Endless Hope

 

These past few days have been both momentous and thought provoking. I’ve learned so much in AA and I hope that by sharing some of my experiences below, it might help someone who may be struggling including anyone who has managed to get back to the rooms after a relapse. I was told that we don’t shoot our wounded in the Fellowship and Thank God that has been my experience.

 

My AA experience started on 29 October 1984, 35 years ago. I first heard of AA through my Uncle Jim who had been and stayed sober for a few years in Ayr, Scotland. I lived at his place for a few months after going AWOL from home and from my job on the Railway as an Apprentice Vehicle Builder. When I was at Jim’s I noticed a plaque on his mantle piece that read “Prayer changes things”. That must have registered with me in some way because I remembered it after coming to AA myself.

Indeed I have found that to be my experience in recovery.

Thirty-five years ago on 29 October 1984, I made the phone call that was to to be forever life changing. I had the AA London Telephone Service number in my diary. I had written it down some time before when I saw it displayed in a newsagents window. I remember thinking to myself that I would phone AA if things got really bad! I had such a short memory because things really were bad by then! I’d lost my first job through my alcoholic drinking and subsequent behaviour; not to mention running away from home and putting my parents and family through the hell of not knowing where I was or even if I was alive; squatting for a couple of weeks before going to Scotland on what I later learned was a geographical; incontinence, shakes, paranoia, fear of everything, and hallucinations. I was 19 years old at that time. The lady (Marie) who answered my call was so kind and caring. I later met her and her late husband Trevor who was also sober. I was living in Penge (South London) and my Landlady didn’t have a landline so I phoned from a red public call box. Mobile phones hadn’t taken off yet at that time. In fact, I hadn’t heard of them.

I was asked if I’d like someone to come and visit me to which I said yes, please. Marie also said she would send me some literature in the post.

A few hours later I had a visit from Tony who again was very kind. He spent the next couple of hours telling me about alcoholism and AA. He shared some of his experiences and asked me about my drinking. I told him about the constant shakes, bed wetting, hallucinations, losing my job, etc. He said, “it’s taken some people twenty years of drinking to get to the stage you’re at.”

I was filled with dread and remembered what the lads at my first job said that I wouldn’t reach the age of 21 if I carried on drinking the way I was! Tony told me to ring him the next day when I got home from work. (The Railway took me back on in a different job after my former training officer spoke to them on my behalf). I did call him and he picked me up and took me to my first meeting, Sydenham Step in Jews Walk. He told me to listen and keep an open mind. He also told me not to worry if I didn’t understand anything that was said during the meeting. He impressed upon me that alcoholism is an illness recognised as the third killer illness (after heart disease and cancer) by the World Health Organisation and therefore I wasn’t a bad person, just very sick. He also reassured me that I can get well if I stick close to AA. After the meeting he spent more time with me going through the 20 questions in the “Who Me” pamphlet that Marie had sent in the post. I remember thinking to myself that “They didn’t hang about!” When Tony dropped me home he said to get myself to Bromley Stepping Stones House the next day (Wednesday). I got the bus there and went to Catford on the Thursday. I told my mum and dad on the Friday when I went over there for the weekend. I remember being terrified of telling them that I was going to AA to help me stay sober. I guess that was because I’d lied to them so often about my drinking and behaviour that it had become second nature. They were delighted of course and fully supported me. My Dad drove me to the Surbiton Friday meeting where I bought my copy of the Big Book which I still have today. I remember thinking it was so lovely to have money in my pocket that I wasn’t wasting on booze.

Life carried on and I got better as time went on. I moved back home in the January of 1985 and went to meetings pretty much every day for the next couple of years. I used to go all over London on a Sunday. I remember those days fondly especially going to the Sunday morning Oval meeting, followed by the Young People’s meeting in Mayfair or the Chiswick Sunday afternoon meeting. After about six months, I got a sponsor and he began to guide me through the 12 steps of recovery. I also got a home group where I learned about service. I was a Greeter and I got to know many people through that role. 

I remember going to my first New Year’s Dance in December 1984 at the Royal College of Art in Kensington. I was so self-conscious but my friends in AA kept saying that everyone else is in the same boat. I started to relax and enjoy the dancing.

My first weekend Convention was the Southern National at the Metropole Hotel in Brighton. It had been moved there from the Grand which suffered extensive damage due to the IRA bombing in the previous October. The theme was Alive Again and this celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the founding of AA by Bill W and Dr Bob S in June 1935. It was a wonderful weekend.

I fondly remember the special meeting in Camden Town Hall on 31 March 1987 to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of AA in Great Britain. I saw the man who 12-stepped me into AA, Tony who I hadn’t seen for a while. It was great to see him and his girlfriend.

I was sponsored into Prison Service after attending an amazing workshop on that discipline. One of the speakers was the late Paddy O’C who inspired me greatly. Once I received Home Office clearance, I went into Wandsworth on a rota basis. I did this for around 3 years. It was an amazing experience and I learned so much about gratitude and acceptance.

I was sponsored into my first Intergroup job which was Prison and Probation Representative. My Intergroup (Chelsea) didn’t have a prison so they combined the two roles. As mentioned above, I went into Wandsworth Prison and used to report on progress there to the Intergroup. My sponsor encouraged me to do these jobs and I enjoyed them immensely. It was wonderful to begin learning about our Third Legacy, namely Service.

Life went on and I experienced many things for the first time. I flew to Rome in October 1985 to visit my late brother who was training for the priesthood. I read at his subsequent ordination in Kingston the following June (1986). I also learned to drive and passed my test on the second attempt. I changed jobs numerous times.

Somewhere along the way though I fell into the trap of complacency when I was around five or six years sober. I dropped many of the service roles I had, (some naturally through rotation). When I was eight years sober I relocated to Nottingham with the job I had at the time. This gave me the opportunity to buy my own house with a mortgage.

One thing led to another and because I wasn’t going to regular meetings or keeping in touch with close friends in AA, I became more and more isolated. The inevitable happened and I found myself drinking again on 30 March 1994 after nearly nine and a half years sober. The next couple of years were absolute hell on earth at times as I was in and out of meetings.

During this time I lost my job and driving license for which I served a lengthy ban of three years alongside probation and community service. I had become unemployable and friends kept their distance from me.

To cut a long story short I lost everything and had my last drink on 8 January 1997 in Nottingham. I moved back home to Mum two days later after appearing in court for drunk and disorderly conduct. My house was repossessed by the bank as I had defaulted on the mortgage repayments.

I got back into the meetings, Thank God, and managed to get a job which helped provide a daily structure. I got a sponsor again and with his help and guidance, thoroughly looked at myself and where I went wrong. Nobody stood in judgment of me,Thank God, which was a great relief as I thought people would. I had such low self-esteem. Life wasn’t always easy and I dealt with the loss of both of my brothers at different times in recovery (Michael in June 1997 and John in April 2010). My father died suddenly during my relapse and this hit me hard. However, I remember visiting his grave with my mum a few months after getting sober and feeling an overwhelming sense of peace. I felt that Dad was watching over me and smiling. I also felt forgiven which was the most wonderful feeling.

As I mended my spiritual fences again through the steps, I felt able to look the world in the eye. I felt that I was in with a chance of a decent life in sobriety. My faith returned and I realised that of myself I really am nothing. It’s God that keeps me sober today. I’m powerless and always will be. I hope I’m coming to rely more and more on prayer and my Higher Power. 

I’m far from perfect and made many mistakes, took a few left turns and made some dodgy choices in life but, Thank God, I haven’t needed or wanted to drink. I’ve felt a total failure and wanted to throw the rattle out of the pram so to speak, but nobody has told me where to go like they did in my drunken days and I haven’t been thrown out of anywhere. On the contrary, I’ve been welcomed in many places that I would never have dreamed I’d be allowed through the door. I’ve also felt humbled, inspired by others, extremely grateful and truly loved. These are priceless experiences. I hope I’m becoming the person that God always wanted me to become. I often think of my happy childhood experiences of helping others in the Cubs and Scouts at summer fetes, bob a job weeks, etc. My school ethos was for us to become men and women for others. This reminds me again that we Alcoholics are decent people deep down. 

Service in and outside of the Fellowship is a major part of my life today. I believe our whole programme, the Steps, Traditions and Concepts help me to become a useful member of society. 

I have been privileged beyond measure to be involved in some of the Taxi Drivers’ Charities which take sick and underprivileged children for outings to the seaside and Disneyland, Paris. 

I’ve also been able to run in half marathons for various charities over the last four years.

In AA I’ve undertaken many of the jobs in the Group, e.g. Greeter, Literature person, Secretary and Group Service Representative.

I also served at Essex Intergroup as a Regional Rep and Employment Liaison Officer. At Eastern Region I served as Employment Liaison Officer and Conference Delegate. I served on the Employment Sub Committee before being appointed to my current role as a Trustee on the General Service Board. All of these posts have enriched my recovery and continue to do so. 

I’ve learned to make good use of the many resources that AA produces for example, the Blue Service and Structure Handbooks which should be available at every meeting. In my role as a Trustee, I chair the Archives Sub Committee and also Co-Chair the Survey Sub Committee. I’ve met some amazing people through these commitments and forged good friendships. I also attend my Region and participate in their business meetings. I’m still bowled over that people trust me to do these things. I’m even more amazed and humbled when people ask me for advice.

Life is truly wonderful today even during the painful times. I’m next of kin to my mum and that has its challenges. Thank God I have a loving relationship with Mum. I’ve been married and divorced in recovery and had other relationships which haven’t lasted. I hope I have learned from them all.

The bottom line is that life is for living. I don’t believe there are any hopeless cases, though I thought I was one for a long time. An old timer used to share that outside of AA there’s a hopeless end but Inside AA there’s ENDLESS HOPE. Thank God that has been my experience and it can be yours too no matter how many times you have tried in the past to get sober.

I hope these few words have been of help and comfort.

Lots of Love,

Clive