Category Archives: Stories

Legal Pot in Minnesota & Alcoholism: The Answer is the SAme

Pot possession, use and growing becomes legal in Minnesota August 1, with retail sales starting in about a year or so. Now, this is an AA site, not NA, but the two are connected, as most of you know. Here’s an example: A few months ago I was talking to a buddy at an AA meeting here in the Twin Cities about Minnesota legalizing pot. I am a recovering pot smoker as well as recovering drinker, as is my buddy. He said a few years ago when he was a few months sober he learned a state out east had legalized pot. It just so happens the man’s daughter lived in that state, so my buddy decided to go ‘visit’ his daughter. His real plan, however, he told me, was to get stoned. He got stoned and was soon back on the booze and with dire consequences.

I imagine Uptown and all the other AA houses (and NA houses) in Minnesota will start seeing more relapsers just like my buddy; that more struggling recovering alcoholics will take up the ‘marijuana maintenance’ program too. As with my friend, this path will lead to ruin for those of us powerless over booze and other substances. Of course, pot, like booze, wasn’t my problem. I was. Like legal booze, recovering people will just have to deal with it the best way we know how: go to meetings, read the Big Book, stay away from using people and places and work the steps. Its worked for me for 35 years!


Controlled drinking by Another Name

Oh boy, its Dry January again and some in the Normie World are making their annual attempt to enable alcoholics to keep drinking. The photo below is of a story from today’s Star Tribune (written by the New York Times). It talks about “Mindful Drinking.” Sound familiar? If not, check out this quote from Chapter 3 of the AA Big Book:

“MOST OF US have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.”

Ok, give controlled drinking a try, if you must (we hope you live through it), but when it fails, as it will for real alcoholics, the doors of AA will be open to you.


We die, they get rich

This reader letter appeared in the Jan. 4, 2023 Star Tribune newspaper, Twin Cities, MN. Wow, that’s a lot of money and, wow, taxpayers are sure paying for their profits. The writer says 60 percent of industry profits are from binge drinkers.


Boozing it up costs Minnesota Taxpayers $8 Billion/year

Darn, better to go AA!

Wow, that’s a hell of a bar tab for excessive drinking, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, which just released the study, a first of its its kind in booze-soaked America. This head-pounding tab amounts to nearly $1,400/Minnesota resident. Uff da!

Most of the $8 billion comes in the form of lost productivity at work, or about $2.5 billion. The rest of the squandered treasure is from death, $1.7 billion; criminal justice, $959 million; health care, $915 million; and motor vehicle crashes comes it at a whopping $296 million. Ouch!

The study, as reported in the Star-Tribune newspaper, said binge drinking accounted for 75 percent of the carnage, no surprise to those of us in the fellowship of AA!

Now, Minnesota is adding THC to booze, whoa! Fire up the Big Books, keep the AA clubs open late and make some coffee, we AA’s have our work cut out for us!!! There is a solution Minnesota: free AA meetings. Meeting Makers Make It! It sure has worked for me, 35 years sober in October! Thanks AA!


Alcohol Killed 99,000 Americans in 2020

Zoom meetings have saved many from pandemic-driven despair

Pandemic stress upped the death toll 25 percent, but don’t despair, AA is there!

Gee, if you ever needed a reason to join Alcoholics Anonymous, this headline is it. Personally, I’d rather admit I have a problem, ask for help and attend meetings/work the 12 Steps than be a corpse.

Just imagine the death toll number had there not been Zoom AA meetings during this pandemic? I know I relied on them, and I’ve been sober since 1987. AA is amazing. Case in point: I was unable to make my usual meetings for 12 days. Last night, I hit an Uptown Club online meeting and told my wife afterwards, “There’s nothing like hitting a meeting after missing them a while and realizing all over again how much I love AA.”

Any why not. AA saved my life. But more than that, AA made my life the mostly great ride it has been. There were quite a few new people and relapsed folks attending last night’s meeting, and no doubt other meetings around the country. I bet a few of these folks would have been counted in the next booze death toll had the hand of AA not been there to help them saves themselves.

I’m proud that AA, which was founded nearly a century ago when computers and the internet weren’t even dreamed of, has adapted to this pandemic and used technology to help save countless lives.

After last night’s meeting ended, I repeated one of my favorite AA mantras, “Meeting makers make it,” which elicited a heartfelt amen from one attendee. In 100 years, this one AA truism hasn’t changed, and it won’t in another 1,000 years.


Getting Back Up

The trick to life is not always winning, but getting back up once you fall.

I’ve been watching the Olympics this week. Seeing one American skier, who has won many races and medals, wipe out, and sobbing on the sidelines in front of the whole world reminded me of that age old saying, “the trick to life is not always winning; but getting back up once you fall.”

As a long-term recovering substance user, I can relate. This skier’s most public defeat was a good reminder about my own life, and that of others, because I, too, crashed and burned at one time in my life after a good run of victories.

You learn a lot about yourself, and others, not so much when they win, but what they do when they lose. Some pout, give up and either die quickly or slowly, giving up on themselves and life. But others, myself included, figured out we had some problems and reached out for help to solve them (Step 1 and 2). I accepted other help in addition to AA. I did what it took.

The AA Big Book says there are those who do not have the capacity to be honest with themselves, that there’s little hope for them. I’ve always heard it said those people are to be thanked because they serve as a warning to the rest of us about what can happen if we don’t accept help and recover.

I chose to admit I had some problems, get up, dust myself off, reach out for help and live……..and live I have! Its been a good run so far (after that first year or so, anyway), and as long as I go to meetings, work the program and hang with/help others, this good run will continue!

The Case of Sheriff Hutchinson

Speaking of publicly ‘crashing and burning,’ what do you think of Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson’s experiences of late?

You may recall on December 8 a very drunk (twice the legal limit) Hutchinson crashed his county-owned vehicle at some 120 mph, and was lucky to survive. Approximately 120 Minnesotans died in alcohol-related crashes in 2021.

Many called for Hutchinson to resign. One state senator said, “I believe in second chances when it comes to chemical dependency, but the path to redemption requires accountability.”

Hutchinson was convicted of fourth-degree DWI, and agreed as part of his plea deal, to undergo random drug and alcohol testing. He’s also forbidden from drinking alcohol and getting any driving violations. He’s said he has stopped drinking. Hutch has since agreed not to run for re-election, but won’t resign his current term.

I hope he chooses the path of recovery.

Another Resource

Saw this on one of the endless news reports of people dying from substance abuse. Maybe it will help someone: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrative Hotline: 1.800.656.4673.


Hayes’ song “AA” Comes at Good Time

Country singer Walker Hayes just released his song “AA” last November. The lyrics are great. Its good music stars discuss their sobriety struggles in public because it helps others deal with their lives. Such efforts help ‘mainstream’ talking about alcoholism and recovery, both to those in (or in need of) recovery and the ‘normie’ community.

The song comes out at a time when many in this country are just losing it (alcohol and drug abuse, deaths are skyrocketing) because of the pandemic, economic and political turmoil. There is an effective, free alternative to killing yourself with alcohol and drugs: AA!

The song was co-written by Hayes with Shane McAnally and Luke Laird. It expresses Hayes’ anxieties as a dad, his love for his wife Laney, and his own sobriety struggles, fears and doubts.

Hayes said in one interview, “At the end of the day, we are all just doing the best we can. … I’ve struggled with alcohol abuse, and sometimes I wish I didn’t need AA, but I do. I think a lot of people can relate to that. I’m just trying to be the best dad and husband I can be. It’s not easy all the time, but my wife smiles a lot and my kids are growing up with more than I had, and that’s a really good thing.”

Here are the song’s lyrics:

Coffee cup cold and black
Wish it had a little shot of jack
‘Sides that, can’t complain
Just tryin’ to do the dang thing
Might change the oil in my truck
I ain’t paying no thirty-five bucks
Kids need shoes, mama needs Levi’s

And I’m just tryna keep my daughters off the pole
And my sons out of jail
Tryna get to church so I don’t go to hell
I’m just tryna keep my wife from figuring out
That I married up and she married way way down
In Alabama where they love Nick Saban
Tryna write a song the local country station will play
Hey, I’m just tryna stay out of AA

Well I gave up Skoal and cigarettes
Now I’m just hooked on Nicorette
Trying not to be like my old man
But the older I get the more I am
Tryna get paid and a little love made, y’all
Hey y’all, at the end of the day, y’all
I’m just another John Deere guy (hey)
Up on a tractor

Tryna steer my daughters off the pole
And my sons out of jail (sons out of jail)
Tryna get to church so I don’t go to hell
I’m just tryna keep my wife (hey babe) from figuring out (I love)
That I married up (you’re so fine, girl) and she married way way down
In Alabama where they love Nick Saban (alright)
Tryna write a song the local country station will play (I’m just tryna write a song)
Hey, I’m just tryna stay out of AA

Ooh ooh ooh
Come on babe, right here
Check it out

Ooh, tryna stay out of AA everyday
One step at a time, y’all
Life’s hard, family’s weird
Sometimes you just need a beer
Can I get an amen (amen)

Man, I’m just tryna keep my daughters off the pole
And my sons out of jail (sons out of jail)
Tryna get to church so I don’t go to hell
I’m just tryna keep my wife (hey babe) from figuring out (I love)
That I married up (You’re so fine, girl) and she married way way down
In Alabama where they love Nick Saban (alright)
Tryna write a song the local country station will play (I’m just tryna write a song)
Hey, I’m just tryna stay out of AA
Hey hey hey, I’m just tryna stay out of AA
Yes, I am (AA lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Warner Chappell Music, Inc.)

Hayes is slated to perform in St. Paul January 29.


Pandemic Challenges? Nothing’s Changed: Meeting Makers Make It

Unity, Service, Recovery: Get to meetings and work the program together. The power of AA starts in a meeting with others of our kind. This is a power greater than addiction.

The pandemic has brought about many challenges to the recovery community, and those that need to be in recovery: increased rates of drinking, drugging, death, incarceration, suicide, abuse, crime, you name it, the panoply of human dysfunction.

Long ago, instead of whining about the pandemic, I just accepted it and figured, like others, it was this generation’s turn to suffer. This is nothing new to AAs: AA began in the 1935 during the Great Depression and just before World War II began in 1939 with the German invasion of Poland. Times were much tougher back then, and like today, the full menu of human suffering was on parade.

There’s one big difference, however, because today we have a huge network of AA and AA-type meetings, public and private support for treatment and mental health programs, etc. All you have to do is reach your bottom, decide you want to live and go to a meeting. Like liquor stores, there’s an AA meeting on just about every corner! Yes, its still hard to “make a decision,” as Step 3 begins, but that’s up to you. “You can lead a horse to water, but…..”

In my sobriety there’s not one challenge life has thrown at me that the program of AA has not helped me get through successfully, a record that’s decades long (continuous) and counting. Now that’s a testament to the power of AA you can put in the bank.

So, give it a try. And as they always used to tell me at my first AA club in Denver when I hesitated to stay in AA, “If AA and sobriety are not for you, leave, and your misery will be cheerfully refunded!” I’m certain there were a few knowing looks and smiles thrown in there too!

Keep coming back folks. It works if you work it!


Don’t Get Too “HALT”…Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired !

Practicing HALT helped me a lot in early sobriety.

I don’t recall who first told me about HALT in early sobriety, but thank goodness they did because this quick, little mental reminder to take care of myself helped a lot in those early years when I was neglecting my mental, spiritual and physical health.

Like most, I came into AA a mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wreck. I was just divorced, partying like I was 16 (I was 31) and had a political-type job that called for fighting the world and included a lot of drinking during work hours. I was hungry, angry, lonely and tired most the time.

When I stopped drinking and drugging, I became even more aware of my degraded physical and mental health. Yet, I didn’t have many of the skills needed to take better care of myself. The AA people around me knew this and started helping me. One of the tips they gave me was HALT. I didn’t have a clue what it was, so they explained it. They said if you are in any of these four states, (hungry, angry, lonely or tired) it was time to get into ACTION ASAP!

Desperate to save myself, I used HALT all the time, sometimes hourly, in my struggle to right my capsized ship…..and it really worked because I needed it, believed it and worked it! Honestly, I was surprised at how far gone I was that I needed to constantly remind myself just to take care of these four basic human needs. It was shocking. The shock helped me realize, though, that I had problems and needed AA’s help and the help of others as well.

HALT also really helped me commit to AA and to healing myself.

HALT doesn’t come up in my mind very often anymore now that I’ve been sober for decades, but when it does, I just smile to myself and take care of the problem. Thinking of HALT now gives me a nostalgia feeling for those dramatic, early days in AA and the loving people that helped save my life and helped me come back to life.

“It works if you work it!” they’d said at the meeting’s end. How right they were.


Face to Face at Uptown is Back!

Minnesota Governor Walz recently announced that state indoor/outdoor capacity limits and mask requirements are over! However, other jurisdictions (such as the City of St. Paul where Uptown House resides) and private entities may retain these restrictions.

Starting May 28, Uptown House will be returning to our pre-pandamic table and chair setup, and expect the St. Paul City mask mandate to expire soon. We continue to monitor the community situation and look forward to the day that we will safely welcome back all of our regular in-person groups at the previous schedule.

Online meetings were great during the pandemic, but now that most vulnerable people are vaccinated, its time to get back to in-person meetings.

Online AA meetings through Uptown House and other venues really helped me get through a bleak pandemic winter. But now that most folks vulnerable to covid are vaccinated, its time to get back to in-person meetings at Uptown. Face-to-face meetings is how AA is meant to be practiced. Its a big part of AA heritage.

I had a good conversation with Uptown Steering Board Chairperson Peter K. this morning on this very subject, and he agrees. I’m 65 and fully vaccinated (Moderna). I’ve been to three in-person meetings at Uptown the last two weeks. There have been 6-10 people in attendance. All wore masks and maintained a 6-foot distance. While surface-borne infections are now seen as unlikely by health experts, Uptown House also has hand san and washes down chairs after every meeting. Now, as of this update (May 17), these procedures are no longer required by the state health department, but still are by St. Paul.

In-person meetings are good for old timers like myself, but especially for newcomers too. I don’t think I would have remained sober in my early days without in-person meetings. Also, Uptown House needs in-person meetings to remain a functional, viable AA destination in every sense of the term.

At this point, everybody should know if they may attend in-person meetings or not. We can make that judgement now for ourselves. Minnesota Department of Health guidelines now allow for indoor, in-person gatherings for vaccinated, masked and distanced folks for example, in restaurants and bars.

The recovery community needs to get back to normal. When I was a newcomer I was disconnected from myself and others. This was a big barrier to sobriety and living a normal life. A big part of my short-term and long-term recovery was getting back in touch with myself, other recovering people, family and friends. This process is best facilitated by face-to-face interaction. There is no substitute for social intimacy. We are social creatures. We wither without it.

In an effort to walk my talk, I’ll be helping re-open the popular Saturday 10 a.m. meeting starting April 8! This may take time, but I believe its necessary on many levels. I hope our readers will take similar steps to help Uptown House and its members leave the pandemic lock-down behind us and get back to AA’s longtime, proven and valued heritage of face-to-face meetings. We hope other, previously regular in-person meetings will also get running again.


How Long for a Stable Recovery?

Sobriety isn’t always like this idealistic photo illustration, but it sometimes is, especially when lived a day at a time.

I saw a headline the other day that ‘stable’ recovery takes 4-5 years. Hmmmmm, sounds like ‘normie’ talk. The only reliable account I can give of stability in recovery is for myself (in the true tradition of AA!). My last drink was in October 1987. I felt stable in my recovery by October 1989, or about two years. My recovery felt stable once I had fully embraced the sober life, when AA became the guide for my life, but NOT MY LIFE per se. AA became the guide for my life after two years. I still tell people for me, AA is one part counseling, one part family and one part spirituality — all valuable things for anyone, but especially for a lost, wounded person like I was by the fall of 1987. I don’t know the clinical definition of ‘stable recovery,’ and I don’t care. I guess if you reach the point I did (in my case, after two years) then you are stable in recovery no matter what the time interval. People are so different; our histories are so different; our paths to recovery are so different that its ridiculous to define stable recovery in terms of a hard and fast time interval. Or, as our new president would say, “come on!” Besides, as I learned in AA, comparing my insides to someone elses outsides is a dangerous and ultimately illegitimate thing to do. Its never an accurate or useful comparison to make, and often harmful. Is someone who can only put together a month of sobriety therefore considered stable in their first week? Can someone who was sober 15 years, as an old friend of mine was, have been considered in stable recovery at any time if he went back out to use? You can see the utter futility of trying to define ‘stable’ recovery. Of course, most AA folks know the answer to the puzzle of what is a ‘stable’ recovery: Its just one day. AA is a day at a time program! Twenty-four hours is all we get to claim for our stable recovery no matter how long we’ve been sober. Lose track of this fact and you imperil your recovery. So, here’s to today folks. May it be a sober day, a good day! Hard not to be when its spring and the pandemic is getting its rear end kicked one vaccine at a time! Speaking of which, I’m covid immune by April 11, having had my second vax last week. So, after the 11th its back to in-person meetings for me, masked up (Uptown House rules), of course!


Vax’s Speed Up; Uptown Meeting Normalcy on the Horizon

As the vaccine rollout continues, in-person meetings for all ages is on the horizon.

I’m getting my first covid vaccine March 1. That’s great for me, but what this really indicates for the wider AA community, and specifically Uptown House, is meeting normalcy is on the horizon.

Minnesota’s Governor Walz believes 70 percent of wise elders (those 65 and over, including myself) will be vaccinated by the end of March. He said vaccinators can then start vaccinating others. The Johnson and Johnson vaccination will be going into arms soon and the feds are really ramping up production of the other two vaccines and vaccination availability. President Biden believes we’ll be back to something resembling normal by Christmas. Let’s hope.

One of my favoritie AA matras is “This too shall pass.”  Its happening: this miserable, deadly pandemic is finally starting to get its a__ kicked. Once my immunity is complete, about mid-April, I plan on attending in-person meetings at Uptown House. I can’t wait, and I know others will be joining me.

Let’s remember those who have passed or have been injured both physically and mentally by this horrible pandemic. We know there are more victims to come, but I hope there won’t be too many more.

I’ve been told Uptown House has done a good job with social distancing, masking and cleaning during and after in-person meetings. I can’t wait to get back, and I know many others can’t either.

There will be other challenges for the recovery community coming our way in the years to come. There always is. But we can handle it. We stuck together during covid through Zoom meetings and other adaptations and most of us are moving ahead sober, making progress, coping today and looking forward to a better tomorrow.


Hope in Inches

I love AA, even after decades sober I’m still discovering new cliches. I attended a new Zoom meeting this morning, for example, and heard one man say, “Inch by inch, life’s a cinch; yard by yard, life is hard.” I’ve never heard that one. I love it.

I guess put another way it speaks to other AA cliches, Easy Does It or take life One Day at a Time. Life, most the time, happens an inch at a time. The calamitous, fast changing moments are few. I look at the natural world around me and the same law, not surprisingly, applies: time and nature move slowly most the time, in small, imperceptible increments.

When I accept the incremental nature of life, my hurried primate mind must then, if it wants to stay sane, accept the fact I will have to wait a bit, in most cases, for the good thing to come. In a word, I must have hope. Hope is always a valuable commodity, but it is really needed during a winter pandemic when so many folks are struggling, including me.

But there is hope, especially today for on this day the long, cold, dark month of January is finally over. Native people spoke in terms of moons to delineate a month’s time. Some called January the ‘hard moon.’ I’m very glad the hard moon has passed. In many European cultures, February 1st is celebrated as the first day of the spring to come. If I look around, its true: the eagles and great horned owls are nesting (check out the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Eagle Cam); the chickadees are doing their territorial songs in the backyard in preparation for nesting and we’ve gained a full HOUR of daylight since the Winter Solstice December 21 (the shortest day and longest night of the year).

Spring is coming “inch by inch” and hope has us tightly in its arms.


Opposing Forces: Pandemic Fuels Isolation. Recovery Needs Connection.

AA online meetings, working the AA program still the best way to get, stay sober

hands with latex gloves holding a globe with a face mask
Hang in there folks, the vaccine is coming and in-person AA meetings should be coming later in 2021. (Photo by Anna Shvets on

by Mark H.

Since the most recent partial lockdown here in Minnesota, there has been a large increase in attendance at Uptown House online meetings. That’s good.

Also, the rate of covid vaccination should really take off in 2021 so we can finally ‘stick a fork’ in this pandemic and get back to normal, in-person AA meetings later in 2021. Hang in there folks, good, big, change is on the way.

Until then, we’re still dealing with this mess. Here’s the latest:

The Centers for Disease Control discovered 31 percent of the all adults, sober or not, that it surveyed this summer were struggling with anxiety and depression related to COVID-19. In a separate study, RAND Corporation found the frequency of alcohol consumption of adults over 30 grew by 14 percent; women increased their heavy drinking episodes by 41 percent.

A story on the Fox 9 website quoted John Curtiss, treatment center owner. “Its hard when you have a disease – alcoholism – that requires connection, and COVID that requires social isolation, that creates a whole set of unique challenges.”

Lydia Burr, director of clinical services at Hazelden Betty Ford’s St. Paul campus said, “We’re seeing sick people get sicker. People are really struggling with their mental health, their depression and with the anxiety. And then there is that added layer of stress that exists in society right now because of the pandemic that is layered on top of that, and it’s really exacerbating the problems that somebody might have.”

Fox 9 television started broadcasting a three-part series December 28 entitled “Hidden Crisis.” The story mentions AA, among others, as a resource for help. Here’s the links to all three Fox 9 stories:

Thanks for Meeting Uptown House Pandemic Fundraising Goal

You did it! Uptown House’s faithful members helped us reach our goal, $15,000, and even exceed it! The Uptown Steering Board and Foundation thanks everyone who contributed as the House was facing a serious deficit thanks to the pandemic driving down attendance and, therefore, contributions. The Uptown House now has an adequate prudent reserve of funds to make sure we can keep the house open and offer safe meetings for the foreseeable future.

We’re keeping the campaign open for the next week, so if you haven’t contributed and would still like to, please do so (see the Uptown website). As always, any funds not used for the basic operation and maintenance of the house above the prudent reserve will be donated to St Paul Intergroup and the AA General Service Office in NY.  Please give what you can, and have a safe and sober New Year. 

Thanks Earl W.!

Speaking of money, many thanks to retiring Uptown House Steering Board volunteer treasurer Earl W. He did a lot of work keeping the House finances in order. We all owe him, and others who recently left the board, a big THANK YOU for a job well done.

And finally……

Thought for the day from pioneering Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Carl Jung:

Until the unconscious becomes conscious, it will direct our lives and become fate.


Words Matter

The words we use with our fellows in recovery can have many different impacts. Choose them carefully.

I don’t always buy into political correctness, which can devolve into thought/speak control, but neither do I believe in using abusive language.

A recent Zoom meeting with the Addiction Policy Forum shared the following. Some of this makes sense to me, some seems a stretch. Make up your own mind:

Say This                                                                            Not This

*Person with a substance                                           Drug addict

use disorder

*In recovery                                                                      Clean

*Currently using substances                                          Dirty

*Substance use                                                          Substance abuse

*Not engaging with treatment                                    Bombed out

*Return to use                                                                  Relapsed

*Positive drug screen                                                 Dirty drug test

*Medication assisted treatment                           Medication replacement

Words can hurt, sometimes for a lifetime, depending on what’s said and who utters them. I get some of the above tweaks. The Zoom was on fighting the social stigma foisted on and discrimination against recovering people. We all deserve a second chance.

Its funny, many of us in AA got the stigma thing a long time ago. I sobered up (a day at a time) in 1987. In my first year I started introducing myself in meetings as a recovering person, not just an alcoholic and addict. I make my living writing, so words are important. Writer Mark Twain said the difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between lightening and lightening bug!

So, with Twain in mind, I thought to myself in those early days, “To say ‘Mark alcoholic and addict’ didn’t make sense since I wasn’t using anymore.” True, there is no cure and once an alcoholic and addict, always one. But, I wasn’t just an alcoholic and addict anymore, I was, in fact, a recovering one. So, that’s what I say. Its more accurate and true and its a self definition that recognizes my new, albeit, daily status. It rejects stigma.

But, to each their own. “To thine own self be true,” it says on AA anniversary medallions. I’ll stick to that.

Uptown House Steering Board & Farewell Crysil D.

I just finished two years on the Uptown House Steering Board. I enjoyed it, am glad I did something to give back, but am ready to move on. Serving was my first post-retirement volunteer experience. It won’t be my last. I’ll keep doing a monthly column here if the board wants me to.

Board Chair Crysil D. is also leaving the board after two years of intelligent, dedicated, thoughtful service. The entire Uptown House owes her a debt of gratitude, especially for all the extra work she put in dealing with the pandemic. Thank you, sister, for leading us through this hard time!


As Winter Deepens, Hold AA Close

Winter is a time for folks in recovery to reach out to each other, stick together and, sometimes, push together! Together we are stronger, more resilient.

If there was ever a time to stay connected to the recovery community (as if we needed an excuse), Winter 2020 is it!

The deepening cold and dark of a Minnesota winter is normally a harder time for the average Joe and Jane to keep on the level, but with a spreading pandemic, this winter is time to pull out all the tools in your sobriety and mental health tool box.

When using alcohol and drugs was my coping mechanism, winter was a time to use more. Now that I’m sober (33 years), I just use my recovery tools more. In that sense, I haven’t changed.

Minnesota Public Radio (11 a.m. daily) reporter Angela Davis recently hosted a show on sobriety. She reported alcohol consumption in Minnesota (already one of the top states for alcohol abuse) is up 14 percent due to the pandemic, with heavy drinking by women up 41 percent!

Davis interviewed a Twin Cities AA member, Terry, who has 45 years of sobriety. Terry said the Twin Cities AA community is coping well with the pandemic by offering 250 online meetings/week here’s also an increasing number of social distanced, in-person meetings available). He said calls for help to AA Intergroup (St. Paul Intergroup 651.888.6912) are up 100 percent since the pandemic. Better Intergroup than the bottle or the bong!

Other resources

MinnPost, an online news service to which I’m a donor, recently interviewed Tai Mendenhall, a licensed marriage and family therapist from the University of Minnesota Medical Reserve Corps.

Mendenhall urged Minnesotans who are struggling to connect with others ? even if it?s a weekly Zoom call with friends or family, and seek professional help if they need it.

Malcolm stressed that free, daily phone support is available to anyone experiencing stress through COVID Cares, a collaboration between the Minnesota Psychiatric Society, Minnesota Psychological Association, Minnesota Black Psychologists and Mental Health Minnesota. Just call 833-HERE4MN (437-3466) 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.

More information about mental health, substance abuse and other support is available at the State of Minnesota Covid 19 Response website:

So, if you’re struggling in life or with your sobriety, call an AA buddy, hit an online meeting and use other resources available. We can make it through this pandemic winter sober if we stick together. This winter and the pandemic too shall pass. There is another spring on the way!


Free Sobriety Guide

Help is a few clicks away with a new, free sobriety guide from the Addiction Policy Forum.

Recently, the Addiction Policy Forum launched a national initiative to help folks navigate the complexities of addiction. The project includes a free, 100-page resource workbook, Navigating Addiction and Treatment: A Guide for Families; a national awareness campaign; and online resources to help families.

The guide is much more about DIY sobriety than paid treatment facilities, which have helped many. Many have found sobriety, including myself, by just going to free AA meetings, reading the AA Big Book and 12×12 and working AA’s 12 Steps.

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant more overdoses (alcohol and drugs) and more people struggling with addiction as we grapple with the stress, isolation, financial struggles, and lack of access to services. Now more than ever we need to make information about navigating this disease and accessing treatment as simple as possible, said Jessica Hulsey, Founder of the Addiction Policy Forum. ?Navigating Addiction aims to help all families that are struggling by providing them with free and evidence-based resources.

The guide was created by the Addiction Policy Forum with support from Indivior. The publication is disseminated free-of-charge to families in all 50 states. An Expert Review Panel composed of prominent researchers and physicians in the addiction field also contributed to the report, along with the Family Support Advisory Committee made up of family members with lived experience.

This is the Guide’s table of contents. Good stuff!:

What is Addiction?
Different Types of Substance Use Disorders
Addiction and the Brain
Addiction is a Chronic Disease
How Addiction Affects the Family
Signs, Symptoms & Early Intervention
Enabling vs. Helping and How to Set Boundaries
Communicating with Your Loved One
Getting an Assessment
Evidence-Based Treatment
Medications for Addiction Treatment
What to Look for in Quality Treatment
Recovery Support
Caregiver Self Care
Patient Pathways

To download this free resource, Google Addiction Policy Forum – Navigating Addiction and Treatment, open the site and click on the “guide” hotlink.


Amy Winehouse’ Gift

The singer would have been 37 September 14

Her song Rehab is a cautionary tale to those with alcohol and drug addiction: you best be honest with yourselves.

International singing sensation Amy Jade Winehouse would have been 37-years-old September 14. The British singer was hailed as the world’s greatest musical talent of her generation with immense future potential.

But despite periods of sobriety, Winehouse was tragically brought down by alcohol and drug addiction July 23, 2011. Amy’s blood had 416mg of alcohol per 100ml – well over the 350mg which is recognized to be fatal. Police officers found three empty bottles of vodka in her London home.

I was angry about Winehouse’ song Rehab, which was release in 2006. It seemed she was poking fun at something that has saved many lives, especially when alcohol/drug addiction took her own life five years later.

But now I see Rehab as a cautionary tale for the rest of us, both sober and those who need rehab/AA to get and stay sober. Rehab is Amy’s final gift to the world, a sad, prophetic warning of what can happen when we are not honest with ourselves. Here’s the lyrics: 

by Amy Winehouse

“They tried to make me go to rehab
I said, “no, no, no”
Yes, I been black
But when I come back, you’ll know, know, know
I ain’t got the time
And if my daddy thinks I’m fine
He’s tried to make me go to rehab
I won’t go, go, go

I’d rather be at home with a Ray
I ain’t got seventy days
‘Cause there’s nothing, there’s nothing you can teach me
That I can’t learn from Mr. Hathaway

I didn’t get a lot in class
But I know we don’t come in a shot glass


The man said, “why do you think you here?”
I said, “I got no idea.”
I’m gonna, I’m gonna lose my baby
So I always keep a bottle near
He said, “I just think you’re depressed.”
This, me, yeah, baby, and the rest

They tried to make me go to rehab
But I said, “no, no, no”
Yes, I been black
But when I come back, you’ll know, know, know

I don’t ever want to drink again
I just, oh, I just need a friend
I’m not gonna spend ten weeks
Have everyone think I’m on the mend

And it’s not just my pride
It’s just till these tears have dried”

No more tears Amy, rest in peace and happy birthday.


Doctor Pusher?

Most doctors and dentists prescribe painkillers ethically, but some don’t, a recent report stated.

Beware your doctor and dentist. While most are ethical, some may be pain killer ‘pushers’ in white coat clothing.

National Public Radio (NPR) recently reported on Minnesota Public Radio that while Big Pharma made the pills, doctors are the gatekeepers to patients.

As early as 2007, drug makers were paying out massive settlements for falsely marketing opiods as safe and relatively addiction-free. Their role sparking a wave of addiction that left more than 450,000 Americans dead. Many of the dead were alcoholics too. Thousands of communities have filed civil lawsuits hoping to recoup some of the staggering financial cost.

Yet, doctors have faced far less scrutiny for their role in the crisis. The medical profession has struggled for years to clean up its overprescribing culture. In 2014, the American Medical Association (AMA) formed an opioid task force, charged in part with reforming physician practices.

NPR reported on Minnesota Public Radio online that, “Physicians feel like we had a role to play and we wanted to be part of the solution,” said Dr. Patrice Harris, who heads the AMA’s effort. “Prescribing has been going down since 2012, but we wanted to get the word out that physicians should be more judicious.” 

In 2016, the federal Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued strongly-worded guidelines, urging doctors (and dentists) to avoid opioids or to minimize their use whenever possible. Roughly half the states have implemented some form of regulation designed to curtail prescribing.

But scientists, government officials and front-line medical workers interviewed by NPR say those efforts have fallen dangerously short.

A CDC study released in May 2020 found many physicians regularly ignore federal guidelines, prescribing large quantities of powerful opioid medications even when better treatment options are available.

“It’s possible some clinicians just simply aren’t aware of existing evidence-based recommendations,” said Christina Mikosz, one of the CDC’s lead researchers studying opioid prescribing. “The other possibility is that they are aware and they just choose not to follow them.”

I went to a dentist a few years ago for a tooth extraction. Right after he asked if I wanted some pain killers. You should have seen the surprised look on his face when I told him I didn’t want any opioids. In fact, I told him, I’m sure ibuprofen will work fine. 

Happy 30th Sobriety Birthday Elton John!


On July 30th, 2020 Elton John celebrated 30 years of sobriety!

Reflecting on the most magical day having celebrated my 30th Sobriety Birthday, the singer wrote. So many lovely cards, flowers and chips from my sons, David, friends in the Program, staff at the office and in our homes. I?m truly a blessed man.

John, 73, also expressed his gratitude to everyone who helped him get to this point in his life.

If I hadn?t finally taken the big step of asking for help 30 years ago, I’d be dead. Thank-you from the bottom of my heart to all the people who have inspired and supported me along the way, he wrote.

If a mega global star like John can humbly admit he has a problem and ask for help, anybody can! Congrats Elton. I saw you in concert in 1989 in Denver, your first year of sobriety. You looked and sounded great! Sobriety works!

Elton John admitted he had a problem, asked for help in a 12-step program and just celebrated 30 years of sobriety!


Check it out: The movie “When Love Is Not Enough-The Lois Wilson Story”

by Mark H.

If you need a break from perpetual pandemic pandering, then check out the 2010 movie “When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story” (YouTube it folks).

I DVR’d this from the Hallmark Channel a few months ago and enjoyed it. The title is a bit deceiving as the movie is as much, if not more, about Bill as Lois.

The plot starts in 1914 with Lois Burnham, a college-educated woman from an affluent family, falling in love with Bill Wilson, a 19 year old man of modest means. Lois is well played by Minnesota native Winona Ryder, Bill by Barry Pepper (the sniper in Saving Private Ryan).

The couple married in 1918. After his return from World War I, the two set out to build a life together. While Lois worked as a nurse, Bill struggled to find his niche. Lois believed that Bill was destined for greatness, and despite his increasing reliance on alcohol, she showered him with love and support (do you see AlAnon starting here?).

Eventually, Lois persuaded a friends husband to hire Bill at his financial firm. By 1927, Bill was working on Wall Street and the couple was living a luxurious lifestyle. But despite Loiss efforts to control his drinking, Bills alcoholism spiraled out of control. Soon his job, their lifestyle and their dreams were all gone.

In 1935, after years of struggling to cover for Bill and trying desperately to manage his disease by herself, Lois finally saw him get and stay sober not through her help, but from the support of a fellow alcoholic, Dr. Bob Smith, and working with other alcoholics.

This is the miracle mentioned in the Big Book where Bill laments to Lois that he’s working with all these alcoholics, but none of them stay sober. Here Lois wisely remarks, “well Bill, you’ve stayed sober!” Thus, the 12th Step and the rest of AA was born!

As Bill and Bob attained lasting sobriety and co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous, Lois began to feel neglected. Bill got and stayed sober without her help, and she felt isolated and resentful.

But, Lois soon discovered she was not alone in her isolation and anger, and that there was a vast number of people whose lives and relationships had been devastated because a loved one was an alcoholic or drug addict. To help herself, and others like her, she co-founded Al-Anon/Alateen in 1951.

If you need another AA fix in this time of quarantine and Zoom meetings, this movie is a nice addition to ‘living the sober life.’


Rocker Walsh Lives ‘One Day at a Time’

Rock superstar Joe Walsh (James Gang, Eagles) talks about his sobriety at the 2015 Unite to Face Addiction on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (photo courtesy Walsh’s webpage)

If there ever was a time to take life a day (or an hour) at a time, its now. I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing like pandemic-induced isolation to push me even closer to AA (I’m hitting more Uptown online meetings now due to the quarantine).

Boomer rocker Joe Walsh (James Gang and The Eagles) sobered up in 1993 and learned about living life a day at a time. He penned the song One Day at a Time in 2012 to spread the message the best way he knew how, and its a good song. YouTube the song, its great. Here’s the lyrics:

“Well you know
I was always the first to arrive at the party, ooh!
And the last to leave the scene of the crime
Well it started with a couple of beers
And it went I don’t know how many years
Like a runaway train headed for the end of the line

Well I finally got around to admit that I might have a problem
But I thought it was just too damn big of a mountain to climb
Well I got down on my knees and said ‘Hey!’ (la la la)
‘I just can’t go on livin’ this way!’ (la la la)

Guess I have to learn to live my life one day at a time
Oh ya! One day at a time!
Oh ya! One day at a time!

Oh ya! One day at a time!
Oh ya! One day at a time!

Well I finally got around to admit that I was a problem
When I used to put the blame on everybody’s shoulders but mine
All the friends I used to run with are gone, (la la la)
Lord, I hadn’t planned on livin’ this long. (la la la)

I have to learn to live my life one day at a time!

It was something I was too blind to see
I got help from something greater than me
And I have to learn to live my life one day at a time!”

Living a day at a time was a concept that didn’t come easy to me in early sobriety. Some days early on I took it a half day or even an hour at a time until I could get to another meeting. Some days I just skipped work and went to meetings morning, noon and night and then did the fellowship thing until bedtime. You know, it worked. It got me over the hump until I learned some new coping skills to replace my old, fatal ones (alcohol, drugs, rage, sex, food, anything that felt good).

Back then, I was so filled with remorse for the past and FEAR of tomorrow, that staying in today was a real challenge (hard, but not impossible, my sponsor used to say). It was a time of big changes and challenges in all aspects of my life, many that had nothing to do with sobriety.

But I kept showing up at meetings and folks there would see my fear and tell me,” You have everything you need to make it through today, so don’t worry about tomorrow until it comes. You are ok for now, lean on us, lean on AA, you don’t have to do this alone, you don’t need alcohol or drugs to make it through.”

They were right.

Compartmentalizing my life into one hour or a day at a time and forgetting about tomorrow helped me to make it through that hour, that morning, that day. It was too much back then to deal all at once with today and those ‘two awful eternities: yesterday and tomorrow,’ as AA says. When I learned to deal just with today (or just the morning or the next hour), I did much better.

It took practice, though, and time to learn these news skills. I had to devote myself to AA and unload my old play pals and play pens. That wasn’t too hard. I knew they were killing my body and soul. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was in that state of willingness to change, to listen to others, to trust others to show me a new, livable path forward.

Today, I am grateful to be alive. I am happy Joe Walsh made it too. If we can make it, so can you. Try AA and sobriety. The only thing you have to lose is your misery!


Anonymity Works

Recent pandemic press on AA is naming people along with their photos. This violates AA’s tradition of anonymity and undermines AA’s purpose: helping alcoholics achieve sobriety.

Has the stigma of being a recovering alcoholic (or drug addict for that matter) been reduced enough in society that traditional AA anonymity is passe? Have years of widespread press coverage of AA and recovery, especially in regards to the recent pandemic, mean the end of one of AA’s founding principles?

A common refrain at meetings goes, “We think not.”

A member of Uptown House, who has been sober for years, objects as well. This person recently sent me an article from a Twin Cities’ daily newspaper on the difficulty of recovery in the covid ‘social distancing’ era and it included the full names and photos of people in recovery.

Here is what the member wrote: “I was appalled at the blatant disregard for our tradition of anonymity. There are SO MANY articles out right now, which is good and bad. Also, the fact that (another) article sort of clumped us (Uptown House) in with a treatment center made a lot of members frustrated.”

(The second sentence violates AA’s 6th Tradition: An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.)

But the tradition of anonymity, which after all is in our very name, is what concerns this member most (and many others).

The AA 12 Traditions, rules that govern AA and the conduct of its members, have served us well, keeping AA going and growing since the 1930s. The 11th Tradition states: “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.”

The 12th Traditions states: “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”

These traditions emphasize the importance of anonymity so that no one member can have too much influence on the group. Many groups have disintegrated due to internal squabbles and bad publicity.

These Traditions help lessen any power struggles within groups. Anonymity has also helped protect the organization from any member bad behavior. Not having a spokesperson means AA is able to pretty much stay out of the limelight (the pandemic being a recent exception). The limelight, by the way, can compete with the real purpose of AA in a person’s life and cause them to relapse.

Anonymity also protects people who don’t want to proclaim his/her affliction and membership in AA. Maybe someone isn’t sure they are an alcoholic or isn’t and anonymity protects their identity. In my experience, there are people (some of them practicing alcoholics themselves) and businesses with big drinking cultures that discriminate against alcoholics.

If the word on the street says AA is not anonymous anymore, many folks will not come, and we know how that can end up: “jails, institutions and death.”

You’ll never see my last name on these stories and you’ll never hear me mention my last name in meetings. Staying sober and helping others achieve sobriety is reward enough for me.


Service Work: On-Line Style

Hitting bottom and need help: Join AA, help yourself and others too.

Doing service work in AA, making coffee, speaking, sponsoring and the like, is essential to help newcomers and old timers alike to get out of their heads and into a better recovery.

I’ll never forget my first lesson in service work in Denver when my sponsor Marty suggested I speak at a treatment center when I was just a month sober.

“What can I offer them, I’ve only been sober a month,” I lamented.

“You’ve been sober a lot longer than most the folks in treatment,” Marty replied.

So, I went and shared my experience, strength and hope. The experience was great, it gave me a self-esteem boost and, more importantly, got me to quit thinking of my huge problems at the time, at least for just a little while. I learned that I could forget my problems for just a bit without using booze, drugs, etc. This was an important lesson for moving ahead in my recovery.

But now that we’re stuck in the ‘corona closet’ what can we do?

The first thing I did was hit an online AA chat (discordappcom). This free-for-all chat moves fast most the time and is somewhat superficial, but I have connected with newcomers and others have connected with me. Discord also has ‘meetings’ that are more traditional: an administrator, or trusted servant, polices the meeting. One person chats at a time all they want. When they are done they type in “GA” for go ahead.

To get in line to chat type in “!” and the administrator lists the next three chatters. If a new person joins in that doesn’t know the rules and cross talks, the administrator deletes their comment, tells them to type in “!” and wait their turn.

There are other ways to get involved: Uptown House and other clubs host online meetings where you can connect (see our website), sponsor, etc. You may still donate (not required, but we still have to pay the bills at Uptown House). You can also start and host your own online meeting. Call the St. Paul Intergroup Night Owl Line (651.227.5502).

Here’s a note from Intergroup: “Speaker assignments for speaker meetings, as well as Temporary Sponsorship assignments and 12th Step assignments will NOT be provided (with the exception of assignments made by our Night Owl volunteerswho will ask someone to CALL the person requesting a 12th Step. No personal visits will be arranged) due to this Stay-At Home order.”

Also, check out YouTube for recorded AA speakers and the like.


When I was in the throes of early sobriety, dealing with my troubled life sober for the first time, one mantra helped me make it through those dark nights: This too shall pass. (And it did!)

Indeed, this pandemic will someday pass, and we can all get back to normal. Faith, not fear!


Uptown Online Meetings Grow — A Few Twin Cities’ AA Houses Remain Open, Treatment Centers Too

Uptown House online meetings are available to all, all the time.

The number of meetings and attendance at Uptown House online meetings continues to grow in the face of a local and nationwide virus lock down. We invite anyone to start their own meeting(s) anytime they want.

If youd like to organize a meeting, Uptown House has created a Zoom room for:
1.) Fellowship between meetings, and…
2) Host meetings for groups/times/squads that dont already have a virtual platform. This room is open to anyone with a desire to stop drinking and, like the house, will function with very little oversight.

We will count on the members to manage the ‘rooms’ as they do at the House and their own meetings.

Email if your squad wants to use this room at a specific time, and well post your meeting, or just start impromptu meetings anytime you like.
Some meetings are up to 30 members; feel free to split popular meetings if they become too unweildy by using Zoom’s breakout feature.

Start an Uptown Zoom Meeting Anytime, Access Anytime:
Zoom Meeting URL; Meeting ID 321-555-9366

Also, please take the time to pass the virtual basket at these meetings as you would at your regular meetings. Remind all in attendance that there are many e-donate options (info located here). If you can pause 60 sec to give people the time to stop and donate. This will help the house greatly during these challenging times. Thank you and have a good meeting!
Here is a list of current online meetings:
For a complete list see

Uptown House on MINNPOST

The media has been reporting on how the recovery community is responding to physical distancing requirements. A recent story in MINNPOST also reported that many treatment centers remain open as they are considered essential services.

Small wonder we’re considered essential: William Cope Moyers, Hazelden Betty Ford vice-president of public affairs and community relations, said in the MINNPOST story that addiction remains a deadly epidemic of its own. In 2020, 70,000 people in America will die of accidental overdoses. Another 88,000 people will die from alcohol-related issues. The pandemic of coronavirus is real, but so is the epidemic of addiction and mental illness. We cannot afford to pay attention to one at the expense of another.

Some treatment centers aren’t taking new clients, many remain open, although some treatment center clients are getting infected and some have died, according to a CBS News report April 3.

Not surprisingly, given such news, many treatment centers report fewer clients due to travel restrictions, travel fears and fear of groups due to virus spread. Some treatment centers are offering online recovery programs which, of course, cost less than their inpatient programs.

AA has been around since 1935, and wars have come and locusts have come. Those meetings will remain. Theyll come back. I think we will have ignited a new generation with these new virtual options, Moyers said in the MINNPOST article.

To read the entire MINNPOST story, see: 

A recent story in the City Pages also reports that several Twin Cities AA houses remain open, although with reduced numbers allowed and cleaning regimines. See the full story at


Online is Fine

Thank goodness for online AA meetings and chats!

I did my first-ever online AA chat and meeting about two weeks ago now, and I like it. As a baby boomer, this was my first chat experience (on the AA national site, not Uptown House online).

After chatting, I sort of stumbled into a traditional meeting format, sent a message and it was quickly deleted by the meeting chair! He noted for me to type “!” to get in line to share, which I did.

I got in line and was able to make the last share. “Take us out Mark,” the chair wrote. It was all very friendly and meaningful, more serious than the chats sometimes. Folks can add a thumbs up, smiley face any other icons to what you write if they like it.

The chats move fast when there’s 10-15 people active, which I like at times, but not so much when I have to scroll back to read what folks are saying. I’ve also noticed that in chats folks mostly only write a few words to one sentence. Comments 2-4 sentences long are rare and often not read by many as there’s not time if you want to keep up with the conversation. Meeting chats, unlike the free-for-all, unstructured chats, do go into more detail.

It will be nice to get back to FTF (face to face, as chatters call them) meetings where folks share in more detail. Life, after all, can’t be summed up nor understood in 2-5 words snippets of remote conversation.

That’s not to say that human warmth and kindness doesn’t shine through on the chats, it does. I like that very much. Such exchanges are the heart of AA.

That said, however, it is nice to have a change of pace as I have been doing traditional FTF meetings since sobering up in the 80s. Had I been new to sobriety, however, I am not sure online meetings and chats would keep me sober for long.

But for now, I am grateful to have online chats and meetings. As with FTF meetings, online sure beats going back to using and the inevitable “jails, institutions and death.”

Keep coming back everybody. This too shall pass.