31 August 2007

My failed attempt at an audio post

I went for a walk this afternoon. I've been trying to walk every day for at least 30 minutes. Today's walk was a little longer (about 4 km) because I wanted to run some errands on the way. I took my mini-tape recorder, which I often have with me, to dictate reminders to myself of things I want to do. About half a kilometer into my walk, it occurred to me that I could dictate a post for this blog. Then almost immediately I realized I could try to make it an audio post—something I've never tried before on any blog. So I recorded a brief one as an experiment.

Later on I tried getting the audio onto my computer. First I tried my Linux computer. I couldn't figure out how to get sound recording working and after a while gave up. Then I tried my Windows computer. With a little bit of effort, I succeeded, using only the Sound Record that ships with Windows. Unfortunately, it won't create files more than 1 minute long. So now I have 5 one-minute sound files ready to be uploaded. I'm not happy about having that many files, but hey, it's just an experiment.

However, in the process of getting the recording onto my computer, I realized how confusing and hard to understand it is what I'm saying. So I'm reluctant to proceed. Perhaps later tonight I'll post the substance of what I had to say in a written post. But first there's something else I want to address. Stay tuned!

28 August 2007

Early signs of Autumn

The leaves on a dogwood tree are starting to turn color and a few have even fallen to the ground already:
Dogwood tree with leaves starting to turn color, a few of which have fallen to the groundClose-up of leaves on another dogwood (again, note the couple of fallen leaves):
Close-up of a few dozen dogwood leaves, one of which has turned yellow and a few others of which are turning red at the edgesBerries forming an a third dogwood:Half a dozen dogwood leaves with a cluster of berries, a fly and a few yellowed leaves in the backgroundLeaves on a Japanese maple (?) have turned bright red:
A cluster of Japanese maple leaves that have turned redAll these photos were taken at our house today in 32.2°C (89.9°F) weather. Clicking on the images will load much larger versions (2.0-3.4 MB).

If my whole life were condensed to fit in one year, on Saturday (at about 3:15 PM) I would be as old as I actually am right now1. So in some artificial way2 these pictures represent exactly where I am in my life right now (I know—I have too much time and not enough to do).

1 Assuming I live to be 86 years old, which I have some whimsical reason to believe, and that I die smack dab in the middle of that year.
2 It would probably be less artificial to use a year that starts and ends of the winter solstice, which case this milestone would have been about 10 days earlier.

Deep, dark secrets

Today's entry from Daily Reflections:
Lightening the Burden

Showing others who suffer how we were given help is the very thing which makes life seem so worth while to us now.... the dark past is... the key to life and happiness for others.

Since I have been sober, I have been healed of many pains: deceiving my partner, deserting my best friend, and spoiling my mother's hopes for my life. In each case someone in the program told me of a similar problem, and I was able to share what happened to me. When my story was told, both of us got up with lighter hearts.
Backlit Silhouette of a man typing at a computer in front of Venetian blindsThis remains one of the great miracles of the program: that by working the steps the horror of my past has been diminished and has even become a useful tool for helping others. Like so many of us, I had deep, dark secrets that I carried for decades, intending to keep them hidden from view forever.

Of course, I knew about them. When I drank, I could momentarily forget them. At the same time, drunk, I was often adding to the list of horrors that I didn't want to face. And when I wasn't drunk, I also knew that God knew.

Today, the guilt and shame are not gone. But they've been greatly diminished, so much so that I've shared the scariest and most disturbing of this history with more than one person (though I try to do so only when it seem called for, not exhibitionistically1): a sponsor, therapists, my wife2 and others. I have to assume this has primarily been a result of working Steps 4, 5, 8 and 9.

It's nice to think that I won't be sharing my coffin with these horrors. ☺

1 Is this really a word? Blogger didn't flag is as misspelled, though I can't find it on Bartleby.com.

2 I'm certainly not recommending this. At times I reget it. At other times, when I reflect on it, I'm happy I did. Be careful, be very, very careful!

More sleep

Homer Simpson sleepingI resisted the temptation to take an afternoon nap yesterday. I assume that as a consequence I slept for almost 7 hours last night, still less than I usually need. And it was good sleep. I guess my body wants to average more than 4½ hours a night, LOL!. Nevertheless, I'm still feeling great!

27 August 2007

Manic Monday

My state of euphoria without anti-depressants continues. After going to bed at midnight and falling asleep a shortly after 1:30, I woke up at 5:30 this morning and got up shortly after 6:00. The last three nights I've averaged about 4½ hours sleep. Not because I'm sleeping poorly. But because I'm waking up full of energy, unable to go back to sleep. And I am definitely not a morning person. LOL!

I wonder if this is anything like what it feels like to be manic. It happened to me once before. I was around 4 years sober, clearly headed into a divorce. Somehow I had come to the realization that my life could be great despite my circumstances, if I just let it. I thought I ought to be feeling like my life was falling apart, but I was—energetic, aware and needing little sleep. I didn't wind up crashing either.

The step-children have been back for more than a full day; it was nice while it lasted. Had another very frustrating interaction with Nimue, which I handled a little better than I often do. These kinds of things have been prime suspects for the cause—whatever that means—of my depression in the past, at least in my own mind. Nevertheless, the good mood continues for now.

26 August 2007

Channeling HP

Today's entry from Daily Reflections:
Giving It Away

Though they knew they must help other alcoholics if they would remain sober, that motive became secondary. It was transcended by the happiness they found in giving themselves to others.
Alcoholics Anonymous, p.159

Those words, for me, refer to a transference of power, through which God, as I understand Him, enters my life. Through prayer and meditation, I open channels, then I establish and improve my conscious contact with God. Through action I then receive the power I need to maintain my sobriety each day. By maintaining my spiritual condition, by giving away what has been freely given to me, I am granted a daily reprieve.
Early in sobriety, I would have been skeptical that I could ever practice the 12th step because of the joy I received rather than because it would keep me sober. Today, I absolutely know that's true. Sometimes, I even experience it!

It is not only a way for the Higher Power to enter my life. It is a way for him/her/it to enter the lives of those I help. For whatever reason, the Higher Power cannot or does not express love for us mortals directly (at least in my experience). I think instead he/she/it relies on us to establish contact with other people and, when we are open to being such channels, his/her/its love flows through us and into the other person. The steps of A.A. (also the Ten Commandments and probably the precepts of other—non-Jewish, non-Christian, non-Islamic—religions, as well as the moral precepts of right vs. wrong that most people learn as children) can be seen as suggestions as to how to prepare ourselves to become such channels.

Updated at 23:40 26 Aug:

Whoops! Forgot to give it a title.

25 August 2007

Big Book leather cover

Here's a picture of my Big Book (it's a 15-year old 3rd edition). The leather cover was a gift, given me by Revson shortly after he started attending A.A. On top of it sit the business card of the artist who made the cover and my latest sobriety medallion. If you can't read her business card, here's what it says (slightly modified—I've mangled her her phone number and e-mail address):
Leather Book Covers
100% Handmade Custom Personalized
For Recovery Books
Narcotics Anonymous/Alcoholics Anonymous

Sharon Diehl
Leather Artist
Woodstock, GA
ShaForNA91 at yahoo dot com
Covering & protecting books that change lives!
The personalized part, at least in the case of mine, means my first name, last initial and sobriety date emblazoned on the front inside flap. If you're interested in getting one from her, I suggest you e-mail her.

New pic of me

Namenlosen Trinker's eyesI'm retiring the headshot I've been using since I first started blogging 3 or so years ago. This one's an actual picture of me, or at least of one of what I think is my best features: my eyes. The old skull X-ray seemed too impersonal, though it was certainly anonymous. This one might have been better, or this one, but for now I think I'll stick with the real me.

The simple truth about me

I love the succinctness and plain honesty of today's entry from Daily Reflections:
The Gift of Bonding

Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.
Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 63

Many times in my alcoholic state, I drank to establish a bond between myself and others, but I succeeded only in establishing the bondage of alcoholic loneliness. Through the A.A. way of life, I have received the gift of bonding—with those who were there before me, with those who are there now, and with those yet to come. For this gracious gift from God, I am forever grateful.
I can so identify!

24 August 2007

My new pink cloud

OK. I got frustrated by the difficulty of filling my replacement script for fluoxetine (Prozac). I was pissed and then grudgingly pleased to discover it was the pharmacy's fault all along but pleased at how easy it was to finally get it filled. But now I'm very surprised to realize that I'm feeling much better this week. More energy. Getting more done. Waking more easily. Sleeping far better (I knew all along Prozac was giving me sleeping problems for the several years I've been taking it). What to do?

Alf, LaTroy and Thorn (step-children) are out-of-state visiting Mobs Sissy (their sister) and Deadbeat Dad (their father). Alf was away the week before. Maybe that's why I feel so good.

I've broken some bad habits I was getting into. Maybe that's why I feel better.

Mom and Dad seem to have recovered their health. Both being 85, that's no small accomplishment. While Ferdinand and OneEighty, Sis and Dean-o, Doppelganger and HennaLoge, and Nimue and I—and some of our children as well—were providing them meals and doing their chores, I was mentally preparing myself for the possibility of devoting a substantial portion of my life to their care. Even to the point of possibly having to resign my service position. But they're back on their own.

Maybe it's just part of the normal cycle of ups and downs and I'd forgotten how good the ups can be.

Nah, I don't think so. My fantasy when I first had trouble with the prescription was that I'd get so depressed I'd kill myself and then Nimue and my children could sue the pharmacy for causing my death. That's about as close to a suicidal thought as I ever get. Still it's a bad sign. The week before last was not particularly good. Nimue and I had some disagreements. I felt depressed.

I've been off the Prozac for about 3 weeks now. With a half-life of 2 weeks, the level in my body would be about a third of what it's been for several years (except for my two brief voluntary experiments to see how I felt if I went off it). Is that a good level for me currently? If so I could cut back to 20mg per day from 60.

I discussed my situation a little with AdenineLush this afternoon, while we were talking on another matter. As I said then, the replacement medicine hasn't shown up yet, so I don't need to decide right now. While not a medical professional, she has quite a bit of practical knowledge about psychoactive drugs. I expected her to be skeptical about me going off the stuff, but after asking me a few questions, she wasn't.

This again raises in my mind questions about the interplay of the chemical and the spiritual. Once more, will I have found myself struggling with what I thought were spiritual issues, when all along they were only chemical deficiencies (or surpluses) in my brain? I've got to learn to do my best and simply leave the outcomes in the merciful hands of my Higher Power.


Speaking of the afterlife, I ran across this today and got a nice chuckle out of it:

Creator's comment: Fifth dynasty hieroglyphic depicting a misplaced afterlife.


Today's entry from Daily Reflections:
A Riddle That Works

It may be possible to find explanations of spiritual experiences such as ours, but I have often tried to explain my own and have succeeded only in giving the story of it. I know the feeling it gave me and the results it has brought, but I realize I may never fully understand its deeper why and how.
As Bill Sees It, p. 313
Words are natural things, non-spiritual. Therefore they are very limited. Feelings are spiritual. Therefore they are unlimited, full of nuance and variety. It is similar with thoughts, though perhaps to a lesser degree. If we hear a limited explanation—in words—that resonates with our previous experience, we are perhaps able to recall the feelings associated with our experience. But in truth, we really have no idea whether what we're recalling bears any relation to what's being described. When I say something is red, how can I have any idea whether your subjective experience of Bottle and glass of red winered is the same as mine? There's doubtless scientific evidence—though I'm not familiar with it and too lazy to look it up right now—that my physical eyes and physical brain react similarly to electromagnetic radiation in the wavelength we call red. I myself trust that it does bear such a relation, to a lesser or greater degree.

Furthermore, I believe that after we die, our spirits live on. Our feelings continue, our communications with other spirits continues, but not with words, with a kind of spiritual language that allows us to express exactly what we are feeling and thinking. Furthermore, we become unable to dissemble, because doing so involves making our physical selves to speak and act differently than we really think and feel (some of us are better at this than others).

So who do we hang out with after we die? I think it's with people with whom we're compatible. Today I hang out with a bunch of recovering alcoholics, especially with those who are active in service. Back in the day, I hung out with a completely different crowd: the crowd that still gets together in the bars and clubs and parties I used to frequent. The places may change physically, but spiritually I'm sure they haven't changed much. And that, I believe, gives me a clue as to what are really meant by heaven and hell.

As I've heard in the rooms, "Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell; A.A. is for people who have been there and don't want to go back."

23 August 2007

A Night of Celebration

Obverse side of sobriety medallion
I received my 15-year medallion tonight from The Rock during the 38th Anniversary of my regular Thursday night group. About 80 people showed up, 4 times the normal attendance. One of those 80 was Diego, who went on a two-week vacation in early July and hadn't been heard from since, despite a number of us making many calls to him. He now has two days sobriety and had the least time of anyone.

The speaker was Abbott, with 45 years of continuous sobriety—the most of anyone. Several things in his story struck me.

Early on in 1962, he was taken across the river and, on the way, told he was going to speak at the meeting.

"No," he protested, "I've only got six weeks!"

"Don't worry about it," he was told.

"Look, I'm so new I can barely figure out what I'm thinking at any given moment!"

"It'll be okay."

"No, I've got nothing to say! I'll be done in two minutes."

"Look kid," they finally said. "It's easy. All ya gotta do is talk and talk and talk and talk. If you hear yourself saying something you don't like, just don't say it next time. It's all lies anyway."

He talked about a time when he drove to the VFW for a night of drinking. Early in the morning he had come to, but the place was deserted. Finding it strange that no one was there, he went outside to see only two cars in the parking lot. Both were his. Apparently he had gotten so drunk, someone had driven him home. He had simply gotten in his other car and driven back.

He once met and heard Bill W.'s friend whom he call "Jim" who, as described on pp. 35-37 of the Big Book, found himself working for the concern he used to own and who had the insane idea that he could mix an ounce whiskey with his milk without being hurt. Only Abbott called him "Fred." I wonder if that was his real name? Anyway, I'm awed by these old-timers who actually knew the people talked about in the Big Book (one of my ambitions is to try to figure out who each person referred to really was and compile a list).

He closed by saying, "When I'm right with God, I can be right with myself. And when I'm right with myself, I can be right with you." I like that.

... in all our affairs

One of my least favorite entries from Daily Reflections is today's.

Bringing The Message Home

Can we bring the same spirit of love and tolerance into our sometimes deranged family lives that we bring to our A.A. group?

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp. 111 -112

My family members suffer from the effects of my disease. Loving and accepting them as they are—just as I love and accept A.A. members—fosters a return of love, tolerance and harmony to my life. Using common courtesy and respecting other's personal boundaries are necessary practices for all areas of my life.

Daily Reflections for August 23

It says, "My family members suffer...". It does not say, "My family members used to suffer when I was still drinking...". Practicing these principles in the rooms of A.A. is so much easier than practicing them everywhere else, especially at home.

Nimue1 can be co-dependent, critical, self-righteous and controlling. Just my opinion, LOL. In addition, she's generally an overly permissive parent. Do I need to point out that this sometimes leads to havoc in my own life? Still, her own brother, in telling me what a hero I was to him and his brothers for hanging in with this marriage, paraphrased Rev. Timothy LoveJoy from the Simpsons
Rev. Tim Lovejoy telling Marge Simpson,Marge Simpson, "As a trained marriage counselor, this is the first instance where I've ever told one partner that they were 100% right. It's all his fault. I'm willing to put that on a certificate you can frame."2

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions says, "It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us." And I believe it.

The truth of this axiom hit me in the gut four years before I got sober (and more than eight years before we divorced), when Bitter Cookie announced that she had received an offer to go live with Idlerich and was thinking about taking him up on it. It knocked the wind out of me spiritually and, for whatever reason, led to the realization that I couldn't save the marriage by trying to change her.

Today I am trying to remember to use my own version of the 4th step prayer3:

God, help me to show this person the same tolerance, pity, and patience that I would cheerfully grant a sick friend. This is a sick person, like me. How can I be helpful to them? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.

With faith and perseverance, may I come to see her the way I believe my Higher Power sees her—as just another human being, trudging through life with her own plateful of issues. Pray for us both.

1 With this post I am introducing the cast of characters in my life, using my own personal mneumonics to keep them (and me) anonymous. There's an index to this cast on the sidebar to the left.

2 Of course, he swore me to secrecy. It was gratifying though, and the memory of him saying that has helped to save my sanity more than once.

3 Based on the prayer on p. 67 in the Big Book.

22 August 2007

Original thoughts

Elegant mirror 8 feet tall by 4 feet wide
There ain't very many of 'em. We generally repeat what we've heard from others. Judith, over at Vicarious Rising, wrote something new and original in her post today:

Sometimes you can stare in a mirror for a very long time and still not see what is there. You actually have to move a little so the light will change, then you can see something new revealed that had been in the shadows before.

Nice, eh? I thought so, too. And Judith gave me permission to use it. LOL!

If you don't move and stare hard enough at what you see, pretty soon you'll see nothing. Then if you look away at a blank wall, you'll see an afterimage of what you were staring at. Gee, sound familiar?

And even if I am staring in a mirror and moving a little to change the light, I'm convinced there's plenty I still don't see. Changing the light, moving a little: these are just ways to improve the chances of seeing what's really there. It's how I cooperate with my Higher Power, so that he can show me what I need to see.

The image above is from Metal Shop Designswho make "truly original and very unique" furniture pieces.

Also, I tried to insert the International Phonetic Alphabet symbol for a bilabial trill (better known to most of us as a Bronx cheer or a raspberry) after "Gee, sound familiar?" but I didn't think anyone would have any idea what it was since it comes out looking like this:
IPA symbol for bilabial trill

Can anybody help?

This is a post about a Blogger HTML question I have. If you don't know what that means, you'll probably get extremely bored if you bother to continue reading.

I want to caption my images in such a way that text continues to flow around them. Why? I really like the way the text flows around the images but, for example, I'm afraid people will think the first image in my post Home, Sweet Home is of Roland when it's really of Dr. Jung. I found a this web page, which I thought would solve my problem, but it didn't. Then I thought maybe I could use the tips there to help me figure out a way, but so far I've been unsuccessful.

Can anyone help?

Please pray for Nicole

I just finished reading Nicole's blog post for today. I urge everyone who read this to pray for her recovery, not just from alcoholism, but also from being haunted by the ghosts of her past. Stories like hers make it most difficult for me to believe that my Higher Power really knows what he's doing and has the universe under control. In the end, I can only have faith that it's so. These kinds of stories make it extremely hard. And unfortunately, I've come to believe that having a story like Nicole's is far more common than most people realize.

20 August 2007

Home, sweet home

I love my home group. We had our monthly business or group conscience meeting tonight. I saw something I've never seen in any meeting before. There was a motion and a second to adjorn, but it was voted down. Instead, we spent some extra time reviewing one of the results of our last group inventory and, as a result, made some changes to our format.

Earlier we read from "There Is a Solution" in the Big Book, pp. 25 to the end of the chapter. Some thoughts on three short sections of what we read. First:
[I]f we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help (. 25).
Some alcoholics believe they were born so. Others believe they were alcoholics from their first drink. Early in my drinking, I believe I could have quit without much trouble, had I decided to. That would have been through human aid, namely, my own. By the end of my drinking, I believe I could not have quit without the intervention of my Higher Power. I had tried it on my own, without success. Therefore, at some point I must have crossed the line into the region referred to out of some other region.


Further on, clear-cut direction are given showing how we recovered. These are followed by forty-two personal experiences.

Each individual, in the personal stories, describes in his own language and from his own point of view the way he established his relationship with God (p. 29).
If you had asked me in the beginning what the purpose of the personal stories in the back of the Big Book was, I'd have said, "To show how people have recovered." This is not incorrect. It's consistent with the purpose of the Big Book as stated in the foreword to the first edition (p. xiii in the fourth edition): "to show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered " [emphasis in original]. But notice what is implied here on p. 29: that the purpose is to show how people have found God. And this is consistent with the explicitly stated as stated on p. 45: "to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem." I was many years sober before I really saw this statement.

A certain American business man had ability, good sense, and high character. For years he had floundered from one sanitarium to another. He had consulted with the best known American psychiatrists. Then he had gone to Europe, placing himself in the care of a celebrated physician (the psychiatrist, Dr. Jung) who prescribed for him....

Carl Gustaf Jung
This was Frederick Roland Hazard, president of the Solvay Process Company, known to A.A. historians as Roland Hazard (this link is where I derived much of the narrative that follows the next quotation).
Members of the Hazard family were among the first settlers of the State of Rhode Island. The family fortune derived largely from its textile manufacturing business at Peace Dale, but also from mining and railroad as well has chemical interests. Hazards have been known through generations for many contributions. Caroline Hazard, sister of Frederick R. Hazard, was a prolific author, artist, and president of Wellesley College, 1899-1910. Their grandfather, Rowland Gibson Hazard (1819-1888), was not merely a successful business man, but a philosophical writer who corresponded with John Stuart Mill and was a friend of William Ellery Channing, founder of Unitarianism. The family in Central New York was long active in May Memorial Unitarian Church, Syracuse, which linked many social activists. The family has been known especially for social concerns such as abolition of slavery, treatment of the insane and of alcoholics [!!! —Ed], as well for innovative employee programs.
After the incidents described in the Big Book, Rowland set out to find a spiritual solution. What he found was the Oxford Group. In 1934, Rowland was living in Vermont with two other members of the Oxford Group named Cebra Graves and Shep Cornell. Cebra's father was a judge who at the time had decided to sentence an alcoholic named Ebby Thacher to six months in a mental institution.

Bill Wilson and Ebby Thacher
Ebby, who also came from a prominent family, had been painting the family house. Having become excessively irritated by a flock of birds coming by to torment him, Ebby had gotten out his shotgun and started shooting at the birds. This had bothered the neighbors sufficiently that they had called the police, who had arrested him.

Rowland went to court and convinced the judge to release Ebby into his custody instead. As a direct result of Rowland's intervention, Ebby was living later that year in New York City at the Calvary Mission, run by Rev. Sam Shoemaker instead of being an involuntary guest of a mental institution in Vermont. He was thus able to carry the message of recovery to Bill W. and become Bill's sponsor. I guess this makes Rowland Bill's grand-sponsor. As I understand, Rowland remained in the Oxford Group and never joined A.A.

18 August 2007


This garden-variety drunk been continuously sober for quite a few 24 hours now: 5,478 of them to be exact. Fifteen years, as of today. What a miracle!

I was about 5 when I had my first taste of alcohol. I was 16 when I had my first drink. I drank for 26 years, almost to the day. When I came to Alcoholics Anonymous, I thought my life was over, that it had gone from color to black and white. I didn't have enough courage to kill myself, so I thought I'd live out my days glumly, pitifully and hopelessly. And now that I've been sober for 15 years, it's nothing like that at all.

If you persist, remarkable things will happen. When we look back, we realize that the things which came to us when we put ourselves in God's hands were better than anything we could have planned. Follow the dictates of a Higher Power and you will presently live in a new and wonderful world, no matter what your present circumstances.
Today I am grateful for:
It is to these, and no one else, that I owe the best 15 years of my life (so far)!

17 August 2007

I Forgot

Those of us of a certain age might find this video amusing. Let's not be a glum lot and let's be sure not to take ourselves too damn seriously!

Death, Jails and Institutions

[This post was inspired by one I read over at Stop, Drop, Recover and the comment I left there, most of which I repeat here.]
I too am a former first responder on a volunteer ambulance squad. I too have seen a wide swath of death created by drug abuse and particularly alcohol, including the following incident, which haunts me to this day.

One winter night, a man went out with his friends to celebrate the birth of his child. Afterwards, they dropped him off—drunk—in front of his house. He never made it indoors. Neighbors found him the next morning frozen to death outside his front door.
He was lucky. Imagine the suffering his wife and child have been through, will continue to go through for the rest of their lives. There are a lot of scary stories about us alkies dying from our disease. But I believe there's a worse fate in store for me if I ever pick up a drink.

Maybe I'll kill someone. Run them down with my car. My cousin's wife ran over his own baby daughter and killed her. He's had to live with that for more than twenty years. And it wasn't even his bottom; he went on drinking for several months afterwards. Maybe I'll accidentally decapitate a friend without even knowing it, like John Kemper Hutcherson did three years ago. Or maybe I'll spend a few years as a wet-brain before dying, like I believe William Roscoe Kintner did. You'd never know it (i.e. that he had a wet-brain [added 22 Aug]) from his obituary, but I knew him personally. I think about the difference between him as a vibrant and reknowned teacher of mine in college, and him as an old man with a permanent dazed and unresponsive expression on his face, slowly and painfully shuffling his way to the Post Office—a distance of a few hundred feet at most—to get his mail.

These thoughts scare me. They remind me there are fates worse than death, and that we alcoholics are particularly prone to them.

God save me from myself!

16 August 2007


I'm listening NPR's All Thing Considered as I type. Robert Siegel just finished a story about the current credit crisis and the phenomenon of sub-prime lending. He interviewed a reporter who cited two web sites that are prime examples of how to achieve dishonesty: one called Employment Verification Services that, for a fee, provides "assistance for those whom are not employed but need verification of employment for any purchasing purpose," and another called Fake Name Generator that will "make up a random name and address," as well an e-mail address, phone number, mother's maiden name, birthdate, credit card number (complete with an "expiration date... randomly generated to be a date in the near future") and Social Security number.

I suppose this is an example of HP's sense of humor, given that I just completed a post on Honesty not long ago.

Don't misunderstand me: I don't disapprove of such sites existing on the web. Although the former sure seems to offer unethical and immoral services, the latter certainly has some ethical and moral uses. In any case, the dishonesty doesn't actually occur until a user of such a website uses these services dishonestly.

Rx for Overhaul

I blogged last week about my frustration in trying to get a couple of prescriptions filled. I called again my mail-order provider again and, after more inordinate time spent on hold, was told, "Everything is fine. There was a problem with your account, but it got straightened out on August 1st. Unfortunately, we returned your prescriptions to you on July 31st." To be fair, I was then transferred to someone who promised to contact my doctor's office directly and have the drugs sent to me right away. At least I didn't have to fill out the paperwork again and re-submit the prescriptions.

Nonetheless, this kind of problem—of which I am sure many thousands, if not millions, of Americans could give equally frustrating examples, many of them with much more extreme consequences—illustrates why the U.S. managed care system will inevitably wind up being completely overhauled, before too long and despite the special interests. It simply doesn't work well. And it costs too much, not only in dollars but also in patients' time, energy and wellness. Surely someone can come up with a new way of doing things that is better. Not perfect, but better.


At my home group Monday night, we read and discussed Bill W.'s excellent essay on "Honesty," as published in The Best Of Bill. This little book comprises a collection of articles originally written by Bill for the A.A. Grapevine (subscription required to access linked articles). I think these are them:

Here's how the "Honesty" essay begins:

THE problem of honesty touches nearly every aspect of our lives. There are, for example, the widespread and amazing phenomena of self-deception. There are those rather dreadful brands of reckless truth-telling, which are so often lacking in prudence and love. Then there are those countless life situations in which nothing less than utter honesty will do, no matter how sorely we may be tempted by the fear and pride that would reduce us to half-truths or inexcusable denials.

I think is what caught the attention of our leader. She had been hearing a lot about "brutal honesty"—Bill's "reckless truth-telling"—where she thought the speaker should have talked about "rigorous honesty." I was reminded of something I heard from Dinah, a very dear friend of 40+ years (a non-alcoholic). She said whenever she's tempted to say something, she uses three criteria for whether or not to actually speak:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it kind?
  3. Is it helpful?

I believe that true honesty is born of love and is therefore never unkind or unhelpful. It can be expressed extemely frankly, but only if the speaker's relationship to the listener is deep enough that frank won't be mistaken for unkind or unhelpful. The idea is that expressed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: "You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead?" (Matthew 7:9)

Another excerpt from Bill's essay:

We must now leave the absorbing topic of self-delusion and look at some of those trying life situations which we have to meet foursquare and head on. Suppose we are handed an employment application that asks, "Have you ever suffered from alcoholism, and were you ever hospitalized?"...

I thought immediately about the several times in recovery when I've confronted this exact issue, whether on an employment application or some other form. It's a common dilemma, I think. I've always agonized when dealing with it. I've also asked for advice from my sponsor and from others in A.A. whom I respect. I won't reveal the conclusion I've come to—it's always been the same one—but I will tell you it goes against most of the advice I hear, including that of my sponsor. By the way, the remainder of the paragraph that Bill wrote in his essay implies that it's not that complicated and that, obviously, we should tell what he calls "the absolute truth" in such situations:

... Here, we AAs can assuredly make a good report of ourselves. Almost to a man we believe that nothing short of the absolute truth will do in situations of this type. Most employers respect our Fellowship and they like this rugged brand of honesty, especially when we reveal our AA membership and its results. Of course many another life problem calls for this identical brand of forthrightness. For the most part, situations requiring utter honesty are clean-cut, and readily recognizable. We simply have to face up to them, our fear and pride regardless. Failing to do this, we shall be sure to suffer those ever-mounting conflicts which can only be resolved by plain honesty.

As I say, the essay is excellent. It's also though-provoking. I'm inspired to get The Best of Bill the next time I see Grapevine material for sale.

13 August 2007

How to find sober people at concerts

Short answer: Look for yellow balloons.

Long answer: I read a post on Rex H.'s blog, What is your Deepest Fear?, called The Concert, in which he said:

I knew there would be booze and dope all around me but just figured I could handle it.... It took every darn second of praying my ass off to get through it. So the lesson learned is concerts sober are cool but bring a sober friend along for support!
I left a comment and actually remembered to check with my Deadhead sponsee. In front of the sound mixer is the correct location, but reliably so only for the Grateful Dead and only at festivals. A better bet, for any jam band, according to my sponsee, is to look for a table with yellow balloons. This will be staffed with sober people. At Grateful Dead performances these folks are known as Wharf Rats. Their website even includes meeting lists (although personally I wouldn't call these AA meetings, or NA meetings or any kind of "A" meetings, due to their affiliation with something other than than these recovery organizations).

I hope someone finds this information useful.

Random notes

Fall colors, autumn colors, indian summer, leaves, Grand Teton National Park, WyomingNoticed the first hint of Autumn in the air on Saturday. Boy, do I love Fall and Spring!

Drove almost 300km last night to the final AA group I was supposed to survey for the 2007 Membership Survey. There was bad news and good news. The bad news was that the group no longer exists. The good news is that the very first person I ran into, 5 seconds after entering the building, was the Assistant Pastor's wife, who knew that the group had folded quite a while ago, who personally knew the person whose name GSO had sent as the contact person for the group, and knew that this person had moved away. That explains why (1) when I tried calling, the contact's phone number was out of service, (2) the immediate past DCM had never heard of the Group, and (3) the local Intergroup knew nothing about the Group either. (The current DCM's phone number is out of service too and the rumor is that she moved to another Area).

Read nice post on ZaneJabbers blog from Saturday that's got me re-thinking how I share my story. I generally try to minimize the drinking stories, but perhaps I shouldn't. The key observation he makes is:

[T]he promises tell us that we don't forget the past nor do we wish to shut the door on it. Everytime I hear someone share that they don't like to talk about their drunkalog I think of this promise.

10 August 2007

Membership survey

It's the season of the triennial membership survey! Nineteen groups were randomly selected from our Area to be surveyed; I'm involved in three of those. I did one last week, one tonight and I'm doing one tomorrow night.

The one tonight was in the city, about a 40 km drive, at 7:00 pm. Traffic was awful, even though it was mostly into the city on a Friday night, rather than out of the city. I planned to allow an hour for what Google maps said was a 40-minute drive. I left a few minutes late, then realized on the way down that there was a baseball game starting at 7:35. I hit mid-town—thinking I had just enough time to arrive as the meeting began—and started back out the other side. Then traffic really slowed down.

Parking was non-trivial. I drove around the block in widening circles with looking for a parking space. Finally, on my second circuit, just as I passed a big blue tour bus (it looked sorta like this, but without the side windows), I found one. Only two half-blocks away from the meeting too. I arrived 15 minutes into the meeting. Wow, do I hate being late for meetings. It's only happened a few times out of what must be about 3,000 by now.

It was a small meeting—13 people plus me. Loads of people [non-members] wandering in and out of the meeting room. Another of my pet peeves: what do newcomers, trying desperately to stay anonymous, think when all these folks come in and out, in and out? Personally, I don't care who knows I'm there, but I also know a school teacher who lost her job after a [non-alcholic] student saw her in a closed A.A. meeting and let everybody at school know.

After half an hour I had the gist of this topic meeting: resentments and "practicing these principles in all our affairs."
The woman sitting in front of me even shared the resentment she had been developing during the meeting about all the strangers coming and going. So I didn't have to. Turns out that this was unusual for this meeting; a wedding rehearsal had been going on upstairs. After she shared, I raised my hand, apologized for being late, and made a brief announcement inviting everyone to stay for 5 minutes after the meeting to fill out a survey. They all did, though one member joked that now he had a resentment about that.

Here's an interesting fact. I've done a few of these—some in 2004 and the two this year—and the most common question people have is always the same: what's the name of this group? I always get a chuckle out of that.

I gathered from the sharing that I heard during the meeting that there was some good sobriety in the room. After collecting all the surveys, I found myself in conversation with one of the women who struck me as such. She confirmed that about half the group (herself included) had 20 years or more of continuous sobriety. She asked where I had come from. I asked her if she knew the small suburban town I'm from and she said, not only did she know it, but she'd been there.

In fact, her roommate from rehab in 1969 had been from the same town. She couldn't recall her roommate's name, only the first name of her husband: Bruce. Within a minute or two, I had figured out who it was and she confirmed the name when I said it. Jean was one of the first recovering alcoholics I met in A.A. fifteen years ago, likely at my very first meeting. Several of her children, roughly of the same age as I am, are also in recovery. Bruce died a year ago March and Jean a year ago July with—I think—over 30 years of sobriety.

Jean was one of those rare people whom I knew both when she were drinking and in sobriety. There's a great story her daughter-in-law tells of when she was dating her now-husband. Jean passed out at the dinner table and her face plopped right down into the mashed potatoes... and everyone went on as though nothing had happened. From what I know, I don't think anything unusual had happened. This was nothing like the Jean I got to know many years later. She helped a lot of alcoholics.

That in itself is a pretty good story. In fact, I was already planning to post about it as I walked away from the church. I turned the corner a half block up the street and noticed, right next to the big blue tour bus—which was still there—a well-known bar where many decent bands perform, and not just local ones. How ironic, I thought. I'd never been there, though I've often thought about it.

I came home and Googled the bar to see whose big blue tour bus it was. I'm not gonna tell you her name, but I will quote from something I found about her:
You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried. [Her] songs—an aural outpouring of her extreme, intense life—are as dramatic as any movie. And [she] admits that sometimes her life, with ups and downs including tour bus accidents, fighting for the custody of her young sister after the death of their only parent, and record industry fiascos, is more like a horror movie. Through it all, though, this versatile, cool rock chick maintains her humor—sometimes with a little help from a bottle of Maker's Mark. And [her] life-to-date--in all its gutsy glory, uncertainty and down-to-earth vulnerability and power, can be heard in the songs [of] her latest CD...

Sounds like we should save her a seat. The pic above is of her, self-described as doing a morning talk show while drunk. Ha!

Going to any length

Now, this an extreme example of what I think of when I hear the phrase "going to any length." And I have to admit, it's probably more than I would have been willing to do in order to get sober. I think I would have insisted on seeing some connection between what I was being asked to do and how it would help get me sober. But then, I'm one of those people who was in danger of being too smart to get the program.

Despite what "How It Works" has to say about being willing to go to any length, my experience is that if I put part of the effort into getting and staying sober that I put into getting and staying drunk, then my HP will get and keep me sober. So far, I think I've gone well beyond that. Consequently, I think I enjoy pretty good sobriety. And, lest you wonder, so does my sponsor. LOL. My aim is spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.

Since I was a teenager—and that was a long time ago—I've been fascinated by the balance between God's grace and human freedom. Grace was pretty much an intellectual concept at the time, and remained so until I came to AA. Today it is very real. Today I believe two things very strongly1. One, that I have to do certain things to remain sober. The Big Book tells us this over and over again. Its promises are contigent upon our maintenance of a solid spiritual foundation. Two, it is completely a matter of God's grace that I am sober today. I am a living example of God's grace and of God's mercy: of his grace in that I got something I didn't deserve, and of his mercy in that I didn't get what I did deserve.

Sometimes I think everything that's really important can be expressed as a paradox. I find them over and over again in the rooms of AA. Neils Bohr said, "The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth." Put another way, Bohr recognized "two sorts of truth: trivialities, where opposites are obviously absurd, and profound truths, recognized by the fact that the opposite is also a profound truth."

Wow, I really have come some ways down off that icy mountain-top of intellectualism.

1Okay, I believe in more than just these two things. But here they are anyway.

09 August 2007

The Late Late Show

Craig Ferguson's eyes
I've been having more and more trouble sleeping over the last couple of years. I have lots of theories as to why, but they are irrelevant to the theme of this post.

I often use television to put me to sleep (despite what some people say). Eventually I wound up watching The Late Late Show. For the very first time. On 18 February 2007. I had never heard of Craig Ferguson before. That night's show got to me. On top of everything else I liked—especially including his rant about comedians kicking celebrities when they're down-and-out—it turns out that I'd gotten sober six months to the day after he did.

On many nights since, if I've been up at 12:35 am, I've tuned in, at least for his monologue. Last night was one of those nights. In some ways I regret that I watched that night's show first, because although there's a lot to like—it's always been a disappointment since. And after a monologue like that, how could it be otherwise?

If Mr Ferguson is a member of the same Fellowship that I am, I'd have to say he tip-toed right along that thin grey line of the 11th Tradition. He never mentioned Alcoholics Anonymous explicitly, but you'd have to have been pretty ill-informed not to know what he was referring to when he said help was "easy to find; right there near the front of the phone book." Celebrities breaking their anonymity is one of my pet peeves. Did Ferguson? Or did he not? If he's not a member, then he certainly did not. If he is a member, then either he did or he came about as close as one possibly can without doing so. And since he's the only one who can determine whether or not he's a member, I guess I'll never know. Unless I happen to run into him some day and have the chance to ask.

Once I did confront a non-celebrity who broke his anonymity. It didn't go in any direction I had imagined. But that's a post for another day.

08 August 2007


Fluoxetine hydrochloride moleculeAlso known as N-methyl-3-phenyl-3-[4-(trifluoromethyl)phenoxy]-propan-1-amine, C17H18F3NO, Fluoxetine hydrochloride, or, most commonly, Prozac, I've been on this drug for several years. Twice I've tried going off it and twice I've decided that was a bad idea. Now I've gone off it again. Without tapering off as recommended. But not by choice. The mail-order pharmacy refused to fill the new prescriptions my doctor wrote (for Fluoxetine and Simvastatin) and I've run out.

When I got the rejection notice, I called them. At first they said they needed to get a diagnosis.

"What?" I said. "You've been sending me these drugs for years. What has changed?"

"Hold on, please," they said.

Eventually they handed me off to a specialist. I probably spent ½ hour on the phone, maybe a total of 5 minutes talking to him. The summary of what he finally said is, "Your wife's insurance plan shows you as her child and since you are over 23 years old, you are not covered. Oh, and we don't know how to get in touch with her employer's benefits manager and can't give you a phone number for them."

"What?" I said. "You've been sending me these drugs for years. What has changed?"

"Let's see." Long pause. "I can't see anything prior to last October."

The last time I sent in new prescriptions was about a year ago. I've been getting refills every 90 days or so since.

Of course my wife was on vacation in some semi-wilderness park. I called and left a message on her mobile phone. When she returned home, I was away at an A.A. Convention. Her mobile had died. She finally got the message after returning home. Today she contacted the benefits people at work. They said that I'm listed as her husband and that nothing has changed. Grrrrrr!

It's been over a week now. The half-life of Fluoxetine is something like 2 weeks. I suppose I'm slowly getting depressed. It sure has felt like it, but that pre-dates my running out of medication.

For years I used my program to fight the consequences of my depression. What an odd feeling when taking a pill drastically amelioriated those consequences. Here I had been thinking it was a spiritual battle, but apparently it was only chemical. I still haven't reconciled myself to this, but I'm resigned to continuing on the medication. Experience has proven that it's not fair to those around me—primarily my family—to try to deal with my depression on my own.

Can someone please e-mail me some Prozac?

07 August 2007

Forever nonprofessional

Charles B. Towns Hospital
At my home group's monthly Tradition meeting last night, I realized I'm probably more confused about the 8th Tradition than any other. Fortunately, I work in a field completely unrelated to recovery from alcoholism, so it's not anything like an immediate issue for me. I never have been offered—nor would I accept—any compensation for my efforts in doing any kind of 12th Step work (I do accept reimbursement for expenses incurred in doing some 12th step work, mostly in General Service).

But when I consider the sum of what I know about A.A.'s non-professionalism, I remain somewhat confused. Consider:
  • I'm very glad Bill W. was convinced not to accept a job working as a lay therapist at Towns Hospital in December 1936 (bottom of the page); otherwise, I'm convinced there would be no A.A. as we know it today.
  • I can't believe it's not of great benefit to have recovering members of A.A. to work at detox and treatment facilities; it helps those counselors, their clients, the institutions, and A.A. as a whole, if only by reducing the amount of misinformation newly released clients have about A.A. itself.
  • I know a number of recovering alcoholics with long-term sobriety who work in the treatment field and who agonize over what they fear might be accepting money for 12th Step work.
  • Many people I respect view this Tradition as saying only that A.A. itself does not pay for 12th Step work. See this article (subscription required) from the August 2004 issue of the A.A. Grapevine for example.
  • A.A. paid Bill W. royalties for his writings and, as I recall, continues to pay his heirs to this day (it won't last much longer).
  • Bill W., in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, cited the example of his club hiring an alcoholic to be the paid janitor and cook.
  • All recovering alcoholics must practice the 12th Step without recompense, carrying the message of recovery to still-suffering alcoholics, in order to stay sober.
All I can say, I'm glad I don't face any conflicts in my application of this principle to my life. And that there's no one else to whom I must apply it.

06 August 2007

I'm back

My last post was on 4 Feb 2005 at Martin's Alcoholic Diary website. The next time I went to post, the site was gone (the Wayback Machine has it archived if you want to look over the old posts). I've been thinking about taking up blogging again. I'm still sober—I'll have 15 years of continuous sobriety soon—and still very active in the General Service structure of A.A. It's quite possible that I'll be the Delegate from my Area to the General Service Conference in New York within a few years.

I'm actively sponsoring three men. One is still around from when I was blogging before. The other two asked me to sponsor them last Fall—both on the same day, believe it or not.