All posts by Steve H

‘The Easier, Softer Way,’ Or ‘Half Measures Availed us Nothing’

The easier, softer way may be nice in the short run, but in the long run it leads to failure.

by Mark H.

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A few months ago at Uptown Club a man in his 20s asked if I would be his sponsor. Before agreeing to sponsor someone, I always ask a few questions, like when was the last time they used (alcohol or drugs) and do they have a desire to stay sober.

“Alcohol you mean?” the man asked.

“Yes,” I answered, “and drugs?”

“Well,” the young man said, “my girlfriend and I haven’t drank in a few weeks, but we still use marijuana.”

I have heard this response before, and told the young man, “I have never met the person who could stay sober from alcohol by using the ‘marijuana maintenance program.’ “

Our conversation soon ended, and I never saw or heard from the man again.

I’ll speak for myself here as that is the AA way, but as a former 16-year pot user I believe using pot would be a loss of sobriety and would eventually lead me back to drinking and the inevitable “jails, institutions and death.” Some clubs consider discussing drugs a forbidden ‘outside issue,’ but abuse of alcohol and drugs more times than not go together for many, if not most folks who come to AA.

I’ve talked to and met others on the marijuana maintenance program (aka drug addiction) throughout my many years of sobriety, so I don’t think this is a new phenomenon. Using pot just continues the full flight from reality for alcoholics/addicts. There is no way around it. There is just no easier, softer way.

I am glad I gave that young man a dose of sobriety truth. I know I sure needed honesty when I was newly sober. Indeed, I never would have got sober or remained that way without AA honesty.

I hope that young man someday finds his way back to the halls of AA, but this time with a desire to truly get and stay sober.

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Leaps of Faith

by Mark H.

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I started using alcohol (age 13) and drugs (age 15) to cope with my dysfunctional family and life’s challenges outside my toxic home life.

Later, at age 32, with a common-law wife and two children and a fulltime job, the alcohol and drugs weren’t working anymore. In fact, they were making my life worse. That year I found myself divorced, alone and hurting bad (as was my lost family).

I had a sober co-worker, though, who I had been sharing my problems with for about two years. He kindly listened, told me how AA had helped him and always told me, “If you are ever about to drink, but don’t want to (the only requirement for AA membership), call me first.”

One day I went on a drive to get away and consider my plight. I was drinking and drugging, then realized I was behaving like I did when I was a teenager. I knew my old coping mechanisms weren’t working anymore. I had to try something else.

The first little leap

Not long after the drive, I was home alone on a Saturday afternoon hurting and looking for a way out. I walked over to the refrigerator, pulled out a wine cooler, but then hesitated. I could hear my friend inviting me to call him before I drank.

So, I took that first leap of faith by calling my friend. I humbled myself and asked for help. This was a new strength I was use again.

“Dump that shit down the drain,” my friend said, and I did!

He then told me to call the AA Central Office and ask for a nearby meeting.

“I can’t go alone, its just too scary,” I told him.

“Don’t worry, ask for someone to pick you up,” he said.

“Really, someone will pick me up?” I just couldn’t believe strangers cared that much.

So, I humbled myself again and asked for help. I didn’t think anyone would care enough to do a stranger this favor, but sure enough an older man came to my house and took me to my first meeting. His kindness impressed me. It was Labor Day 1986.

I was scared stiff at that first meeting, but I stayed because I was even more frightened by the direction my life was taking. I told a few folks this was my first meeting. They welcomed me and invited me to a sober picnic that day at a nearby park. I went and had fun, but still looked around the whole park for people using. I really couldn’t believe no one was drinking or using drug. But, no one was. That impressed me too.

I stayed in AA and sober for a few months, but then went back to using. But AA, even that little bit, had ruined my drinking. The notion that “ignorance is bliss” made using easy, but I wasn’t ignorant about substance abuse anymore and the drugs and alcohol still weren’t working.

So, I reluctantly went back to AA in October 1987 and, like they said, ‘we don’t shoot our wounded.’ Much to my relief, the group welcomed me back. I wasn’t sure I wanted to quit drinking/drugging or be in AA, but I didn’t want to die or end up in jail either.

“Give AA a chance,” they told me. “The only thing you have to lose is your misery. And if AA is not for you, got back out. Your misery will be cheerfully refunded.” Those words stayed with me then and still.

The Big Leap

This time back at AA I really began to debate whether I was an alcoholic or not, whether or not I should admit Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.

I read the Big Book, took diagnostic surveys, discussed the matter with fellow AA members and debated the issue with myself for about nine months. I was becoming the Great Debator at my club. My sober friends would tell me: “Analysis is paralysis.” Indeed, that was me. Still looking, perhaps, for a way out?

Life was still a struggle, especially now since I was between two worlds: No longer using, but not fully embracing AA’s help either.

Then, one day I just decided to take Step One to heart. Much to my surprise, the transformation and relief was immediate. Being on the fence is hard work, much harder than ‘making a decision.”

I had finally ‘walked through door” and made the great leap of faith, come what may. I didn’t know if this path would work, but at least I had picked a lane! I hoped it would work.

Its not easy to leave an old life and build a new one, but once I admitted Step One I was exhilarated by the fact I had admitted the truth about myself and, just as important, what to do about it: 90 meetings in 90 days, get a sponsor, do the steps, find a higher power and unload my using friends and places.

AA was my life back then until I built a new, sober life, which took about two years. Now, AA guides my life.

My first home club always ended meetings by saying “Keep coming back, it works if you work it.” New comers and old timers alike told me my life will get better the longer I stayed sober and participated in AA. “Meeting makers make it” is one of my steadfast mantras.

Starting with those first few months and years sober, the promises of AA have come to pass. Every year sober my life has improved thanks to AA.

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Remember the Fallen

by Mark H.

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I had two best friends in high school here in Minnesota in the early 1970s. One of them was Randy. Like most high school friends, we spent a lot of time together, we double dated, fished, hunted, had parties, pig roasts, listened to music, debated the issues of the day, attended wildlife conservation banquets, you name it. We also used a lot of drugs and alcohol. We were partners in addiction.

After high school, I moved west, Randy stayed in Minnesota. Seven years later I hit my bottom, sobered up and moved back to Minnesota 1.5 years sober. I heard Randy was having a hard time at life, so I gave him a call.

Randy was glad to hear from me, but mad I waited so long to contact him. I explained that to protect my sobriety I had to stay away from old using friends. He sounded intoxicated as he cursed me out for keeping my distance. Then, Randy started to talk about the problems in his life such as the inability to have children, dissatisfaction with his job and comparing himself unfavorably to others who had achieved more. He was being real hard on himself and then confessed he was drinking too much.

“It doesn’t have to be that way, Randy,” I said, hoping he’d consider starting down the road to sobriety.

Alas, Randy would have no part of such a conversation, he changed the subject and soon our chat was over. It would be our last. A few years later he collapsed into a coma as his liver and pancreas shut down. Three days later he was dead. I went to his funeral, looked at the photos of his life displayed on bulletin boards, talked to old friends and wept when a mutual friend and I embraced.

Another old friend shoved a photo in my face of me with a joint in one hand and a beer in the other, threatening to use it against me in case I ratted him out. He snapped the photo out of my hand and walked away. I remember being that afraid, paranoid and angry and was grateful I wasn’t in that world anymore.

We went back to Randy’s house after the funeral to relive old, fonder memories of our dead friend. There, I pulled his grieving mother aside and told her I had extended the hand of sobriety to Randy, but that he would not take it. She thanked me for trying. I later made a donation to a wildlife conservation group in Randy’s name. They gave me a certificate in his name, which I sent to his mother.

Randy has been gone some 20 years now. I think of him and the fun times we had those many years ago. We had a lot of laughs and adventures. I learned some things from Randy too, he was a smart guy. Many other Americans have been killed by addiction since Randy, but thanks to AA, I have not been one of them.

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Have a Sober New Year

Greetings, I am Mark H., your new Uptown Club Steering Board Communications volunteer. I hope to breathe new life into the club’s heretofore neglected website and revive it as a tool for recovery.

New Year’s Eve Party

Speaking of revival, my wife, a normie, and I intend to start the new year at the Recovery Church’s New Year’s Eve party! Join us. The church is at 253 State Street in St. Paul (651.291.1371). The sober fun begins at 6pm with food, games, movie, dance and fellowship.

I don’t think I would have been able to stay sober in my early months (or today, for that matter) of sobriety without ‘the meeting after the meeting.’ The Recovery Church New Year’s Eve party is a great way for me to live the sober life outside of the AA club setting. I hope to see you there.


Is using alcohol-based mouth wash to cure and prevent gum disease a wise thing for a person in recovery to do?

I’ll get things started: For years a friend refused to use such mouth wash until gum disease set in and his dentist told him he better start using it or he’ll lose some teeth. So, the friend started using it and hase had no problems since. He just swishes and spits it out. His gum disease was eliminated and has been kept at bay since (he also used another, prescription mouth wash at first, underwent other treatments and has regular cleanings).

A friend warned the man, however, that some people abuse alcohol-based mouth wash. The man countered, saying if he was new to recovery, first year or two, he would not use it. He looks at the mouth wash as much needed medicine.

Your thoughts and experiences?

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