Father Barry L was the spiritual speaker this Sunday morning. He shared how if there was corporate head office for skid row it would be Bowry Street. That's where he'd ended up. His alcoholism had caused him to lose everything. His drunkalogue brought tears of laughter to the eyes of those who could share the 'lack of judgement' that comes with alcohol, his stories of late night "matches made in heaven" in the bar, his driving mishaps with damage to property but not to person, the guardian angels, and the deep remorse over those he'd hurt emotionally and financially.
"I came into AA in 1960 and sat in the bleachers of AA. There was the real AA game going around on the main floor, with lots of action and movement but I was just stuck in the bleachers for nearly 24 years......I'd abstain.....I could abstain for long periods of time in AA ....but then I'd find a 'secret' bar where no one from AA would go." It was 25 years ago that at 48 he'd experienced his 'bottom'. He said it was kind of like Job. A prayer that mixed dwindling defiance with a cry for help.
From then on he no longer lost jobs in television and radio. He later entered the seminary and became a priest and now works as hospital chaplain. He says he's most 'puffed with pride' for his helping start the first long term facility for children with addiction, now a 5 building campus. He gives each child a stone and says when that 'seductive devil voice in her sequined blue dress' comes calling for you to take drugs or alcohol, to squeeze that stone and pray to God for help. He says for years now children, now much older, come up to him and show him the stones they received. They call it 'getting stoned with Father Barry'. The facility has a 65% long term follow up success.
He said the game of AA is action and growth. He grew spiritually when he came down from the bleachers and got in the game.
Today he says despite seminary and all he's been through he still doesn't know God that well. He says an ancient monk called that the "unspoken God". It's a "mystery" because the human brain is too small an instrument to grasp the immensity and awe of God. All we need is faith and trust. The promise of AA was that "God would and could if he were sought". We could not alone do what we could with God's help. The fellowship of AA is stock filled with 'winners'. The program works. Sobriety is much more than just abstinence. Father Barry was a inspiration to all. Later I was honoured to shake his hand. He's a little man but has such a big heart and great presence.
Last night Dick McKinnley quoted the studies of IDAA long term sobriety in AA showing the greater than 80 % success and greatest satisfaction with life and loves in those who had a home group, had a sponsor and continued to attend AA weekly decades later. The few % of those dissatisfied with life in recovery were those who participated least in the program and fellowship.
This is my 10th meeting and I'm sorry to say that after the first only 2 or 3 people stayed in my hazy mind. Cyberdocs introduced me to more and more between meetings. Each week a person online shares a topic and writes personally of their life and recovery. Each of us who wants can either just read or read and add our own share much like a virtual AA topic meeting. There's a face to face meeting for Cyberdocs which I've so enjoying attending in the past but this year it overlapped with the psychiatrist meeting which I enjoyed most because of the newcomers and some of the old faces from meetings before.
Slowly each year more people came into focus. I even remembered the names of some. The faces always light up when we meet. It's the lunches and dinners and shared concerns over coffee that give the individuality to what was once a blur of humanity Last night I came to know Juan and Maria better just walking them back to their hotel. A few of the old timers spoke to me in those first meetings and remembered me at the next making me feel so welcome. It's that sense that we're not alone.
"Doctors don't talk to each other normally," she said. "They certainly don't tell each other their secret fears." We were talking after an Al Anon meeting in the coffee shop of the hotel. At the psychiatrists break out meeting we'd talked first of Anger and then Humor. Leonard shared his love of making a joke on the necessary office routines. They'd been so little humor in the last days of drinking. There was sarcasm for sure and mocking but not the light hearted uplifting humor that each of us shared as being part of our lives and sometimes part of our therapy.
At the end of the meeting this morning, a man came forward with bagpipes. He could have been there for me alone as he played "Amazing Grace". There was nearly 800 of us at the meeting. Together we held hands in a great circle and said the Lord's Prayer. Christians, Jews, Siks, Moslems, Aetheists all joined in. It seemed to sum things up. As often as not we say the serenity prayer. It was in AA I first heard that one could simply start the day with "please" and end with "thank you" and that alone seemed to make a day that much better.
It always seems that I come to IDAA so tired but leave uplifted. I come in complaining of the work and leave being grateful for the opportunity to serve. So much of that comes from being amidst my elders, the white haired pillars of medical and surgical and psychiatric communities, whose lives are amazing tales. The dentists, veterinarians, and psychologists add to the world of experience and strength and hope. This time too I shared my own dyed hair experience and reassurance with the younger doctors whose illness has cost them so much. This too will pass. Keep coming back. It gets better. I like to tell them about how Hank had to reassure me. Hank's dead now. A white haired psychiatrist from the deep south who convinced me that there really was light at the end of the tunnel.
I'm looking forward to returning to Vancouver. It's certainly not the lightest place in the cloudy winter but right now the sunshine is waiting for me.
I just talked with George again. He's an Aviation Medicine Consultant and we just got to talking navigation and physics. Marv showed up. He'd shared earlier being diagnosed with terminal cancer and getting his affairs in order only to find a couple of weeks later that the tumor was "benign" and not 'malignant'. "Nothing like a bit of bad news to focus your mind on what is important in life." He talked about his recovery and family and his concern for his children. "My daughter was getting married this summer and I just found myself thinking how I'd wanted to be there for her wedding." He's looking just fine now sitting at the table next to me talking with an old timer.
At last night's meeting in the countdown where people stand up to demonstrate the number of years of sobriety, the longest sober was 42. So many were sober more than 20 years. I found myself looking forward to being 15 years sober, I'm 13 years now. I just had the thought that 15 would be a good year.
Dr. O who wrote the story in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous "Acceptance is the Answer", story from IDAA used to say "I'll stay sober for today. I'd say I could drink tomorrow but when tomorrow came I'd just say I'm not going to drink for today."
That's the way I've felt too. Seeing the growth and change in friends here I'm wanting to stay and play in the game and stay away from the bleachers that Father Barry talked about. When I get back to Vancouver I play to get in another Step Meeting and get an Al Anon Home Group. I'm already signed up for IDAA 2011 in Tucson, Arizona.
Next year's IDAA 2011 meeting is in Tucson, Arizona this time in August. I'm planning on driving down on the motorcycle, that country being best seen that way. Real western cowboy terrain. At dinner last night I shared with Hal of Oklahoma City how much I'd enjoyed the famous Cowboy museum there. At the last IDAA meeting in Phoenix, Arizona I climbed the Camelback Mountain in the early morning before the heat of the day made it impossible. At Tucson I've signed up for the 5 k run. The last time I did this I walked it with Bobbie and Carole having one of the finest promenade conversations of my life time while Cherly like wily coyote ran circles around the course. There's always big golf meet which so many of the doctors participate in. One of these years I'll get round to joining that. This time I was glad to get to Niagara Falls. There's just never enough time in a day to fit in all the fun.
It wasn't always that way. So much of the change is thanks to IDAA.
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