green, et al, (1998) speak of the stories of humiliation, loss and abuse shared at meetings and between recovering chemically dependents. Although they have histories that would make the strongest weak, they express a depth of gratitude for the changes in their lives. They acknowledge how this Power outside of themselves has restored them to sanity and provided them with the resources they needed to become sober. The addicts may have been loners in the past, preferring solitude to the company of others. They may have spent time as children buried in books instead of outside playing with other children. They may have endured high school without lots of dates. They may now feel more comfortable with people in one on one rather than in large groups. A meeting is an ideal place to learn how to interact with others. They don’t have to act a certain way or hide feelings because the group will understand them no matter what. They can give as much as they choose and trust that the group will neither harm nor ask for more.

Warfield and Goldstein (1996), explain that groups exist because people are working together in unison. Someone “opens up,” others make coffee, one chairs and another speaks; some will clean up at the end. The strength of the group lies in the ability of each member to do what is comfortable for him or her. Such coexistence helps one learn that strength is gathered from numbers. The sharing of strength, hope and gratitude reinforces that strength.

Warfield and Goldstein (1996) go on to say that sponsorship is a key ingredient in the process, another support gathered for the sponsor as well as the sponsee. Mutual responsibility supports the relationship; learning to have strong relationships is the benefit to all. An addict’s ability to form and keep relationships has been damaged through his addiction. These helping bonds form out of a sense of “we’re in this together”, “been there, done that”, “ I have walked a mile in your shoes and know where you’re coming from.” Because a person has filled him/herself with the spirit, he/she is not doing this on his/her own. Group members tend to believe that God puts people in their lives to send His message. Circumstances have a purpose and how the recovering addict responds is a gift and comes from learning humility from the God of their understanding. These individuals come to have a spiritual desire to be in touch, to be involved with what is good. Perfection is not the goal; a healthy individual comes of a program that facilitates personality growth and separation of oneself from a narcissistic ego. Through these healing encounters with a Power greater than oneself and the other members of AA/NA, and new community supports, the person in recovery learns to love themselves. They realize that they are lovable and deserve the unconditional love of another. These things no longer are withheld from them. This in itself is empowering, fosters belief, promotes self-worth and creates a sense of well being.

“One day at a time” is a slogan well used in AA circles (AA Big Book, 2001) The Big Book (2001) recounts the stories of several founders of the program and the acceptance of a God of one’s understanding has helped millions of people. By taking life on life’s terms, knowing that all you have to do is “show up” (Larsen, 2007), and God will take care of the rest if you let Him, many recovering addict/alcoholics have found the ability to maintain abstinence. Through personal communication with this author, one AA member, Jim, states he partakes of daily inspirational readings to help him on his journey. He goes on to say:
We are in a simple program described in thousands of ways. Sadly, or fortunately, what we describe cannot be explained. An emotion is not a thought. Emotions are our internal compass. The gift of our addiction is that it brings us to a simple instructional outline to follow which changes our self-made “hell on earth” [into] a virtual heaven on earth. The simple instructional program, when followed as a way of life, yields a solid connection between our emotional self and our thinking self. The result is euphoric if the connection is perfect. Morning meditations serve as anchors to our emotional reality as our thinking self has been running loose during our sleep. Simple. Each of us emotionally interprets words differently at various times. Therefore, it is helpful to have the simplicity communicated to us in thousands of ways. One of the ways will be more easily understood at a moment in time than another.

Jim’s eloquent statements echo the thoughts of many in the rooms of AA. They speak of the strength found in the spirituality of the program. Daily meetings with the God of their understanding, keeps them on the path to recovery. Attendance at meetings reinforces this relationship, and the stories of their fellows reinforces that they are indeed commencing on the journey of a healthy lifetime.

Serenity is the ultimate reward for following the road to recovery. Many new members of AA have been heard saying, “I want what they have.” The truly recovering person with chemical dependency has an air of peace about them. They have made peace with themselves, their God, and their fellows. They use the serenity prayer as a guide:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” (Covington, 1994, pg. 114).

Relapse happens to the best of those in recovery. When a person has truly found the God of their understanding, they know the way back. The unconditional love of that God and their friends in the program are a beacon that leads them back into the light. If the program is followed to the best of their ability, the promises will come true (AA Big Book, 2001):
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through. 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 word 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 chang. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them (pg. 83 – 84).

Kathy M.

Posted in Sharing

Which Wolf Do You Feed?

An elder Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life.
He said to them, A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves.

One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, pride, and superiority.

The other wolf stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

This same fight is going on inside of you and every other person too.
The children thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, Which wolf will win?

The old Cherokee simply replied: The one I feed.

THE SAME CAN BE SAID FOR SOBRIETY AND RELAPSE. WHICH ONE DO YOU THINK ABOUT MORE?

Posted in Sharing

Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid…

In the forward to the second edition on page xx of the Big Book, it shares with us the recovery statistics from the first 16 years of AA. They tell of a 75% success rate. These facts came from the New York office. Lois kept a list as well at 66%. Sister Ignatia also kept track at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron and recorded 700 out of the first 1000 admitted to the hospital there. Some of the early groups in Cleveland and Akron in the 1940’s reported over 90%. Regardless of the which number to use to compare to today, it seems we are not doing a good job at carrying the message. Why? Probably several reasons. We have strayed from the basics in the Big Book in favor of discussion meetings. We have forgotten what sponsorship means; what working with others means. It means intensive work with another alcoholic. However, there are a couple of key words on page xx. It says:

“Of alcoholics who came to AA, and really tried, 50% got sober at once and remained that way; 25% sobered up after some relapses and among the remained those who stayed on with AA showed improvement. Other thousands came to a few AA meetings and at first decided they didn’t want the program. But a great number of these – about two out of every three – began to return as times passed”.

Those two thirds went back through the same rate of success.

So what does really tried mean. Perhaps that is following the 14 directions on page 58 in the Big Book, that are there before we even get to the 12 steps. Maybe this can be thought of as step 0.
In order as the directions appear on page 58 in question form written for me to answer honestly every day.
1) Am I thoroughly following our path, the path as precisely laid out in the Big Book? Remember, rarely have we seen a person fail who does this.
2) Am I completely giving myself to this simple program? Remember, those who do not or will not will not recover.
3) Am I being honest with myself? Remember, those who fail are constitutionally incapable of doing so, usually are those who do not recover.
4) Am I grasping and developing a manner of living which demand rigorous honesty? Am I becoming or am I now capable of being rigorously honest with myself?
5) If I have other mental and emotional issues, am I being honest so that I can and will recover?
6) Does my story disclose in a general way what I used to be like, what happened, and what I am now?
7) Am I willing to go to any length to get it? Am I willing to go to any length to be ready to take certain steps and remain sober?
8) Am I still trying to find an easier softer way?
9) Am I being fearless and thorough from the very start?
10) Am I holding onto my old ideas? Am I willing to let go absolutely?
11) Do I accept and remember that alcohol is cunning, baffling and powerful?
12) Do I accept that to recover is too much for me alone, and accept that there is One Power? That one is God and ask for help now.
13) Half measures availed us nothing. Am I still doing half measures?
14) Am I asking for His protection and care with complete abandon?

Posted in Sharing

For Those Who Say “A.A. Doesn’t Work”

One of the saddest statements I have ever heard is, “I’ve been to A.A. and it doesn’t work.” There is no way I can count the number of times over the past couple of decades I have found an alcoholic coming off a drunk who made that statement. Just today, one of my protégés called to tell me of a man, holed up in a cheap motel room, he was asked to locate and see if he could help him.

My protégé was successful in locating the suffering alcoholic and did what he had been instructed to do on a Twelve Step call. He told him some of the story of his drinking and how he had come to know it to be an illness over which he had no control nor did the medical profession have a solution.

The suffering alcoholic finally said, “You’re going to try to tell me about A.A. aren’t you?” Jake said, “That is where I found my solution. “The sick one said, “I have gone to A.A. meetings for the last eight 8 months and did what they told me to do. It doesn’t work for me.”

Jake asked, “Did you take the Steps with a sponsor who had been blessed with a spiritual experience as the result of having taken the Steps?” The sick one said, “I think I did but the main thing they told me was just keep coming back and you’ll be OK. When I asked what else I should do, I was told, Don’t drink and keep on going to more meetings. I did what they told me to do and A.A. just doesn’t work.”

A member of Alcoholics Anonymous found me near death in 1964 and told me he could help me. He said to me, “I understand. I have been where you are and I want to help you if you will let me.” I was willing to do anything. He took me to his A.A. club and began sobering me up on orange juice with some honey mixed in it. When I began having delirium tremens, they added some Bay Rum to the mixture. There were no treatment centers in our area at that time and hospitals would not admit us for alcoholism. We either shook and sweat it out in jail or at an A.A. club. By far, most of them made it to the end sober or they still are. I wasn’t one of them. I saw an opportunity to return my ego to its earlier level by getting involved in a new and exciting profession and so I went for it. Sixteen years after my last drink; 11 years after my last meeting, on a day without a cloud in the sky, I thought having a beer would be a good idea, so being in a very dry county, I drove 70 miles for a six-pack. It took me 2 years to make it back to Alcoholics Anonymous very, very drunk.

But what a difference 13 years can make! There were no alcoholics laying around the club with dry heaves. There were no blood shot eyes, sweating faces, no vibrating bodies, the aroma of alcoholism was missing. There was no orange juice in the refrigerator nor honey near the coffee pot. There was no Bay Rum in the file cabinet. It was no longer needed because almost everyone had gone to treatment and been medicated through the process of what is termed de-tox. They had missed those wonderful golden moments of the misery, suffering and pain of sobering up. At first, I thought the new approach was good but then I began to see the results. There was less and less commitment to the group and the action necessary for long term emotional sobriety was being ignored.

There were very few Big Book study or speaker meetings but a large number of discussion/participation meetings where everyone was given an opportunity to talk about whatever was on their mind whether on not they knew anything about alcoholism or recovery from alcoholism. There were even non-alcoholics participating in these meetings. This newer approach of learning to live with alcoholism was beginning to prove to be a dismal failure.

I heard a tape of Joe McQ. and later attended a weekend of Joe McQ. and Charlie P. presenting their Big Book Comes Alive program. It then became very clear why so many were returning to the bottle. Not only were we without sick alcoholics laying around the meeting places, there was so little program in our meetings, it was almost hidden from the newcomers. No wonder so few were finding more than a few months of physical sobriety. They were denied what is required for long term emotional sobriety.

Without the sick alcoholics laying round the meeting place, I had to find a place where I could again see and smell alcoholism. I needed a frequent reminder of where I came from and what was waiting for me if I didn‘t continue to pay the price for emotional sobriety. Over the years since I have been blessed to have been given another opportunity to survive the deadliest disease known to mankind, I have volunteered in many wind-up places where those coming off a drunk are present and available to talk with. Again and again, I heard that sickening, statement”I went to A.A. and it doesn’t work.”

Of course, they are right. Alcoholics Anonymous does not work! We must work it! But they were not told the truth. My basic text reads, “Rarely, have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path” The path being the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as outlined in a book titled Alcoholics Anonymous. My basic text does not read, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of don’t drink and go to meetings.” It reads, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Our real problem is ego driven sponsorship with very little if any real concern for the welfare of the newcomer. Proclaimed members of our fellowship who have never taken the Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous will assume the responsibility for the life of a newcomer and will proudly announce the number of sponsees they have. As one of my dear friends said, “The manner in which we now fail our responsibility to the newcomer borders on slaughter.” The demise of our sense of responsibility to those seeking help for alcoholism is one of the greatest tragedies of our time in history. It works only if we work it (working all 12 Steps, meetings/fellowship, and being of service expecting nothing in return)!

Cliff B.

Posted in Sharing

It’s Not About Me

All of the years I’ve suffered from fears and said what in the hell did I do?

The train in my brain spins circles, insane and wonders Hey what’s wrong with you?

Numbing the real, not wanting to feel, the emotions that seeth in my gut

Then alcohol came, turned into my game and helped me get out of my rut.

The demon brew, well, it turned on me too and wanted to take me away.

Tried putting it down, the whirlwind I’d found but no matter how wrong it would stay.

Then came the day when battered and frayed the misery had taken its toll.

The demon had won and it was no longer fun and I found I was losing my soul.

It was time to get real, no matter the feel and surrender to that which I knew.

Too admit to myself it had always been me, all those years that I believed it was you.

Self seeking fears, drowning in tears of selfish and ego, I know.

The will, I thought mine had grown selfish with time and I knew that I had to let go.

Surrendering myself, to get something else to comfort and lead me along.

The peace that I get, at times, I don’t fret and try to stay honest and strong.

Rigorous honesty I’m told, that it takes and sadly sometimes only few.

Listening to truth that it’s not about me, that I need make it all about you.

Ginny A.

Posted in Sharing

The Twelve Steps to a Slip/Relapse

PERSONS who attain sobriety through the A.A. principles, do so only after a thoughtful application of the 12 Suggested Steps to recovery. They happily find themselves on a level plateau of sanity after ascending these steps, one after another, and they maintain their sobriety by a continuing application of these same steps.

Those unfortunates who lose their sobriety are said to be having a “slip”. I believe this is a misnomer, for it suggests only a momentary adversity that unexpectedly pounces on its unwary victim. A more apt term would be a “glissade,” for a slip is the result of a gradual process, beginning long before its logical termination, and progressing through a series of wrong steps, to a drink, and for us, a drunk.

A slip cannot be said to occur only when it culminates in a drink, for many of us, in our failure to apply the 12 Steps to our living, frequently have slips, which are none the less slips merely because we do not slip as far as a drink.

As one must ascend the 12 Steps gradually, I feel the “slip” is the result of unconsciously descending these Steps. And as descending steps is always accompanied with less effort than ascending them, the steps soon assume the behavior of an escalator.

As the “bottom” is reached it invariably results in taking that “one drink,” which leads, for us, only to all the remorse, terror and unhappiness that follows a binge.

These, then, are in my opinion the “12 Steps to a slip,” and are the direct result of failure to consciously apply to our lives the 12 Suggested Steps to recovery:

  1. We neglect 12th Step work.
  2. We omit contact with the Higher Power.
  3. We forget personal inventory.
  4. We assume grudges against others.
  5. We miss A.A. meetings, and avoid A.A. friends.
  6. We gradually lose humility.
  7. We fall into self pity.
  8. We worry about unalterables.
  9. Our thinkin’ really starts stinkin’.
  10. We become “cocky” and overconfident.
  11. We neglect to ask help from the Higher Power, and take “just one.”
  12. We become a “social drinker.” (Temporarily.)