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Thursday, November 12, 2015

“Experience Strength and Hope”

                                                      Alcoholics Anonymous  
                                              “Experience Strength and Hope”

                                                           By Larry F. 

                Hi everybody, my name is Larry and I am an alcoholic. Since I joined Alcohol Anonymous in 1977, I have been among the privileged few not to drink or pick up a drug or a substitute. I have watched A.A grow into what it is today. I have seen the good changes and in my humble opinion, the bad changes also. I thought I would take this opportunity to share some of these changes with you. First let me qualify myself and start with how it began. This won’t be a drunk a log. My story is a story of progression more than anything else. I think our stories are all the same, its the people that are different. I was very young when I took a beer from my grandfathers beer case in the basement of his home. I think I was about ten. I clearly remember seeing him enjoy drinking beer and being so young I naturally  became curious. When he drank, it seemed to go down so easy and smooth.  I wondered what was so good about it and what did it taste like? He never drank to excess but it looked like he enjoyed drinking it so much.” How come I couldn’t have one, I thought ?….. My wonderful Grandparents who were from the old country used to watch me after school when my Mom and Dad worked. I remember those days like it was yesterday. So one lazy afternoon when my grandfather was working and my grandmother was upstairs I went down the basement and took a Hull’s beer in that stubby brown bottle from the case that was there. It was my first beer and I think, the first thing I ever stole. I came from an Italian Catholic family, you know the type, pictures of the Pope and the Saints on the walls, everything from the Infant of Prague to Saint Francis and if you read the Big Book you know he is a very popular guy.. ..I drank that beer and I vaguely remember not liking the taste and what was the big deal but at least I knew what it tasted like. I dumped out the remainder and put the empty bottle back in the case so he wouldn’t notice. I had gotten away with it. Being so young I don’t remember drinking much after that except a sip of Vermouth from under the sink in my grandmothers kitchen or some of the wine that my grandfather let me taste. He made that in the basement. I used to help him pick the grapes. I loved the taste of that. It was more grape juice than anything else. Being a Catholic and going to Catholic school I became an Alter boy at 12 years old. I remember the wait and anticipation of turning 12 so the Nuns and the Priest would let me join. I joined because I wanted to make my parents and grand parents proud of me. I soon learned that I was good at it and I learned Latin well. The pastor wanted the Latin to be pronounced just right. Me and a friend soon became the alter boys that lasted the longest. Talk about irony. He is in the A.A. program also and has been sober for many years. Although I was shy I was comfortable on the alter and it was a learning experience I will never forget. It was towards the end of my alter boy career that curiosity and temptation got best of me and I started to taste the Sacristy wine. It was soon after that I quit. There were many reasons why but mostly it had to do with guilt. I was placed in a trusted position and I felt like I was doing things that were dishonest and I had a guilty conscience. It was my way of hiding and running away while I still had my dignity only I didn’t know it at the time. At 16 when I got my drivers license I began to drink a little more but not too much because I wasn’t old enough to go into the package stores. I drank because I was shy and I noticed that when I drank, it gave me the courage to do things and fit in with my friends and some them were 21.That was drinking age at that time. I quit school at 17 and got a job in a gas station. My dad, not pleased but always keeping an eye on me suggested that I learn a trade. He said I was, and his exact words were, “Good with your hands” and helped me get a job from one of his friends working for a electrician as a helper. I learned quick by watching and did well and it paid off. When I was 21 I met my future wife. Her dad because of his connections with the State of Connecticut got me a job as a grunt at the local airport where I started at the bottom of the ladder picking up the trash around the airport. After a few years there was an opening in the electrical department and they put me there because I had experience. It took another few years of on the job training but soon I became the Airport Electrician. That’s the way it was in those days, we helped each other. In the mean time I joined the Army National Guard. I went away for 6 months and drank like the rest of the guys but because of progression I remember I was getting drunk more often. It was when I turned 25 or 27 that my drinking took off. I drank because it made me feel good. I found out I could do anything or be anybody if I had a few drinks. Although I didn’t know it at the time it was then that my alcoholic personality was born. On occasion he still comes out and makes a fool out me and I have to make amends or pick up the pieces.  I can usually contain him and live a normal life. When I was drinking I lived 2 lives. During the day I was the family man and a responsible electrician keeping the runway lights on. After work and at night I made the rounds of the all barrooms from Hartford Connecticut to Springfield Massachusetts. I drank until I was 39 years old. I was a functioning drunk and I had the same job for 18 years. We had our own home and 2 cars in the driveway. I was a cheat, a con-man and a philander and few other things but I never got a DWI or seen the inside of a jail. I stopped growing mentally when I was about 30 and because of my sickness and alcoholic decision making, I hurt my beautiful ex-wife, God bless her, she’s gone now, my 3 sons, my friends and every one I came in contact with. The only reason I stopped drinking was because of my self-destructive behavior and I was going to lose my job. I knew I was sick and hooked on alcohol and I tried many times but I could not stop drinking. I was out of control. I reported for emergencies at that airport drunk and I should have been fired and there were a few bosses who wanted to but because of the controversial new laws making Alcoholism a disease, the director of my agency sent me to a rehab and told me it was my last chance. I stayed for 28 days. That was September 28, 1977 and I haven’t had a drink or a substitute in 38 years. I went to that rehab because I was suffering and desperate but I had an open mind and I really wanted to stop drinking. It was the only way I could. It was the last stop for me. When got out of rehab I did what they said and I started to go to AA meetings. At the meetings they told me to shut up and listen and to take the cotton out of my ears and put it in my mouth. I listened and I did what the old timers or the people with long sobriety told me to do. When I learned that all I had to do was ask my Higher Power for help. The desire to drink was taken away. When they me told me to keep it green. I watched and learned what happens when you go out and pick up drink. Through the years I have known people who have never made it back and people who have died. To them I say, Thank you! You did it for me. You are in my prayers. Today I study the Steps and the Big Book I have gone to the same Step and Big Book meetings consistently every week for the past 4 years and I learn something new each week. To me, all the answers to all the questions are in those 2 meetings. When I joined AA it was to save my life and the meetings were different. A guy told me that he was going to be my sponsor and because I desperately didn’t want to drink. I said, “Yes sir“ and he gave me a job whether I wanted it or not and that’s when I learned respect. He gave me the key to a church and told me to make the coffee. I learned trust. He gave me a check book to become treasurer of our group and I learned honesty. He made me the chairman of a meeting and I learned how to come out of my shell, talk in front of a group of people and be responsible and find speakers. He told me to clean tables and empty ash trays and I learned humility. Most of that is the same today but I notice that the same people do the same jobs over and over and the speakers tell a different kind of a story. I had a wonderful childhood and my parents made mistakes like any new parent does but my mom and dad worked hard and I never wanted for much of anything. I got everything within reason that I asked for. As I got older, seldom did I have any limits set on me but it seemed like my Dad was always there. When he told or suggested something to me maybe I didn’t listen or do it right away but it didn’t take me long before I did. Not out of fear but respect. Being the first son I was spoiled. As I got older I was protected by my employer, my family and even the police. I don’t blame these people for not being tough on me. I chose to drink because it made me feel good. When I joined A.A. If there were 20 people in a room that was crowded.  In the Suffield Connecticut men’s group there were 8 regulars and the meeting was on the second floor. Today’s meetings are, depending on the season crowded with drug users, from crack and heroin to pill poppers and methamphetamine addicts with a few alcoholics sprinkled in. The speakers today talk about their fathers and mothers, telling how horrible they were and what a rotten childhood they had. Some times its like you are sitting in the treatment center in a therapy session. Lately I have heard a lot of that. Its my opinion, that Is not what AA is all about. Its not your parents fault that you drank or used drugs! That was your choice. No one held you down and poured that booze down your throat or lit that crack pipe. Stop blaming people, places and things for your sickness. Let the past go and stop taking your parents inventory. Take responsibly for what you did to yourself. Parents issues should taken to a shrink. Speakers should talk about experience, strength and hope. If you don’t know what that is go to a few big book meetings and find out.… …..
                    A while ago I went to a large discussion meeting near where I live one afternoon and a newcomer drug addict was swearing and insulting the group and saying the old timers are “Know it all's“. To me that was sad because I know that person could never make it in the AA program. If you have been around long enough you can tell the wishful thinkers from the honest people who really want to be clean and sober and make a commitment to really try.. I haven’t seen him since that day. At first I thought it was the environment I was in until I heard some insensitive remarks in a small group. An older woman was hurt and angry and complained to me after the meeting. I haven’t seen her since that night. I witnessed a speaker with a lot years in the program saying he is married and has a mistress. Some people will laugh and snicker but to the new comer that makes it OK to be a little dishonest and a tell those little white lies.
                    Do the words “Rigorous honesty” mean anything anymore? AA is a program designed around honesty and forgiveness. It’s a never ending crusade to find humility. Newcomer alcoholics and drug addicts are always looking for some one to say its OK to do things. We learn by listening and by example. People with long sobriety have to be careful what they say and do. In my opinion the alcoholic and drug addicts of today use the program to try and stay clean and sober so they change the meaning of the steps and manipulate the words of the big book to suit their needs. They lie as long as it keeps a secret that lets them get what they want. They don’t care about the feelings of the newcomer who compares and doesn’t know how to identify. In today’s society instant gratification is expected and a little lie is OK if it makes you feel good no matter what the consequences are or who it may hurt……..In some cases the change in AA is good. In one of the meetings I attend a group member travels a lot and when he is on the other side of the world he attends the meeting by his laptop computer to a cell phone. He shares and listens by speaker phone on the table. Its an wonderful experience. I think that is great. …
              In the beginning, after I had been sober for about 2 years and I could make a major decision, I finished high school and went to college. I took courses in Physiology and English composition. There is where I learned about the medical part of my disease and public speaking. A direct benefit of that is years later I was given the opportunity to work in a rehab with the alcoholics and drug addicts both adults and kids. That is where I learned social skills. For me that means when to talk and when to listen. I still have a problem with that. I still have that Alcoholic personality I mentioned and some times he comes out and causes problems. He comes in the disguise of temptation like when my favorite uncle died and after the funeral I walked into a barroom and stood at the bar. The bar-tender put that napkin in front of me and looked at me with a grin and said “What will you have sir?” I looked at my reflection in those mirrors. I looked at the bottles and the red and blue neon lights and a voice in my head said “Get out of there“. That, my friends was God talking to me. I truly believe that. I turned around and left. That was 17 years ago. Temptation reared  its ugly head again 3 years ago when I was weak and lonely and I dropped my guard and made and made a fool out of myself and I had an affair with a member of AA while I was sponsoring her. Needless to say that turned into a nasty affair but neither of us drank. Then there are the what I call the “You are cured” and the “No one will know”, temptations and those in comparison are the easy ones. You never know when temptation or that other personality will sneak up and grab you. We will always have a problem or a moment when we are not vigilant. We must always be aware of that. I always say “For some of us it takes a little longer“ Most of us are loners and I had to learn how to approach a group of people and join in a conversation. Remember when we thought there were clicks?  Now you can’t stop me. Now I join in the conversation. There are newcomers who can’t do that. A good friend once paid me a compliment and told me that when I chair a meeting I am “In my Element” and I am good at it. I guess I am making a little progress. We all work our own program, some good, some bad, some will make it, some won’t but I can only hope and pray that a little of the old style of program will still alive when I am gone. I will Pray that people will keep the miracle alive. When Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith went into that hospital room and saved that alcoholic from a sure death. It was the beginning of the road to recovery for all of us. These 2 men, not wanting to be paid but only wanting to help another human being so they could stay sober and pass the message. Many different ways have been tried to stay sober, too many to mention and all have failed. I believe God gave Bill W. and Dr. Bob the inspiration to do what they did. If you want peace of mind and a quality of life that is beyond your greatest expectations. If you are willing to be humble, forgive and be honest and because none of this comes easy, you are willing to work hard to get it. AA is the place to be. I have been through Hell and back. I have experienced most of life’s problems. Death in the family, death of a beloved pet, painful family and relationship issues and divorce. I have never picked up a drink or a substitute. Just when you think you have seen it all, something else happens. Its only because of AA I am here today and I was able to take care of my sick mother and father in their last days. I was able to be at my ex-wife’s side and ask her for forgiveness one last time in the hospital bed where she lay dieing of cancer. I was able to take care of my Mom until she died and do the things for her my that my dad asked me to do and I am able to share this message with you. That folks, is Experience, strength and hope… Thank You, My name is Larry and I am an Alcoholic…………

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