Alumni Perspective: No Recovering Addict is an Island

Alumni Perspective: No Recovering Addict is an Island

by Tim (Sullivan)

“And then my obsession to drink was lifted.” I’ve been in program for a couple of years now and have heard this said on a number of occasions by different people. I don’t question anyone who says it, but I do know that it hasn’t happened to me, at least not yet. When I was in Sullivan, I remember watching the movie My Name Is Bill W. and there’s that scene where Bill is in a hospital bed and a bright light comes over him, which I take to be his higher power. I assumed this was some sort of Hollywood special effects magic, but the scene wouldn’t have been included if it didn’t happen to him. Quite frankly, seeing it upset me because it’s an experience I have not yet had.

I recently re-watched the movie one night at home and came to that scene again and had the same reaction, but rather than turning it off, I hung in there and came to the part in the movie where Bill was on the road for work, staying in a hotel, and as he was killing some time he kept looking over to the hotel bar. (Watch the scene here.) This part I could identify with, since I spend a lot of time on the road for work and almost every hotel has some sort of bar or lounge. It’s what happened next that really struck a chord with me: Bill got a bunch of coins at the bar and started making phone calls from the hotel lobby, working his way through a list of local churches until one of them put him in touch with Dr. Bob, and the rest, as they say, is AA history.

This is where I came to believe that the AA program is about action. Bill took action when he found himself on shaky ground by finding people to call until he was able to talk to another alcoholic. This is the most important part of the program to me.

When I find myself questioning things, wondering if sobriety is worth it, and contemplating whether I can actually have that magical “just one,” it always comes back to grabbing my phone and reaching out to the people in my group, my sponsor, or anyone else I can share that moment with, in order to not take that first drink.  

Most of the open meetings that I’ve been to have had a segment where someone stands up and gives their interpretation of the slogans that are posted in the room. This is a favourite time of the meeting for me because even though many of the slogans are often the same between groups, people often put a unique spin on them. I do my best to concentrate on what is being said for each slogan, and try to apply them to my life on a regular basis. I’ve got to say that the one slogan that ties the whole program together for me doesn’t come from the AA program. I actually heard it as part of a radio commercial: “If you could do it alone, you’d have done it already.”

This program is not about just me, but is about a group of people working together to get through our shared disease. The more I think of this as a “we” program as opposed to a “me” situation, the more I achieve that moment of contentment and serenity that I longed to experience while I was drinking. Being able to go from saying “I need help!” to “Can I help?” has been the greatest transition I’ve experienced since entering the program, and it I has come from reaching out and taking action. The magic is there, but you’ve got to work for it.


Perspective: The Gift of Desperation

Perspective: The Gift of Desperation

by Leslie H. (Munro 2003)

It’s 2004. I’m sitting in an auditorium at OISE, waiting for the Joe and Charlie Big Book Seminar to begin. My life is changing in ways I never dreamed. I am listening. I am eager to listen. I am hearing questions I never thought to ask, being invited to answer them from deep inside my soul.

At one point during the seminar, we are reading the familiar beginning of Chapter 5, “How It Works.” You know it: “Rarely have we seen a person fail …”

We hear the beginning of this chapter over and over at open meetings; however, we always stop with the three pertinent ideas, which are:

(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if He were sought.

But here I was, about a year and a half sober at OISE and I hear Joe and Charlie read the sentence that follows the abc’s. I hear them say: “Being convinced, we were at Step Three… ” and then I hear silence. They repeat the words “Being convinced” and stop again. Then they ask a question I’m hearing for the first time:

“Being convinced of what?”

They ask another question. “Is that like the line in the Foreword to the First Edition that says, ‘we hope these pages will prove so convincing that no further authentication will be necessary’??” (Yes!)

Being convinced of what, indeed?

That I’m an alcoholic and an addict of the seemingly hopeless variety; that despite any brains, looks, education, job, money, relationship, doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists, that I brought to the party, I was totally unable to manage my life powered on my own self-will. That no matter how much I insisted otherwise, no matter how much force or sweet talk I brought to the table, others were still not minding me and doing my bidding. That my “best” thinking was suspect and frequently just plain wrong. That I had no more cards left to play, no more moves to make, no place left to hide.

What a miracle! At my absolute rock bottom, I became absolutely convinced that I was terribly sick and that I desperately needed help to get well AND that the help could be found in the 12-step rooms. In that one moment when I knew I was done, all my judgements and objections — and conditions to my surrender — were completely swept away.

I had become convinced, and was now at Step Three. But, what was I going to do about it?

Gift of Desperation or G.O.D.

Today I am convinced of something else, too. I am convinced that pain makes me willing. Fear makes me willing. Basically, if I can’t stand it any longer, I become desperate and willing.

In early sobriety, I was in huge pain because I didn’t have my solution (to drink and drug) any longer. One day I wailed to a long-timer, “When’s the pain going to stop?” The answer? “You’re either going to get busy with your steps or you’re going to get drunk.”

I was terrified of picking up again but despite memorizing and saying the Step Three prayer every day and following my sponsor’s suggestion that I read Step Three in the 12 & 12 every day for 30 days, I still was staked around the “perpendicular pronoun” I-I-I … the thing that I’m told makes up the ISM in alcoholism: I – Self – Me.

Keep an open mind, this is just my experience, but I ended up firing the god of my understanding. I wrote a long letter of dismissal, typed it up, printed it out and read it aloud to that god. This act would mark the time I was conscious of hearing that still small voice, which asked me a question as soon as I was done reading. “Now what?” it asked.

Now what, indeed. I called my Higher Power Now-What for some time after that. I had been re-gifted with that Gift of Desperation and I became willing to trust this Power to continue to help me to take action and to change and to grow.

Today, I take the Third Step every morning as soon as I open my eyes. Sometimes I am more robust with this prayer than other times. Always, just when I need it, I am reminded that I am convinced and that no further authentication (that I can safely drink or use, that my self-will and self-seeking is the way to go) is necessary. “Thy Will Now-What, Not Mine, be done.”

I stick close to the people who are happy, joyous, and free in their recovery and I emulate them. On the basis of a 100% conviction of Step 1, I actively work Steps 2 to 12 to the best of my ability. I am a Big Book student. I have a home group. I go to meetings regularly, at least twice per week. I have a sponsor with whom I work vigorously. I am active in service. I work with others, taking them through the book and helping them work the steps in their own lives. I am a better mother, daughter, friend, and citizen.

May I continue to remember that my real reliance is always on my Higher Power, whatever I conceive it to be.


Perspective: Moving Out of the Fog

Perspective: Moving Out of the Fog

by Ian S.

Eight years ago I was the manager of a bar in Toronto. One night I got off early with a co-worker and took a cab to an after-hours club. I did a hit of ecstasy, and went out for a cigarette. I argued to get back in the club and that’s the last I remember. I was beaten into a coma. My next memory was waking up a month later and thinking I was late for work. I had severe brain injury.

I was in a fog. I tried to return to work, but I couldn’t do it. I was fired and moved in with my brother. It was a rough time. My sister helped me to get disability benefits. Since the brain injury, I can only think about one thing at a time. I have to take things slower, step by step. Before my injury, everything was fast. You have to serve drinks quickly and think about more than one thing at a time. Now if I have to do something I need to plan it out and take it one step at a time. If I look at the whole picture at once, it’s too much to digest. Everything is one step at a time.

After I got fired I had nothing to do, and I drank and ate. I used to drink daily at work, but I was functioning. After the assault I occasionally worked for my brother, but every bit of money I made went to drink. Eventually, someone recommended a neuropsychiatrist. He suggested that I come to CHIRS (Community Head Injury Resource Services) for SUBI (Substance Use and Brain Injury). I was very reluctant, because I hadn’t liked group meetings in the past. The meetings were only six or seven people — not fifty or sixty like I had attended before my injury and failed. Before my injury, I went because my girlfriend had given me an ultimatum. I wasn’t going for myself.

I came to CHIRS and I enjoyed the group meetings. Luckily, the small group of people was made up of people I enjoyed. I had moved out of my brother’s place and got an apartment, but I was very lonely. Apart from helping with my addiction, it was a place to go where people were listening to me. I got busy with other things too. I took a course to learn about my brain injury. I started to do more than lying in bed and watching TV. I started a volunteer job with a group that helps autistic kids with horseback riding. Before I was always talking and thinking about myself. Now I actually had an opportunity to give back and it created a good feeling.

I started to realize that nothing good had ever come from drinking. All my relationships were gone. Some good friends too. I didn’t like what marijuana did for me either.

What helped the most was the instruction, the counsellors. A fellow called David was really good. He told me, “Sometimes the hardest thing to do is put our shoes on. Make your bed. One step at a time, never mind one day a time.” He was telling us that it’s important to starting your day fresh. It’s true, it starts with the little things.

Now I’m a crossing guard. I enjoy the freshness that the kids have. Their bright faces in the morning wears off on me a bit. A good way to start the day—with the kids. It energizes me. My life was repetitive. Kids are in awe of everything. It gives me hope to see how the kids see the world. You can never go back again, but it reminds me that you shouldn’t take things for granted – that every day is a new day with potential.

The AA meetings give me a whole new influx of people. The AA at CHIRS helped me to get started. Less than six months ago, I wouldn’t have said that. The idea of higher power was difficult for me. But it doesn’t have to be religion. I have been told that the meetings themselves can be the higher power, and I tend to believe that. I’m not religious. I enjoy the fellowship. A lot of them are quality people. It bridges the gap of loneliness. It’s good to have a conversation. You get the acceptance without judgement. In closed meetings in particular, you can speak a bit, and no one interrupts you and no one judges you. It’s an outlet. People listen and you leave feeling that a void has been filled.

Thinking about it, honesty is the higher power. I’m thankful to be alive.

I see people who are worse off than me I feel thankful. People are trying to be as positive as possible and the honesty is very refreshing. They open up to stranger. I have a brain injury, and figuring out how to live after that was a real problem. My recovery from substance abuse was really about learning to live again, after a brain injury and without drugs.

Perspective: The Three Phases of Step Two

Perspective: The Three Phases of Step Two

by Ed H.

We came to A.A. and started to go to meetings. Then we came to. Then we came to believe that only a Power Greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

The second step builds on the first step. We are asked to go beyond admitting our personal powerlessness, to accept that there are powerful spiritual resource that can help us change our lives. All that is necessary for us is to recognize and accept them and somehow to connect with them. Step one get us to acknowledge that we are not in control, that individual power is limited. Step two suggests that we can use these spiritual resources that are beyond our own ordinary personal power to evoke the necessary psychic change.

Many of us cannot differentiate between spirituality and religion. These words are often used interchangeably and we must recognize that they shouldn’t be, because they have very different meanings. Religion is spiritual but it is only one source of spiritual power. There are many, many others. The word spirit is from a Latin word that means breath, life, vigour. Something is called spiritual when it represents life or when it enhances life.

Spirituality comes from whatever gives us hope, strength or peace and enhances our humanity. The Higher Power of the original 12-step program is a spiritual idea. The Higher Power can be a god or another kind of symbol. It is most likely goodness, love, a friend, or just an idea. It can also be our own intellectual curiosity. It can even be the 12-step program itself or the fellowship contained therein.

My own will only got me deeper and deeper into my disease and even when I tried to quit alcohol for good, my willpower convinced me that I was overreacting and that I could and should be able to drink in moderation. Time and time again I convinced myself that I didn’t have a problem with alcohol, because I could not imagine living my life without it. Alcohol had become the solution to everything. The more I drank, the less power I had to control my drinking or to quit on my own; I had to have help.

Surrender is the name of the game: complete surrender to the fact that I could not drink alcohol anymore. Desperation drove me to the doors of A.A. and surrender has kept me here. I am not in control, He is. I came to believe in a power greater than myself. God (as I understand him) gives me the peace and tranquility I need as long as I allow Him. I ask daily for His help to be the person that He wants me to be, and I thank Him daily for the opportunities He has given me. Only when I get complacent and take my will back and try to exert my self-centredness do things start to go awry. I hope to recognize these occasions and get back to basics before I pull the whole thing down on top of me.

Step one requires that we surrender to the powerlessness we have over alcohol, without reservation. We cannot hold on to any idea that tells us that we will one day be able to drink with impunity. We have proved to ourselves that it is just not possible. Step two requires that we surrender again, this time to the fact that we can not do it on our own will, therefore we need to find the power that we lack through a Higher Power. We must seek the psychic change or spiritual experience that has to come to us through spiritual principles.

Did I really believe that He was going to restore me to sanity? I believe it was gradual in my case. I saw others getting well; it was only my pride and the fact that I wanted to be in control that held me back. I finally had to let go. Because I did, I really believe is why I am sober today, I am convinced.


Perspective: The Three Phases of Step Two

Perspective: Keeping Step Two Simple

by Bill Wigmore

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Dr. Bob’s last words to Bill Wilson may turn out to be his greatest legacy. Speaking about the AA program, he said, “Remember, Bill, let’s not louse this thing up. Let’s keep it simple.” Step Two is a wonderful place to begin heeding Dr. Bob’s sage advice.

As I sat trying to think of some clever way to write about this Step, the old physician’s guidance came through once again. “Keep it simple.” We know that Dr. Bob sponsored thousands of men and women through the Steps but what we may have forgotten is that he took folks through the Steps pretty darn quickly.

By today’s standards, we’d call it a crash course. Often within a week, certainly within a month, his new recruits would have been well on their way to completing all twelve Steps. Since he knew it was the all-important spiritual awakening of the Twelfth Step that was going to keep them sober, Dr. Bob wasted little time in guiding them through the other eleven.

If any of us had landed in the alcoholic ward of St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio back when Dr. Bob was the physician in charge, I can imagine how he might have introduced us to Step Two. Maybe half way through our detox, when the fog was barely lifting and the pain of the last drunk still stung deep, he’d stop by the bed and ask, “Now are you ready to try the Steps?”

A quick review of my drinking history along with some honest sharing from the good doctor about his own battles with alcohol would help me understand what the powerless part of my illness was all about. He’d talk about my powerlessness as if it were an allergy. An allergy triggered by the first drink that made me crave more and more and more. “It’s really pretty simple,” he’d say.

Then he’d start in on the unmanageability part. “If the stuff’s causing you all these problems, why haven’t you been able to quit and stay quit?” He’d lead me through a short and painful review of my quitting history along with some more honest sharing about all the times he’d tried to quit but had never found a way to stay quit — until now. Out of the fog then, I’d begin to see the pattern of my own alcoholism emerge — a vicious circle that when I drank, I got drunk, and when I got drunk, I got into more and more trouble — and when all the trouble got bad enough and I’d try to quit, that’s when the unmanageability part kicked in; and while I might go for a week, or a month or even a year, in the end, I’d always get pulled back to the bottle and start the cycle over again.

“Hopeless,” is what he’d call it. “If you’re anything like me,” he’d say, “you’re absolutely hopeless — short of a miracle that is; but miracles are what I see happen here every day.” And that’s when he’d start talking about Step Two.

“It’s really very simple,” he’d say. “Did I believe, or was I even willing to believe that there might be a God?” “You don’t have to be sure there’s a God, you don’t have to know it, you just have to admit to the possibility. That’s all that’s necessary to begin the miracle, just tell me if you believe that God might exist.”

I could do that! “You’re half way there,” he’d say, “that’s great! Now just one more question and we’ll be done with this Second Step business. This God who you admit might exist, does he have the power to relieve your alcoholism? I’m not saying that he would, mind you, only that if he existed could he do that?”

“Yes, of course,” you’d hear me say, “If there’s a God, he could certainly do that.”

“Congratulations,” the old man would say, “That’s all there is to it. You just took Step Two. There might be a God and he might help you. Really pretty simple, isn’t it? I’ll see you tomorrow and we’ll take Step Three.”

Thank you, Dr. Bob. What a simple and precious gift you’ve left us, and oh how we can complicate it!


Reprinted by kind permission of the author. More of his writings can be found at