Bill: In this podcast, I have a conversation with my brother, Stan, who is two years younger. And was willing to share his thoughts with me about what the content of the Recovery and Discovery Podcast should consist of. I hope you enjoy this conversation.
Bill: My brother, Stan, and I are sitting here on October 5, 2018. If somebody didn’t know us better they’d think maybe it was a heated conversation about Alcoholics Anonymous and about recovery. And how it got started was I asked Stan to help me. He had a suggestion after listening to the first podcast of how I might make sure that I had some predictability, regularity, and control of the content of the podcast.
Stan: And fluidity. So, whatever you’re talking about in podcast one should not be a foreign concept when you hear podcast two.
Bill: Got it.
Stan: They should be related.
Bill: They should be related.
Stan: Point by point.
Bill: Okay. So, it occurred to me based on something that you said, that maybe using the scientific method – maybe you said this – you said something about a hypothesis.
Stan: I described it, and you named it.
Bill: Okay. So, the scientific method being that make an observation is Step 1. Step 2 – form a question. Step 3 – form a hypothesis. Step 4 – conduct an experiment. Step 5 – analyze the data. Number 6 – draw a conclusion.
So, I’ve gotten as far as…
Stan: And the last part you can’t leave out…repeat, to see if your conclusion is repeatable. And the more repetitions, the stronger you can base your conclusion. So, if a lot of people did the same experiment a thousand times and came up to the same conclusion, then you would have to say it’s no longer a theory.
Bill: Yep, got it. So, we only got as far as steps one and two before we got into this conversation about Alcoholics Anonymous, and I don’t know if we can revitalize it or not. But let’s just see where it goes now.
Stan: Well, I was hoping you would listen to your own first podcast from an objective point of view, picking out the points, and see if you can come to first, an understanding of what your observation is, if you can narrow it down to one. And it may be several, but I think you have a central observation and many supportive observations.
Bill: What do you think the central observation is?
Stan: That the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t work…for everyone.
Bill: For everyone. And I would say that’s like a sub-topic of my broader observation which is that AA doesn’t work for everybody.
Bill: And what you pointed out to me was…
Stan: There’s many facets of what we call AA. There’s the 12-step program. There’s also the 12-step fellowship, which I think of as kind of a cult with many, many decades of propaganda thrown in. If you go to any AA function, you’ll hear the same things over and over just recited rote. But some of them are really, really good. And even though I’ve heard them for over thirty-five years, I listen sometimes, clinically. And one of them is, “Why are you here? Because I got sick and tired of being sick and tired.” And after a while, after thirty-five years, you don’t hear these words anymore. You don’t hear the phrase and you forget “What did that sound like the first time I heard it when I came into Alcoholics Anonymous?” Not necessarily the first time it was said in front of me, but the first time I actually heard it, which could have been two or three years into the program. And that was an excellent invitation to try just about anything. And what Alcoholics Anonymous was offering was a 12-step program.
Bill: I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I was willing to try the 12-step program.
Bill: So, you pointed out that there’s the fellowship, there’s the 12 steps…
Stan: And then there’s the society of Alcoholics Anonymous which goes beyond the fellowship. It’s actually – I have friends that I’ve known now for over thirty-five years and I can call. I am thinking of my best friend in Los Angeles, Ricky. I can call him tomorrow, and we would continue the conversation we had six months ago or two years ago without any hiccup whatsoever.
Bill: And you called that what – the culture of AA.
Stan: Yes, the culture of AA.
Bill: And so, when you look back over your 36, 37 years almost of sobriety and participation in and out of AA – and I say in and out, because I think you shared with me that there was some time that you weren’t in AA. You weren’t participating at least. What would you say got you sober? There’s two parts I’m going to ask you. I’m going to ask you what got you sober and then what kept you sober?
Stan: I really didn’t need a medical withdrawal from alcohol. And that I had to have sedatives, a complete new nutrition diet, complete substitute from alcohol to sugar substances that was encouraged. In fact, it’s still encouraged in the Big Book – that sugar and chocolate are good substitutes for early cravings. I had to have all of that because I had tried it on my own so many times. And because I had experienced DTs and hallucinations coming off of alcohol, it scared the crap out of me and it turned out it scared my doctor, too, that it really wasn’t safe for me to get off of alcohol without medical help. Because that’s one of the few things you can die from – withdrawing from alcohol. So, I needed medical help to get off it, and so when I went into treatment, that’s exactly what I got. And everything was around group therapy; everything that was in treatment was designed around the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, so it’s an excellent introduction to what thirty-five years ago, seemed to be the only way that drunks like me, hopeless drunks, could actually have a life after drinking.
Bill: So, we’re at step one of the scientific method, which is make an observation. And my observation is that AA doesn’t work for everyone, but a lot of people recover without AA. A lot of people recovery with and without AA. And so hearing your answer to what got you sober, I’ll just throw mine in. I believe that what got me sober was the fellowship. And now that you’ve defined the culture as well, I’d say the fellowship and the culture is what got me sober. And the 12 Steps was something I felt like I had to do to pay the dues.
Stan: A lot of people feel that way.
Bill: So then, what kept you sober? Did you already address that?
Stan: No, I don’t think so. So, when I got out of treatment I went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Missoula.
Bill: I think your dog just farted.
Bill: Is that why you’re looking guilty?
Stan: No. She thinks when anybody is talking, they’re talking to her.
Bill: I see.
Stan: That’s why she always comes to you if you just start talking. It doesn’t make any sense that you’d talk to anyone else.
Bill: So, she doesn’t think about, “Well, I should probably wait to come over until my fart has dissipated.
Stan: No. We all love our own brand in dogs. Absolutely love the smell of their own…
Bill: Thanks for bringing that over. You’re such a good dog, yes…
Stan: It’s a sign of endearment. Otherwise, she’d try to be ‘scent invisible’ if she feared you.
Bill: Alright, so do you have any idea where we left off?
Stan: So, what kept me sober I thought, was going to meetings and practicing the steps in-between the meetings. I say that very carefully. I say, “I thought” because it is something that I really abused, and I substituted my alcohol for drinking, my addiction for drinking alcohol, with going to meetings. And I don’t think they got me well or made me a healthier person mentally or spiritually. I think they actually continued a lot of my sicknesses. And I wish somebody had encouraged me to become a useful, productive human being in the mainstream of society sooner than I actually did. Now, I don’t know if I would have been capable of doing that. I’m sure with some guidance, I would have been. But, you know, the first two years of sobriety, I was just hanging on by my teeth. And I think most people that I know, they sometimes just sound fantastic, but they’re dying inside.
Bill: Well, that certainly was true for me. In fact, when I was about two years sober, that’s when I left my secure job in Kalispell out of fear that I was going to drink again because my boss was my old drinking buddy. I exaggerate when I tell it this way, so I’ll try to do it accurately. I’ll say it this way: at least one time a week, he would ask me could he take me to the bar and buy me a drink. And I just finally would smile and not acknowledge that he’d even asked me. But at first, I would say, “No, I’m going to AA. I’m sober. I’m an alcoholic.” And he would always say, “Right. If you’re an alcoholic, then everybody in the store is an alcoholic.”
And I didn’t really have an opinion about that. Frankly, it kind of confused me because I didn’t believe everybody in the store was an alcoholic. I thought he might be.
Stan: Ironically, you’re the only one that ever told me that.
Bill: What’s that?
Stan: You came over to my house and I had near beers.
Bill: This was in July when you took me to that meeting?
Stan: And you tried to call my bullshit. “Why are you wasting your money on this shit you can’t even get off.”
Stan: Why don’t we go out and get some real stuff?
Bill: Oh, you know, the way I tell that story is that when you asked me if I wanted a beer, what you’d actually asked me is if I wanted a root beer. And I was so relieved when you said, “You wanna’ beer?” because that’s the only reason I was there. You may remember that Laurie and I would just call, or I would call on a Saturday morning and say, “We’re on our way.” And what is Kalispell, an hour and a half away from Missoula? And the reason that we would do this, I don’t know if I’ve share this with you before, but the reason I would do this is because.
Stan: Tina always had weed.
Bill: Tina had weed, and you had beer. And by this time, there was so much tension between Laurie and I that I was afraid that if I didn’t let her see what a really bad husband was, then she would forget…
Stan: Why yes, you have shared that with me.
Bill: So, we’d show up. You’d have beer. Tina would have pot. And I loved it there. And, at least by the time we got half way back to Kalispell, Laurie would turn to me and say something like, “I’m so glad I’m not married to Stan. I’m so glad I’m not married to your brother,” which was a close enough, acceptable consolation prize for, “I’m so glad I’m married to you.” She never would say that, but she was glad she wasn’t married to you. That eliminated approximately one of 3.5 billion people.
Stan: We had really high expectations for these little girls. Tina was 19. Laurie was 19.
Bill: When we married them. Laurie was 18.
Stan: Tina was 18 when we married, too. I’m trying to project forward a little bit. We had such high expectations of ourselves. God, I know 18, 20 year olds right now…they don’t which hand to use to masturbate.
Bill: They probably do know that.
Stan: They know they should use their hand.
Bill: It’s ironic to me that in this conversation, the purpose for the conversation is to stay on track on this podcast, and I think we got a little bit off track. We went to the dog and then we went to masturbation.
Stan: Well, you went to the dog.
Bill: Well, you went to masturbation. You started it. So, alright, AA doesn’t work for everyone, but a lot of people do recover with and without AA. That’s the observation. So, part two former question, here’s the question. Well, what question do you think I was asking in the first podcast?
Stan: Well, I didn’t get a chance to answer because you started talking about the dog. But, I thought it was going to lots and lots of meetings, but I was wrong.
Bill: Oh, how to stay sober. How did you stay sober?
Stan: And what it was, is that it was really simple for me. I had made a decision that before I drank, I would walk all the way to the store, which was not even a country mile from my house, to buy the beer that I would have the next drink of. And for the first six months, that worked because I didn’t want to walk. You know, I drove everywhere.
Bill: So, let me just pause here for a second because I don’t know who’s going to be listening to this podcast. There might be three people in the world that ever listen to it, but there might be more. And some of them might be from the city, or from Taiwan, and they wouldn’t know what a country mile is. So, what’s the difference between a country mile and a regular mile?
Stan: If you’re in most towns or cities, you can pretty much predict what a block is, but what a block is varies by the town. Like here, a block is an eighth of a mile, so a block is really long here in Phoenix. But in Montana, a block is really short. It’s maybe 5 or 6 houses. In Kansas, it’s maybe 5 or 6 houses. A country mile would be a really long block, or the distance between a driveway and the next driveway out in the country. That’d be called a country mile; it’s not actually a mile. It’s not 5280.
Bill: Oh, okay. Alright. Thanks for clearing that up. I had a completely different definition of a country mile. My definition was that it’s a mile…in the country.
Stan: That would make sense.
Bill: So, did you get a chance to fully answer the question what do you think kept you sober?
Stan: So, for a little while, for six months, that’s what kept me sober. I didn’t want to walk to the fucking store. And then I decided I feel a lot healthier. I loved going for walks, and I would take Brandon for walks all the time and go fishing with him and we’d walk for hours. So that wasn’t going to work anymore. So, I had a sponsor that told me to sit down and write out the story of my next drink.
Bill: By the way did you mention why you were walking? I don’t know if you did, I missed it. Why weren’t you driving?
Stan: My promise to me was I would walk to the store and get the beer, which would be a case because I couldn’t drink any less, get the case of beer and then walk home. And I didn’t want to do that. I was too lazy to do that. I was sick and tired. I was tired all the time. So that didn’t work after I got healthier and started walking all the time. So, this sponsor told me to write out my next drink. And I thought, “Well, that’s a macabre thing to do to an alcoholic,” but I did it anyway. And I just decided that the next time I would drink, I would buy a case of bourbon and a case of pop – Coke – and I would take that to a hotel with a shotgun. And I would drink as much as I possibly could, and then I’d blow my head off. That was my next drink. And I believed the story. I honestly believed the story. And that lasted for quite a few years until, what I think of, is the program actually started working. In other words, I found a new way of living via the first 164 pages. That really did start to work. Sadly, that was after I had lost my sons and my wife, you know, and moved to California, and found some real, genuine friends through the program. And started the joy of living at about, I don’t know, 5 years of sobriety. That’s when I met Bea and a lot of other people.
Bill: You know, I think it’s pretty common. And one of the questions I’m going to have for Elizabeth, who is a therapist that’s been working in addiction for twenty years, who started out working in the out-patient aftercare, three hours a night, every night.
Stan: Com Care. That’s what it was called where I went to treatment.
Bill: Com Care?
Stan: Com Care. Yes.
Bill: I’m going to ask her what is the – what do you see when you’re working with people in addiction? When are they ready to actually begin to do the work that is required in order for the program or whatever program they’re working to actually work? For them to actually begin to have some emotional sobriety as well as substance sobriety.
Stan: I notice with a lot of newcomers I work with that they have really fucking urgent problems. And that they can’t solve them yesterday – their life is over basically. And in some cases, their freedom is gone. The kid just the other day who is doing great, he had thirty-six months of sobriety and his case finally came to its conclusion and he got locked up for four years. But they have in their pockets, all these urgent fucking problems, and they’re very real, like the example I just gave. And so they want the program to work yesterday. They’re finally ready for it; they’re willing to do anything; they’re willing to go to any lengths. They demonstrate that constantly, and I’ve never seen the program work quickly. I’ve seen people stay off of alcohol and drugs during that very dangerous period, but I don’t know if it’s credit of the program or it’s a credit of you’re surrounded by a whole lot people now that don’t use or abuse and you used to be surrounded by a whole bunch of people that used and abused. That’s probably closer to the truth than working the 12 Steps. I don’t know. Because I really don’t see a lot of success before the fifth or seventh year. By success I mean we turn our attention to giving back to society, we get back in the mainstream of society, and we become honestly better family men, husbands, fathers. We become assets in society as opposed to the law breakers, and partiers, and domestic violence guys that we’d always been up until that point.
Bill: Do you think when you say five to seven years are you saying that that’s just how long it takes, or that’s just what you see, or have you seen anymore…does it happen sooner than that for some?
Stan: It does. I see a honeymoon period that can start as soon as six months of sobriety; sometimes even sooner than that and can last through your second year. But there’s usually a terrible crash right after your second year. And I think that’s when life really hits you between the eyes. It’s when you start realizing that these urgent problems aren’t going to be solved today. They’re going to take at least as long as it took to make the problems – as long to solve it. And in many, many cases; maybe most cases, it’s going to take a hell of a lot more. Some of our bridges were burned so crispy that they can’t be repaired. No amount of nine-step mend will do it. In some cases, I’ve known guys in the program – one guy wrecked his car, and when he came to, his brother was lying dead on the seat next to him. And the reason he’d wrecked his car was he was driving drunk, way too fast, and nobody was wearing seatbelts; and went right into a tree and killed his brother. He’s sober today, but man, he’s had a tough time. There’s nothing he can do to make amends for that; absolutely nothing. His brother was twenty-something years old when it happened.
Bill: That’s sad.
Stan: But that’s relatively common in Alcoholics Anonymous. Just about every group I’ve ever been in has a similar story. One guy or one lady has a similar story. Another one I heard; this is about twenty years ago. A lady had gotten drunk, because she did every day. She blacked out and finally fell asleep, and when she came to she found her baby, her three-year-old baby in the pool, dead; could not be revived. Obviously, those things don’t happen if you’re conscious and not drunk. She didn’t stay sober.
Alcoholics Anonymous https://www.aa.org/