All posts by Mark H.

Check it out: The movie “When Love Is Not Enough-The Lois Wilson Story”

by Mark H.

If you need a break from perpetual pandemic pandering, then check out the 2010 movie “When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story” (YouTube it folks).

I DVR’d this from the Hallmark Channel a few months ago and enjoyed it. The title is a bit deceiving as the movie is as much, if not more, about Bill as Lois.

The plot starts in 1914 with Lois Burnham, a college-educated woman from an affluent family, falling in love with Bill Wilson, a 19 year old man of modest means. Lois is well played by Minnesota native Winona Ryder, Bill by Barry Pepper (the sniper in Saving Private Ryan).

The couple married in 1918. After his return from World War I, the two set out to build a life together. While Lois worked as a nurse, Bill struggled to find his niche. Lois believed that Bill was destined for greatness, and despite his increasing reliance on alcohol, she showered him with love and support (do you see AlAnon starting here?).

Eventually, Lois persuaded a friend’s husband to hire Bill at his financial firm. By 1927, Bill was working on Wall Street and the couple was living a luxurious lifestyle. But despite Lois’s efforts to control his drinking, Bill’s alcoholism spiraled out of control. Soon his job, their lifestyle and their dreams were all gone.

In 1935, after years of struggling to cover for Bill and trying desperately to manage his disease by herself, Lois finally saw him get and stay sober – not through her help, but from the support of a fellow alcoholic, Dr. Bob Smith, and working with other alcoholics.

This is the miracle mentioned in the Big Book where Bill laments to Lois that he’s working with all these alcoholics, but none of them stay sober. Here Lois wisely remarks, “well Bill, you’ve stayed sober!” Thus, the 12th Step and the rest of AA was born!

As Bill and Bob attained lasting sobriety and co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous, Lois began to feel neglected. Bill got and stayed sober without her help, and she felt isolated and resentful.

But, Lois soon discovered she was not alone in her isolation and anger, and that there was a vast number of people whose lives and relationships had been devastated because a loved one was an alcoholic or drug addict. To help herself, and others like her, she co-founded Al-Anon/Alateen in 1951.

If you need another AA fix in this time of quarantine and Zoom meetings, this movie is a nice addition to ‘living the sober life.’

Rocker Walsh Lives ‘One Day at a Time’

Rock superstar Joe Walsh (James Gang, Eagles) talks about his sobriety at the 2015 Unite to Face Addiction on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (photo courtesy Walsh’s webpage)

If there ever was a time to take life a day (or an hour) at a time, its now. I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing like pandemic-induced isolation to push me even closer to AA (I’m hitting more Uptown online meetings now due to the quarantine).

Boomer rocker Joe Walsh (James Gang and The Eagles) sobered up in 1993 and learned about living life a day at a time. He penned the song One Day at a Time in 2012 to spread the message the best way he knew how, and its a good song. YouTube the song, its great. Here’s the lyrics:

“Well you know
I was always the first to arrive at the party, ooh!
And the last to leave the scene of the crime
Well it started with a couple of beers
And it went I don’t know how many years
Like a runaway train headed for the end of the line

Well I finally got around to admit that I might have a problem
But I thought it was just too damn big of a mountain to climb
Well I got down on my knees and said ‘Hey!’ (la la la)
‘I just can’t go on livin’ this way!’ (la la la)

Guess I have to learn to live my life one day at a time
Oh ya! One day at a time!
Oh ya! One day at a time!

Oh ya! One day at a time!
Oh ya! One day at a time!

Well I finally got around to admit that I was a problem
When I used to put the blame on everybody’s shoulders but mine
All the friends I used to run with are gone, (la la la)
Lord, I hadn’t planned on livin’ this long. (la la la)

I have to learn to live my life one day at a time!

It was something I was too blind to see
I got help from something greater than me
And I have to learn to live my life one day at a time!”

Living a day at a time was a concept that didn’t come easy to me in early sobriety. Some days early on I took it a half day or even an hour at a time until I could get to another meeting. Some days I just skipped work and went to meetings morning, noon and night and then did the fellowship thing until bedtime. You know, it worked. It got me over the hump until I learned some new coping skills to replace my old, fatal ones (alcohol, drugs, rage, sex, food, anything that felt good).

Back then, I was so filled with remorse for the past and FEAR of tomorrow, that staying in today was a real challenge (hard, but not impossible, my sponsor used to say). It was a time of big changes and challenges in all aspects of my life, many that had nothing to do with sobriety.

But I kept showing up at meetings and folks there would see my fear and tell me,” You have everything you need to make it through today, so don’t worry about tomorrow until it comes. You are ok for now, lean on us, lean on AA, you don’t have to do this alone, you don’t need alcohol or drugs to make it through.” 

They were right.

Compartmentalizing my life into one hour or a day at a time and forgetting about tomorrow helped me to make it through that hour, that morning, that day. It was too much back then to deal all at once with today and those ‘two awful eternities: yesterday and tomorrow,’ as AA says. When I learned to deal just with today (or just the morning or the next hour), I did much better. 

It took practice, though, and time to learn these news skills. I had to devote myself to AA and unload my old play pals and play pens. That wasn’t too hard. I knew they were killing my body and soul. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was in that state of willingness to change, to listen to others, to trust others to show me a new, livable path forward.

Today, I am grateful to be alive. I am happy Joe Walsh made it too. If we can make it, so can you. Try AA and sobriety. The only thing you have to lose is your misery!

 

Anonymity Works

Recent pandemic press on AA is naming people along with their photos. This violates AA’s tradition of anonymity and undermines AA’s purpose: helping alcoholics achieve sobriety.

Has the stigma of being a recovering alcoholic (or drug addict for that matter) been reduced enough in society that traditional AA anonymity is passe? Have years of widespread press coverage of AA and recovery, especially in regards to the recent pandemic, mean the end of one of AA’s founding principles?

A common refrain at meetings goes, “We think not.”

A member of Uptown House, who has been sober for years, objects as well. This person recently sent me an article from a Twin Cities’ daily newspaper on the difficulty of recovery in the covid ‘social distancing’ era and it included the full names and photos of people in recovery.

Here is what the member wrote: “I was appalled at the blatant disregard for our tradition of anonymity. There are SO MANY articles out right now, which is good and bad. Also, the fact that (another) article sort of clumped us (Uptown House) in with a treatment center made a lot of members frustrated.”

(The second sentence violates AA’s 6th Tradition: An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.)

But the tradition of anonymity, which after all is in our very name, is what concerns this member most (and many others).

The AA 12 Traditions, rules that govern AA and the conduct of its members, have served us well, keeping AA going and growing since the 1930s. The 11th Tradition states: “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.”

 The 12th Traditions states: “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”

These traditions emphasize the importance of anonymity so that no one member can have too much influence on the group. Many groups have disintegrated due to internal squabbles and bad publicity.

These Traditions help lessen any power struggles within groups. Anonymity has also helped protect the organization from any member bad behavior. Not having a spokesperson means AA is able to pretty much stay out of the limelight (the pandemic being a recent exception). The limelight, by the way, can compete with the real purpose of AA in a person’s life and cause them to relapse.

Anonymity also protects people who don’t want to proclaim his/her affliction and membership in AA.  Maybe someone isn’t sure they are an alcoholic or isn’t and anonymity protects their identity. In my experience, there are people (some of them practicing alcoholics themselves) and businesses with big drinking cultures that discriminate against alcoholics. 

If the word on the street says AA is not anonymous anymore, many folks will not come, and we know how that can end up: “jails, institutions and death.”

You’ll never see my last name on these stories and you’ll never hear me mention my last name in meetings. Staying sober and helping others achieve sobriety is reward enough for me.

 

 

 

Service Work: On-Line Style

Hitting bottom and need help: Join AA, help yourself and others too.

 

Doing service work in AA, making coffee, speaking, sponsoring and the like, is essential to help newcomers and old timers alike to get out of their heads and into a better recovery.

I’ll never forget my first lesson in service work in Denver when my sponsor Marty suggested I speak at a treatment center when I was just a month sober.

“What can I offer them, I’ve only been sober a month,” I lamented.

“You’ve been sober a lot longer than most the folks in treatment,” Marty replied.

So, I went and shared my experience, strength and hope. The experience was great, it gave me a self-esteem boost and, more importantly, got me to quit thinking of my huge problems at the time, at least for just a little while. I learned that I could forget my problems for just a bit without using booze, drugs, etc. This was an important lesson for moving ahead in my recovery.

But now that we’re stuck in the ‘corona closet’ what can we do?

The first thing I did was hit an online AA chat (discordappcom). This free-for-all chat moves fast most the time and is somewhat superficial, but I have connected with newcomers and others have connected with me. Discord also has ‘meetings’ that are more traditional: an administrator, or trusted servant, polices the meeting. One person chats at a time all they want. When they are done they type in “GA” for go ahead.

To get in line to chat type in “!” and the administrator lists the next three chatters. If a new person joins in that doesn’t know the rules and cross talks,  the administrator deletes their comment, tells them to type in “!” and wait their turn.

There are other ways to get involved: Uptown House and other clubs host online meetings where you can connect (see our website), sponsor, etc. You may still donate (not required, but we still have to pay the bills at Uptown House). You can also start and host your own online meeting. Call the St. Paul Intergroup Night Owl Line (651.227.5502).

Here’s a note from Intergroup: “Speaker assignments for speaker meetings, as well as Temporary Sponsorship assignments and 12th Step assignments will NOT be provided (with the exception of assignments made by our Night Owl volunteers—who will ask someone to CALL the person requesting a 12th Step. No personal visits will be arranged) due to this “Stay-At Home” order.” 

Also, check out YouTube for recorded AA speakers and the like.

***

When I was in the throes of early sobriety, dealing with my troubled life sober for the first time, one mantra helped me make it through those dark nights: This too shall pass. (And it did!)

Indeed, this pandemic will someday pass, and we can all get back to normal. Faith, not fear!

Uptown Online Meetings Grow — A Few Twin Cities’ AA Houses Remain Open, Treatment Centers Too

Uptown House online meetings are available to all, all the time.

The number of meetings and attendance at Uptown House online meetings continues to grow in the face of a local and nationwide virus lock down. We invite anyone to start their own meeting(s) anytime they want.

If you’d like to organize a meeting, Uptown House has created a Zoom room for:
1.) Fellowship between meetings, and…
2) Host meetings for groups/times/squads that don’t already have a virtual platform. This room is open to anyone with a desire to stop drinking and, like the house, will function with very little oversight.

We will count on the members to manage the ‘rooms’ as they do at the House and their own meetings.

Email peterk@uptowngroupstpaul.com if your squad wants to use this room at a specific time, and we’ll post your meeting, or just start impromptu meetings anytime you like.
Some meetings are up to 30 members; feel free to split popular meetings if they become too unweildy by using Zoom’s breakout feature.

Start an Uptown Zoom Meeting Anytime, Access Anytime:
Zoom Meeting URL; https://zoom.us/j/3215559366 Meeting ID 321-555-9366

Also, please take the time to pass the “virtual basket” at these meetings as you would at your regular meetings. Remind all in attendance that there are many e-donate options (info located here). If you can pause 60 sec to give people the time to stop and donate. This will help the house greatly during these challenging times. Thank you and have a good meeting!
Here is a list of current online meetings:
For a complete list see http://www.uptowngroupstpaul.com/online-meetings/

Uptown House on MINNPOST

The media has been reporting on how the recovery community is responding to physical distancing requirements. A recent story in MINNPOST also reported that many treatment centers remain open as they are considered essential services.

Small wonder we’re considered essential: William Cope Moyers, Hazelden Betty Ford vice-president of public affairs and community relations, said in the MINNPOST story that addiction remains a deadly epidemic of its own. “In 2020, 70,000 people in America will die of accidental overdoses. Another 88,000 people will die from alcohol-related issues. The pandemic of coronavirus is real, but so is the epidemic of addiction and mental illness. We cannot afford to pay attention to one at the expense of another.”

Some treatment centers aren’t taking new clients, many remain open, although some treatment center clients are getting infected and some have died, according to a CBS News report April 3.

Not surprisingly, given such news, many treatment centers report fewer clients due to travel restrictions, travel fears and fear of groups due to virus spread. Some treatment centers are offering online recovery programs which, of course, cost less than their inpatient programs.

“AA has been around since 1935, and wars have come and locusts have come. Those meetings will remain. They’ll come back. I think we will have ignited a new generation with these new virtual options,” Moyers said in the MINNPOST article.

To read the entire MINNPOST story, see: https://www.minnpost.com/mental-health-addiction/2020/03/sobering-moment-how-is-covid-19-impacting-minnesotas-recovery-community/ 

A recent story in the City Pages also reports that several Twin Cities AA houses remain open, although with reduced numbers allowed and cleaning regimines. See the full story at http://www.citypages.com/arts/minnesotas-oldest-aa-club-needs-volunteers-to-stay-open-during-quarantine/569066821

Online is Fine

Thank goodness for online AA meetings and chats!

I did my first-ever online AA chat and meeting about two weeks ago now, and I like it. As a baby boomer, this was my first chat experience (on the AA national site, not Uptown House online).

After chatting, I sort of stumbled into a traditional meeting format, sent a message and it was quickly deleted by the meeting chair! He noted for me to type “!” to get in line to share, which I did.

I got in line and was able to make the last share. “Take us out Mark,” the chair wrote. It was all very friendly and meaningful, more serious than the chats sometimes. Folks can add a thumbs up, smiley face any other icons to what you write if they like it.

The chats move fast when there’s 10-15 people active, which I like at times, but not so much when I have to scroll back to read what folks are saying. I’ve also noticed that in chats folks mostly only write a few words to one sentence. Comments 2-4 sentences long are rare and often not read by many as there’s not time if you want to keep up with the conversation. Meeting chats, unlike the free-for-all, unstructured chats, do go into more detail.

It will be nice to get back to FTF (face to face, as chatters call them) meetings where folks share in more detail. Life, after all, can’t be summed up nor understood in 2-5 words snippets of remote conversation.

That’s not to say that human warmth and kindness doesn’t shine through on the chats, it does. I like that very much. Such exchanges are the heart of AA.

That said, however, it is nice to have a change of pace as I have been doing traditional FTF meetings since sobering up in the 80s. Had I been new to sobriety, however, I am not sure online meetings and chats would keep me sober for long.

But for now, I am grateful to have online chats and meetings. As with FTF meetings, online sure beats going back to using and the inevitable “jails, institutions and death.”

Keep coming back everybody. This too shall pass.

NY Times Story Affirms AA’s Effectiveness

by Mark H.

A well-researched, academic probe into AA’s effectiveness found what many of us already know: AA is still the best way to find recovery from alcohol addiction…and its free to low cost (your choice).

While we can’t reprint the entire story here (copyright restrictions), we’ll offer some highlights. To read the entire story, see:
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/11/upshot/alcoholics-anonymous-new-evidence.html

Among other things, the NY Times reports:

*An updated systematic review by the Cochrane Collaboration found that A.A. leads to increased rates and lengths of abstinence compared with other common treatments.

*“These results demonstrate A.A.’s effectiveness in helping people not only initiate, but sustain abstinence and remission over the long term,” said the review’s lead author, John F. Kelly, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Recovery Research Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital.

*Studies generally show that other treatments might result in about 15 percent to 25 percent of people who remain abstinent. With A.A., it’s somewhere between 22 percent and 37 percent (specific findings vary by study).

*Another study found that for each additional A.A. meeting attended, health care costs fell by almost 5 percent, mostly a result of fewer days spent in the hospital and fewer psychiatric visits. …The bonds formed from the shared challenge of addiction — building trust and confidence in a group setting — may be a key ingredient to help people stay on the road to recovery.

*Worldwide, alcohol misuse and dependence are responsible for 3.3 million deaths per year, 10 times the number of fatalities from all illicit drugs combined. In the United States, alcohol is a larger killer than other drugs; accounts for the majority of all addiction treatment cases; and is responsible for at least $250 billion per year in lost productivity and costs related to crime, incarceration and health care. Moreover, American deaths related to alcohol more than doubled between 1999 and 2017.

AA Criticisms

I have read some online criticisms of AA such as AA is too religious. My take: True, AA has some Christian overtones and some in AA push it, but not much. I am not a Christian. In 32 years of attending AA and 32 years of continuous sobriety, I have felt welcomed.

Most times, most in AA try real hard to be non-denominational. Its even in its literature and 12 Steps. I have been pushed harder to become a Christian at airports and on the streets. Honestly, putting up with the odd bible-thumper now and then is nothing compared to dying or ending up in jail because of active alcohol addiction.

Also, if an AA club is too religious, and I’ve been to some, just leave and find another meeting. There are hundreds of them out there.

Rumor: AA is depressing, talks about depressing things too much and is full of too many head cases. My take: People who say this have never been to many AA meetings. We talk about our issues in order to understand them and break through into recovery and lead good lives. We don’t wallow in our sorrows. We don’t have to because in AA, we learn from them and move on, focusing on recovery and the future. There are people with mental illness everywhere, not just in AA. I have seen many people recover from what bugs them and move on to happy lives over the long term.

AA is not perfect, but what is in life? Give AA a try, the only thing you have to lose is your misery!

Happy Valentines Day Brother & Sisters in Recovery!

I Want to Know What Love Is

Mick Jones of the band Foreigner wrote this song in 1984. Here is what he had to say about the lyrics, below:

“I don’t know where it came from. I consider it a gift that was sent through me. I think there was something bigger than me behind it. I’d say it was probably written entirely by a higher force.” 

I gotta take a little time
A little time to think things over
I better read between the lines
In case I need it when I’m older
Now this mountain I must climb
Feels like a world upon my shoulders
I through the clouds I see love shine
It keeps me warm as life grows colder
In my life there’s been heartache and pain
I don’t know if I can face it again
Can’t stop now, I’ve traveled so far
To change this lonely life
I wanna know what love is
I want you to show me
I wanna feel what love is
I know you can show me
I’m gonna take a little time
A little time to look around me
I’ve got nowhere left to hide
It looks like love has finally found me
In my life there’s been heartache and pain
I don’t know if I can face it again
I can’t stop now, I’ve traveled so far
To change this lonely life
I wanna know what love is
I want you to show me
I wanna feel what love is
I know you can show me
I wanna know what love is
I want you to show me
And I wanna feel, I want to feel what love is
And I know, I know you can show me
Let’s talk about love
I wanna know what love is, the love that you feel inside

I want you to show me, and I’m feeling so much love
I wanna feel what love is, no, you just cannot hide
I know you can show me, yeah
I wanna know what love is, let’s talk about love
I want you to show me, I wanna feel it too
I wanna feel what love is, I want to feel it too
And I know and I know, I know you can show me
Show me love is real, yeah
I wanna know what love is

Songwriter: Michael Leslie Jones
© SOMERSET SONGS PUBLISHING INC

Rebel With a Cause!

Motorcyclists have a reputation as free spirits, non-conformists and risk takers. We should not be surprised, then, that Bill W. was a biker! Live to ride, ride to live! (Lois was Bill’s wife. She, too, was important to AA’s development.)

by Mark H.

I love this photo of Bill Wilson, co-founder of AA, from 1925, nine years before he got sober. I came across it at an AA club in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. I was there deer hunting last November and snapped a photo of it with my cell phone (sorry, the quality isn’t very good).

Here’s some information on Bill from Wikipedia:

William Griffith Wilson (November 26, 1895 – January 24, 1971), also known as Bill Wilson or Bill W., was the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

AA is an international mutual aid fellowship with about 2 million members worldwide belonging to approximately 10,000 groups, associations, organizations, cooperatives, and fellowships of alcoholics helping other alcoholics achieve and maintain sobriety.

Following AA’s Twelfth Tradition of anonymity, Wilson is commonly known as “Bill W.” or “Bill.” In order to communicate among one another, members of “AA” will often ask those who appear to be suffering or having a relapse from alcoholism if they are “friends of Bill”. Although this question can be confusing, because “Bill” is a common name, it does provide a means of establishing a rapport with those who are familiar with the saying and in need of help.

After Wilson’s death in 1971, and amidst much controversy within the fellowship, his full name was included in obituaries by journalists who were unaware of the significance of maintaining anonymity within the organization.

Wilson’s sobriety from alcohol, which he maintained until his death, began December 11, 1934. In 1955 Wilson turned over control of AA to a board of trustees. Wilson died of emphysema complicated by pneumonia in 1971. In 1999 Time listed him as “Bill W.: The Healer” in the Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century.

Thanks Bill W., you did good, you made us proud!

The Sobriety Grapevine

Happy New Year…..One Day at a Time!

Happy New Year everyone. I hope your’s has been a sober one so far. Here’s a few stories from the AA Grapevine magazine. You can purchase some copies at Uptown House or subscribe. This is AA’s official publication, reprinted with permission:

The power in the rooms that helped her stop drinking also expanded her faith

by Amy C., Cleveland, Ohio

My family went to a Protestant church when I was growing up, but we were not religious. I think my mother wanted to give us some values to stand on. My father was agnostic, yet I always believed in God.
In my teens, I tried Christianity, but it didn’t fit me. Later in my 20s, I had a spiritual hunger that led me to a Unitarian church that did not espouse a creed or dogma, but instead encouraged a personal search for truth and meaning. I still go there.
In AA, I’ve gone through stages of defining my Higher Power. I resonate with Native American spirituality, believing in Mother Earth, Father Sky and the Great Spirit. I’ve participated in sweat lodge ceremonies that I’ve found to be extremely cleansing and healing. Once after I did the sweat lodge, I had a revelation of my truth, that all of nature and humanity are intertwined. It’s easy to forget that when I am acting from ego-based fear.
I like that AA encourages me to find a Higher Power of my understanding. My soulful journey in AA has expanded my faith in God. I have a conviction in the ‘we’ of the program. I know that alone I could not control my drinking. After a lot of self-inflicted pain, I realized I needed help with it. Even then, I was in and out of AA for years, getting some lengths of sobriety but always relapsing.
Eventually it took an overdose and a detox to wake me from my nightmare, and I ended up in a month-long treatment center. I had literally just gotten on Medicare, which I desperately needed to cover the cost. That was definitely what I’d call a ‘God thing.’ Next I went into a sober house for two years. I now believe it was God who got me there and God who got me through. People were praying for me. At the time, I was haunted by depression and anxiety and had to get outside help. It was a lengthy, slow process, but I continued to make strides.
Unfortunately, the sober house closed down, and all of a sudden I had nowhere to go. I panicked. Amazingly, right around that time I got a call from a HUD apartment complex where I had put in an application two years before! Another ‘God thing,’ or ‘cosmic coincidence.’ These events seem to flow together when I’m open to change.
I am now five years sober. I have an awesome sponsor and work the Steps continuously. I am the treasurer at my home goup and a secretary at another one. At my AA meetings I feel the connected energy of the ‘we’ in process.
Finding my Higher Power has been a long, circuitous path up mountains and down valleys. Even deeper than valleys, actually, under the Earth itself at times, while I kept digging my way to the bottom.
Today, I pray every morning and every night and ask all of me to be aligned with God’s will. I know sobriety has to be my top priority in life; without it I have nothing. And with God I have everything I need.

Balcony Brothers
He made his plan to escape out of the back door: But two guys with a coffee pot were waiting

by Luke H.
Allendale, New Jersey
For me, desperation has a short shelf life. I had been so eager and desperate to do everything needed to get sober after my latest drinking spree, which was on a Saturday. But by Tuesday, things didn’t seem so bad. I was all ready to go out there again to repeat the desperate experiment of the first drink. That’s when a couple of ‘muppets’ came to my rescue.
The last four years of my drinking hell culminated in me getting my car impounded and walking from a police station to my brother’s house and going to sleep on his couch. During that walk, I knew with absolute certainty that I had to get back to AA. This time, I would take seriously the suggestions that had been offered to me so many times in the past.
After two days of staying in and wrapping myself in a blanket of self pity, I knew I had to get to a meeting. The Tuesday noon meeting at Hohokus would do the trick. But as it got closer to noon, something happened to me that I cannot explain. All of a sudden I thought that things were not really as bad as I made them out to be. This time would be different, I told myself.
I had my brother drop me off an hour before the start time to the AA meeting. I planned to head out the back door after he left. The $100 that my aunt had just gien me to help out was burning a hole in my pocket.
My brother dropped me off and I stepped inside the darkened meeting room. I was waiting for my brother to be out of sight and then my plan was to take off. That’s when I heard an odd sound in the otherewise quiet, empty AA room.
It was a mechanical ‘psst….psst’ sort of sound. I peeked into the room to investigate and discovered the sound to be a coffee urn starting to brew. Just as I turned to leave a raspy voice penetrated the room.
“Hey, who’s that? Are you new? Come here, kid. Where are you from?” the voice said. Just then the lights went on and I saw two men sitting in the balcony section in the back of the room. They looked like the two old guys from The Muppets television show who always sat up in the balcony. The old men asked me to come up. I felt I had no choice but to go over and sit with them.
I didn’t leave that day and I haven’t left AA since. That was 16 years ago. I can’t be sure what would have happened if I had gone out the back door that day. Maybe I would have made it back, maybe not. I often think about that when I see empty chairs in our meetings.
I like to think that those two ‘muppets’ saved my life. I don’t even remember their names now. They were just making coffee and doing service. I have a special place in my heart for AA service and what they did for me. Now I get to do the same.

Copyright © AA Grapevine, Inc. January 2019. Reprinted with permission. Permission to reprint AA Grapevine, Inc., copyrighted material in Uptown Club publications/website does not in any way imply affiliation with or endorsement by either Alcoholics Anonymous or AA Grapevine, Inc.

Women binge drinking, youth substance abuse deaths up

The Good News: There’s AA. It works if you work it!

By Mark H.

     A recent National Health Interview Survey found the proportion of respondents who reported binge drinking increased during a study period from 32 percent in 2006 to 39 percent in 2018. Although men — particularly those without children — engage in binge drinking more often than women, the upswing in this type was drinking was greater among women.
     The proportion of women who reported binge drinking rose from 21 percent to 33 percent. That compares with a rise of 42 percent to 45 percent among men. In fact, the largest increases in binge drinking occurred among women ages 30 to 44 without children, doubling from 21 percent back in 2006 to 42 percent in 2018.

     Heavy drinking did not trend up — except among older women (those aged 45 to 55) without children.

     Why does all this matter? Well each year about 88,000 Americans die as a result of excessive drinking. Binge drinking also places a huge economic burden on the U.S. economy — at least $191 billion a year in lost health care expenditures, criminal justice costs, lost productivity and other expenses.

Deaths of Despair?

     Another recent study found mortality rates are rising in Minnesota, caused by a combination of an aging population and a rise in so-called “deaths of despair.”

     No age group has seen a larger increase in death rates than young adults, ages 25 to 34. Between 2010 and 2017, rates of death for this group rose by more than a third in Minnesota, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control.

     Spikes in three causes of death are largely to blame: drug overdoses, alcohol-related liver disease, and suicide. Two economists who identified the trend, particularly among middle-aged white Americans, coined the term “deaths of despair.” They pointed at economic insecurity and income inequality as possible causes.

     But deaths of despair aren’t limited to middle-aged Americans. While liver disease caused by drinking is degenerative and generally affects older people, accidental drug fatal overdose rates nearly tripled in Minnesota between 2010 and 2017 for the 25 to 34 age group, from 8.5 deaths per 100,000 people to 22.1 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the CDC.

     But, Jon Roesler, an epidemiologist supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Health, said he prefers to call deaths caused by suicide, drug overdose and alcohol “preventable deaths,” rather than “deaths of despair,” because with the right interventions, there is hope that these types of deaths can be prevented.

     Yes, these deaths are preventable, in large part, by a simple, free program called Alcoholics Anonymous! Google to find a club near you!

(Thanks to MinnPost and Minnesota Public Radio News for portions of this story) 

Grateful for What I Have

Are you a “Bob Cratchit,” left, or Ebenezer Scrooge?

by Mark H.

Most folks want more in life, more money, more material things, more toys, a bigger house, more savings, more sobriety, more, more, more. Where does it end? In fact, it must if you ever want to find happiness.

Our consumer, capitalist society constantly pushes us to buy more and want more. We put those ‘with the most’ on pedestals, not really knowing if they are happy or not. How does that one joke go, “Who ever has the most when he/she dies wins!”

Of course, we know this is not true, we know this is absurd. One study, for example, found that happiness does not increase beyond an income of $70,000/year. What does that tell you? It tells you that money, up to a point, can’t buy you happiness. 

The happy person sees through the constant barrage to accumulate more, to buy more. The happy person is grateful for what he/she has no matter how much or how little that is. This does not mean, of course, that we use gratitude as an excuse to quit striving to improve our lives, to be a lazy. It just means we have learned to be happy where we are at today, with what we have today. In AA we call this doing a ‘gratitude survey.’ 

I have often caught myself being glum. It is an old paradigm I learned as a youth. Yet, I totally surprise myself with how much I DO have when I start adding it up. It is an amazing transformation when I practice gratitude.

Being grateful for what I have is a major part of my life, it is a key way for enjoying my life day in and day out. I often find myself comparing myself to others and what they have, wanting more and lamenting the fact I don’t have more. Then, my sobriety teaching kicks in, and I start listing in my head the many blessings I have. When I do this the depressing thoughts disappear. It is such a great feeling to leave the darkness behind.

Like most people, I have lost things in my life, some of them dear to me. Most of us come into AA having lost much. Also, as I get older, I am losing the ability to do some things I used to love, that were central to my younger life. Yet, I am still able to replace those things with other activities, etc. I just roll with the punches life dishes out.

Our consumer culture constantly preaches that more is better. Addicts know this edict well: if one beer or joint was great, even more will be better. We discover, in the end, however, the more is often not better. In fact, more often leads us to ‘jails, institutions and death.” I used to joke when repeating this truism that even too much water is bad for you: its called drowning!

Another way I stay grateful in life is reminding myself that my life could always be worse, much worse. Life offers plenty of examples of this from my past, from those around me, from those who have already been put in the grave by addiction.

Counting my blessings, being grateful for what I have, doing a gratitude survey, whatever you call it, is a major technique I use to enjoy life one day at a time (while I strive to improve my life every day).

One of my favorite gratitude parables this time of year is Charles Dickens’ story “A Christmas Carol.” Scrooge, who is rich beyond measure, is likewise miserable and mean beyond belief. Yet, the man he persecutes and despises, his employee Bob Cratchit, has very little, but is much happier. Why? He is grateful for what he has.

Uptown is Looking for a Few Good People

Volunteers, that is, for our Steering Board


Steering Board members meet once/month for a hour or so. Won’t you please give back to AA for what has been freely given you.

 

New Uptown House Steering Board members will be elected at our December 10th meeting, 6:30 p.m. in the basement room.

If you are a regular Uptown AA member with at least six months of sobriety (2 years for chairperson, 1 year co-chair) and if you would like a service opportunity which can benefit all of Uptown as well as enhancing your program, come to this meeting. The steering board would like to encourage new blood with fresh ideas. 

Some current officers are willing to serve another year, while others are finishing up their year or years of service. If you’re interested in serving, just come to the meeting to express your interest! Here is the lineup of positions:

Chairperson. The Chairperson facilitates the monthly steering board meeting and is the focal point for house activities and concerns.

Treasurer. The Treasurer works closely with the Bookkeeper on financial matters of the House. This member compiles pertinent financial information and gives a report at each monthly meeting.

Intergroup Rep. This member attends monthly Intergroup Steering Board Committee meetings as Uptown’s representative (on the 3rd Tuesday of the month) and compiles a brief report of activities to be reported to the Uptown Board at each meeting.

Gopher State/Picnic/Founders Day (open to Chair and Co-Chair). This chair plans for and organizes the Uptown hospitality suite at Gopher State Roundup in May and Founders Day Roundup in November. This involves coordinating the activities of the many volunteers who help in setting up the Uptown Suite for Gopher State and arranging for food. This chair also plans the location, food and activities of the Uptown picnic in September.

Communications. This chair is responsible for gathering information and publishing the Uptown Newsletter each quarter. This person also maintains the calendar of activities on the bulletin board. There is added responsibility involving the website and/or social media as needed.

General Services Representative (GSR). This member attends the local monthly GSR Committee meetings as a representative of the Uptown Group and compiles and presents a brief report of GSR activities to the Uptown Board at each meeting.

Open Meeting (open to Chair and Co-Chair). This position helps organize the monthly open speaker and medallion celebration meeting and selects the AA and Al-anon speakers. This is often a 2-year term.

Literature. This person manages literature for the House, maintains an adequate stock of all literature and keeps track of inventories, reports inventory to Bookkeeper monthly.

Outside Commitments Liaison. This member communicates with treatment centers and other groups that are interested in having members bring AA meetings to its facility, and offers these opportunities to our squads. This member also sends guidelines and letters to treatment centers and halfway houses, maintains a list of contacts, and contacts them on a regular basis.

Development. Seeks input, proposes, prioritizes and oversees the improvement of standardized group communications as directed by the Board. They maintain and oversee the House pledge drives throughout the year. This position looks for new ways that Uptown can better serve it’s members.

Facebooker.  The Steering Board is discussing a position to manage our Facebook page, perhaps with other duties.

Alcohólicos Anónimos

Our headline is AA in Spanish and the photo is the serenity prayer, likewise Espanol, as seen on the wall of Uptown House. So, what about diversity in sobriety?

by Mark H.

I was sitting in the main meeting room at Uptown House last week, looked up at the wall and saw this plaque with the serenity prayer in Spanish.

“That’s a first,” I thought to myself. And, hopefully, not the last way Uptown House reaches out to all who have a desire to stop drinking and drugging. I have no idea who posted the plaque, but good idea.

The Twin Cities, Minnesota and the country will be a better place with more sober substance abusers running around no matter the color of their skin. I have noticed people of many colors at Uptown House over the years, albeit not many in numbers. But, the AA movement would do well to welcome more diversity.

Diversity made this country greater than it would have been and the same applies to AA.

I love this quote by Martin Luther King, it sums up the issue pretty well. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Sobriety ‘World Record’!

by Mark H.

I love that fact that no matter how long I have been coming to AA and been sober (32 years this month) I am still hearing new gems of recovery wisdom at meetings.

At the Wednesday 6pm Uptown House meeting this week trusted servant Elizabeth was recognizing sobriety birthdays, and at the end, as is customary, she recognized 24 hours of sobriety, but in a way I have never hear before.

She said, “now let’s hear it for the world’s record: 24 hours!”

This gave me a chuckle because it is so true, but also because I had never heard it before and it came from such young person (20-something).

I love the fact that after 32 years, AA is still keeping it fresh with new thoughts and a touch of humor. Yes, long-term sobriety is great, but it still a one day at a time proposition. One day truly is a world’s record for the person experiencing a day of sobriety for the first time in their using careers. It is also a reminder to those of us with many years of sobriety that today is all we have, today is all that matters and we best remember it! Meeting makers make it!

Calling a single day a ‘world’s record’ is a great way to proclaim a day of sobriety for the newcomer and old timer alike.

Thanks AA, thanks Elizabeth for your wisdom, humor and keeping us coming back, one day at a time!

The ‘Marijuana Maintenance’ Program?

Not for me

by Mark H.

A couple of months ago a young man asked me to be his sponsor after a meeting at Uptown House. I said sure.

“How long have you been off alcohol and drugs?” I asked.

“My girlfriend and I haven’t drank in two weeks, but we still both smoke pot,” he replied.

“I don’t know anybody who has stayed sober on the ‘Marijuana Maintenance’ program,” I responded. I never saw that young man again.

Some consider talking about drug use in an AA setting is an outside issue, best dealt with elsewhere. But for me, however, booze and drugs were always intertwined. Booze led me to drugs and drugs would lead me back to booze every time. There is no line between the two for this alchie. Smoking pot led me to use other drugs too.

I often hear it put this way in AA. “How long have you been off mind altering substances?” This question makes no distinction between peoples’ drugs of choice (alcohol being considered a ‘drug’ in this instance.)

Its a confusing time for cross addicted folks, especially newcomers I imagine, but for us old potheads too. Pot is becoming legal all across our nation and, in fact, it is legal in the nation to our north (Canada).

My wife has worked in the mental health field for decades, she works with these folks face-to-face every day. She tells me the worst drug for those with mental illness is pot.

The debate over legalizing pot continues, but legalization is winning in most places. The worst drug of them all, of course, has been legal in this nation since 1933: booze. It remains society’s most destructive by any measure, including the on-going opioid epidemic.

I hope that young man who asked me to be his sponsor is still going to AA somewhere and has found sobriety….from all mind altering substances.

Uptown House Picnic

Come for the free chow, stay for the fellowship!

Come celebrate sobriety with some great fellowship and free chow Sunday, September 15, 11am to 2pm at beautiful Newell Park. As of September 11, we still need some folks to bring side dishes and desserts.

Directions: Get on University Avenue and go north on Fairview Avenue North. The park is on the right at Pierce Butler.

I doubt I would have stayed sober without the ‘meeting’ before and after the meeting. Fellowship with other sober folks helps keep me sober, happy and growing!

Get Out of Your Head

Speaking at AA helps others and yourself.

by Mark H.

Early sobriety was a confusing, hard time of radical change from a life of substance abusing dysfunction to living sober.

When I was about a month sober, I learned a very important lesson from an AA friend Marty. I trusted him because he was a kind and happy man.

Marty could tell I was struggling. He had some years of sobriety and knew what to suggest.

“Why don’t you come with me to this small treatment center and speak,” Marty asked me. “It will be good for you.”

The thought of exposing myself like that in front of others frightened me. I seldom even spoke in meetings at that time. And besides, I had a hard time imagining how I could help.

“What could I possibly offer them, I’ve only been sober a month?” I asked Marty.

“Well, a lot. You’ve been sober longer than all of them. Some have only been sober a few hours,” Marty responded.

Luckily, I was in that classic state of willingness, sick and tired of being sick and tired. I really didn’t know how I could help, but I agreed to speak anyway. I decided to trust Marty, I made a leap of faith.

On the way to the center, I asked Marty what I should speak about. “Tell them how you did it,” he said.

“Did what?” I asked.

“How you have stayed sober,” Marty responded.

I was still internalizing my new identity, that of a sober person. It was all so new. Marty and this experience helped me let go of my old, using identity and strengthen my new sober identity.

So, I swallowed hard and got up before a group of about 20 folks and told my story of recovery, short although it was. Nevertheless, the experience helped me start to give myself some credit for my achievement, it helped me feel good about myself, something I desperately needed back then.

The guys were appreciative and even applauded. Some of them asked questions afterward. The biggest thing I learned from speaking was the importance of getting out of myself, getting out of my very confused head, my troubled state of mind for at least an hour or so. It taught me I could find relief from my troubles in ways other than drugs and alcohol.

I also felt good about helping my fellow recovering people…..giving freely of what was freely given to me.

I never forgot the lesson Marty helped me learn that day decades ago: give to others and you also improve your own sobriety. Thanks Marty, thanks AA.

Milky Way Magic

The Milky Way’s immensity helps us wee humans keep life in perspective.

Intrepid shooter Earl W. of Uptown House took this stunning photo of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. The image is a two-photo composite, with the foreground taken at Split Rock State Park in April, the Milky Way July 3.

Earl used a Canon 6D Mark II, Tamron 15-30 F2.8 lens. The Milky Way was a 15 second exposure at f8, iso 3500; the foreground 30 seconds, iso 800 f10.

The immensity and beauty of our Milky Way galaxy reminds me of how small the Earth is and we humans that inhabit it. We are but a small cog in an infinite universe.

This truism reminds me of some wisdom an old friend from a Stillwater AA club once shared with me when I was new to sobriety and struggling mightily. He said there are two rules in life: One, don’t sweat the small stuff. Two, its mostly small stuff. I use that bit of wisdom to this day.

See you at a meeting! Meeting makers make it!

New Orientation Meeting

Leave your misery behind, join AA and start a new, better life at Uptown House’s new orientation meeting Thursdays, 7p.m.

 

Join Mike C. and the gang this Thursday, and every Thursday, 7p.m. in Room 4 upstairs for Uptown House’s new weekday, evening orientation meeting for newcomers.

Mike and friends rightly recognized the need for an orientation meeting on a weekday evening as some folks can’t make our regular weekend morning orientation meetings.

So, if you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired and are curious about AA, the best recovery program around, give Thursday’s orientation meeting a try. All you have to lose is your misery!

Clean Up Day & Pizza, This Sunday, Noon


One evening a husband returned home from work, walked into the kitchen and teased his wife, “You know, dear, I can write my name in the dust on the mantel.” She turned to him and sweetly replied, “Yes, darling, I know. That’s why I married a college graduate.”

Calling all 12-steppers! Please join us for a light clean up half day at Uptown House this Sunday, July 14, noon. We’ll go out for pizza or ? after. This is a good opportunity to give back to the house that gives to so many. Thank you.

 

Hand San On The Rocks?

Its easy to believe in the irrationality of addiction when considering the fact some people were drinking the hand san provided at Uptown House (it has since been removed.)

by Mark H.

Recently I asked a person on the Uptown House Steering Board, of which I am a member, why the House is no longer providing hand san.

Hand san has become ubiquitous in our culture to prevent the spread of disease. It is a great way to keep our hands clean, especially during influenza season, until we can wash our hands. Hand washing is still the best preventative since viruses, etc., find safe haven in hand grime.

The board member told me the hand san was removed from the club on purpose because there was a person or more drinking it for the alcohol content.

I guess I’ve been sober too long or had a high bottom because this revelation shocked me.

I do know one thing, however, addiction is irrational. “Why,” several normies have asked me over the years, “do people continue to use alcohol and drugs when it is destroying them and their lives.?”

“That is a rational question, but addiction is irrational,” I respond. This simple truism explains a lot about addictive behavior, including drinking hand san.

I wondered the same thing about myself, that is, why I behaved in certain ways when the behavior was so destructive. At some point in my early sobriety, at the urging of my sponsor and home group friends, I quit trying to figure everything out. As AA’s Big Book instructs, I just accepted the undeniable truth about myself, surrendered to Step One, asked for help and watched my life improve until this day.

And I thank AA and my higher power for that every day.

Higher Power & Door Knobs

AA encourages members seeking sobriety to find a higher power…or not.

by Mark H.

I came into AA alcoholic, angry and atheist. I mean, I went to atheist/theist debates, gave the atheists money and read their newsletter. Back then I lived in Denver, which was a big center for atheist thought and action at the time.

Alas, like abusing alcohol and drugs, I found in sobriety that atheism didn’t work for me. Neither, however, was I ever going to be part of any organized religion. I was born into a Catholic ‘family,’ but it never took. Religion was not in my genes and never would be.

Of your own choosing

Thus, I was happy to learn in those early days that AA did not advocate any specific religious and instead allows members to pick a higher power of their own choosing…..or not. If this hadn’t been the case, I would not have stayed in AA and probably would have ended up dead.

But, after some sober time, and with more time on my hands, I began taking up some old hobbies and acquiring new ones…..many of them having to do with the outdoors where I did have spiritual inklings, feelings and experiences.

Some prodding from AA and other sources also played a role. One book by Melody Beattie said studies found that many with long term sobriety had found and were following a spiritual path. This especially interested me as I really wanted to stay sober (one day at a time for the rest of my life!).

Also, and this appealed to my intellectual side, the AA Big Book says in regards to a higher power that condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance. This undeniable truth, by the way, is attributed to an 18th Century clergyman.

Evolution

So, as my mind and body cleared from 19 years of substance abuse, I began walking the first spiritual path I had ever taken in a sincere way. I must say, it felt good, right and natural for me. Now, 31 years sober, I remain a nature spiritualist. It works for me.

Just recently, however, in the last two years or so, I’ve come to realize AA is also one of my higher powers. I’ve heard many times in AA that the group or even a door knob can be your higher power. I’ve heard more than a few people, mostly newcomers, but not all of them, profess in meetings that door knobs is their higher power. This still brings a smile to my face. I still love that independent streak in people, in myself.

Roots

All this said, I do acknowledge much of AA is based on Christianity, and I live in a largely Christian society, although that is changing now.

Like AA, I don’t care what brand of spirituality you are or not. What I really care about is alcoholic people getting into recovery and staying sober for today.

May The Force Be With You!!! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!!)

The “We’ In Step One

Surviving a breakup

by Chris C.

The ‘we’ in Step one is helping me survive a painful breakup without resorting to alcohol and drugs.

When I was active in letting my disease run my life, I always felt a prevailing sense of loneliness and isolation. I had always, as far back as I can remember, felt isolated and different from everyone else around me. In time, this led to complete physical and, more painfully, emotional isolation.

I did not feel I had a way to discuss how I was truly feeling and what I was truly experiencing with anyone around me. For a long time, the only thing that ever truly relieved the absolute dread and terror of emotional isolation was the bottle and drugs. Then those stopped working.

I was at the precipice of the tallest cliff overlooking the deepest pit. By the grace of my higher power, which I call God, I was given the opportunity to surrender and a new door called sobriety opened.

Honesty
Honesty, for the early part of my sobriety, simply meant not lying. This was in and of itself an incredibly daunting task. My entire life had been built up around lies: lying about school, lying about what I was doing, lying about who I was with. I lied to my parents, family, friends, romantic partners and, most tragically, myself.

But when I admitted Step One it opened a door that has led to tremendous changes in my life, a new way of dealing with the pain caused this recent romantic breakup with a woman I really loved.

At age 26, I am in the absolute worst emotional pain I have experienced sober. Pain can open doors, though, and that is what happened at a recent First Step meeting in the Uptown House suite (sweet). I now understand the ‘we’ and ‘honesty’ of the First Step and am hanging onto it for all I am worth.

I am at a point in my life where I can come into AA, reach out to any one of you, friend or stranger or newcomer, and look you in the eyes and say “I am not okay.”

I can sit in that suite (sweet) and just let myself feel. I can be completely transparent to you. I need not worry about judgement, rejection, or shifty looks. I do not have to do any of this alone. All of you, literally every single one of you, are the only ones helping me overcome my feelings of hopelessness and pain. You give me hope for the future, for a good life.

I now realize I do not have to endure this painful breakup alone. I never have to be alone again because I have AA, I have you.

I have faith that all of you will always be there for me. In the darkest of times, I know I can always come to any AA meeting in any city or state in the country, and I can just cry and say that “I am not okay” and you will understand.

Nothing can make me give this up.

My sponsor told me, “You know Chris, sometimes it is completely okay not be okay.”

He’s correct, I can make it through this breakup without using. I never again have to take a drink to escape or numb or hide from my painful feelings. I never again have to experience the bad things in life, the bad feelings or thoughts alone.

My AA ‘family’ has truly shown me what it means to be part of God’s love. I am so grateful to have all of you in my life. Thank you.