Episode 168: Teachers in Recovery

In this episode Angela and John talk with Sam S., who teaches History and Social Studies at a high school in a rural area of Kansas. After sharing her recovery story, an interesting discussion ensues about the challenges she faces as a teacher and person in recovery, and how parents, teachers, and students are dealing with the unique circumstances resulting from the social isolation brought on by necessity as a response to the Covid 19 pandemic. 

This is a recording of a live stream that we broadcast on YouTube and Facebook every Friday night at 7:00 pm Central. Please join us as we take calls from listeners and respond to questions and comments posted on YouTube and Facebook. 

Transcript

The transcription of this episode was created by Lena R. from North Bay, Ontario. Thank you, Lena!  

John: AA Beyond Belief is a podcast by, for, and about people who have found a secular path to sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous.

[music]

John: It seems some people are not supposed to be alcoholics.  Doctors, lawyers, airplane pilots, and teachers are certainly among this group.  Teachers in particular are sometimes seen as larger than life role models and perhaps students, parents, and society as a whole place an unrealistic expectation on them, setting them on a pedestal that only creates more stress for an educator who is dealing with substance abuse issues.  Today’s episode will feature a conversation with Sam S. from Lawrence, Kansas.  Sam will share her story of recovery as a means for opening up a broader conversation about the unique issues that face teachers in recovery from substance abuse.  We’ll welcome your participation either through your comments on YouTube or in our private Facebook group, and you can call us at (844) 899-8278.  But before we get into that, let’s say hello to Angela over there in our satellite office in Boise, Idaho.  Angela, how are you doing?

Angela: I’m doing well.  It’s good to hear you and it’s really nice to hear from Sam.  I’m excited.

John: Yeah.  Sam is, you know, she lives in – actually now, in southeastern Kansas, although she’s temporarily in Lawrence, now.   But I’ve been seeing a lot more of her lately on our online meetings which is nice.  How have your online meetings been going over there in Boise, by the way?

Angela: Um, they’re going pretty well!  Still two a week, and yeah, we’re enjoying them.

John: Good.  Well, before I introduce you, Sam, I want to talk about an email that I got – that we got about, I don’t know, 3 weeks ago, and it came from… oh gosh, I think it was Lisa M… and she wanted to tell us about a possible origin of that slogan “think, think, think” – and she says it came from IBM.  What happened, there was a Thomas J. Watson who was the head of IBM up until 1956 and he happened to be attending that dinner at the Rockefeller’s that Bill Wilson attended where he was trying to get money for his Big Book project and so forth, and Thomas Watson, he donated like $250 which was quite a bit of money at that time.  But anyway, he came up with this slogan for IBM that was called “Think,” and he actually got it copyrighted or trademarked as a slogan on June 6th of 1935, and apparently in the 1950s it became a marketing slogan for IBM and it was picked up by AA.  I read and heard e-mail that apparently at an AA conference, this IBM slogan was put in one of the pamphlets and that’s how they came up with “think, think, think.”  Interesting, huh?

Angela: Okay!  Wow!  That’s great.

John: Whether or not that’s true, we’ll find out.  (chuckles) We may never know, but you know, if somebody out there has another version of how that slogan came about, we’d love to hear it.  

Angela: Well, thanks for the AA history, I appreciate that.  I’m a history teacher, so.

John: [Laughs] Oh, are you?  I never knew that!  I always wondered what you taught.  Cool.  That was always my favourite subject in school, too, by the way.

Angela: Oh, wow!  Well I wish I’d hear that from more of my students.

John: Yeah, I don’t know why people don’t like history, you know, to me it’s a story, and I was always fascinated by it.  Anyway.

Angela: I love history, so.

John: So Sam, like I said, she was actually… you were actually attending the We Agnostics group in Lawrence, Kansas before I even knew what a We Agnostics group was, I think.  Before we started our group in Kansas city.

Sam: Yeah!  The We Agnostics group in Lawrence had been going on for, gosh, it had been going on for several years when I first started in 2014.  And I think we’ve shrunk down to 1 meeting now.  We used to have 2.  But we’ve really struggled with attendance at those meetings in Lawrence.

John: Yeah, our group in KC’s been pretty good.  Some of our meetings are bigger than others, but, you know, and it’s always nice to see you there by the way, when you’re able to make it, when you’re in town.  And now of course, with our online meetings, I see you quite a bit, and that’s always good.  And those meetings are interesting, you know, we’re online, but we’re still getting new people to the meeting, you know, who’ve… like, their first meeting at our group has been this online meeting which is really interesting.  And there are people from, you know, they might be in Missouri or Kansas, but they’re maybe a couple of hours away, so they wouldn’t necessarily drive in to our meeting.  And the last meeting you met someone who was a teacher, and you guys had something in common, and you suggested “you know what?  Let’s do a podcast about teachers.”

Sam: Right!  Well thank you for doing this.  I really appreciate it.

John: So, let’s start, Sam, by – you wanted to share your story, and, you know, maybe from there, a conversation will flow and I’m sure that there will be people out in the audience who might have experiences as teachers or maybe even another occupation that have unique issues.  So Sam, the floor is yours.

Sam: Okay!  Thank you!  So, my story – I was born in Topeka, I grew up out in the country outside of Topeka with my brother and my parents.  Really had a very nice childhood, spent a lot of time in nature, was a bit of a loner out there, but my parents did drink – not extremely heavily, but daily drinking was kinda the norm in my household.  My parents’ marriage was kind of dysfunctional, and some of the fighting was sometimes about Dad’s drinking.  So my parents got divorced when I was 7 and my brother and I moved with my Mom down to southeastern Kansas to a really small town where her family was from.  And that was a very kind of idyllic place to grow up as a kid, as well.  But after a few years we did end up moving back to Topeka into the city this time, and it was around that time that I really started acting out.  When I was 13, I met my first boyfriend and he lived nearby, so we started sneaking out at night to see each other, and that was the first time I really remember lying to my parents and getting away with it.  So it wasn’t long after that when I was a freshman at Topeka high school in 2001 that I was introduced to drugs for the first time, so I started getting high and seemed to be getting away with that too. [laughs]

Sam: So around that same time I started raiding my Dad’s liquor supply.  I don’t exactly remember my first drink, all I remember is that my Dad had a lot of liquor in his cabinets that looked really really old.  And I noticed he never really touched that, like, he had his other drinks of choice that he always drank and replenished, so I didn’t think he would notice if these other ones were gone.  And sure enough, he didn’t.  So that’s how my friends and I started drinking, just taking shots of super-old gin and other gross stuff.  And yeah, I’m not exactly sure how we got away with it because we would come home from school and take all these shots and be really drunk by about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and parents would come home and, somehow, nobody noticed.  [laughs]  So we just continued doing that.

Sam: So I started getting pretty involved in politics and through a political group that I was involved with, I made some friends who were in their 20’s.  So they kind of became my suppliers of drugs and alcohol during my high school years.  And I started drinking alcoholically very quickly.  Not long after that, one of my teachers – actually, my debate coach, pulled me out of class one day to ask me what was going on with me.  She thought maybe I was pregnant or something.  [laughs]  But, I said no, and I told her that I’d been drinking a lot.  She called my mother and my mother got kind of angry at my friends, but nothing really changed.  But I do really remember that as a time where a teacher noticed something off with me in my personal life and made an attempt to reach out and help me.  That ended up being one of the reasons I wanted to get into teaching high school.

Sam: Yeah, and I did get pretty involved in debate and other activities at school, and I think that kind of helped to keep my substance abuse in check, kind of keep it relegated to the weekends.  But then, as I went to college, I went down the road to KU, I ended up choosing to study history, mostly just because I was really good at reading and writing and I thought I would do well in it and I did enjoy the subject.  I kind of thought of teaching at that time, but I actually ran into a lot of discouragement around that – about, like, just the job availability and the pay.  So I put off that dream for a long time.  I kind of thought it was unrealistic, but I went ahead and got my history degree.  Well, not right away, actually.  I ended up dropping out multiple times, mostly over the math classes.  I was really struggling to complete the math classes.  Which, you know, smoking a lot of pot and drinking all the time wasn’t helping with that, I’m sure.

John: I can’t believe how much we have in common, it’s crazy.

Sam: Oh, really? [laughs]  So, when I was a sophomore in college, I met a guy that I ended up marrying.  We drank a lot together, did a lot of drugs together.  We had a really fraught relationship.  We fought all of the time.  I have no idea why we got married, but we did!  About a year into my marriage is when I reached out to a therapist.  I was really having this problem where I felt like I couldn’t engage in confrontation, like, at all.  Whenever I would try to kind of, try to speak up for myself, I would just get very emotional and it was a huge problem for my relationship and sometimes at work, and it was just this huge source of shame and embarrassment.  So I reached out to a therapist because I actually thought she would be able to just, like, give me some kind of magic advice that would fix it right away.  She ended up calling me in and we’ve been working together ever since.  She was the one who kind of got me into recovery.  So, of course, like, during my 20’s, the drinking was getting worse, my tolerance was getting less, I was spending a lot more time being sick.  The marriage was not going well.  

Sam: About a year and a half or so into my therapy, my therapist started to explain to me that if I didn’t deal with my substance use issues, I probably wouldn’t be able to make progress on anything else in my life that was bothering me.  I really resisted that for a while.  I tried for about a year to control-drink and we all know how that goes.  [laughs]  Just constant failure and disappointment.  I really resisted going to AA because I thought it was a religious program and because I was kind of raised with this idea of just being independent – and asking for help is weak, just take care of yourself.  Through my job that I had at the time, I actually met an old-timer in AA who befriended me and kind of saw that I needed help and would talk to me about AA.  So when I hit my bottom, he was actually the person who took me to my first meeting.  So he took me to a traditional AA meeting, and it was kind of funny because there was actually a girl there that I knew from high school that I had really looked up to and wanted to be just like her and so it was really comforting to see her there.  I remember the first thing that the first person said was “you never have to drink again if you don’t want to.”  That just shot right through me and so I say that to people often in their first Step meetings because it made such a big impact on me.

Sam: So, yeah.  I discovered the agnostic meetings, I got very involved with those. I ended up changing jobs, I got into landscaping for a couple of years and the physical labour was really great for me, I think, during that time.

John: See, I think I met you when you were doing the landscaping thing, didn’t I?

Sam: Yeah, I think so.  And that’s also the time where I met the person in AA who ended up being my math tutor and getting me back into school and helping me get my Bachelor’s degree.  So, that finally happened when I got sober.

Sam: So, at this point, you know, I’ve done a couple of things that I never could have imagined I was capable of – finishing my degree and getting sober – so I started revisiting this idea of getting into teaching, because things started seeming possible again that always seemed impossible.  I just decided I was going to follow my passion, no matter how hard it was, and just figure out a way to do it.  So I ended up finding a program through Fort Hayes that lets you teach on a restricted license in the subject area that you have your degree in while you take education classes.  So I’ve been doing that for the past 2 years – I’ve been teaching at a rural high school and I’m getting my Masters in Education this May.  I actually just finished my last class today!

Angela: Congratulations!

Sam: Thank you!  So, yeah.  I think that – like I said – wanting to get into teaching high school had a lot to do with realizing that my alcoholism really got started at that time in my life.  I really wanted to be there for kids the way that my teachers were there for me and try to help kids stay on track during this time where they’re trying to figure themselves out and experimenting with different things for the first time.  It’s been great!

John:  So you’re open with your students about your recovery?

Sam: I do not specifically tell them that I’m an alcoholic in recovery.  They do like to bring up drinking and partying and kind of like – get me to talk about it, because they assume that I drink and they want to hear about that.

John: They’re high school kids, right?

Sam: Yeah.  So I tell them that I don’t drink, and they find that really, kind of fascinating.  So it’s fun to be able to tell them, like, yeah, I have fun in other ways, and drinking just makes you really sick and makes you act stupid and you can’t even remember the good stuff, so.  Yeah, it really helps me a lot in my recovery to know that I am being a role model of having a fun life without drinking and kind of being that example that I really needed when I was their age, that I didn’t really have.

John: Right, right.  Yeah, my drinking, like most of us, got bad I guess in high school – well, that’s when I first started drinking, really, on a regular basis, and it started off bad and got worse from there.  [laughs]  But I remember a teacher that I really liked, she was my English teacher, and I always had a lot of respect for her, and I knew that she liked me, and she never really said anything about my drinking or the way that I would, you know, act.  But I could tell that she was kind of disappointed in me, you know?  Whenever kids might make fun of my drinking or something like that, or make jokes about it, I could just see an expression on her face that just made me feel like – “there’s something wrong with this.”  Of course I dismissed that for the next drink, but, yeah.  [laughs]  So it would have been different to have a teacher that would just come over and talk to me.  I wonder if you ever recognize a student like that, that you think might have a problem.

Sam: I do know of a student who is struggling.  It’s been difficult to connect with that person, actually.  I think I have still been a little bit reticent to be really direct around that kind of thing, especially when it is based on gossip and not somebody asking for help.  But, yeah, I probably should.

John: Yeah.  Well, of course, they have guidance counsellors at schools too, I guess, that the kid could see, too.

Sam: Yeah, we actually don’t!

John: Oh, really?

Sam: Yeah, our school is really small so our staff is really limited.

John: Oh, okay.  So it really is on the teachers to handle any kind of thing like that, I suppose.

Sam: Yeah.

John: Wow.

Angela: Do you talk amongst yourselves – with the teachers – about any of these things?  Is anybody “out” as being in recovery on the staff?  Or do you guys not talk about anything like that?

Sam: There is one person on staff who – actually, the custodian – who I’ve discovered is… just through kind of chatting, we have kind of figured out that both of us are in recovery.  Then I discovered that he doesn’t drink, he hasn’t drank for a long time, so I shared with him that I’m in recovery, because I felt pretty comfortable having that conversation with him.  Outside of that, I have really kept it to myself with the rest of the staff and the administration.  

John: That’s pretty much where I am at the workplace, too.  I don’t really bring it up, there’s not a reason to, really.  And for a long time, when I was first starting out, I wouldn’t want anyone to know.  Now, if someone were to find out, it wouldn’t bother me, but at that time, when I was first getting sober, I was – you know, it took me a while to get financially stable, so I always had a lot of fear that I could lose a job or something.  I think I carried that stigma with me longer than I should have.

Sam: Yeah, I mean, if I develop kind of a friendship on top of a work relationship and I feel comfortable, I’ll disclose at that point, but it’s a very small school and a small community so things kind of – you know, hot gossip gets around fast.  [laughs]

John: By the way, Joe is asking what kind of history you teach.

Sam: Oh.  Well I am the only social studies teacher for middle school and high school, so I teach Kansas history, geography, current events, American history, world history, and government.

John: Oh, cool!  Yeah, I went to a small school – I went to, well, Lansing high school was small at that time.  There were 400 students in the entire school.  There were 90 in my graduating class.  Is that the kind of school that you teach in?

Sam: Um, no!  There are less than 90 in the whole K through 12 school where I teach.

John: Oh my gosh!  [laughs]  Okay.

Sam: So this year we are graduating 7 students.

John: Oh, cool!

[laughter]

Sam: Extremely small.

John: I love it.  And now you’re online doing it.

Sam: Yes.  That’s been… [sighs] that’s been interesting.

John: How’s that going?

Sam: Well, you know, we have some kids that live so far out in the country that they really don’t have a solid internet connection, so it’s been pretty challenging for a lot of them.

John: Yeah, I bet.  Okay, so tell me this.  Do you think that it would be difficult for a teacher who’s been teaching for a while, and they have an alcohol problem they’ve been hiding, and now they’re thinking they want help?  Do you think it would be difficult for a teacher to get help for their drinking and come out openly about it?

Sam: I do.  Partly because of what you mentioned in the opening – that, you know, teachers are supposed to be role models, and so I guess that equates to being some kind of perfect person.  But, in addition to that, I think teachers have a really hard time just like, putting themselves first and taking time away from the job, like I think they really struggle to take vacation time at all or for mental health or anything because it’s so difficult to be away and, you know, step away from your lessons and to write out substitute plans.  You just feel like you’re really letting the kids down any time that you’re not there.  So I think teachers put a lot of pressure on themselves to not miss work.  So I think going to a treatment program would be really challenging.

John: Yeah.  And it’s not like it’s just an 8-hour a day job either, is it?

Sam: No.  [laughs]  Not at all.

John: I could see how stress can pile up on somebody that’s in that profession.  You know, especially – all kinds of situations, in the inner-city schools too, where you’ve got so many problems.

Sam: Definitely.  You get so emotionally invested in the kids and the stakes always seem really high.  And if kids are not successful, it’s really easy to kind of take that on yourself and feel really terrible.  Yeah, it’s a very high-stress job, and from what I’ve seen, alcoholism does correspond pretty highly with job stress so I think a lot of teachers feel the need to blow off steam and it can get out of control.

John: Yeah.  Angela mentioned – she reminded me, I think, the last time that we… I don’t know if it was the last podcast or the one before that, that you called in and you mentioned that you help your students with mindfulness.

Sam: Yeah!  So, that was something I tried out last year.  I got the principle to let me do, like, an 8-week pilot program on mindfulness meditation.  We had this, like, 15-minute block in the middle of the day that was kind of used as a study hall.  I made my room a meditation room during that time so kids could come in and just sit or lie down and I’d do a guided meditation ‘cause there is a whole lot of study about how much a mindfulness practice can improve anxiety and depression and academic stress and help kids perform better on tests and all kinds of benefits.

John: And do they like it?

Sam: They really did like it!  Some of them wanted to just come in and take a nap, [laughs] which I was fine with, too, I think naps are beneficial as well.  But some of them did come in and meditate and really got into it, so I’d like to continue it but I think it’s gonna have to be something that happens extracurricular now because they have kind of revamped the schedule and put that time towards more math remediation.

Angela: Wow.  Well, cool.  I think it sounds like a great idea.  And I know that there’s several states that are working on resilience and being trauma-informed, and so they’re putting in meditation and things like that into their curriculum and schedules and everything, so I think that’s going to be a cool thing in the future as we go on.

Sam: Yeah!  It can be really helpful with trauma, which is showing up more and more in the kids.  Just to help with impulse control and emotional self-regulation.

Angela: Right.

John: Bubbles Blonde, who I happen to know also as Bri, has a question.  Yeah, you know Bri!  Anyway, I’m gonna start calling her Bubbles Blonde from now on.

[laughter]

John: She says, do you find the kids are having problems concentrating due to isolation?  She says her sister in Maryland at the core of the infection – she said the kids seem to be losing hope.  Wow.

Sam: Um, yeah.  I’ve been having a really hard time getting them engaged over Zoom, getting good discussions going… a lot of kids are doing next to nothing, as far as their assignments go.  But we, like many schools in our state, have decided to actually freeze the grades from the 3rd quarter so they can only improve on where they were at before.  We’re not going to lower their grades because we realize that so many kids really don’t have home environments where they can reasonably study.  They don’t have quiet space.  They don’t have any kind of authority figure who is actually disciplining them to sit down and do the work the way that they do at school, so it’s just kind of unreasonable for us to expect them to perform well.

John: And it’s gotta be hard on them too, you know, if you’re in a rural area, and you’re really isolated anyway, just because of where you live, and the only time you really get to break that isolation is at school when you get to see your friends and your teachers and so forth, and now you don’t even get that break.

Sam: Yeah, yeah.  Most of them just tell me that they’re really, really bored.

John: Yeah.  Tracy Rossman has a question for you.  She says, “do you think there will ever come a time when we can talk openly about our recovery without shame and anticipating repercussions?”  She says “I’m seeing such admissions more and more and obituaries.”  Wow.

Angela: I personally think that yes, I think that more and more people are coming out [laughs] as being in recovery.  You know, there’s some strong arguments within the more traditional AA community about that and anonymity and everything.  But there’s also quite a few people that are saying that anonymity is killing people, and that by sharing that we’re in recovery, it gives people, you know, someone to go to, if they think that they have a problem.  And so I do think that it’s getting – it’s starting to get less frowned-upon.  I think, at least in my lifetime, I’ve noticed that there is a bit of a less stigma towards addiction and substance use.  I mean, there’s a lot of language changes, which is part of why I think it’s becoming more accessible and okay.  Again, it’s also depending on where you live – what that means – here, where I’m at, I’m free to say whatever and so, at my job site, I’ve shared depending on when it was needed.  I usually don’t wear an AA T-shirt or anything like that.

[laughter]

Angela: Or, you know, I don’t answer the phone with that and the company I’m working for or anything.  But I also – if I’m asked about “do you want to go out and do this?” or “we’re having a company party doing this,” I would say that I don’t drink, and if asked why, I would say that I was in recovery.  But I also haven’t had a job where, you know, like with teachers, there’s that teacher-parent-administration whole bureaucracy thing.  I can see that particularly in a rural area that that could be a problem.  So, I was curious about if you guys talked to each other, like with the other teachers, to see if they had any sort of programs for teachers and people who work with kids, just like the nurses and doctors and have a program, and the pilots have their own meetings and stuff for people that have…  ‘cause I do think it’s kind of a special group because you guys have things, the pressure that you’re dealing with, the multiple people that are coming at you with how you’re supposed to be doing your job, [laughs] and that a lot of us can’t relate to that in the magnitude as what you guys deal with on a daily basis.  Yeah.  I would have my boss or people coming at me regarding my behaviour but you have it… yeah.  Times 3, at least.

[laughter]

Angela: So, and if the kid has a family that has a split home, then you have both sets of parents and everybody telling you how you’re supposed to be doing things, and I could see how that could definitely be a problem if you were to share.  But I think it would be really important to have groups where you guys could talk to each other, peer-to-peer.  Like in Alcoholics Anonymous, but with other teachers.

Sam: That’s a great idea.  Maybe they do have that in bigger cities.  I have not heard of it but I think it would be really beneficial.  Yeah, like, navigating those boundaries with kids has been interesting because they – you know, as teachers, they encourage us to model in the classroom as an instructional strategy.  Like, model the process of learning through, like, making mistakes and admitting it, and correcting it.  And so, I like to kind of carefully model things for them also from my personal life, because they are really interested in my personal life, they’re always asking me questions, and most of the time I, like, put them off.  You know, you gotta keep those boundaries up to some extent.

Angela: Mm-hmm.

Sam: But I do share with them sometimes, like, “yeah, I dropped out of college, and it took me 11 years to graduate, but you know what, I went back, and I got a tutor and I did it.”  I think it’s really important for them to be able to see their teachers as human beings who have made mistakes and overcome them and that’s just, like, a part of life.

John: So we have a caller from area code 314.  We’ll go ahead and take that.  Hello, how are you?

Diane: I’m good John, it’s Diane.  Hi Sam, how are you tonight?

Sam: Hi!

Diane: Hi.  I’m so glad – this is my first one to tune in for this evening because I am a teacher and your conversation has been interesting for me, Sam, because you’re a teacher who’s already in recovery and I was a teacher while – I am still a teacher, and I was an alcoholic while being a teacher.  I think that you hit it on the nose from the outside perspective, but I never realized it while I was on the inside [unintelligible], I guess I would say.  Ironically my school had a bar just about a block down the road and happy hour started at 3 o’clock and the buses rolled at 3:10, so we all could easily walk and the happy hour specials were good because they knew they had a school of about 40 teachers that would make sure they made happy hour probably 4 to 5 nights of the week.  

Diane: But I think, Sam, you’ve done a good job representing the – it’s not an excuse to drink, and that’s what I’m really working on for myself right now, is that I’m not making excuses for why I drink, because as I’ve said (in group even) that I’m an adult, I make the decision to open that bottle, nobody’s forcing me to do that.  But what was really easy was to go and hang out with my teacher friends and talk about kids and talk about lessons and talk sometimes about our principal.  [Laughs]  You know, whatever was on our minds that day, and that was really easy to do over a drink, and then 2 drinks, and then 3 drinks, and we’d all know what kind of place we’d be in the next morning, and we just kind of learned how to open up that file the next morning and teach our lessons in no matter what kind of hangover state we were in.  I taught elementary so far as having conversations with kids about alcoholism, it’s probably not quite as prevalent as it is in your world, Sam, with high schoolers, but I think that looking back on that, it was a coping mechanism of what it was I did every day.  And then I moved into administration and it’s a whole other level of political pressure on us in the academic world and not the only reason I would open the bottle every night I got home from work, I had a lot of other baggage I bring to that too, but it was easy and we all know that alcohol is that thing that takes us away from what’s really going on in our own heads or out in the world around us.

Diane: I’m kinda hoping this pandemic helps the United States, at least, see that teaching isn’t easy.  I mean, how many parents have you heard from or heard saying “I don’t know how teachers do this,” you know, it’s all over Facebook.  It’s not an easy job.  It’s not an easy job.  And I think that being a teacher who was an alcoholic, or, sorry, I am an alcoholic, that I’m not in the classroom anymore, so that does make it a little bit different… but being an alcoholic in education, there was a lot and is a lot that is out of our control a lot of times.  I think that is all something that we talked about when we were drinking.  A lot of the things I’ve had to process because – I probably didn’t do my students the best justice those years I was in the classroom, coming in likely still drunk the next morning, and just within the last… When I started my sobriety, two and a half months ago, what hit me was when I was trying to run an administration meeting and I couldn’t get my words out, I was shaking so bad because I was hungover and probably still drunk.  And so, at that moment I thought – lots of things were hitting me at that moment, but one of them was I’m not doing what I came here to do, and that’s to help kids.  I know there’s a lot of teachers out there that drink and drink a lot and drink more than we should, and unfortunately, who’s getting hurt the most probably are our students.  I don’t know if that’s what y’all wanted to hear but that’s kind of what I wanted to share.

John: Oh, I appreciate that!  It’s interesting, you talked about how, because of the pandemic, that parents might appreciate teachers more.  I think that’s true.  I’m noticing around my neighbourhood signs like I’ve never seen before.  “We love our teachers!  Our teachers are…”  It must be parents that are just going crazy with their kids at home, I suppose!

[laughter]

Angela: Well, and welcome in recovery.

Sam: Go ahead.

Angela: Oh, I just wanted to say, you know, welcome to being in recovery.  This is an interesting time to try to get help for drinking disorders and drinking problems.  So, I just wanted to welcome you and thank you for calling.  That took a lot of courage and I hope, you know, even if you don’t use the AA program, whatever treatment you decide to go with, that you’ll be able to get to the point where you can see what good you did and continue to do for the children, and let go of the shame.  Children are very resilient and if you haven’t seen the movie recently, it’s excellent, on the different things that people are doing to help kids.  I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciate that you called and I really hope that you do find recovery because it sounds like you deserve it, like the rest of us.  So thank you.

Diane:  Wow.  The group that I’ve been in, the group now in Kansas City, where Sam is, for two weeks now, and it’s really, really been helping me.  So that has been a positive and I’m so glad I got to hear Sam as your [unintelligible] tonight.  So thank you, and I hope y’all have a great weekend.

John: Thank you, take care.

Sam:  Thanks Diane.

John: That was nice.  Bye-bye.

Sam: She’s great.  I’m really glad she’s in the meeting.

Angela: Yeah.

John: Yeah.  I find it so cool that we’ve got people coming to our group for the first time when we’re meeting online – you know, that’s really interesting.

Angela: Yeah, they’re pretty remarkable people.

John: Yeah.  I don’t know if I could have done that, but of course it was 1988, so I couldn’t have done it.

[Laughter]

Angela: You could not do it.  Didn’t exist, yes.

John: Yeah.  This whole pandemic thing, good God.  So, I don’t know, Sam, in Kansas, are the schools gonna be – they’re not gonna be opening up for the rest of the year, are they?

Sam: You mean the rest of the calendar year?

John: Yeah.

Sam: We are not sure yet.  We haven’t gotten any certain direction from the state on that.  What I kind of anticipate is that the more densely populated districts may stay out at least through Christmas, but I think that districts like ours may be able to go back just because we’ve had so few cases and we’re such a small populated area.  That’s kind of what I’ve heard around in the ether, but I really don’t know for sure.  I really, really, really hope we go back in August.  I do not like this at all.  [laughs]

John: Yeah.  You know, there’s another teacher in our group, Jonathan, and I was talking to him about it, and he said that the online teaching wasn’t going really well either.  He didn’t think so, either.

Sam: No.

John: So, that’s an interesting thing all in itself.  Because you think that that’s the future, you know, doing things online like that, but I wonder what it is about it, Sam, you mentioned that for one thing, it’s that kids don’t have good internet access in their home, they might not even have internet.

Angela: Yeah, some of them don’t.  I know that our girls are doing excellent with it!  But they’re very self-directed and we have good internet connection and we’re both very open and involved and interested in learning as well, so they’ve learned to kind of teach us because they’ll ask us questions and we’ll ask what they think about it and then we go from there.  

Sam: Yeah!

Angela: It really kind of depends on the kids and the area that you’re in whether or not it works, and particularly introverted kids, you know, it seems to be great!  [laughs]  Because they’re like, yay!  I don’t have to go to school and feel awkward, you know?  But for a lot of kids who don’t have that, or kids who have alcoholic parents, you know, going to school is a refuge.  So I’m hoping for those kids that we’ll figure something out so that they can have a better, safer learning environment.

Sam: We definitely have kids that are doing well but they’re mostly the kids that were always doing well.

Angela: Right.

Sam: Yeah.  Like, good home lives and very self-directed and even some of them have already been taking online college classes.

Angela: Right.

Sam: But, you know, it’s the kids that are either not doing well or kinda right on the edge that have kinda fallen off the radar.

Angela: Right.

John: That’s sad.  That’s sad.  So if there’s anyone else that wants to call in, our number is (844) 899-8278, and we will be glad to take your call – even if you’re not a teacher, Jaren is writing in, he works at an elementary school and he has two young kids at home, and he says as both a co-worker and a parent, he can vouch for these teachers working hard.  They work hard, he says.  And I knew they did.  

Angela: Yeah, yeah.  I’m glad that our girls are older now because, yeah.  If this happened when they were first learning there’s no way.  No way I could help them with that!

Sam: And so much of, like, the learning now, we want them to be collaborating with each other and to work on the social/emotional skills, to be together, and there’s just so much more that happens in a classroom than, you know, reading something and writing a response and emailing it in.

Angela: Right

Sam: There’s just a magic in the classroom that you can’t recreate over Zoom so far that I have found.

John: That’s interesting.  That’s like an AA meeting too, in a way.  There’s a lot that goes on, you know, the online meetings are great, it’s good to have that, but there’s that extra component that you kind of miss with the face-to-face connections.

Angela: Yeah.

John: There’s a lot that happens in a meeting that doesn’t really have to do with what we’re talking about sometimes maybe.  Maybe just seeing people in person means a lot.  I never really thought about how much I appreciate that.  Diane also says that she’s seen a spike in child abuse and couch-surfing for her older students.

Sam: Yeah.  Yeah, I really think that school, for many of these kids, is kind of the safe place and the structured place.  They are still developing there – their impulse control and everything, so.

John: Yeah.  And I was surprised on the news, the percentage of kids that get their meals from school.  There’s a lot of kids that aren’t even getting their meals now – regular food.  Tough times.

Sam: I think that, in some areas – I know in our area, that there are schools that are open for kids to get their food and so they can go.

John: Oh, really?

Sam: Yeah.  They’ve opened it up so that you don’t have to be a registered student, so anybody can come and the kids can get out and in line 6 feet and all that kind of stuff, but grab a lunch and take it home.  Some of them, you can get a box that will supply the child with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  But again, I think it’s the area that you live in and such.

John: So Sam, what do you see for your future?  What do you want to do going forward?

Sam: Well, even though I just finished school, I’m kind of already thinking about continuing on to add some endorsements to try to make myself a little bit more marketable.  I am looking for teaching jobs closer to the Lawrence/Kansas City area

John: Oh, okay!  That would be nice to have you close up here.

Sam: Yeah!  I would like to come home.  It’s been a good experience down there, but yeah, I miss my community.

John: It’s a beautiful area down there, southeastern Kansas.  A lot of people don’t realize how nice that is.  Are you in the Flint Hills area?

Sam: Yes, yes.

John: Yeah, I love it down there.  It’s really, really beautiful.  If you haven’t ever driven through that part of Kansas before, it’s like, from Emporia, Kansas, down to, like, to Oklahoma border I guess, just south of Wichita, it’s the Flint Hills area where it’s just beautiful um, almost treeless areas, it’s like an ocean of grass, basically, and hills.  You can just look, and look, and look forever and it’s just hills and rolling grass.  It’s mesmerizing, really.

Sam: Yeah.  I do love that about it.

John: Yeah.

Sam: It’s great.

John: But of course, around here, we have other things to do here.

[laughter]

John: It has its advantage.

Sam: You know, I was down there yesterday, and I was actually cruising around with a local, a friend of mine.  He was so funny ‘cause he was saying, “I don’t know what city people do for fun.  What do they do to entertain themselves when they don’t have all this to drive around and look at?”

[laughter]

John: That’s funny!  Well, Neil Montgomery says they run the regular bus schedule where he lives just so kids can eat.  Wow!  Man.  Amazing.  It never really hit me – well, I don’t have kids or anything, and fortunately growing up, I didn’t have to worry about food.  I mean, we have someone from Facebook making the comment: “my son just finished university, there are issues with screen learning for some.  I bought him the newest e-reader so he could save money, get his textbooks on .pdf.  He said that he just doesn’t get the saturation of learned info on any screen, e-reader, or computer compared to what’s comprehended and retained in-person or from a physical book.”  By the way, I like physical books better, too.  “He is a millennial so it’s not a generational thing.  A study of law students – half got digital books, half got hard copies.  The hard copy students…” I think she’s gonna say, “did better.”  That’s interesting.  And we have a caller.  We’ll take this call.  Hello?

Jaren: Hey guys!  This is Jaren from Madison.

John: Hey Jaren! Nice to hear from you again!  How you doin’?

Jaren: I just keep putting one foot in front of the other like everybody else.  How about yourself?

John: Oh, same thing.  Same thing.  So what are your thoughts on this topic?

Jaren: Um, well, I’ve been working right now, so I’m kind of getting a few minutes here, a few minutes there, so I apologize that I haven’t been in-depth with the whole thing, but I just wanted to say to teachers, and the young lady, that – I know that I’m very grateful for what they do for us as parents and, yeah, now that I have 2 young kids, so I work 2nd shift, and my kids are kindergarten and 2nd grade.  My son struggles with reading, he struggled before the pandemic, so trying to get him on track… I mean, that’s like an all-day thing.  The pressure of having 2 kids screaming all day long, you know, trying to get their homework done virtually, you know, I’m running from computer to computer… “oh, this is broken, that’s broken,” they’re on different platforms, I’m uploading, reloading, downloading, it’s a never ending process.

[laughter]

Jaren: And then, I gotta go work an essential job still.  And my wife’s gone to her essential job.  And then being a sober person?  It’s unbelievable… and then there’s no meetings that I go to in-person, and you know, it’s been… in the 13 years I’ve been sober, this has been the hardest time, besides that initial like 6 to 7 months.  It’s been just atrocious, you know?  As a teacher, I would like to know – what do you say to a sober parent that’s just overloaded?  You know?  Just like everybody else, I know that you know we’re in the same storm, we’re not in the same boat, is what I’ve heard from some people.  I think that kinda rings true.  So do you have any suggestions for a stressed-out parent here?

[laughter]

Sam: Um… well… I would just say that I think teachers are very understanding of that situation and, you know, very flexible right now, so our guidance from the state was “less is more,” and don’t try to teach new content, and just kinda give kids the basics.  If teachers aren’t doing that, that’s kind of a problem, but I think they realize that… we realize that it’s really difficult, and we’re making lots of exceptions.  [laughs]  We’re being very, you know, I used to never take late work, and of course that’s gone totally out the window and everything, so!  Things have definitely relaxed for the time being.  We just – our main concern is that we don’t want kids to be too stressed and anxious.  We know that the whole pandemic is probably weighing on them a lot, and the lack of structure and everything, so.  I don’t really know what to tell you except that if it’s too much, just to reach out to the teachers and let ‘em know that they’re struggling to keep up and I’m sure that they can make some kind of special arrangements.

Jaren: Yeah.  I guess when I do my – sorry to cut you off, Jen – I guess when I do my inventory at night, I kind of think that maybe I’m just putting too much pressure on my kids, and when things get frustrating, they can sense that.  And then I feel bad, and then they feel bad, and that’s not a good place.  Or, a promoting act of learning.  You know what I mean?  So maybe you’re right, less is more, and I think as alcoholics, we’re intense people.  We want everything right away.  Instant gratification, whatever.  And sometimes you gotta let things breathe.

Sam: Yeah.  I would say, just be kind to yourself.  [Chuckles]  Don’t be too hard on yourself.

John: I was gonna say, Jaren.  Something funny.  I was… not all parents, I think are as conscientious as you are.  I was walking my dog a few weeks ago, you know, there’s a lot of kids around the neighbourhood and so forth.  And I just heard one little kid remark something, he says, “my mom just told me just to watch something educational on television and that’s good enough.”

[Laughter]

Jaren: Yeah.  And you see a lot of the parents that probably wouldn’t take the time to get all these platforms ready for their kids, or to have lesson plans ready, or print out all these things and scan ‘em back to the teachers – I mean, it’s a tremendous amount of work.

Sam: It sounds like you’re doing a really good job to me.

Jaren: I’m trying!  I just wanted to call in quickly, I better get back to work and just say, you know, thanks and I really appreciate this show and you guys are doing a great job, so.  Stay safe.

John: Thank you Jaren.  Nice to hear from you.  Yeah, Joe here mentioned something that I read about too.  In his area, the buses drive out to rural areas and park to provide wi-fi to kids.  I heard about that, too, because a lot of people that don’t have wi-fi, like, they’ll go to schools and they’ll park out in the parking lot to be able to get the public wi-fi from the schools.

Sam: That’s what some of our kids are doing, too.  Yeah.  They’re hanging out in the parking lot and then some of our teachers have actually opened up their homes and kids are coming over to use their wi-fi to get their homework done.

John: Yeah.  Wow.  You know, a lot of people – there’s that digital divide, it’s like nowadays, the world that we’re living in now, internet access and high-speed internet access is really a necessity.  It’s almost like water and electricity.  You just about need it anymore.  I had a doctor’s appointment today that was online, you know.

Sam: Yeah!  I hope that does come out as one of the results of this is that access to the internet is viewed as a public necessity.

John: I’d like to see something like the New Deal for the 21st century where you kinda just say “okay, let’s bring this country up to speed now, to where it should be.”

Angela: Well, I think we need to vote people in that are gonna do that!

[laughter]

Angela: That’s my plan!

John: Well, I think that we’ve filled the hour pretty well.  Again, Sam, thank you very much for coming on and sharing your story and talking about this topic.  It inspired me to reach out to other professions.  I’d like to hear from doctors and lawyers and pilots and so forth.  Because these professions, you know, the public thinks highly of these people, and they think “yeah, I don’t want a drunk pilot, I don’t want a drunk doctor,” but you know, they’re out there!

[laughter]

Sam: It doesn’t do any good to deny it, I guess.  Gotta deal with it.  Well thank you so much, it’s been fun!

John: Well, let me see if I can do the right button this time.  Here we go.  And that’s it!  That’s another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast.  And thank you for listening, thank you Angela again, and thank you Sam.  I also want to thank all the people that have started contributing on Patreon.  I really like to see these small recurring contributions.  That is so helpful.  We’re getting more and more $1 a month contributions and that adds up!  I really really appreciate it.  If you want to do that, just go to patreon.com/aabeyondbelief and you can set up recurring donations for $1, $5, whatever you want.  And also, you can make donations – just a single donation, or recurring donations, at our website and just click on the “donate” button.  So thanks again everybody!  We’ll be back again next week with another sober distancing episode of AA Beyond Belief.


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