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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

My AA Story

In Alcoholics Anonymous, anonymity is important.  Still, sometime it can't be maintained completely while using various opportunities to pass on the message.  That's what is happening here.  Dear readers:  Please accept this thinly veiled attempt to formally maintain an anonymous position, while passing on to my posterity an address that an AA member, Steve G, presented at an open speaker meeting in Aiken, S.C. early in 2015.  Be assured, that being an AA member does not convey to any individual the right to speak for the organization.  All any of us can do is to speak about our own "experience, strength, and hope."


February 16, 2015
First Christian Church
Aiken Central Group
Aiken SC
6:30 PM


My AA Story


The formula for an any AA's story is to tell 'em how it was, then tell 'em what happened, and, finally, tell 'em what it's like now--which is the formula for the following. 

First, though, I'd like to thank Golfer John for inviting me here tonight.  And I'd like to thank you, my first ever AA group, the Linden Streeters, the Aiken Central Group now known far and wide as the Honeybaked Hammers, or so I'm told.  Thank you for giving me this opportunity. 

And, oh yes, if anyone forgot to check their hammer at the door, please do so now.  (Rotten tomatos are bad enough.)


While I wasn't exactly an alcoholic at the time (although I did have the requisite genetic makeup,) I began my life journey in July of 1944 in Talladega, Alabama.  My parents were there with my dad working for DuPont making smokeless powder for the war effort, and they brought me with them, so to speak.  I'm not sure how long we stayed, but with the surrender of Japan in September 1945, the need for smokeless powder became much more limited than it had been during the war and, sometime after that, I suspect, we moved to southern Indiana, mom and dad bought (or rented) a house in Clarksville, Indiana, a town a short drive away from New Albany, the town where they both grew up.  For the record, although my memory fails me on this, I suspect I was not Alcoholic at the time.  Milk was my main nutrient and personal growth was the name of the game--by personal growth, I mean progressing from an initial seven plus pounds to whatever I could gain during that first year or so of life. 

Somewhere along the line my mom and dad had a party.  New Albany and Clarksville are both just across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky, which once a year becomes the horse racing capital of the world with the running of the Kentucky Derby.  My dad was always something of an organizer, and a socialite, so the occasion of a Kentucky Derby was always to be a family occasion for a Kentucky Derby party. 

The highlight of the party was the race itself, and when it was happening, all the adults converged around the radio in one of the rooms to listen.  Unbeknownst to them, "little Stevie" at two or three years of age, took the opportunity to help his mother clean up by drinking whatever he wanted of the various libations that had been left around in one of the other rooms.  Needless to say, my memory of this incident isn't exactly precise.  I do think I can report I probably did not drink alcoholically on that, my first opportunity to imbibe, and the opportunity to do so again did not recur for a good many years (my parents were fast learners.)  Which is to say, my drinking days came to a swift halt.  "Little Stevie" was now a "teetotaler."

We moved.  Our address went from Clarksville to somewhere in the mid-west, I can't say where, but it was some place where there was a meat-packing plant.  Dad got a promotion and we moved again, I think to Richmond, Virginia.  To get that next promotion, dad had to change companies.  The company he went to work for, still a meat-packing plant, was in Orangeburg, South Carolina.  We stayed in Orangeburg while I grew as I became a kindergartner, then a first-grader, then a second-grader, then a third-grader.   My best friend, Frankie Farnum, lived a fence climb away to the Southeast.  That fence was climbed every day.  I learned to ride a bike, shoot a bb gun, catch "mud puppies" and build straw fires.  I probably shouldn't have learned that last skill since what I didn't learn first was how to keep the fire where I wanted it.  We burned up a quarter acre of broom sage straw one day, and since I was the one who struck the match, I was the one who caught hell.  (Catching hell wasn't exactly how I expressed it at that time, though--I was a good Methodist, you see, and the only one who was allowed to use that word, Hell, was the preacher.)  Also, as a good Methodist, my teetotaler needs were protected by my church since its official position at that time was a good Methodist did not drink. 

Times were different, then.  There was a large pecan orchard a street away from the house and we kids used it as a playground.  One day a black kid from the other side of the orchard was playing there too.  We got to know each other and met several times.  A lady from one of the adjoining houses noticed this and found out where I lived.  She contacted my mother, and I was told I was not to play with him.  I told him this the next day.  He said his mother had told him the same thing. 

The next time I had a chance to learn any race-relation skills was when I went into the Air Force in 1965.  Segregation in the South was total in those days, you see, and I was protected by the community.  Had this not been the case, who knows, maybe my friend could have turned me on to some shine. 

Towards the end of my third grade, dad moved again.  Seems they were building a new plant near Aiken, SC, and dad's DuPont experience was just the ticket.  He rented a house in Crosland Park and boy was that great.  There were kids everywhere!  The City was building a new elementary school just up the road, and Crosland Park kids were almost numerous enough to fill it up.  Somehow I was able to maintain my abstinence during this time, and still get along with the other kids.  For some reason, I never seemed to have problems with interpersonal relations despite the absence of alcohol during the rest (or almost the rest) of my public school days.  Why was that, I wonder?  The only problem I had in interpersonal relations was a lack of dating skills. 

As a matter of fact, even though I had that lack, I did my share of dating.  I just did not relate as well as many of the guys did, if you know what I mean.  (The girls' nickname for me was "the fog."  I never asked why.)  My loss, I guess, but, again, maybe not.  Drink, though, was able to punch a hole in my abstinence during my senior year.  A girl friend (two words) had parents who, apparently never had the problem my parents had with "little Stevie" and a rather substantial liquor cabinet was left unguarded during a couple of parties my girl friend and her girl friends threw towards the end of the school year.  Interestingly enough, my capacity for alcohol was considerable, giving me the drive home duties for my group.  One alcoholic genetic omen, I'd say. 

Also, luckily, or so I thought, for me, my church had changed its stand, now saying drinking was a matter of individual determination (so I determined.)  And, perhaps unluckily enough, was the fact that my other 12 step program did not discuss the problem.  Few scouts, at that time, were in need of alcohol abuse counseling.  I've since wondered, though, if I had stuck with that 12 step program (A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent--count 'em) would I have had the need for my current 12 step program.  Who knows? 

High school ended, and I headed to Atlanta to take a few engineering classes.  I didn't drink, though, it just wasn't convenient.  I also didn't work very well in an academic setting, and after a few years my school's group of Deans decided they could do without my questionable contributions.  It was 1965, Vietnam and the draft were in full force, and my student deferment was more than in danger.  I checked out all the services and the Air Force seemed to give me the best deal.  At that point in time, the Air Force was a good place to go to get a drink.  Honest!

After basic training, I was sent to Biloxi to take electronics training.  In addition to our studies, my group excelled in after hours beer drinking.  I definitely did my share.  How I managed to graduate with honors is anybody's guess.  I guess that alcoholic capacity began to shift into high.  In any case, after a little less than a year I was sent packing to Istanbul to provide communications for a diplomatic consulate that we had there in Turkey's largest and most cosmopolitan city.  Drinking in this Moslem country was nevertheless an option.  Our "NCO club" was a short elevator ride away from my room.  I drank daily, but not excessively.  I could go to the bar and drink two beers and leave.  Which is what I generally did.  The only time I remember getting drunk while there was when I was taking a sociology class.  I wondered how I might do on my tests after having had "a few."  One drink--no problem.  Next test, two drinks--still no problem--if anything, I did fairly well on the various discussion problems.  Three drinks didn't seem to help, but I was still passing.  Four shots on the forth test got me a visit to the professor.  Seems I started off all right but towards the end of the test he had difficulty reading my answers.  I passed, anyway.  I never repeated the experiment.  This wasn't alcoholic drinking, but it was a long way from my teetotaler days.

From Istanbul I traveled to Saigon.  The atmosphere was a good bit different from my previous assignment, to say the least.  I was shot at twice, once with rockets that missed the aircraft "charley" was trying to hit and killed a guy two barracks over from me, and once during "Tet" of '68 when "Uncle Ho" decided to show the world he could hit us anywhere and anytime he wanted.  We were "showed."  He could!  Drinking was a major pass time, and I definitely did my share.  Still, although I was drunk my share of the time, and in any other place one might have given alcoholism a thought or two, when I returned stateside I did not continue with the drink.  I still had no need for AA, and I still was able to drink like "normal" people.

Out of the service, and back from Vietnam, after begging my way back into Ga. Tech., I turned into a pretty good student.  I made the Dean's list a couple of times and graduated with a degree in chemistry.  Whoop-te-doo!  I drank moderately the whole time (three more years) with a couple of major exceptions.  One time I went to sleep in the hallway of an apartment building I managed, only waking up when one of Atlanta's finest asked me what the problem was (a resident had called him.)  Being the manager got me off that time.
 
The next time was when I was helping a drunk I had met at the "Stein Club" on Peachtree get to his home near Tenth Street close to what was called the "hippie district."   This time I got to see the inside of one of the City's "drunk tanks."  No real biggie, I'd say, my roommate bailed me out the next morning.  Still not an alcoholic, I'd say; still the progression was there.  

After graduation, I looked for a job in South Carolina.  I went to whatever Job Service was called at the time and the counselor there said they only had one thing that I might be suited for, a "chemist-bacteriologist" for the City of Columbia.  I told them I guess I should check it out (did I tell you while at Tech I took virtually all of my non-requisite course work at the "applied biology" department?)  I worked for Columbia at their newly constructed wastewater treatment plant off of Bluff Road.  I married during the first year and my wife Jennie and I began putting a family together, starting with twins (all my good planning, of course.) 

After three years I obtained a job with the City of Sumter as their wastewater treatment superintendent.  Jennie and I had another child while there.  Heavy drinking really was not an option, but I drank carefully.  After three years there, a job came open with the Oconee County Sewer Commission and we again moved.  I should have stayed there.  Instead, we made one more move.  Having been in Oconee (beautiful country up there) we went to south Mississippi to head a three-county sewage commission.  We managed four years down there and while I did my part to get the required facilities constructed, I began to drink less moderately and more often.  Of course I wasn't an alcoholic (I read everything the local library had on the subject.)  How could I be an alcoholic and be able to take off from drinking every lenten season?  Of course I had a beer in hand every Easter morning. 

Consequently, I got myself fired.  We moved back to my hometown, Aiken, and both of us went to work.  The one good thing that came from this was bringing our kids to a school district that would give them the training they needed to succeed at life.  Southern Mississippi was, after all Southern Mississippi.  If South Carolina was 49th in some parameter, Mississippi was 50th.  Unfortunately my drinking was becoming alcoholic, and that made work difficult, at best. 

We worked to support ourselves and our children.  Pell grants helped a lot with their educational needs.  The children, now young adults, all did well.  I drank more.  Why?  Well, let me quote a fellow Linden Streeter:  "I'm an alcoholic, that's what we do."  (Thanks, Mike.)

Jennie and I separated (her choice.)  Drinking was the reason.  Luckily, I had a place to go.  You've heard of 40 something men living with their mothers?  Well, I tried it.  After a while my mother figured out what the problem was with me.  She had a man from the church come by and talk with me.  I stumbled up the stairs at 123 Linden Street

They told me to read the first 164 pages of the Big Book.  I did.  They told me to come to 90 meetings in 90 days.  I did, and then some.  They told me to get a sponsor.  I asked a guy I knew would make a good sponsor and he agreed.  He said, give me a call.  I never did.  Guess I thought I knew everything I needed to know.  I read more literature.  I kept coming to meetings and picking up chips.  They gave me a blue chip.

I drank.

Actually, what I did was to pronounce myself cured.  And, being cured, I knew it would be OK to drink.  After all, I had been sober for 365 days, had I not?   Jim Beam, Johnny Walker, and Jack Daniels could no longer have their way with me!  I was cured!   Riiiiiiiiiiiiight............

It took me a year to get back to AA.  This time I would do things a bit differently.  The main thing was the problem with having a sponsor but not using the services of a sponsor.  I tried again.  It worked.  My sponsor and I attended the same meeting daily.  Paul M. and I talked, at length, at least once a week.  He filled in the blanks and answered questions I didn't even know I had.  He heard my fifth step.  I joined the group. 

And that was it, right?  Well, not exactly.  You see, that term "hard headed alcoholic" does not just apply to that guy who always used to use it to describe himself.  It applies to many, many, many of us.  I don't remember if I stayed sober three or four years after that second start, all I know is I stopped going to meetings and went back out. 

Some time later, I came back in again.  That has happened at least five times since I first walked up those stairs at 123 Linden Street, and every time I went back out something else happened to drive me back in that was worse than anything that had ever happened before. 

My last "bottom" happened six years and several months ago.  You may remember seeing my mug shot on the front page of the "AikenStandard."  It seems I drank, blacked out, and ended the evening by pointing a .380 at my long suffering wife.  She did the right thing and summoned help.  The combination of the act and a publisher of a paper that did not particularly appreciate the suggestions I used to make from time to time, concerning deficiencies of his paper and its reporting, resulted in his taking the opportunity to criticize my actions on his paper's front page.  What could be worse? 

Every time I went back out I had one thought:  "It will be different this time."  If I ever have this thought again, I will call any or all of a dozen AAs I know and drop in on the first of them who will have me.  I will go to a meeting, and then to another meeting.  I will go to a church, or possibly many churches.  I will check into a detox facility.  My thought "It will be different this time" was true every time I had it:  It was always different:  It was always worse.  And, what can be worse than my last?  Well, I could have pulled the trigger. 

It took me 30 days, or more precisely, it took my brother 30 days to convince my wife I did not belong in the Aiken County Detention Center--that it would be all right to put our house up as collateral for my bond.  When I got out I spent a week in Hotel Aiken while I looked for a place to stay.  Christmas came and I had my Christmas turkey out of a 6 ounce can.  Was I going to meetings?  You bet!  As often as I could, I went to those meetings.  I found a place to stay (a long-time friend, Dick S. was instrumental in this.)  I got a vehicle from a grandfather-in-law.  I invested in a local lawyer (he would call it a "retainer") and began the work of making a defense of my actions.  

I found out not only the alcohol but also a prescribed medication, simvastatin, could have caused the blackout and behavior I was charged with.  A double chemical whammy, I'd say.  I've taken neither since my arrest (the alcohol) or a couple of months after the arrest (the statin.)  I talked with my children.  I talked with my wife.  I still have no memory of what happened that night.  I hope I never remember it.   

Eventually, my wife decided to give me one more chance.  I'd have to say one last chance would be a better statement of fact.  We are back together, somewhat comfortably retired with social security and a small military retirement (20 plus years with the South Carolina Air National Guard.)  Had we divorced we would be like some I know, uncomfortably retired with insufficient funds to maintain the two residences we would require. 

Like my wife, the court system also decided to give me one last chance.  While my actions could have resulted in five years' interment in the state prison system, the lack of a witness willing to testify along with my personal admission of guilt, in spite of having no memory to back up that admission, and a judge's realization that my "record" was virtually nonexistent resulted in time served plus five years' probation, which time is or shortly will be up.  

My wife and I have a dog she found at Molly's Militia.  He weighed two pounds when we got him. He's more like thirty today.  We call him our menopause dog.  We also have a sweet old puddy tat we call K-2 that walked up one day as a kitten and stayed.  We have several goldfish that we protect from the neighborhood raccoons with an electric wire around their pool.  A 'possum calls our front porch walkup home, and a feral cat drops by twice a day for handouts as do numerous seed or suet eating birds and a troop of the prettiest squirrels anyone would ever need.  Our kids are all prosperous, our grandchildren are well, and life is good.  Of course, I know how to change all that, and I pray God will help me remember what I have to remember and do what I have to do to not bring to bear any such change.

My personal program for sobriety today goes something like this:  First, I begin each day with a reading from the “Daily Reflections.”  This reminds me of my alcoholism and my need to maintain my contact with the program.  Next, I continue to work the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Using a second AA book, the "Twelve and Twelve," and many hours of my one-time sponsor's time, I have worked through all the steps and continue to actively utilize steps 10, 11, and 12 for maintenance.  I go to two meetings a week with the New Ellenton group.  I like to think we are a small but distinguished family.  I talk with other AAs and emailingly correspond with them daily. 

12th step work, too, is important to me.  You can find me at Aurora Pavilion twice a week, something I have been blessed to do ever since Frank G. invited me to drop in when he was leading those meetings.  I have seen people pass through Aurora and join our various AA groups to begin to grow as only an AA member can.  The several of us who go to Aurora today know those we are serving will not all find success for themselves, but they will provide those of us who use them as an opportunity to give back to the program one vehicle we need for our success. 

Do I experience cravings?  No.  I once did, but that, thankfully, was many 24 hours ago.  Do I want to drink?  No way.  The only thing I miss about drinking is the taste of the various elixirs I used to use.  I can do without those tastes, though.  That's a small price to pay for serenity.  Do I give much thought to my sobriety?  Other than when someone does something like ask me to be somewhere and do something like Golfer John asked me the other day, no.  And why do I say that? 

Well, I've thought myself out of my sobriety at least five times in the last twenty-one years and I'm not willing to risk doing it one more time.  There are a lot of reasons out there to drink.  Take resveratrol for example.  Some scientists say that would be good for my heart.  It would take just a little cabernet sauvignon with my evening meal for me to get all the resveratrol I might need, I suspect.  Big deal. 

If I really need resveratrol, I can get it in purified form in pills.  Why should I bother giving any consideration to this or any other so called reason to do what I have already, too many times, proven is something that is critically bad for me?  Spending time on any so-called "reason to drink" is, for me, a waste of time, and a dangerous one, at that.  If and when I want to think about something useful, though, I start with the serenity prayer.

I use the serenity prayer along with our paragraph on acceptance as my own personal mantras and repeat them whenever I feel the need.  Acceptance really is the answer to all my problems today.  It is my vehicle to serenity in my day-to-day life and it provides me with the answer to questions that have no answers. 

I watch my thoughts for that phrase "it will be different this time" and pass this knowledge on whenever and wherever I can, yes, it will be different--and if you're thinking about returning to drink, just know it will always get worse. 

And I remember daily to reaffirm my commitment to sobriety, a commitment that makes me say I am again a teetotaler, just as I was when I began life.  It's funny:  While "teetotaler” was once a dirty word in my lexicon, it's now something I'm proud of.  In becoming a teetotaler, again, and in making that commitment, I first must remember that I once made a commitment to drinking, a strong, enduring commitment that made me a stalwart defender of my disease and almost placed me in line with many of my cohorts to assure for myself a permanent place in a mental institution, or jail, or death.  I personally know people who have chosen each of these for themselves. 

Death, of course, comes to virtually all of God's creatures and must be accepted, sometimes with joy, when God brings it to us.  The other two ends, though, I, personally, have already had more than enough of.  Two weeks at “Focus by the Sea” is something I enjoyed, but would not wish to have to repeat, especially at 700 year 2006 dollars a day, and to spend another 30 days in Aiken County’s Wire Road Detention Center would be a total waste of time for anyone who wasn’t totally hooked on turkey baloney sandwiches. 

My commitment today to sobriety is a commitment that, God willing, this "hard headed alcoholic" will maintain above all others till, hopefully, I join my humble friend (one of many) Tom C. who, during my early days in AA, reminded me daily and without fail to just "keep coming back."

Humility, acceptance, serenity, and service--these are keys that must be learned, used and always remembered and observed.  When I add to this a personal absolute commitment to sobriety and the knowledge that I can, and must "keep coming back," I believe I will be able to own the assurance that this time, it will indeed, be different.

And thanks to all of you for your service, your AA service, of course.  Every meeting you attend is your opportunity to 12th step someone, and sometimes you will do it without even realizing what you are doing.  Thanks.  Today you have helped me.

SVG