Episode 129: Dave E.

In this episode you will meet Dave E. from Toronto, Ontario. Our conversation begins with Dave sharing his personal story of recovery, the difficulty he had with interpreting the god-speak that he heard in AA meetings, and the relief he felt from finding secular AA meetings. Later in the podcast, we talk about what we do with our sobriety, how we spend our time, and what we do to stay engaged and content as people in recovery. 

Transcript 

00:00 John S: This is episode 129 of AA Beyond Belief.

[music]

00:21 John S: Hello, and welcome to AA Beyond Belief. The episode you’re about to hear is a conversation I had last summer with Dave E from Toronto, Ontario. This was just before I went to the Secular Ontario AA Round Up, where I actually got to meet him in person, which was a lot of fun. You’ll like this podcast, though I will warn you, the sound quality is a little bit iffy. What the deal is, it sounds like Dave’s on AM radio, whereas I’m on FM radio, and I’m not sure why that happened. It didn’t sound like that when I was talking to him.

00:55 John S: But anyway, don’t let that stop you from listening to this conversation. I really enjoyed this podcast. It was really fun talking to Dave. What I found most interesting is we got into a little bit of a discussion about what we do with our sobriety. I mean, when you think about it, drinking takes up a lot of time, and we’ve gotta fill it with something. And hopefully what we’re filling our time with is good for us, that is something that we enjoy. I spend a lot of time with the website and this podcast, but lately, I’ve gotten back into running again. And I am so happy about that. I’m not running incredibly long distances, but I’ve been able to run two miles at a time. And I’m not running real fast either, but I’m running enough that it feels good. It feels good to be back at it again. And I feel like I’m getting a little bit more balance. So the running is good to do.

01:47 John S: I’ve also been reading a little bit more. I just finished reading the book, Bill W. And Mr. Wilson by Matthew J. Raphael. And basically it’s a book that takes a look at the historical Bill Wilson, and the myth of Bill W. And what’s kind of interesting about that is, Bill Wilson himself was aware of these two different personalities. You know, he had this cult built around him as Bill W., the founder of AA. And he would tell stories that would just kind of go with the myth. But it wasn’t always necessarily who he really was. And so that was an interesting book.

02:28 John S: I was going to write a book review of it, but I find writing book reviews to be really, really difficult. I mean, a huge amount of work. And I had been working on this one, and I just couldn’t get anywhere. So last week I was watching some videos on YouTube about how to write book reviews. And, oh, what I picked up on is what really is pretty obvious, and that’s to read the book carefully, maybe read it more than once, take notes while you read it, and then put your book review together. So I’m going to read the book again, but this time I’m going to read it more critically and pay more attention, and I’m going to keep notes. And hopefully I’ll get that book review posted next week. That’s like seven days from now. Okay.

03:13 John S: I’m also reading… Not reading. But I have on my list of books to read, Writing The Big Book: The Creation of AA by William Schaffer. Yeah, William Schaberg. Schaberg, yeah. Anyway, it’s a huge book, it’s like 800 pages, and it’s a scholarly work that takes a look at the history of writing the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous. So, apparently, there’s some new information in there. It’s getting a lot of buzz. So looking forward to reading that, and hopefully getting a book review written. So that’s about what’s going on here. Let me know what’s going on with you. Send me an email, John@AABeyondBelief.org. And now, here we go. It’s me and Dave talking recovery and what we do with our sobriety.

03:57 John S: Well, hey, Dave. How are things going in Toronto?

04:01 Dave E: Having a great summer. Thanks for asking. It’s starting to cool down just a little bit, a little bit of fall in the air, but…

04:09 John S: Aw, that’s nice.

04:10 Dave E: Yeah, so life’s treating me well. And thanks for having me on today.

04:14 John S: Oh, great, well, it’s good to have you. Yeah, as I said just before we started, I’ll be in Hamilton, gosh, in like two weeks from now. I’m looking forward to it, it’s been kind of hot down here. It’s starting to get a little bit nicer, but it’s just a change in climate. It’s kind of fun this time of the year to go up there. But, anyway. So, thank you for agreeing to do this. You were kind enough to write in. I did that episode where I was actually seeking feedback about the podcast. And it was kind of funny because I was really dead in the water for a while. I just wasn’t doing any podcasting. And so I put that episode out, and now I have podcasts booked all the way through the end of October.

05:01 Dave E: Oh, good. So I wasn’t the only one who thought I should be on a podcast. [laughter]

05:05 John S: Yeah, I got a really good response. But doing this is really an act of service on your part because it takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there. And it helps people, believe it or not. There’s a lot of people in the world who don’t have access to hearing a secular person talk about their recovery.

05:27 Dave E: Sure. No, and I appreciate you saying that because as soon as I did volunteer, of course, my… I don’t know, my inner voice says, “Who do you think you are for thinking somebody wants to hear you talk?” And to volunteer on your own to talk is like such a big no, no, in the traditional AA meetings that I started with.

05:44 John S: Yeah, I know. I had a complex for a long time, and I still do, because for 25 years I went to a traditional AA meeting. And it was like the most important thing in the world was not to have a big ego. And so I would never be proud of any damn thing. I would never… [laughter] You know? And every once in a while, still to this day, I’ll say, “You know, I’m proud of that.” And I feel, “Oh, man, that’s a bad thing to say.” But you know it’s really not that bad.

06:14 Dave E: Yeah, and you know I’m at a pretty good place in my recovery, but I think I mentioned this in my email, I did slowly shift over from traditional meetings to the agnostic meetings here in Toronto once I… Actually I found them through the podcast ironically. But the more I spoke about having doubts and being an atheist after a few years in AA, I went from somebody who was asked to speak quite often to somebody who was never asked to speak anymore.

06:48 John S: Oh, that’s interesting.

06:49 Dave E: Yeah, and I think some of that is… Actually, I think new people obviously get asked to speak a little bit more, because they haven’t been… That’s part of it as well, because I’d already spoken a few times at some groups, I guess. But when I did get the chance to speak, I really felt that that was when I learned the most about how I really did think about these things. So losing that opportunity in the last couple of years has been something I’ve really missed. That’s part of the reason I wanted to get on here, is that I do find talking about this for longer periods of time with somebody, really helps me understand where I’m at.

07:29 John S: That’s interesting that you mention that, because I haven’t really thought about this, but very rarely, actually never, has another group reached out to my group and asked us to speak. But no, actually, I guess that’s wrong. I guess they have for the Christmas Alcathons that we have out here, that’s right. And we have spoken a few times, which has been nice.

07:51 Dave E: Well, and admittedly I’d say it the other way around too. Our groups don’t typically reach out to a lot of traditional members to come in either.

08:00 John S: We’re the same way.

08:00 Dave E: I think that would be a good idea probably both ways.

08:04 John S: Yeah, we actually have a speaker meeting and we were going to do that. It would be a different thing for our group to have someone come in and actually talk about their experience in AA as a believer. And if they go into the God, and the Big Book, and all that kind of stuff… Some of the people in our group are uncomfortable with that kind of talk. You know?

08:24 Dave E: You know what? I actually can greatly empathize with that. I think that would be the same in my groups, and to be honest, it’s probably the same with me as an individual.

08:32 John S: Yeah. Well, why don’t we go into your story a little bit? Why don’t you, if you don’t mind, share a little bit about your journey and how you got to where you are?

08:42 Dave E: Yeah. So just for reference, I’m not quite four years sober yet. Hopefully, confidently, I will be in October. I’ve been coming around the program for about an extra year before that. But my story, the shorter version is very typical. A very withdrawn self-conscious kid growing up. As I look back, tons of early signs of depression and anxiety. And also, I’m from an alcoholic home and there’s no denying that that’s a big part of where I ended up. I had a mom who ended up drinking herself to death at around age 60. And I mean, like a classic, classic alcoholic, like a hard heavy drinker. And I had a dad, or still do have a dad, who drank a lot. But a fun guy, very successful, good with people, a happy drunk, and didn’t drink when he didn’t need to.

09:55 Dave E: So I think for me, when I talk about how I got to where I got to, it was, when you become an adult you drank. And it was just basically, either you were a good drinker or you were a bad drinker, but either way you were a drinker. That’s just what adults do. I certainly grew up waiting to get to the point in my life where it was my turn I got to drink. I guess if I look back, right from the start if I was able to sneak booze or that sort of thing, it was always as much as I possibly could. This is the relativism that comes into everything is it certainly didn’t seem excessive compared to my peer group for a number of years. It’s just what you do. You know?

10:47 Dave E: And then through college, or sorry, university, after university… I tend to say I always drank… What do I say? I forget what I say now, John. I drank inappropriately at all the appropriate times. I didn’t drink all the time, but whenever I did drink, I drank as much as I could. I had a period in my early 20s where in an 18-month period I got married, moved countries, lost my mom, lost my sister, my dad had a massive stroke. I had about an 18-month period where every phone call was some sort of disaster. And I think that’s when my drinking shifted into something I did for fun, into something I did just to get through. Gets you through a day, right?

11:50 Dave E: And I just sailed along in some sort of plane of mediocrity for a good 10, 15 years. You know, I had good times, I had some bad times, but like most people, that balance of days of when I was drinking, when I was not drinking, really started to take a shift. So, instead of, “Oh, I went out on Thursday, Friday, Saturday,” it was like, “Oh, I didn’t drink last Tuesday, that’s alright. I’m not drinking every day.” We’ve all heard all the stories, so I don’t need to get into that. But by the end I was about 230 lbs, I was having trouble walking up and down stairs, my hands were brown and yellow from cigarettes. I was on blood pressure medication. I was only about 33 years old.

12:52 John S: Wow, that’s young.

12:52 Dave E: Yeah, I was a mess. I was a mess on the outside, I had that typical big, red, puffy face. I was always sad. And that’s the thing, I talk about my physical appearance at that time, but whatever I looked like on the outside, it was 10 times worse inside. It was awful. And I’ve… I don’t know if you had the same experience, but when I woke up each morning it was with this rush of adrenaline and panic of, “What did I do the night before? And I can’t believe that I have to have another day.” I just wanted to be knocked out right away. Yeah, so at that point it was kind of like, do whatever I can to get myself to work, which I was still doing.

13:45 Dave E: I was single-parenting about five days a week. I was able to keep most of my drinking at bay until my son was in bed. And it was just on repeat for a few years; it’s just like struggle through a day in a lot of pain, and then drink as soon as I could at night. And it kind of came to a point where I was making some allusions to harming myself. I wasn’t going to, but I was just grasping. And some people took it seriously, as they should, and there was… Not an intervention, but some big push to do something. So I said I’d go to an AA meeting. And the woman I was in a relationship at that time actually brought me, which was very kind. And I went. Toronto, there’s meetings everywhere; it’s very accessible. So there was one just down the street from where I was living at the time. And I hated it. I felt it was one of the strangest things I’d ever seen when I first walked in, but I was still like… I had no way to judge what was normal and what wasn’t normal at that time.

15:19 John S: But what did you find strange about it?

15:22 Dave E: Oh, okay. Honestly, how happy everybody was.

15:24 John S: Oh, really? [chuckle]

15:26 Dave E: Yeah, for sure. All these smiling people, and all these people shaking my hand and giving me their telephone numbers. And when I look back, those are great things. At the time it was so… You couldn’t get more different than what I was used to on a day-to-day. And Johnny… I actually… I thought people must be faking it. And I continued to go for a little while, and I was pretty convinced that it must be so awful to not drink that you had to really put on this face to show how happy you were, if you kind of get what I mean? But I kept going, and that was, I think, in November of that year. And I said I’d go till New Year’s. I had no intention of never drinking again. Naively, I didn’t know that was part of AA. I didn’t really know what AA was, I just knew I felt awful, and I wanted to get back to the period where drinking was fun for me. And that was what I was determined to do. I believed all these people who said they could never drink again, but I didn’t think that was me. Like, who does? But you know… Sorry, John, I feel like I’m going on and on here, but…

16:46 John S: No.

16:48 Dave E: I do hear people who say they came in desperate to stop and they had had enough. That was certainly not my reason, is what I’m getting at. I came in to get to a point where I could drink again, that was my hope. So I think that was about six weeks I stayed sober, and then New Year’s came along, and as planned, I started drinking again. And by February of that year I was in the hospital. It was a very quick and speedy decline. And like I read in some of the literature, and what people told me is, once I did hear some of this stuff, it’s very tough to ignore if it does apply to you. And I noticed it. So I ended up… Uncontrollable shakes and blah, blah, blah. I ended up in a detox center. From detox I did like a day addictions program, and then I went to a 12 step treatment facility for a month outside of Toronto. It would have been described at the time as a Step 1, 2, 3 Bootcamp.

18:01 Dave E: And then I came out and I did the things I was supposed to be doing. I did 90 in 90, I got a sponsor, I joined a homegroup, and I shook hands at the door. And I did all these things, and I did them all at about 85%-90% belief that I needed to be doing these things. And I stayed sober. I stayed sober until exactly eight months later, and I just couldn’t picture doing this for the rest of my life unless I was 100% sure that I couldn’t drink again. So with some sort of a clear head and some time, I took the book’s advice and went out and tried to see if I could do something. And that’s when it clicked for me. I had a beer, and as soon as I had that beer it all just became very clear that I wanted the next one more. And that to me became, “Oh, that’s why I’m an alcoholic.”

19:25 Dave E: And I lasted about two weeks and then I went crawling back. And it’s been four years since then, but I went back to the traditional meetings I was going to.

19:40 John S: You didn’t know about the secular meetings at the time, is that right?

19:43 Dave E: I had heard about it, but it wasn’t something, it was kind of like derisively. It wasn’t really presented as an option, I just knew that they existed. For the first while, I really thought a lot of people probably felt deep inside or thought like I did, that a lot of this stuff was… Like maybe everyone else was in on the joke, a little bit. And I don’t mean to sound offensive but…

20:14 John S: No, I hear you.

20:15 Dave E: Yeah, okay, you know who I am.

20:17 John S: I felt that way too. In fact, I still kind of do in a way. Because, what I noticed about AA is most of the people weren’t fanatical about going to church on Sunday or anything like that, but they did seem to be fanatical about AA itself, which is so weird. I don’t think in any other aspect of their life were they especially religious, really.

20:43 Dave E: No. And I speak to one person outside of the meeting and they’d be so… I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter, political but left-wing, progressive etcetera, etcetera. And then we go in the meeting and it’s like straight dogma and don’t deviate, right? I remember, I actually pulled it out today because I hadn’t looked at the 12 and 12 for a long time, but there’s a part in step 2 in there where it talks about, I don’t know, atheists or the belligerent atheist being so proud of rising majestically from the primordial ooze. And I’m like looking it up and like nobody else is and there’s a lot of head nods going on.

21:22 John S: Right? Jesus, that is crazy when you think about it. Well, yeah, science says that we have evolved. And I guess from primordial ooze perhaps. [chuckle]

21:32 Dave E: Yeah, I guess. But, when I think of that I’m like, “How is an ooze majestic?” When I think of that kind of stuff, that really puts me in my place of being humble, I was like, “Yeah, we are. Like me, I am just a speck. I’m just a speck. There’s nothing majestic about me.” [chuckle] And that was a lot of the stuff… Actually, since I reached out to you, I went back and I listened to you and Ben do all the 12 steps, because that’s what got me into this podcast. And this feeling that everybody in AA or every alcoholic is there because their ego was too gigantic and they couldn’t give up being the director of the play, it’s not my experience.

22:24 John S: It wasn’t mine either, but I fit myself at that time, because I was a young, fairly, I was 25, whatever. And I just kind of fit myself into that mold and said, “Oh, I guess I must be a huge egomaniac who wants to run everything all the time.” And that really wasn’t who I was.

22:43 Dave E: No. And that’s what I started to do with all of this, though, was to make myself fit into what I was supposed to be fitting into.

22:54 John S: Exactly.

22:55 Dave E: I wasn’t majestic. To me, every day I was the worst person in the world who nobody liked and nobody wanted to be friends with and that’s why I drank. Now, I found ways to make that about my ego.

23:07 John S: Yeah, exactly, yeah.

23:10 Dave E: I’m the worst person in the world, right? So, there’s my ego there. I’m not just… Anyway, so I did this with all of these mental gymnastics to try to make myself fit into what other people were saying and I got very good at the language.

23:27 John S: Yes.

23:28 Dave E: And I’ve heard you speak about this with others as well. Step 2 comes up and I’m like, I think Ben said this, but I’m like, “Okay, roll the tape here.” [chuckle] What is it I say about step 2?” And that’s what I shared, because I had a smart thing that was kind of funny and would get some laughs but had a dramatic ending maybe and would fit the narrative that I was supposed to say. And I would say it. I think it’s at the end of how it works, where it talks about no human power could have relieved us of alcoholism. And then the last is that God could and would if He were sought.

24:13 John S: Right.

24:13 Dave E: And I used to speak and I stole this from somebody. But I’d say, “Well, it doesn’t say God has to be found, so I’ll just keep looking and that’ll keep me sober.” And everybody would start applauding and that was my big finish. But it’s not, it wasn’t really how I felt at all.

24:33 John S: We know how to please the crowd.

24:35 Dave E: Yeah, absolutely.

24:37 John S: And I sometimes feel bad about that, how, especially recently, I’ve been reflecting upon my early years in the program. And I sometimes feel bad that I was so quick to conform. It concerns me. Now, I don’t know if I’m that way now, I suppose to a certain…

25:00 Dave E: I don’t think you are, John.

25:00 John S: I hope not. But I think to a certain extent it’s human nature and maybe it takes a lot of effort to not conform.

25:09 Dave E: Sure. Yeah, and on that, I do put the caveat here is, I did get sober doing all of that.

25:19 John S: Yeah, that’s the thing, me too.

25:21 Dave E: Right? And it’s funny because I have people who I’m close with in Agnostic AA who never went through traditional meetings. And sometimes I almost feel a little bit, I don’t know if embarrassed is the right word, but I kind of wish I didn’t do it that way, even though it’s the way that works for me.

25:37 John S: Right, right.

25:39 Dave E: Yeah. But I just couldn’t, I just couldn’t keep… I think some of this program is, well, most of this program is about finding out who you really are and being authentic, right?

25:50 John S: Yeah.

25:51 Dave E: So how can I keep going to meetings and being inauthentic if that’s supposed to be the center of my recovery?

25:56 John S: Yeah.

25:57 Dave E: To always bite my tongue, to always be afraid of saying what I really wanted to say. And I used to sit there, I remember times when I was earlier I’d be near tears at a speaker meeting. Just wanting one person to get up there and talk about doing it in a secular way or not putting it all in God’s hands, just one person. I didn’t hate that people got sober that way, but I just needed to see somebody who got sober a way that I needed to see.

26:31 Dave E: And funnily enough, some of the court stuff going on with the groups in Toronto, what’s happening, and that’s actually what led me to this podcast. You had a guest on to speak about that at the time. And I’d go to our business meetings or district meetings and hear people rail against it, having never been to a meeting, an Agnostic meeting. And I’m like, “What am I doing, being angry about traditional meetings, arguing on behalf of the agnostic groups in Toronto, and I’d never been to one?” So I went.

27:04 John S: That’s funny.

27:05 Dave E: Yeah, yeah, and that’s how strong the blinders I had been going into meetings with, right? It’s, “I better not ever deviate or I’m going to relapse.” Can’t reduce my meetings or I’m going to relapse. That fear that you get told all the time of what’s guaranteed to lead to relapse really did scare me in my early days, and maybe rightfully so, right? So I started to attend other meetings in Toronto, and my goodness, it was like it was taking a piano off my shoulders. It was just like, “Oh, there’s so many other people. There’s so many other people and I don’t have to translate anymore.”

27:58 John S: Yeah, yeah.

28:00 Dave E: And I think that’s probably the most common thing, right? I do think there’s great messages that come out of traditional AA. But I needed to put in two stages before they made sense to me. And I think it’s an awesome idea to write out the steps in your own way. But, yeah, but I also sometimes want to just hear it [laughter] from other people, and not have to do two levels of translation to see, “Okay, so how can this apply to me?”

28:35 John S: That is really interesting, that whole thing about having to translate into a different, in my own way. And I was actually, when I look back on it, I was doing that from the very beginning on a deep subconscious level. So in other words, I would hear something about people talking about you should pray and all this kind of stuff, and I would internalize it to myself, say, “Well, there must be some psychological benefit to praying.” [laughter]

29:04 John S: So that’s how I would rationalize it in my head, but I wouldn’t speak about it in that way. When I was at the meetings I’d say, “Yes, I get on my knees every day,” and all that kind of crap. But really, from the very beginning I was doing that, but I never actually thought about even changing the wording of the 12 steps in my own vocabulary, not until about, well, five years ago when I discovered this whole agnostic AA thing on the internet. And I don’t know if it was from Roger’s site, or what it was, some other agnostic site, but then I realized that, “Oh, that’s a good idea.” And I did that myself.

29:49 Dave E: Right.

29:49 John S: And that was…

29:50 Dave E: That always surprises me, that I would make these assumptions that… I forget that you haven’t always been in Agnostic AA, right?

30:00 John S: No, not at all.

30:01 Dave E: For a number of years you did traditional AA, right?

30:04 John S: Twenty-five years, yeah.

30:05 Dave E: Wow.

30:06 John S: We didn’t have that option in Kansas City. And I didn’t realize this, but two years before we started our group, in nearby Lawrence, Kansas, they did have an agnostic group that was meeting, and I didn’t know about it. So for two years that we had one around in this area I didn’t know about it. And so in 2014 when we started our group, I did go to that meeting with a friend of mine, and it was so cool to finally be in a meeting where you didn’t have that uncomfortable period of having to hold someone’s hands and pray.

30:39 Dave E: Yeah.

[laughter]

30:42 Dave E: Yeah, yeah, it’s just a relief, right? It’s funny, because I know other people who listen to this podcast, which I’m not biting my tongue when I say this, but no meeting to me is exactly how I wish every meeting would be, right? And that was a good learning too, because not everybody in agnostic AA thinks the exact way that I do. Of course, of course, and there’s a spectrum to agnostic, and atheist AA as well, that sometimes may lead into its own sort of dogma in its own way, and to immediate rejection of some words. But that’s okay, right? And I think the difference is, in the meetings I attend, you can say something that’s up for debate, and that’s okay because you’re there to get sober, right? And you can say something that doesn’t conform to even agnosticism or atheism. But it’s okay because you’re just there to get sober. And at the end of the day, I don’t care what way anybody’s doing this, it’s just, “Is it working for you?” Right? And this whole, “If the way you’re doing it is different than is laid out in the book that maybe you weren’t an alcoholic to begin with.” That’s just such a dangerous message to get put out there.

32:20 John S: Yeah, that is.

32:21 Dave E: It’s not fair.

32:22 John S: Yeah, I actually, I started hearing that online and I had to leave all these groups, these Facebook groups for AA, where if I were to write some sort of a post about something, then someone would say I wasn’t a real alcoholic if I wasn’t doing it the God way or something like that. That is dangerous stuff to say. That’s not right. You’re not supposed to… It’s up to the individual to determine if they want to stop drinking, and why.

32:56 Dave E: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. And also how they want to get sober.

33:00 John S: And how they want to get sober. That’s right. So tell me this. So what do you like to do now? I see you’re wearing a t-shirt with a bicycle on it, are you a cyclist?

[laughter]

33:13 Dave E: I am. I’m not what you would call a sports cyclist. Actually, I do a lot of advocacy work here in Toronto on active transport, so cycling as mobility. Safer streets, better infrastructure, that sort of thing. That’s a good question, though, because that is what you’re left with, is what do you like to do now? Boy, I’ve had a tough time figuring that out. I think back to early sobriety and I just walked everywhere. I didn’t know what to do with myself and I couldn’t sit still. It’s funny, I went down all these rabbit holes of like, I’m not making fun of this, but am I the guy who’s going to start knitting?

34:02 Dave E: There’s a lot of knitting in AA. I always wanted to play guitar, maybe I’ll be that guy now. And then John, if I’m honest with you, I did so many things, because I was trying to get back in a relationship or into different relationships in early recovery. I would meet somebody who was into yoga, so now I’m yoga guy.

[chuckle]

34:25 Dave E: And now I’m Buddhist guy. I ran a half marathon, because I was trying to date a girl who was into running. The thing is, none of these things worked out, but at the end of the day, I got into Buddhism. I got myself back in shape, because I was running. I got into yoga, which is a nice part of my life. In a way, I didn’t become the guy who does all of these things, but I became a guy who does a lot of things. Now, all of a sudden, I have things in my life that I do. I don’t know what age you were when you got sober, but my whole life became talking about things I used to do.

35:16 Dave E: I played football in the university, I read books all the time, I camped, I played guitar. I used to do this, and I used to do this, and I used to do that. Then it was just like I just sit in the bar. I just sit in the bar and tell people what I used to do, and there was nothing to me. What do you do? What do you like to do?

35:43 John S: I do this podcast, basically.

[overlapping conversation]

35:47 Dave E: Filling that time is gotta be huge here.

35:49 John S: Yeah. I got sober when I was 25, and I’m 57 now, hard to believe.

35:54 Dave E: Wow.

35:54 John S: So, yeah, 31 years and I’ve had a lot of interests over the years. I’m into theater. We have actually really good theater in Kansas City. My wife and I will attend plays and so forth. A lot of people wouldn’t know that about this city, but we have a number of acting companies here that are just fantastic. I like to do that and I at one time, when I saw your shirt that’s what kind of reminded me of it, I loved to bike. I wasn’t in a bike club or anything, or doing races or anything like that, but we just have a really nice bike trail not far from my house. I live in the city area, so it was fun to ride my bike around the city. You could stop and have coffee places and things like that. But I got out of it, because this website and podcast take up so much of my time.

36:56 Dave E: Yeah, you mentioned this multiple times when you were talking with Ben.

37:00 John S: Yeah, it takes up a lot of time. I have never yet found the balance to be able to do this and other things also. Fortunately for me, about several months ago we got a dog, an Australian Shepherd, and she’s got a lot of energy and she loves to walk. I’m taking her on a lot of walks now, we walk at least three miles a day now. Working from home, I take breaks and I take her on walks, a mile at a time. That’s been good for me, but yeah, the podcast has become a huge part of my life. This is what ultimately I like to do and this is where I’m spending my time right now. I’ve gotten other things off my list and this is where I want to spend my time doing this.

37:48 Dave E: Well, yeah, and I think I’ve heard you mention in the past, cycling had been your meditation, in a way. And that meditation was something you had never really…

38:00 John S: I could never do it. I could never do it, but running and cycling were two methods of meditating for me.

38:08 Dave E: Yeah, it just seems to be what gets you out of your head.

38:12 John S: Nothing was better for it, though, than running, because with running, you would actually get into a groove where your body kind of just takes over.

38:24 Dave E: Some sort of autopilot.

38:28 John S: You get into this rhythm, I guess, where your body is just doing what it’s doing, at the pace it needs to do it. It helped get my mind focused on, I don’t know, I just get a different zone. And it seemed like I could think about things a little bit more clearly. It was very helpful for me. That’s something I would like to get back to; also, it’s really healthy for a person.

38:54 Dave E: Yeah, tons of benefits all around, right? This is the thing I’ve found with sobriety, and listen, I’m very… My sponsor, who I barely talk to, does remind me of this. And not in a condescending way is, I’m still really new. I’m less than four years and it’s so apparent when I speak to somebody who’s been around for a few decades. It’s a speck of time. It doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. But when I look at how much my life has changed from just four years ago, it is mind boggling, like I’m a completely different person. And then I think, well, I don’t expect it to change at the same rate, but that’s the exciting thing is I don’t know where I’m going to be at 20 years from now.

39:38 John S: Well, I’ve become an observer now in AA more than anything else, and I get a lot out of it. And what I mean by that is I watch someone like you to come in and get sober, and then find, discover things in life that you like to do. And I see that at my home group all the time, people, they’re learning an instrument, or they’re making friends, or they’re going to the movies. They’re just doing things that we couldn’t do when we were drinking. And that to me is what I think it’s all about. When I see that, I feel like, “Wow, the program is working for them. These meetings are doing some good.”

40:14 Dave E: And to me, you just hit it right there is sobriety allows me to find things to enjoy or to participate in life.

40:23 John S: Yeah, it really does.

40:25 Dave E: Sobriety is not there for me solely to participate in sobriety. Meaning I go to meetings so that I can have a life outside of meetings.

40:35 John S: That’s right, that’s the whole end purpose of it.

40:37 Dave E: Right, and sometimes I had a tough time reconciling what I would hear when I went from doing like 10 meetings a week to now one to three. But I didn’t come in… I needed a cocoon of sobriety [chuckle] at the beginning, and it’s great. Nobody interrupts you, everybody shakes your hand, you know that you’re not allowed to argue. So I needed that safe place, and it was a very safe place for me. It’s not for everybody at all times, but it was for me. That was my experience. But now, sobriety… I went on all these self-help space when I was still drinking, like I wasn’t oblivious to realizing I needed… I didn’t feel well. So I’d get into meditation or I’d hit the gym for a month. And I’d go to a therapist and I was prescribed numerous different types of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications over the years. But the thing was is I did all of these things and still drank all the time. So, those things never worked. And so I quit, because they weren’t working or they weren’t working properly. Until I stopped drinking, now I could go back and do those things. I could go to therapy sober, I could meditate sober, I could go to the gym sober. Right?

[chuckle]

42:05 Dave E: And now those things start to take effect. What I keep in mind is, and I’m very honest, I wish this wasn’t the case, I don’t think I can keep doing all of those things without still going to AA. because if I don’t stay sober, those things all disappear. And for me, the only thing that’s kept me sober was going to AA at this point in my life.

42:31 John S: Well, I went through a period of time, after about 10 years of sobriety, where I was not going to a lot of meetings. And the reason for that was I shifted my focus where AA was still part of my life, but it wasn’t the sinner, it wasn’t everything in my life. I went back to school and I saw I was doing a lot… I spent a lot of time reading and meeting different people. And I had a life outside of the rooms of AA, a much richer life. And it was a very exciting time, because I was learning and thinking differently, and it was a great time. But AA was still there, it was still like something that grounded me, I guess. It was still something that was important to me and I never forgot that it’s because I’m sober that I can go to school. And ironically enough, I realized this when I was going to school, after 10 years in the program, I went to this group that was very studious about the Big Book. I mean, we had to read, and study, and all this kind of stuff.

43:37 John S: So, it actually kind of helped me, because I learned the importance of reading for the class, things like this. So, it kind of helped me get through my degree.

43:51 Dave E: My experiences in AA, it does help me almost every single day in some way, like I’m very aware of that too. I’ve been fortunate enough that in my career, I’ve… So, shockingly since I stopped coming into work hungover every day, I have started to do quite well. So there’s been a few promotions and a big increase in responsibility. And sometimes I go into large meetings or I have to put on a presentation, and I start to get nervous. And then I just remember, “I was cleaning toilets in rehab just a few years ago. And that doesn’t mean I can do this, it just means I’m going to be okay if I can’t.”

[chuckle]

44:35 Dave E: because I’ve been through, I’ve been through some bad… Well, it can always get worse, but I’ve been through some bad times. And so, so what if I mess up on a phone call or my email has the wrong… It’s okay. My world is no longer going to end over these type of things. And my world used to sit in the balance over those kind of things in the past, right?

44:58 John S: Yup. Yup. I try to remind myself of that too. So it’s been super nice talking to you, I’ve enjoyed this.

45:06 Dave E: Okay, great.

45:07 John S: This is why I love the podcast so much, there’s nothing better for me than to spend a Sunday morning having a cup of coffee and talking to somebody in AA. It’s just…

45:15 Dave E: No, this is great for me too, yeah.

[laughter]

45:16 Dave E: No, I feel really… I’m really happy that I got to see you and to share a little bit. It felt really good and I’m hoping it might do… Yeah.

45:27 John S: Yeah, and I hope I get to see you in Hamilton if you’re able to make it, if not, that’s…

45:30 Dave E: Yeah, I’ll try to.

45:31 John S: Okay. Alright.

45:31 Dave E: Okay.

45:34 John S: Alright, thank you.

[music]

45:42 John S: And that’s another episode of AA Beyond Belief. Thank you so much for listening. Hey, if you would like to help out our site and podcast, there’s a couple of things you can do. First of all, go over to iTunes and leave us a review, hopefully a favorable one. You can also help out financially with either a recurring or a one-time contribution. You can do this by setting up small recurring donations at our Patreon page, which you can find at Patreon.com/AABeyondBelief, or through PayPal at PayPal.me/AABeyondBelief. And you can always visit our site, AABeyondBelief.org and click on the donate button. Thanks again for listening, we’ll be back again real soon with another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the Podcast.


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