He Drank “to cover up the sadness”


When I read this article in today’s edition of The Washington Post, I couldn’t help but think of Emmett. There’s so many similarities:

From pinup…..Source: Rolling Stone/Getty Images

Both were smart, talented, in the prime of their lives — but — both addicted to success and alcohol.

I suppose it’s part of knowing what it is like to be an alcoholic, and to love fellow alcoholic family members. You don’t want to believe that your pain and suffering is common. You want to think your loved one can have a different outcome than some unfortunate fellow or woman. But in recovery, one of the first things we learn is that none of us are terminally unique. And other than abstinence, there is no cure.

It makes me sad thinking David Cassidy and Emmett Wilson  had similar struggles, both drinking ‘to cover up the sadness’; both ultimately drinking themselves to death.

…to police mugshot. I wonder if Emmett was ever arrested for public drunkenness. Source: The Straits Times

I never knew either Cassidy or Emmett personally, but surely I’m not the only one who thinks both of their early deaths a damn shame.

Cassidy, like Emmett, tried to beat his disease more than once. But then, I also know that statistically, sobriety is harder to maintain, long term. The average length of an AA’s sobriety is less than 10 years. I know Emmett was unable to string together more than a few days of sobriety at a time; this was probably also the case with Cassidy, despite what we’ve learned about alcoholism since Emmett’s death in 1918.

Even though I count my lucky stars for my own sobriety, I know it’s only a daily reprieve. There’s many other addictions available to ‘cover up the sadness’ in my life besides alcohol (social media, shopping, chocolate), and they are an everyday struggle. What I’ve learned during my time away from booze is to, somehow, get OK with the struggle part of sobering up. The only way to do it is to learn the new behavior. Honestly, it sucks most of the time. Most of us AA’s would rather drink like ‘normal’ people, but we’ve had to learn to accept we can’t ever do that. What we can do, is try, one day at a time, to learn to be OK in our own skins for who we are. Mostly of the time, it’s only halfway, but that’s better than no way at all.

In closing, it’s a little ironic that David Cassidy kind-of sums up the sentiment in an old Partridge Family song, “I’ll Meet You Halfway.” I know he was singing about a love relationship, but I think it applies here, because we have to find a way to love ourselves so that we can save ourselves.

I’ll meet you halfway, that’s better than no way
There must be some way to get it together
And if there’s some way, I know that some day
We just might work it out forever

I wish Cassidy, and Emmett, had been able to work things out for themselves differently.

In Praise of Sponsorship


As of April 27, I will have 10 years’ sobriety in AA.

Putting down the drink was the easy part of getting sober. Keeping away from the damn drink was the hard part — and I surely would not have accumulated this much time, one day at at time, unless I had some help.

But I’ve always balked at accepting help. I’m self-reliant, and I’ve always prided myself on being able to take care of myself. Looking back, I realize that was probably how I was able to survive growing up in an alcoholic household — but now, as a recovering person — I’ve come to understand that self-reliance; i.e., my best thinking, is what got me into AA in the first place.

Four months into AA, I found a sponsor. She was tough as hell on me. She told me if I was really serious about sobering up, and realize the benefits of The Promises, I’d have to follow her directions.

The AA Promises. From pages 83-84 of Alcoholics Anonymous’ big book. They do come true.

The self-reliant alcoholic in me resented another person telling me what to do. I resisted, but I also knew, deep down, that I needed accountability and structure in order to kick this disease, and my sponsor was my best chance to do that. I’d tried to sober up twice before — nothing else had worked.

I did what she said. I didn’t always want to call her every day to tell her what was going on. I didn’t always want to go to a meeting every day. I didn’t want to pray every day, especially for people in my office who I didn’t get along with, or the person who cut me off on the Beltway, or the idiot in the grocery checkout line who decides to pay with a check when I’m in such a hurry to get back to my so-important life!

But I did it anyway.

And it has made all the difference.

Are my problems *poof* gone thanks to sobriety? No.

But my life is manageable.

I still have problems with people in my office, but, thanks to the AA program, I feel more compassionate towards them. It has made a difference in my attitude and the way they act towards me.

People still cut me off on the Beltway, but maybe that person has had a terrible day, or is truly in a hurry to get to the hospital or somewhere else to help a loved one.

I realize I’m powerless over other people, places, and things. But, I do have power over my reaction to other people, places, and things.

And I sure as hell could not have arrived at any of this on my own — only through the help of a good sponsor.


Because I think that sponsorship works so well with my alcoholism, I decided to get a writing sponsor. I didn’t set out to ‘find’ one; this relationship evolved naturally.

You probably knew my first one — my dear friend Nancy. I used to talk to her almost every day about Emmett and the book, and the research. Our conversations were wonderful. I could talk to her about what I found about Emmett in the research, or about how I interpreted Emmett’s relationships with his family, for example, and she’d give me great feedback. It was clarifying and encouraging. Nancy knew my entire story, especially the AA part.

Jacki, myself, Nancy. History detective gals.

Eventually, I told Nancy that I considered her my ‘writing sponsor’, and she said she was honored that I thought of her that way — and voila, our writing sponsorship was born.

It wasn’t a one way relationship, either: Nancy also had writing and research projects underway, and she’d talk to me about them. We’d discuss research databases, research libraries, the best ways to interview reluctant sources, how to catalog articles — you get the picture. We were a team.

And when Nancy died this past January, I was devastated. I felt as if I lost a family member. I’ve really missed Nancy. It has been hard to keep up the writing and research with as much enthusiasm since she died.

But I think Nancy would have been really p-o’d if I wallowed in sadness and the listlessness I’ve felt since she died in January. She would have come up here from Florida and kicked my ass over it; no lie. Nancy would tell me, directly, to get a grip. Find a damn writing sponsor. I need one. She’s right, of course.

As of this weekend, I have a new writing sponsor.

I feel like my Emmett Wilson writing program is back on track.

Things are looking up.

Thanks to my sponsors.


Dealing with Sobriety


The following was read from a copy of the AA Grapevine at a meeting. It was something I needed to hear today.

It was also something I believe Emmett needed to hear too, back in the day.

You see, Emmett knew he had to stop drinking. It wasn’t just his physician or his friends, or his father (also a physician) telling him: Emmett knew he couldn’t handle it.

Unfortunately, Emmett also couldn’t handle sobriety. He didn’t know how to live with sobriety. Most of us in recovery can’t, and that is what drives us back to drink.

For what it is worth, here’s today’s reading.


God willing, we may never again have to deal with drinking, but we do have to deal with sobriety every day.

The idea is not new. I first heard it a dozen years ago from a speaker who was then an old-timer in AA. But I’ve been giving it a lot of thought recently, because it is an important concept. I know it is not understood outside our Fellowship, and I suspect it is not too well recognized inside, either.

The old-timer said, “AA does not teach us how to handle our drinking; it teaches us how to handle sobriety.”

He went on to explain: “AA doesn’t teach us how to handle our drinking. Most alcoholics know, long before they come through the doors of their first meeting, that the way to handle their drinking is to quit. People have told them so. And almost every alcoholic I know has stopped drinking at one time or another – maybe dozens of times! – when he went on the wagon, or took a pledge, or perhaps when he was hospitalized or jailed. So it’s no trick to stop drinking; the trick is to stay stopped.

“No, AA doesn’t teach us how to handle our drinking. It teaches us how to handle sobriety – which is what none of us could handle in the first place, and that’s why we drank.”

What a simple idea! But what a marvelous expression of the way AA works! It has so many advantages and clears up so much misunderstanding about our Society of recovered drunks.

First of all, it explains the need for a continuing program of recovery. One of the commonest questions we get from nonalcoholic friends is “You haven’t had a drink in ‘X’ years, so why do you still have to go to meetings?” In my own case, it’s true that I haven’t had the slightest desire for a drink in many years. And the reason is that my continuing, regular attendance at AA meetings and my effort “to practice these principles” in all my affairs teach me how to live comfortably, productively, happily – without seeking these attributes in a bottle.

This concept also explains the puzzling and paradoxical fact that the halls of AA are crowded, not with shivering wrecks fighting off the craving for a belt of booze, but with healthy, clear-eyed, smiling people. On Twelfth Step calls, I’ve had prospects ask, “I’ve stopped drinking, so why should I go to AA?”

I reply, “I have also stopped drinking – long ago – and so have other members of AA. We find it essential to attend meetings to improve ourselves, to improve our relations with other people, and to learn to practice a better way of life. That’s the only way we can be sure we won’t slip into drinking again.”

Indeed, this concept of learning how to handle sobriety is useful in explaining the need for what we in AA often refer to as our “way of life.” To the newcomer, as well as to the outsider, this phrase often sounds pompous or supercilious. But a new way of life is what we must find if we are to handle sobriety successfully.

Bob P. (CT)
AA Grapevine, March 1975, “Learning to Handle Sobriety”

Doing the Next Right Thing


Remember the post last week where I accidentally outed myself as a recovering alcoholic during Mass?

Well, I’ve had another program-related outing. It is a follow-up about the experience I had with my children’s Sunday school teacher, and it just goes to show you: This program works.


Back in the day, one of my biggest drinking triggers was resentment. If someone had a nicer outfit, better job, or even was having a good day (and I wasn’t), I resented it, without even bothering to find out the source of my discomfort with other people’s satisfaction. I just drank over it, did nothing to correct my self-justified sense of irritation, and made myself (and everyone around me) miserable. I was a real joy to be around, let me tell ya.

Mmmm. I feed my resentment with this stuff. Source: Sanderscandy.com

Mmmm. I feed my resentment with this stuff. Source: Sanderscandy.com

In sobriety, I still struggle with resentment; but, the difference between then and now is that 1) I acknowledge I have the problem (and it is my problem) and 2) I work hard to let it go. Because if I don’t, I will find another way to ‘anesthetize’ myself (shopping, running, chocolate, workaholic tendencies). Honestly, after eight years in the program, I am only about 65 percent good at really letting things go, and I don’t do it immediately, willingly, especially if there is a lot of sea salt caramel chocolate around. But I digress. It’s about progress, not perfection.

So, after my experience with the catechist last week, I talked to my sponsor, Courtney. I told her that while my logical brain knows that I’m powerless over what someone else thinks about me, I still feel the hurt that this person could turn against me, and yet, he is an excellent teacher to my children and is not in any way like that towards them. In fact, this teacher may not like me at all, but he is excellent with my son (who has ADHD and has had a very hard time in any kind of traditional classroom), who likes him very much.

“It is pretty incredible, the way he works with my son, who has made real progress just in this once-a-week class,” I told Courtney. “It is almost like a miracle.”

And then, I mentioned to her that I had an email this morning from the parish seeking nominations for catechist of the year, and I was thinking about nominating that teacher, but I still felt resentment towards him for his attitude towards me.

Courtney listened to me harangue about my feelings (she’s a great sponsor; basically, she just lets me get the crap out of my system), which, she reminded me, are not necessarily facts.

“Tell me,” she said. “What do you think the next right thing to do would be?”

“Submit the nomination for this guy,” I said, without hesitation. “But in doing so, part of me feels like that is acknowledging that his dismissal of me is acceptable.”

Resentment-is-like-taking-poison“Nonsense,” she said. “What he feels or thinks about you is none of your business. Besides, that has nothing to do with the excellent job he has done with your children in that classroom. That is what you are acknowledging,” she said.

Then, Courtney added: “Watch out for resentments; they can do a lot of damage to someone in recovery.”

Finally, as we parted company, my sponsor said, “I want to see the draft of that nomination you write. And, submit it anonymously.”

I went home, drafted the nomination, cce’d it to my sponsor, and submitted it to the parish office. Anonymously, just as directed.

I have to say that after I did that — I felt immediately better. And then, I just forgot about it.

Yesterday, I got an email note from this catechist, briefly thanking me for the nomination, because the pastor said it was one letter in particular that got him the Catechist of the Year award from my parish. In a nutshell, he said that the pastor showed him the letter, which was anonymous, but he knew it was me because of what was said in the letter.

“Your words meant a lot to me. I didn’t expect it. It was special. Thank you.”

I will be honest with you. I didn’t want to write the nomination for this fellow. But once I started writing, the words just began to flow. After I submitted the nomination, I remember thinking, ‘even if this doesn’t get anything for him, it made me feel better.’

I mentioned that to Courtney when I emailed her the copy of the letter. “That’s the result of doing the next right thing. Keep up the good work,” she replied.

Sobriety can be hard work. But it is worth it.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled Emmett Wilson research program! Stay tuned!


Accidental Outing


In the very early days of sobriety, I used to think, “Once I get a few years or five under my belt, I’ll know what to do/say and be more at ease with most situations in life.”

Well, I’m here to tell you that yes, things do get better. You do become better able to handle life on life’s terms. But, now and again, even folks with five or more years slip up.

It’s a program of progress, not perfection.

I don’t talk a lot about being in recovery to folks outside of the rooms of AA.

There are a few close friends (who aren’t in the program) who know my story, because I chose to tell them, and I trust them.   But to others who are not close friends, I limit what I say because I’m not sure about their reaction. I don’t want to anyone to be uncomfortable around me, and then, I don’t like my reaction to their discomfort.

Related to this is what I think is a deeply ingrained (and, very often, dysfunctional) habit of being a people-pleaser. My alcoholic mother taught me a long time ago that it was good to put someone else’s interests first ahead of my own. It didn’t matter that the other person may be a huge ass jerk. “The important thing was for me to always be the giving, unselfish one,” she said.

Ironically, five years ago, on her deathbed, I remember how she complained that she spent all of her life “being everyone’s doormat, and that she had wasted her time.”

Alcoholism partially contributed to my mother’s death. Cunning, baffling disease, is it not?

Fast forward many years later. As a sober adult, I now recognize the flaws in that philosophy, but reprogramming that thinking pattern has been hard.

My logical mind tells me that I cannot and should not expect everyone to like and appreciate me for who I am, because it isn’t reality. So far, I haven’t had problems with people I’ve met as I walk along the sober road: I’ve made a lot of new friends, others have become simply acquaintances. But, the few times I’ve encountered someone who is openly negative towards me (because he or she does not like me) have thrown me off balance, disrupting my serenity.

The few times it has happened have surprised me, frankly. I’m caught off guard; I start to question my worth. These few events make me realize the true fragility of my sobriety and it scares me. (At least I’m not drinking over it, as I would have in the past.)

One happened weekend before last.

I was one of four eucharistic ministers helping out at Mass, and after communion, we scuttled back into the sacristy to return the chalices. (I think it is God’s ironic sense of humor that I’m always given consecrated wine to distribute at Mass.)

One of the ministers serving that weekend was my twins’ Sunday school teacher. I’ve known him for a few years; he has been very friendly, he is a good teacher, and my children like him. Anyway, he and I were in the sacristy; the other two ministers had left. I was the only one left holding a half chalice of consecrated wine. The procedure is that if any consecrated wine is left over after communion, the minister must drink the remaining wine. And of course, I can’t.

I handed the wine to the other minister, and the words, “I can’t have this. I’m a recovering alcoholic,” just slipped out, automatically. No one else was close enough to hear me say it. He did, though. He took the chalice from me, drained it. I said thank you, and went back to my seat.

I didn’t think anything about it, until the next week. I said hello to him, and he looked at me, and then…just turned and walked away from me. Odd. I was a little taken aback.

He was his usual friendly and polite self to my children in his classroom, though; I thought, ‘He was probably having a difficult morning’, and so I just let it go. I didn’t think anything about it again until the following week, when I said hello to him again, as I dropped my children off, and got the same reaction. I went over to tell him that my son had said his stomach was bothering him, and if he felt ill, just to send him upstairs to my classroom; the fellow could barely talk to me. The assistant teacher was standing near by; she came over and told me she’d keep an eye on my son, not to worry, et cetera.

Three disses in a row. I knew something was wrong. I admit it hurt, too. I couldn’t let my children see my reaction, so I kissed the tops of their heads and told them I’d see them after class.

I couldn’t figure out why he was acting this way towards me; it dawned on me that he changed after we’d served at Mass together a few weeks earlier — and then, I realized what had happened. I outed myself to this guy, and he was really uncomfortable around me now.

When I went to pick up the twins after class, I went over to apologize for revealing that I was an alcoholic (no one else was nearby), and for putting him ill at ease, but he was, again, dismissive towards me. He didn’t (and doesn’t) want to talk to me; I got the message loud and clear.

I’m sorry he’s uncomfortable; But you know, what he thinks about me right now is none of my business. I’ll continue to be charitable towards him, and to not take it personally. The only exposure people have to AA is through someone who is in the program.

We’re not all jerks.

There, but for the grace of God, fella. Know what I mean?

This lesson also reminded me about the most important tradition in our program: Anonymity. I certainly don’t go about broadcasting my alcoholism; this was, indeed, an accidental ‘outing’ of myself. I’m going to be more circumspect.

Today was the last Sunday School class for the year. They won’t have this teacher next year. I probably won’t have to interact with him anymore, either, and that’s OK.

I asked my twins what was the biggest lesson they learned in their Sunday School class this year. In their own words, my son and daughter told me that they learned that everyone has different problems to solve, and that unless you walk in that person’s shoes, you don’t really know what’s going on with the other person. My daughter said, “The best thing we can do is to be nice to each other, no matter what. Right Mom?”

Despite what this teacher may think about me, personally, I’m happy with the lesson my children received at his hands. God bless him.