Personal Stories – A long road to a life of quality

Today I have a quality of life which is beyond description. A life that is worry-free. A life that is hard to describe to a lot of people who would not understand unless they are enjoying such a life. This has come about by living the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous in my life each day in all my affairs. It is a way of life that allows me to be comfortable with myself and friendly and loving in my relationship with my family and people in general.

My life before AA was one of chaos and unreliability. I believe my father was an alcoholic and my mother a child of an alcoholic. Both of them were beautiful people, but I do believe I was affected by growing up in that environment. I don’t believe that caused me to be an alcoholic but I do believe that it caused me problems because of some of the attitudes I learned on the way. I was a fairly religious person as a child and even in my active alcoholism, but I found it very hard to serve two masters.

Even though I was religious, I adored a God of fear and ultimately, I think, I adored the church rather than a loving God. I seemed to get in a fair bit of trouble as a child, although I never intended to; often it just seemed to happen. I wasn’t a willful child and I tried to do the right thing. I had four brothers and we fought a lot, but I had a fairly happy childhood although deprived of a lot of material things. My parents tried to give us love but I don’t believe they knew a lot about that.

I believe I was an alcoholic before I picked up my first drink. My life was certainly unmanageable long before I drank. When I was confirmed I took the pledge not to drink until I turned 21 – not that I thought there was too much wrong with drinking. I was an Altar Boy who altered! I can remember drinking the altar wine and going back for more, but not drinking too much in case Father found out. I wasn’t aware that it was an alcoholic wine and I didn’t think the Father would drink alcoholic wine. Anyway, I was confused, and it is obvious to see I remember the feeling it gave me, which I liked and was why I kept going back.

I left school at 15 and knocked around with some old school mates, drank, got into fights and chased girls although I didn’t have a lot of success. I remember we used to go down to the park and my mates had bottles of wine which they used to entice me to drink. I refused because I had taken the pledge, but finally succumbed and it was like a spiritual awakening. I had the feeling that now I had broken my pledge I could drink as much as I wished. That was a feeling I often got when I had some short times of abstinence.

I got drunk the first day and it gave me a feeling of being grown up. I had taken up smoking for a few months before I started drinking. All these activities gave me the status of an adult. It certainly boosted my ego. I believe all the things I did in life were to cover up my feelings of inferiority and my self-centred fear. I didn’t drink every day as I didn’t have the money nor the opportunity, but I drank whenever I could.

From having an inferiority complex I developed a superiority complex with a few drinks in me. I became loud and aggressive. I joined the Army shortly after I started drinking and everyone thought it would help me to be a man but all it did was make me think I was a man.

Once when I was in Tenterfield the Army made a mistake and paid me too much. It wasn’t all that much but it was the most money I had ever had in my life, so I thought I’d go to Sydney and share it with my mates. This is the point where my life went haywire. I really got drunk in this period of time. It was certainly alcoholic drinking, but then it had been from my first drink. When the Army caught up with me I was recommended for a court martial because I had overstayed my 21 days leave and was classed as a deserter. I escaped on the way to Queensland and came back to Sydney. Then they found out my true age and discharged me.

I went back into the Army at 18 and repeated much of the same. I had full intentions of being a good soldier but my disease would not allow me to be. I spent my 20th birthday in gaol for an assault whilst drunk. I served three months, was a model prisoner and made plans which I swore I would put into action on my release. I would get a job, look after my mother, be a saint and do the right thing forever. I went down to the pub to tell my mates what I was planning to do. No need to say what really did happen!

I became a seaman after the war and got into all sorts of trouble around the world. Many of them in blackouts. I suffered blackouts from my earliest drinking and don’t remember seeing much of the countries we visited except for the times we were broke. Fortunately, I have since been able to visit most of the places as a sober sailor, rather than a drunken one.

In the 11 years I was drinking, I received two good behaviour bonds. It was getting the second bond of two years which motivated me into doing something about my drinking because I realised I couldn’t drink and keep my bond. I had broken the first three year bond about five times without being called up on it and I knew I couldn’t have the same luck again. I had been living away from home for about three months and the first they heard from me was a request for money for bail. This put a bit of pressure on me to do something about my drinking.

Then I heard about AA from my mother who was an ardent follower of AA’s great friend of 30 years in Sydney, Frank Sturge Harty. An ex minister of religion, he became involved with AA in its early days. He was a Sydney radio announcer with a program called “Let’s Talk it Over”, a forerunner of today’s talkback radio except that the listeners would write in about their problems and Sturge, as he was lovingly known in AA, would try to solve their problems.

Because many letters he received had something to do with troubles brought on by alcoholism, Sturge would talk about AA and the 12 Steps. My mother would relate these stories and the solution (“go to AA”) and I know today she was trying to get me to identify. I presume Sturge would say “Don’t tell them they are alcoholics, just tell them the stories and the solution”. I was impressed and listened to him myself on a few occasions but never in my wildest dreams did I think I was an alcoholic.

When I got this two year bond I thought I’d go to AA for two years and stop drinking. After my bond was up, I would then go out and drink normally. I didn’t know anything about AA but I had faith that it would work. I told my mother that I was going to AA and she was excited about it. My father was a seaman and away from home a great deal of the time and although he had a drinking problem, he was very happy that I had joined AA.

The first day after this, I procrastinated about ringing up and came home to my mother asking “Did you go to AA today?” I said that I had rung up but no one was there. I could see that she was going to keep the pressure up so I did ring AA the next day. I was invited to come in and have a talk.

I went into the office In this small room I remember was a kitchen table with the secretary, Whylie P., sitting behind it. Behind me were three very well- dressed gentlemen, one of them I found out later, was Frank, a publican from Armidale, now sober. Whylie told me his story but I don’t remember one word he said except the time and place of a meeting at North Sydney that night.

I was more interested in what the three men behind me were discussing. I thought this was how AA worked, that these men had never had a drink in their lives and were play-acting, making out they had been drunks. I can still remember thinking that they must think I was an idiot to fall for a gag like that. However, I had made a commitment and I knew that I had to have some answers for my mother, so I decided to go to the meeting.

My wife-to-be went with me at the meeting. I believe she was an alcoholic, too. I had a nice suit on and looked OK. Apart from the suit which was of good quality, (bought when I had some money, which was unusual) I had very little else as far as possessions go.

At the meeting was Father Richard Murphy, another one of AA’s great friends in the early days, and a fellow named Ron, who was either the secretary or the chairman, whom I never saw again, together with Jimmy, who started Langton Friday night Group. I was to see Jimmy on many occasions after this, but these are the only members I can remember from my first meeting.

Here I was, going to an AA meeting, not knowing I was an alcoholic. I was 27, and not desperate. The members that night were in the 40’s 50’s and 60’s, yet at no stage from then till now, did the thought ever enter my head that I was too young to be an alcoholic.

I heard their stories which I still did not identify with as far as their drinking was concerned, but when I saw the First Step, I had a great revelation. I can’t say I was glad to be an alcoholic, but for the first time in my life, I knew what was wrong with me. It explained why I had been doing the things I had. I always wanted to be a decent person but when I took that first drink I couldn’t guarantee my behaviour, which wasn’t usually good. I lost the compulsion at my first meeting.

At this time, I was unemployed — I had lost my brief to go to sea because of my misbehaviour. It amazes me today that I could get sober without that desperation. I know today it was because I was not enjoying the life I was living, not because I wanted to stop drinking. When I saw that First Step, I knew that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life was unmanageable. I don’t think that I have ever doubted that I was powerless over alcohol since then, but I didn’t know I was powerless over me.

Most of the things that have happened in my life have happened since I’ve come into AA. My life before drinking was unmanageable and became chaotic when I started drinking but I don’t think that alcohol affected me very much physically, spiritually or mentally. I believe that the disease affected me all my life, drunk or sober, in AA or out of it. I believe my life would have been a mess, whether I drank or not. I’m glad that I did, because I was able to find out through my drinking that I am an alcoholic.

I knew that there was an answer in AA, but I thought going to meetings was the program. I thought that my problem was that I drank, now that I wasn’t drinking, my life didn’t appear to be unmanageable. God had removed from me the obsession to drink.

I had lots of jobs, often for short periods with long intervals in between. I practically bludged on my mother, something I’m not proud of, but I do believe it was part of my illness, and something I haven’t had to do it since I came into AA. After nine months I got a job and went back to sea, but in that nine months I went to meetings, although not many. I don’t remember members stressing the need for lots of meetings then. They mostly gave drunkalogues and at the end said: “I haven’t had a drink for two years, or whatever, and I feel great”. There may have been others talking about the program, but I didn’t listen.

They didn’t read out portion of Chapter 5, “How it Works”. Anyway, I believed I was dong OK. There wasn’t much wrong with me, I was working, paying off a house, raising a family and was responsible and reliable. The 12 Steps were great for those who needed them. I would read the Steps and think I was doing them, even then I was picking the eyes out of them.

I went overseas about 14 months after going back to sea, away from AA, with the old shipmates in the same circumstances. I picked up a drink, knowing I would be getting back on the merry-go-round, because I had not learned what to do — to not pick up that drink. I drank for three weeks, a bender and I had never drunk like that before, thinking about AA all the time and feeling I had let them down. Yet I didn’t think I had left AA, only that I was just drinking.

I tried to stop every day, but couldn’t. The day I managed to stop was a miracle. My shipmates had gone ahead to the club and I had been writing some letters home. I posted them and headed for the club, intending to have a drink. When I walked in, a shipmate said for a joke that he wasn’t going to buy me a drink. I told him I didn’t want one. He said not to get sore, he had only been joking. I told him I knew this but I really did not want a drink. God had worked in my life where I couldn’t work in my own. I haven’t had a drink since.

It was often difficult for me to get to meetings as I was going to sea and I still did very little about the Steps. I was so self righteous. I became arrogant, full of self pity, critical, judgemental and many other defects which manifested themselves. I was, as we are affectionately known in AA, ‘a dry drunk’. I was merely abstaining from alcohol and not a pleasant person to be around.

Still at sea, I got a job which meant coming into Sydney almost daily and was able to get to more meetings, enabling me to hear what happened to members who didn’t go to meetings or to enough meetings. Whilst there was no crisis in my life, I started hearing things I had not heard before.

I had become a loner in AA where I had been the life of the party as a drinker and I began to realise there was more to this way of life than just not drinking. I could see I had learned to live without alcohol but had never learned to live. I didn’t know it then, but I believe with all my heart today, that AA is to allow me to have a quality of life, rather than stopping me from drinking. In the beginning I believe it helped me to stop drinking because God removed the obsession and looked after me when I couldn’t do it myself.

I believe today that God didn’t allow me to drink for those years because a lot of members who did it the same as I did continued to have relapses. My story today is this: be fearless and thorough from the very start. Don’t do it the way I did it. Get into the Steps as soon as possible. Study the Big Book and the 12 Steps and Traditions. Go to Steps meetings and of course, get a sponsor who does this as well. I had a lot of pain and turmoil in those days and if my story helps one person to do it the Steps way, all that pain will be worth it.

When I heard the members saying that the 12 Steps were a way of life, I started to learn about the Steps and with God’s help tried to apply them in my life each day, in all my affairs. This didn’t happen overnight and I was only able to do this a little at a time. I started to grow spiritually and emotionally and began to see life and the Steps in a clearer light.

I believe I was powerless from my first meeting, even before I had my relapse. When I came to AA, I knew my life was unmanageable and I know today that the more manageable my life becomes, by living the Steps, then the thought of drink isn’t an option. It is obvious that when I was able to do the things that I couldn’t do when I was an active alcoholic, then I no longer thought my life was unmanageable. I got married, had a family, got a home, became reliable and responsible, but emotionally and spiritually I was a lot worse than when I came in.

I know today that my insanity was continually saying “I’ll have a few drinks” and having a lot, always expecting a different result even though I did it thousands of times. I also know that my thinking was distorted even before I picked up a drink. It got worse while I was drinking and for years in AA was still distorted. I tried to live a normal life with this kind of thinking, but was really mad as I couldn’t see there was anything wrong with me.

The big break came in my life when I began to trust God. Although I always believed in God, I never trusted God, afraid He would call all these calamities on me if I handed my will and life over to Him. I know it is ‘care’ that I hand it over to. Nevertheless I was afraid, being in a situation where I didn’t know what to do. Before this, I was always self-sufficient but now I needed help, I began to trust a little, and the way things turned out was a way I never even though about– a way which I thought was wonderful. So I entrusted a bit more and when I got out of the way, things started to happen the way God wanted. I was able to appoint a new manager as the old one wasn’t doing a very good job. I have continued to do this and am still often amazed how things work out.

Today I know that to pray and worry is not to pray at all, while to let go and worry is not to let go. Then, I still thought He needed a little help from me. I thought that if I didn’t worry, then I didn’t love my family.

Once I began to trust, I could ask myself the question “Is it worthwhile?” I have to say 1,000 times over, “yes”, which doesn’t mean things didn’t happen that I would have rather not happened. There have been quite a few deaths in my family. My parents died within seven weeks of each other and my daughter died when she was 13, with tumours on the lungs. She was sent home to die, the last three months of her life and with the help of this beautiful program, I was able to laugh and have fun with her. I realised I had 13 years of joy with this beautiful girl and I was grateful for that.

My wife died fairly suddenly. It was my second marriage — the first ended in divorce. There were six children in my first marriage, two in my second. I was left with a son, 13, and a daughter, 11. My other children had grown up and left home. Although I was sad and grieved when these deaths occurred I knew God had allowed these things to happen — I don’t think he made them happen.

I lost a brother, as well as a son who died nearly four years ago from an overdose of drugs and alcohol. These things happen to people who are not alcoholics as well as to members of AA, and with the help of God and the Steps which have become a way of life I’ve been able to accept and adjust to these happenings.

Doing the first three Steps gave me the courage to look at myself and see a very emotionally immature person with some good points and some not so good. Doing the Fifth Step enabled me to see what was causing me to do the things I had done and with that knowledge I was able to get ready and to work on them.

I continue to work on them and know today why I became a loner, no longer able to communicate even with members of AA. It was because I didn’t want people to get too close to me or they may find out I was a phoney, that I might give myself away. I had been pretending to be someone I was not and forgot I was pretending.

Doing these housecleaning steps with God’s help enabled me to see myself as I was to others. I was then able to be myself. This is me — you can like me or lump it. I’m not what I want to be but with God’s help, and my co-operation, I can gradually progress spiritually towards what God wants me to be. I’ll never obtain it, but I can get closer to it as I continue to grow. Making amends set me free from myself and also to be able to look people in the face, knowing that I was sorry for the things that I had done and knowing that I was trying to improve these relationships.

After doing these Steps, the promises began to be fulfilled, which didn’t mean that as soon as I finished the first nine Steps the 12 Promises on page 83/84 of the Big Book would happen immediately. They did come when I committed myself to this program of recovery.

Gradually they came and continue to grow and be fulfilled beyond my wildest dreams. If only a tenth of them had happened, it would still be too much to contemplate. I’ve been able to achieve so much in my life since I decided to hand over my will and my life to God’s loving care — nothing world shattering by community standards, but the fact is that I’ve been able to achieve them. Being able to overcome my fears has been brought about by God’s power and my co-operation. The power is within and I found out how to turn it on.

I was a very angry man for many years and coped to a certain degree but it was really the Tenth Step which helped me see what it was all about. I found out that if I was disturbed, no matter what the cause, then there was something wrong with me. I learned to side step the emotional booby traps, when tempted by the bait. To take a step back and think. To have self restraint.

I found out that the anger was within me and when I lashed out I was only recycling the anger I had built up as a child. I can assure you that getting rid of that anger did not happen overnight nor did it disappear just from that knowledge. But by putting the action to it I didn’t have those emotional benders for very long afterwards.

I can’t remember the last time I was angry nor the last time I got upset, which doesn’t mean it won’t happen again. I do know that it causes me and others pain when it happens. I do know that pain is a friend because it is telling me there is something wrong with my emotions telling me I must do something about it.

I’m able to do my spot check when it arises and take the appropriate action and the pain goes. I learnt that no one could make me angry, upset me or hurt me but I could allow people to do this to me. I could be controlled through my emotions.

It is something that I have been practicing for a lot of years. I’ve learned a lot of the passages from the Big Book by heart, after reading them daily, so that if I don’t have access to the Big Book I can still recite them and put them into action.

These include the 3rd and 7th prayers, the last paragraph in Step 9 on making amends, and the Promises, as well as most of pages 84 to 88. I do my readings, prayers and meditation of a morning and pray to find out what my next step is to be, so as to be given whatever I need to take care of my problems.

I have learned how much easier it is to pray when I need pray only for God’s will for me and the power to carry it out. What a comfort it is to hand my life and my will and my children over to God’s loving care!

Like the Promises, my spiritual experience didn’t come all at once but was of the educational variety. Gradually I was able to do things I was unable to do of myself. God was working in my life to change my attitudes and to develop the spiritual gifts that had been bestowed on me.

I did have an instant spiritual experience at one time.After a meeting on my way back to my ship, I had this exhilarating feeling come over me that I was glad I was an alcoholic and started jumping up in the air, yelling out “I’m glad that I am an alcoholic”. After a moment I got alarmed in case the wharfies working the ship would hear me! I had thought it silly before this for anyone to be glad they were an alcoholic, but I believe today this was the time when I accepted the fact I was an alcoholic as well as admitting it.

It took me a long time to get into Service because I was going to sea, but even when I tried to carry the message to people, they knew that I didn’t know what the message was and took no notice of me. Thank God for that. I know today that a member doesn’t need to have done the Twelve Steps before he can carry the message. The message is one of love and reaching out to someone. When it first started, members were going out, with two and three days sobriety, to carry the message.

I see the message today is still one of love, but being able to help in a much wider field. Doing things so there can be a meeting, being self-supporting by contribution of money and time. By being a secretary, general service representative, delegate to the councils, delegate to the conferences and anywhere in between. There are so many ways to be of service, which is what AA is all about. The whole purpose is to stay sober and help the alcoholic who still suffers.

To practice the principles in all my affairs was difficult until I knew what they were. I used to be nice to members of AA and at AA meetings but to my family and those outside I wasn’t very pleasant. Not until I was able to get these principles into my life – unselfishness, understanding, humility, kindness, love, acceptance, hope, integrity, tolerance, patience – lots of others.

I do have a lot of these in my life today, to a degree, and I still have the negative side of these in my life today, to a degree. Today, I try to practice these things in all my affairs. The things that I have learned in the program and put into my life have become second nature to me today, the same way all the negativity had become second nature to me when I was growing up and had behaviourial conditioning.

I still go to meetings regularly and continue in service because I want to continue to grow — and also because I enjoy doing these things. I never like to feel I need a meeting. Going to meetings is like taking All Bran – if I take it, I don’t need it.

I also know that AA can’t be my whole life though it is the most important thing in my life. Going to AA enables me to go out into the real world and live an enjoyable life with peace of mind, love and serenity, to be able to live in harmony with my fellows. I can’t remember the last time I was in confrontation with someone, although at one time it happened often.

Today I don’t believe that I have had a bad day in my life. I believe everything has happened for a reason. The things that happened pushed me into another direction. It has all helped me to be where I am today. I’m not where I want to be but I do accept myself as I am and know I am headed in the right direction.

I also believe that all of these things that happened were like serving an apprenticeship, enabling me to understand and to become an instrument of God’s loving healing.

Members talk a lot about there being “yets” out there if a person continues to drink. The same thing applies if I continue to learn about the Steps and live them in my life each day. I’ve had a lot of yets in my sobriety and there are a lot more to come. I hear a lot of people say that sobriety is a gift. I believe that finding AA and stopping drinking certainly was and is a gift but I’ve had to work hard for sobriety and a quality of life.

I’ve had to stop doing a lot of things I’ve wanted to do and start doing a lot of things I didn’t want to do. None of these would have happened without the help of my Higher Power but no matter how much help I was given, nothing would happen unless I co-operated. God has often worked in my life when I couldn’t work in my own life.

Everything important has happened since I came into AA. I had two marriages, eight children, fourteen grandchildren and two on the way as well as a great grandchild and another on the way. So you can see that the program is progressive too.

They say it gets better and I believe it. If it gets any better I don’t think I’ll be able to stand it.