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Thirty Days Sober and What Do You Get?

By Jim S.

Thirty days and what did I get?

I found my self-respect, so long lacking.

I found my business again and am enjoying it.

I found people no longer antagonize me.

I found money in my pockets.

I found much, much, more time on my hands.

I found my real friends are still my real friends.

I found my “alcohol abuser” friends are still alcohol abusers.

I found myself jumping out of bed full of enthusiasm.

I found my employees talking to me about important life matters.

I found I’m a very productive person.

I found the beauty of books once again.

I found I’m not nearly as stupid as I look.

I found that not everyone pukes daily.

I found chocolate.

I found dinner to be special with my family.

I found that my wife does/did not hate me … just the booze.

I found my kids really do love their dad in spite of my faults and foibles.

I found I can be there for them.

I found my paranoia was unfounded.

I found poetry.

I found creative writing.

I found how to fix things heretofore impossible.

I found comedy to be funny.

I found the people in my wife’s church are not all hypocrites.

I found Christmas shopping to be a joy rather than a burden.

I found the damn cats like me sober.

I found strength in numbers.

I found happiness and peace.

I found no pink cloud, just honest to goodness sobriety.

I found I need not project nor forecast the future.

I found (from Pigpen in Charlie Brown’s Christmas) “Frankly, I didn’t think I looked this good.”

I found tolerance of others views.

I found I’m not always right.

I found others are not always right either.

I found there are some very good people in this world.

I found there likewise to be a not-so-short supply of evil.

I found I can enjoy life rather than merely survive it.

I found you folks.

I found some great slice of strength you all seem to possess and exhibit.

I found I never announced anniversaries in AA, as I tended to look to the future with the attitude (or maybe I just never “got it”) that most seemed to treat their time “clean” as time “deprived”. I don’t want to fall into that trap again.

You get bit the first time it’s the dogs fault, the second time its your own fault.

Love and friendship to all you fine people.

I don’t think, or maybe I do, that this is the first month of the rest of my life.

Chaos bless, God bless, Buddha bless, Zoroaster bless, Great Spirit bless, oh and lets not forget Jean Dixon!


Posted 12/8/97

That Trip Out of Town

Diane posted:

I have to attend a professional meeting this upcoming weekend, and I am looking for any suggestions people might have on successfully staying sober through it (anything from “Just don’t drink!” to arcane rituals will be welcome). I’m sure you know the sticky parts: planes, trains, hotel bars, meeting cocktail hours, etc.

Frankly, this has been something I haven’t handled well before (why CAN’T that lady get into room 353? Right room number; ooops, wrong hotel, bye…) and I really intend to succeed this time.

Any tips appreciated.

Mary Ann replied:

Is there a meeting where you’re going? Find out, plan to attend it. Skip the cocktail hour, if you have to go then go late (got caught up in work, networking etc…) have a soda, stay away from the bar and people who are obviously there for the drink. Better yet arrive late, bump into someone causing your drink to spill on you (wear light color, dark stainable juice) then you really must leave to change clothes and don’t go back. Don’t go into the hotel bar. Get a rental car (even if you have to pay for it), drive to a meeting (SOS, AA, NA, Alanon, Alateen). Tips on how to find a meeting: http:/ (SOS), phone book for AA, NA. Call the local treatment center/hosp. is there a meeting, or someone you can talk with. As for the airport, bring a SOS book, have the airport PA system page “any friend of J. Christopher or Bill W.” to meet you for a mini meeting. Bring a sober friend with you to wait. Use the phone call someone. Do airport have internet terminals now??? Sign on to SOS Email or Friends of Bill W. chat room. Hey, anything in a tempting situation is worth a try. Keep that last experience (oops, wrong hotel) fresh in your mind.

Craig replied:

I am off on a business trip this very week, and for the first time in a while I was apprehensive about booze before I left – I was concerned that being in a small city in Montana at this time of year would be a problem, what with the early sundown and unavailability of the usual outdoor recreational options in this part of the country, as well as the omnipresence of bars in this frosty climate. Well, my concerns were unfounded, I have had absolutely no urge to throw away my life whatsoever. I even turned down repeated offers of beer and wine tonight when I had dinner at a colleague’s home – and you know what? The antelope steaks were still yummy, the conversation was still amusing, and neither he nor his wife thought any less of me because I chose not to drink. I had a really good time, and I know that I behaved well enough that they meant it when they said they wanted to see me again. It’s a good feeling.

You don’t have to drink to have fun. You don’t have to drink to be interesting. There are only two possible reasons to drink: because you want to or because you need to. Since you are here, it is pretty clear that you don’t really want to. And since you are here, you have probably decided that you need not to drink more than you need to drink. So just keep in mind that no matter what, there is no possible reason that you should pick up a bottle, regardless of what others (be they “normal” or drunks like us) do.

Hugh replied:

Diane and all, I haven’t joined in the discussion till now; I’ve just been eavesdropping, but I appreciate this problem, Diane. I’m a historian and these conferences are REALLY tough tests of sobriety. What I’ve done is just flat out tell people I have stopped drinking because too often in the past I have gotten knee-walking and I don’t want to chance that any more. The reaction has been almost uniformly favorable: people were GLAD AND RELIEVED that I would not be making an obnoxious spectacle of myself. People who didn’t know me, didn’t care that I didn’t drink. And what a difference it made! Instead of returning home with an aching head and fervent hopes that I was not wanted by the local police, I had lots of new, useful information for lectures, etc. and, more important, clear memories of good times with old friends I only get to see at these conferences. I really can’t imagine screwing up one of these occasions again for the sake of alcohol. I really enjoy this group and have benefited from it enormously.

Diane responded:

I just wanted to thank you all for the very useful and creative suggestions and support. It has been definitely helpful for me to see how other people handle this kind of situation. I’ve printed all of your e-mails and will be taking them with me this evening.
I also used your suggestions in combination with a technique in the SOS Handbook. I sat down last night and listed off all of the potential PROBLEM situations I could imagine arising and then matched them with possible SOLUTIONS:

“Liking those little bottles of California Chardonnay on the plane” — make sure I have something nonalcoholic to drink.

“Going out with a group of former colleagues” — try just telling them that I stopped drinking — they’ll probably be just as glad; remember that there is no reason for me to pick up a bottle…et cetera.

I realize that this might sound like major overkill (I even called the hotel to make sure the room doesn’t have a minibar!), but this is the first time I have traveled for any reason and I want it to be a success.

Three days later, Diane posted:


I just wanted to thank everyone for all of the advice and support re: conference travel. It WORKED! Had a very nice time (actually remember the content of the sessions! — laugh), enjoyed seeing old colleagues — and even attended two receptions fueled by nothing stronger than Diet Coke. (I did skip the invitation to go “brewpub crawling”, however — went back to my hotel and got into the pool instead, then went down for a nice dinner with a good book. I brought all your e-mail with me and it was most helpful to review the suggestions and my plan and to know that I HAD a plan, and options to deal with it.

Didn’t even want to drink on the train ride home — AND got an unexpected bonus from that: turned out my boss was on the same train (unrelated travel) and we didn’t know it till we disembarked (by which time yours truly USUALLY would have had at least three of those cunning little bottles of wine (“oh, they’re SO small….”).

Anyway, thank you all once again, and enjoy a sober Tuesday! (Even if it IS cloudy and Novembery here, it’s not cloudy in my head today. And it doesn’t have to be anymore.


(Posted Nov. 5 – 11, 1997)

A Letter From My Father

By Robert B.

This date is a strange anniversary for me. I went down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and some time around noon my (ex) wife and I were exchanging vows at the Dare County court house in Manteo. Since this was back in my drinking days, the trip up to Nags Head consisted of half a bottle of Pepto Bismal to try and take care of the night before, and the ceremony was followed by a trip to the nearest bar to get where I needed to be. I had gone ahead with the trip, knowing that my dad was terminally ill at the hospital in Bethesda, Md. When we returned, I called and found out that he had died that morning. Not many folks with that distinction, I reckon. Some time much later my mom sent me some of his writings, including a letter he wrote to her brother Tommy Joe, who was having his low points at the time, and shares our (and his) “taste” for the booze. I posted this before, but thought I’d put it out again, a little reminder of how he felt about sobriety. Hope you indulge an old fart. Like father like son…

April 26, ’72

Dear Tommy Joe,

I remember an evening in late August of 1935 when a cocky young school teacher spent a late evening with some of his equally cocky students gulping down beer at the 24 Hr. Cafe. Late that night the teacher was still sober, sorta, and Ted Burke, Leo Klimboski and a little smart aleck were drunk. I carried the latter one home (he had some cute sisters) and deposited him quietly on the sleeping porch, hoping he would sober up in time for class the next day. He did.

Tommy, I am an alcoholic. I don’t drink. I hope I never drink again. (Mind, I don’t say, “I’ll never drink again as long as I live”. That might be sorta uncomfortable for me to live with.) How did I get down? How did I get up? I have heard from others a million sagas detailing the rationale – irrational in answer to the first of these two questions. They all differ and many are dramatic, tragic, pathetic, frightening, sad – you name it. My own story fits in there somewhere. But, having succumbed to the ailment, its source or sources, though certainly academically important and worthy of pursuit, could for the time be shelved until rehabilitation has been consummated.

The beginning of my own resurrection was rather dramatic. I knew I had a drinking problem. I covered – or attempted to cover. I forgave those who subtly cajoled me to do this or do that. I kept my job. Much absence for illness. Lost too much weight. Wouldn’t eat. Developed dietary, digestive, glandular troubles, high blood pressure, diabetes. At the time there didn’t seem to be much point in changing my life pattern because the damage – physical, emotional, psychological – appeared inoperable. Might just as well live it up, die soon, and hopefully unaware of it all soaked in alcohol. I would have screamed ‘Murder’ had I thought that someone was attempting to enslave me; but I blindly set about enslaving myself to a bottle. Slave to a goddamn bottle!

There were so many other things I liked to do and ought to do. Things got worse. A vacation trip to the Rockies; stopped in a small provincial, red-necked town; charged with minor traffic violation; unconventional hair style, foreign-built car, out-of-state tags; sober; searched, manacled, arrested; charged with felony, possession of and transporting of marijuana; jailed three days and nights; mistreated, possessions impounded; newspaper publicity with pictures; national radio networks; F B eyed up to kazoo; Hoover cleaned; the younger set scurrying to the mountains for ‘Silverweed’, thinking it was grass; a tragicomedy of some moment produced at a cost of only 1 1/2 grand; completely cleared a month later; but the Oklahoma Bradleys disgraced by the oldest son.

Do you perchance remember an essay we studied in English Lit during your senior year at Harrah High School? The author: Alexander Pope; the subject: “Adversity”. Its basic postulation was not really new and in earthy, less elegant language might say: after darkness comes the dawn; or Every cloud has a silver lining; or Things must get better ’cause they can’t get any worse; or God works in wondrous ways; or Shit! Shit! enough is enough! Upon release on bond and in a sad mental and physical state, I retreated to Harmony House, a lovely alcohol and drug rehabilitation foundation in Estes Park, Colorado. Interesting people these addicts; wildflowers; birds; deer; abandoned mines; gold panning; park ranger; psychologists; swimming; cameras; rap sessions; folk songs and barber shop singing; leisurely reading; liquor available – coffee preferable; vitamins; wholesome food; Foundation president and staff all alcoholics; a millionaire Texas oil man; a penniless oil field roustabout; tall storied lies; laughter at our own weaknesses; self appraisal; sobriety. The end of a nightmare.

Tommy, I don’t envision myself as a paragon of virtuosity, a showpiece for sobriety or any other such nonsensical image. There may be by-products of sobriety that enhance one’s empathic approach to other people, but the golden fleece, the silver chalice, is mine. I no longer want to escape adversity. I want to meet it and beat it. Life is fun again. The family doctor is amazed at my vitality and general good health. He thinks he cured me. Maybe he did start the cure when he hinted that I might ‘We’ not be able to ‘hack it’ for very much longer. All of this became a undertaking. It was done with the love and understanding of Teddy, relatives, friends, and alcoholics.

We would love to hear from you. Better yet, come and see us. May I help you to the peaceful sleeping porch again?

Love, Bob

(Posted Oct. 14, 1997)

The Happy Neurons

by Mark P.

I have been following the literature on chemical dependency for 17years and always like to get my $.02 in. Especially since this has been a topic of discussion here of late.

The nature of chemical dependency is, to me, one of nature’s really fascinating stories. Why is there such a thing as addiction at all? What even makes such an odd thing possible? If you step back from it, it sure is a goofy-ass thing to have happen to anybody.

“Once upon a time”…. roughly 500 million years ago, evolution came up with one of its most elegant inventions. It happened in some fish-like critter since the land wasn’t populated yet. It was the evolutionary invention of the self rewarding neuron. Imagine it. A “feel good” neuron. A way to manipulate behavior (in evolutionary terms) by having the organism reward itself!! This is, to me, one of the most interesting moments in all of evolution, because it is what makes complex behaviors possible. So here we are 500 million, or so, years later at the end of an intricate evolutionary shaping process.

What makes you feel good? Sex, obviously. If it weren’t for these reward neurons, sometimes called reward centers, there wouldn’t be 5 billion or so sapiens sapiens running around the planet. But these reward systems are much more ubiquitous and subtle. They reward us for all kinds of things from eating a good meal to doing a good job to making a friend. They regulate our social behavior in public. They make possible intricate forms of social learning. There are probably thousands of behaviors that are rewarded by our own little brains, and hundreds of reward systems to deal with them.

Remember, this has been going on for 500 million years, enough time to create some pretty evolutionarily crafty stuff. So there you are, your wife has just given birth to your first child and you see it for the first time and are overwhelmed with good feelings. Reward system in action, big time.

So how about addiction? As I mentioned there are probably hundreds of these reward centers in the brain. Certainly trillions of reward neurons coursing throughout most of the brain. When one ingests what we call addictive chemicals what happens to the brain is that most or all of the these reward centers are set off at once. In a way that was never intended by Mother Nature. The addictive chemicals bind to the receptors on these reward neurons and, if you’re on this email list, you know what happens. Especially in the early stages of addiction: Euphoria. An overwhelming sense of wellbeing. No problems. All is well with me and the world. I look in the mirror and I am 2 inches taller and I can talk to girls at the dance…etc. The effect of all this is BAM!…new brain! The use of the addictive substances reconfigures the whole reward system of the brain. In little pieces these reward systems motivate evolutionarily productive behaviors and, as I mentioned, the success is in the pudding. 5 billion or so.

But, now all of Mr. Brain’s reward neurons have been set off at once and focused on the substance that did it! Holy shit, Mary. The use of the substance, because of its effects on the reward neurons, takes on all the characteristics of the strongest biological drive possible. It surpasses even the drive for self-preservation. Why? Because the brain’s reward systems have been reconfigured to support the use of the substance that sets them off, in the same way that they were originally configured to reward certain behaviors, only now they have become overwhelmed, focused on supporting the use of the addictive substance. We all know what happens from that point on.

At this level of organization an addiction is a relatively simple thing to understand. At the neurochemical level it gets a little more complicated. All brains are not the same. All receptor sites are not created equal. Thus, because some molecule in a person’s dopamine receptor hooks a little left instead of right, cocaine is not addictive to that person but might be to the other 80% of the population. Alcohol we know becomes addictive to those whose neurochemistry manufactures a synthetic opiate out of alcohol. We’ve known this for at least 26 years. Hence the reason alcoholism is hereditary. The possible neurochemistry is coded for in the DNA. It only becomes a problem when it meets alcohol.

So, is this a disease? Certain things are irrefutable. It is organic. It is biologically based. It is a functional disorder of the reward system of the brain. It alters the behavior of trillions of neurons. It causes irreversible damage. You, obviously, can’t have the condition without the addictive chemical but then you can’t have an allergy without the allergic substance.

I will say that, in my humble opinion, the understanding of the nature of addictions represents the finest of what science can do. Parenthetically, the most significant research wasn’t done by people in the alcohol/drug field. As is often the case, old paradigms do not change from within but only change when confronted with new evidence from without.

What is not so nice is what happens in the socio/political world. It has always been difficult for Western culture, particularly American culture, to accept any behavior that is not volitional. We are, after all, captains of our destiny are we not? There is this thing called consciousness and it is the arbiter of all behavior. That’s the way it is for me, by God, and that’s the way it is for you. If you’re “addicted” to a substance it’s your own damn fault, etc.

Most people in A.A. have no real understanding of the biology of addiction. When they talk about the disease (dis- ease [give me a break!]) they are usually referring to some kind of characterological disorder (addictive personality or somesuch) as the disease entity. It is all very strange and, of course, interspersed with mysticism.

For some reason many individual resent the idea of being “diseased.” I have never really understood why. Personally I don’t give a tinker’s damn that it might be a “disease.” What matters to me is that there are behavioral techniques and therapies that can be used to put this thing in remission. I think I am grateful that so many people have spent so much time in trying to understand this thing and uncover its nature. It perhaps, someday, will change the attitudes of the general public toward chemical dependency. But, I’m beginning to ramble. I hope the above gives people a context in which discussion can take place about this crazy, deadly thing called addiction.

(Posted April 14, 1997)