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.

One Special Tuesday

And how it brought a father and his daughter closer

By Jim B.

I got sober on a Tuesday.

I remember this because my oldest daughter, home from her first year away at college, walked into our home and said, “you’re a drunk and need to get to an AA meeting.”

She said some other sober and sobering things which got my attention. I attended a meeting that night.

I remember that Tuesday, in part, because as a librarian of the reference variety, I have a knack for numbers and dates. I am known, far and wide, for having answers. But I do, however, have a mild resentment toward Google, the competition. I am working on it.

I also remember that fateful Tuesday because after my second AA meeting that Wednesday I made a visit to Half Price Books on Ford Parkway to see if I could find a satisfactory copy of the Big Book. I found at least six hard-bound copies. I picked up the first one and began paging through it. No index! All the highlighting! The marginal notes! What kind of a manual for living doesn’t have an index?

When I picked up the last copy I was surprised to see, scrawled across the two blank pages of the inside cover, this inscription, “Welcome Jim.”

I immediately put it back on the shelf and promptly left the store. I was rattled. It seemed as if AA had been patiently waiting for my arrival.

Later on I shared with a sober brother that I had been to an AA meeting. He made several suggestions: attend 90 meetings in 90 days, get a sponsor and, lastly, buy a Big Book!

So that Friday, after attending four consecutive AA meetings, I returned to Half Price Books. I knew right where to go. But, much to my surprise, all the hardcover copies were gone! But, on a display standing right in front of me was a blue soft cover copy. I picked it up with some hesitation, and there on the inside cover, written in the most beautiful longhand was this little note: “To my good friend Jim. May your recovery stay as fresh as it is today! Your friend, Brother Gerry.” That book is with me still today.

Indeed, my sobriety has remained fresh because I have learned to surrender, acknowledge my powerlessness and accept things as they are. I pray and make quiet time for myself. I consciously practice gratitude and the AA principles.

Today, I have over 34 months of sobriety. I did do 90 in 90 and still get to as many meetings as a I can. I have a sponsor, carry our message to the best of my ability and know I don’t have all the answers.

And most especially, that first ‘Tuesday” has come full circle: Last week my middle daughter spontaneously hugged me in the kitchen and said, “thank you for taking care of me. I like you sober.”

I kissed the top of her head and said, “I like me sober too.”

Powerless

by Max R.

     Whether I am in active or inactive addiction, my sense-of-self is distorted to the point I believe I am not an alcoholic or addict. But it is not a lack of understanding of my condition that leads me to engage in these behaviors. The denial that I am an addict-alcoholic qualifies me as one. This is not illogical. I am neurologically vulnerable to pursue intoxication. Yet, I am still accountable for my actions. I do selfish irresponsible things because I’m an addict, and I’m an addict because I can’t stop doing these selfish irresponsible things, even when I want to.
    My addictive tendencies are rather predictable, and make sense medically, while my reasoning to pick up another drink or take part in further substance abuse is far from logical. The thought process behind this behavior is illogical, not the addiction itself.
    This is why it is extremely difficult to bring me to a rational enlightenment that my thinking is flawed. Just as it’s difficult to engage in a logical discussion with a hysterical person, it is almost impossible to argue logically with a person in active addiction or thinking addictively.
    From my first use to my first day of sobriety last December 2, I had gone through countless cycles of abstinence and extended periods of heavy using. The long periods of abstinence eventually make me miss using and my long periods of use make me miss sobriety.
    Countless times have I lost my sobriety in an attempt to challenge my disease when it turned out the only thing being challenged was my ego, and my ego always lost. My disease tells me “I obviously don’t have a problem anymore.”
    But, from attendance at AA and other therapeutic meetings, and listening to the stories of other alcoholics and addicts, I know I’m powerless over my disease of addiction.

Uptown House Member’s Photo to be Featured in Grapevine’s 2020 Calendar

This photo of a monarch butterfly on a purple cone flower by Earl W., Uptown House treasurer, will be in the Grapevine’s 2020 Calendar.

Earl W., Uptown House Steering Board treasurer, will have one of his photos featured in the 2020 AA Grapevine calendar. His beautiful photo of a monarch butterfly on a purple cone flower, a native wild flower, was one of 12 photos selected to be included in the Grapevine’s 2020 calendar. The Grapevine is AA’s national magazine.

Earl’s love for photography started in his teens and continued with the exception of a five-year period before he found AA and recovery.

“The five years before I found the solution was a very dark time in my life,” Earl said. “I lost my enthusiasm for photography. As I succumbed to the disease of alcoholism, the desire to take pictures left me. I knew the focus it took to be the photographer I wanted to be. I knew it no longer existed within me. Fortunately, I sought help through Hazelden. Through intensive and ongoing work with Alcoholics Anonymous, I found a renewed enthuiasim for the art. I now find time behind the lens to be very spiritual. It is my way of seeking 11th step meditation.”

Earl then noticed the Grapevine magazine was holding a contest for its 2020 calendar and submitted several photos for consideration. He was surprised and humbled to have his monarch butterfly photo selected to be included in the May spot on the calendar.

“I now consider myself more than just a hobby photographer, having had my work published in magazines and showcased in galleries all over the world,” Earl said. “My photography career is now focused on landscape, wildlife and architecture.”

A Walk to Remember

by Kimmie O.

I remember walking in to my first AA meeting. I was already a few months sober. I held out as long as I possibly could during my months of treatment from attending one of those meetings. I went through detox and successfully finished outpatient therapy. Although discussed in great length during treatment, I saw no need to join those people. At my last group session, I was told by my counselor, “Kimmie, it’s time.”

“What?! Time? Time for what?” I thought. I didn’t want to hear those words. I didn’t want to leave my little recovery group. I just wanted to stay where I was. And at this time, I was in the comfort of my own home attending what is now considered a pretty remarkable concept in substance abuse treatment: online, intensive outpatient therapy. And the first four months of my sobriety, I developed the ideology that I could remain completely anonymous in my disease. “I’ve been doing just fine without AA,” I thought. “I most certainly do not need it now.”

I was clean for six months and doing very well (even had a neat sober app show my 183 days of clean time to prove it). I had my textbooks on addiction, my pamphlet from recovery, and my journal from outpatient therapy. I was golden, “What’s a big book anyway?”

I found every way to convince myself that attending AA was pointless. It’s full of crazy people. It’s nothing but a bunch of old fuddy-duds yammering away about fishing tales. It probably smells like cigarettes in a cloudy room full of raspy, middle-aged women. Or the worst of them all, it’s really a place for preying men to pick up vulnerable chicks. No sir. There was no 90-in-90 for me. I was perfectly fine without AA.

It’s amazing how easily I allowed fear to set it. I could not imagine attending a meeting in my town. Surely, people would see me and know that I was an alcoholic. I found comfort behind my computer screen instead. So, I did what any level-headed alcoholic would do; I hid.

It wasn’t until a friend of mine in long-term recovery convinced me to set foot into a coffee-guzzling, AA Big Book-doting, long stairwell into a church room that I had the courage to attend my first AA meeting. I decided to finally attend AA because I did not want to continue the stigma of alcoholism. There’s more to life than just stopping the drinking. That’s only one aspect of recovery. I became willing to the idea that recovery was a way of life, not just an act of abstinence. I also realized this is where the big book comes into play. AA is simply a group of people who have one thing in common, their desire to quit drinking. And the big book is an instructional manual of sorts to help me along this journey.

So I gave in and went to my first AA meeting with my friend. The club was in the most northern part of Minnesota you could be in without crossing into Canada, in a small town called Baudette.

Even with the support from my friend, I was scared and intimidated, “They’re all going to stare at me,” I thought. But no one did. Instead, they smiled and shared stories of how they overcame their own struggles.

“Surely, they’ll judge me,” I thought. But they did not. Rather, they opened up, showed their vulnerabilities and imperfections to others.

“I don’t belong here with these people,” I argued to myself. But, for the first time in my life, I felt more at home than anywhere else.

For the first time, I wasn’t judged. For the first time, I wasn’t shamed. And for the first time, I felt the presence of a new family that promised to welcome me back with open arms without any reservations.

And return, I did.

Three years ago, I fell in love with these rooms and the people who frequent them. I now frequent the Uptown House during my many visits into the cities.

Whether I’m in town for a few hours or a few weeks, I always find my way home. This home. The Uptown House.

In all their perfect imperfections, they are my kind of people. They are my family now. And I wouldn’t trade any of them.

My Mantra is: Meeting Makers Make It

by Mark H.

“Meeting makers make it” is my mantra. I’ll tell you why.

Last week I chaired a first step meeting at Uptown House. Every seat was filled, mostly with 20- and 30-somethings, most new to sobriety.

I started the meeting thus: “What do you think is the first thing someone says after they leave AA, start using again and then came back?”

“I quit going to meetings!” most the crowd called out. So true!

Of course, there’s much more to AA than meetings, but I access all the other aspects of AA by going to meetings. Chief among these aspects off AA is a safe haven to tell my story and to hear other alcoholics/addicts tell theirs, but also listening to folks read the Big Book and 12×12 book, the opportunity to discuss your own life, work the 12 steps, finding sponsors, learning about sober events after meetings, finding fellowship like going out with friends before/after meetings, hot coffee, service opportunities and more.

Sober evolution
I didn’t want to be an alcoholic, I didn’t want to go to AA, but I didn’t want to end up in jail or die either. When that’s the choice, the choice is easy.

When I first joined AA, I kept coming back because I was terrified of where my life was and where it was going. I needed a way out and was hopeful that AA would work for me.

A few months in, I had a three-month slip (Sobriety Lost Its Priority) before returning to AA. Then, after achieving a few years of sobriety, I started to  identify as a person in recovery. AA had become a big part of my personal identity. (AA isn’t my entire life, rather it guides my entire life.)

Then, a few years later, I was given a powerful reminder why meeting makers make it. I was getting a bit bored in sobriety (I needed to do more with my sobriety and life) until I heard one man speak in a meeting. He said he had had 15 years of sobriety, but quit going to meetings and ended up drunk again for some time.

I was used to hearing about newcomers going back out to drink, but never someone with 15 years of sobriety doing it! His story was a powerful reminder why meeting makers make it. The man has stayed sober since and so have I. 

Several times over the years I’ve had ‘normies’ ask me, “You’ve been sober all these years and you STILL need to go to those meetings?”

My response is always, “No, I have been sober this long BECAUSE I go to those meetings!”

If you’d like to comment on this story, please email Mark H. at info@uptowngroupstpaul.com

‘The Easier, Softer Way,’ Or ‘Half Measures Availed us Nothing’

The easier, softer way may be nice in the short run, but in the long run it leads to failure.

by Mark H.

Feedback welcomed, please send to: info@uptowngroupstpaul.com

A few months ago at Uptown Club a man in his 20s asked if I would be his sponsor. Before agreeing to sponsor someone, I always ask a few questions, like when was the last time they used (alcohol or drugs) and do they have a desire to stay sober.

“Alcohol you mean?” the man asked.

“Yes,” I answered, “and drugs?”

“Well,” the young man said, “my girlfriend and I haven’t drank in a few weeks, but we still use marijuana.”

I have heard this response before, and told the young man, “I have never met the person who could stay sober from alcohol by using the ‘marijuana maintenance program.’ “

Our conversation soon ended, and I never saw or heard from the man again.

I’ll speak for myself here as that is the AA way, but as a former 16-year pot user I believe using pot would be a loss of sobriety and would eventually lead me back to drinking and the inevitable “jails, institutions and death.” Some clubs consider discussing drugs a forbidden ‘outside issue,’ but abuse of alcohol and drugs more times than not go together for many, if not most folks who come to AA.

I’ve talked to and met others on the marijuana maintenance program (aka drug addiction) throughout my many years of sobriety, so I don’t think this is a new phenomenon. Using pot just continues the full flight from reality for alcoholics/addicts. There is no way around it. There is just no easier, softer way.

I am glad I gave that young man a dose of sobriety truth. I know I sure needed honesty when I was newly sober. Indeed, I never would have got sober or remained that way without AA honesty.

I hope that young man someday finds his way back to the halls of AA, but this time with a desire to truly get and stay sober.

Leaps of Faith

by Mark H.

Feedback welcomed, send to: info@uptowngroupstpaul.com

I started using alcohol (age 13) and drugs (age 15) to cope with my dysfunctional family and life’s challenges outside my toxic home life.

Later, at age 32, with a common-law wife and two children and a fulltime job, the alcohol and drugs weren’t working anymore. In fact, they were making my life worse. That year I found myself divorced, alone and hurting bad (as was my lost family).

I had a sober co-worker, though, who I had been sharing my problems with for about two years. He kindly listened, told me how AA had helped him and always told me, “If you are ever about to drink, but don’t want to (the only requirement for AA membership), call me first.”

One day I went on a drive to get away and consider my plight. I was drinking and drugging, then realized I was behaving like I did when I was a teenager. I knew my old coping mechanisms weren’t working anymore. I had to try something else.

The first little leap

Not long after the drive, I was home alone on a Saturday afternoon hurting and looking for a way out. I walked over to the refrigerator, pulled out a wine cooler, but then hesitated. I could hear my friend inviting me to call him before I drank.

So, I took that first leap of faith by calling my friend. I humbled myself and asked for help. This was a new strength I was use again.

“Dump that shit down the drain,” my friend said, and I did!

He then told me to call the AA Central Office and ask for a nearby meeting.

“I can’t go alone, its just too scary,” I told him.

“Don’t worry, ask for someone to pick you up,” he said.

“Really, someone will pick me up?” I just couldn’t believe strangers cared that much.

So, I humbled myself again and asked for help. I didn’t think anyone would care enough to do a stranger this favor, but sure enough an older man came to my house and took me to my first meeting. His kindness impressed me. It was Labor Day 1986.

I was scared stiff at that first meeting, but I stayed because I was even more frightened by the direction my life was taking. I told a few folks this was my first meeting. They welcomed me and invited me to a sober picnic that day at a nearby park. I went and had fun, but still looked around the whole park for people using. I really couldn’t believe no one was drinking or using drug. But, no one was. That impressed me too.

I stayed in AA and sober for a few months, but then went back to using. But AA, even that little bit, had ruined my drinking. The notion that “ignorance is bliss” made using easy, but I wasn’t ignorant about substance abuse anymore and the drugs and alcohol still weren’t working.

So, I reluctantly went back to AA in October 1987 and, like they said, ‘we don’t shoot our wounded.’ Much to my relief, the group welcomed me back. I wasn’t sure I wanted to quit drinking/drugging or be in AA, but I didn’t want to die or end up in jail either.

“Give AA a chance,” they told me. “The only thing you have to lose is your misery. And if AA is not for you, got back out. Your misery will be cheerfully refunded.” Those words stayed with me then and still.

The Big Leap

This time back at AA I really began to debate whether I was an alcoholic or not, whether or not I should admit Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.

I read the Big Book, took diagnostic surveys, discussed the matter with fellow AA members and debated the issue with myself for about nine months. I was becoming the Great Debator at my club. My sober friends would tell me: “Analysis is paralysis.” Indeed, that was me. Still looking, perhaps, for a way out?

Life was still a struggle, especially now since I was between two worlds: No longer using, but not fully embracing AA’s help either.

Then, one day I just decided to take Step One to heart. Much to my surprise, the transformation and relief was immediate. Being on the fence is hard work, much harder than ‘making a decision.”

I had finally ‘walked through door” and made the great leap of faith, come what may. I didn’t know if this path would work, but at least I had picked a lane! I hoped it would work.

Its not easy to leave an old life and build a new one, but once I admitted Step One I was exhilarated by the fact I had admitted the truth about myself and, just as important, what to do about it: 90 meetings in 90 days, get a sponsor, do the steps, find a higher power and unload my using friends and places.

AA was my life back then until I built a new, sober life, which took about two years. Now, AA guides my life.

My first home club always ended meetings by saying “Keep coming back, it works if you work it.” New comers and old timers alike told me my life will get better the longer I stayed sober and participated in AA. “Meeting makers make it” is one of my steadfast mantras.

Starting with those first few months and years sober, the promises of AA have come to pass. Every year sober my life has improved thanks to AA.


Remember the Fallen

by Mark H.

Feedback welcomed, please send to: info@uptowngroupstpaul.com

I had two best friends in high school here in Minnesota in the early 1970s. One of them was Randy. Like most high school friends, we spent a lot of time together, we double dated, fished, hunted, had parties, pig roasts, listened to music, debated the issues of the day, attended wildlife conservation banquets, you name it. We also used a lot of drugs and alcohol. We were partners in addiction.

After high school, I moved west, Randy stayed in Minnesota. Seven years later I hit my bottom, sobered up and moved back to Minnesota 1.5 years sober. I heard Randy was having a hard time at life, so I gave him a call.

Randy was glad to hear from me, but mad I waited so long to contact him. I explained that to protect my sobriety I had to stay away from old using friends. He sounded intoxicated as he cursed me out for keeping my distance. Then, Randy started to talk about the problems in his life such as the inability to have children, dissatisfaction with his job and comparing himself unfavorably to others who had achieved more. He was being real hard on himself and then confessed he was drinking too much.

“It doesn’t have to be that way, Randy,” I said, hoping he’d consider starting down the road to sobriety.

Alas, Randy would have no part of such a conversation, he changed the subject and soon our chat was over. It would be our last. A few years later he collapsed into a coma as his liver and pancreas shut down. Three days later he was dead. I went to his funeral, looked at the photos of his life displayed on bulletin boards, talked to old friends and wept when a mutual friend and I embraced.

Another old friend shoved a photo in my face of me with a joint in one hand and a beer in the other, threatening to use it against me in case I ratted him out. He snapped the photo out of my hand and walked away. I remember being that afraid, paranoid and angry and was grateful I wasn’t in that world anymore.

We went back to Randy’s house after the funeral to relive old, fonder memories of our dead friend. There, I pulled his grieving mother aside and told her I had extended the hand of sobriety to Randy, but that he would not take it. She thanked me for trying. I later made a donation to a wildlife conservation group in Randy’s name. They gave me a certificate in his name, which I sent to his mother.

Randy has been gone some 20 years now. I think of him and the fun times we had those many years ago. We had a lot of laughs and adventures. I learned some things from Randy too, he was a smart guy. Many other Americans have been killed by addiction since Randy, but thanks to AA, I have not been one of them.


Have a Sober New Year

Greetings, I am Mark H., your new Uptown Club Steering Board Communications volunteer. I hope to breathe new life into the club’s heretofore neglected website and revive it as a tool for recovery.

New Year’s Eve Party

Speaking of revival, my wife, a normie, and I intend to start the new year at the Recovery Church’s New Year’s Eve party! Join us. The church is at 253 State Street in St. Paul (651.291.1371). The sober fun begins at 6pm with food, games, movie, dance and fellowship.

I don’t think I would have been able to stay sober in my early months (or today, for that matter) of sobriety without ‘the meeting after the meeting.’ The Recovery Church New Year’s Eve party is a great way for me to live the sober life outside of the AA club setting. I hope to see you there.

Question?

Is using alcohol-based mouth wash to cure and prevent gum disease a wise thing for a person in recovery to do?

I’ll get things started: For years a friend refused to use such mouth wash until gum disease set in and his dentist told him he better start using it or he’ll lose some teeth. So, the friend started using it and hase had no problems since. He just swishes and spits it out. His gum disease was eliminated and has been kept at bay since (he also used another, prescription mouth wash at first, underwent other treatments and has regular cleanings).

A friend warned the man, however, that some people abuse alcohol-based mouth wash. The man countered, saying if he was new to recovery, first year or two, he would not use it. He looks at the mouth wash as much needed medicine.

Your thoughts and experiences?