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FACES IN THE CROWD

Mona 3x4_edited-2

MONA SIDES-SMITH

On November 16, 1986, I attended my first AA meeting, and for the first time, I heard my secret story told by a room full of strangers. I’d thought I was unique, and no one could possibly understand what went on in my head, and yet, I found that I was just another garden variety drunk. After that meeting, I went home and didn’t have a drink, and I came back the next day to another meeting. I’ve been not drinking a day at a time for the past twenty nine years.

My recovery from alcoholism sputtered along for the first five years, based on almost daily AA meetings, and immersion in the fellowship aspect of AA. I was not sober, but I was what we called a dry drunk. I wasn’t drinking, and my life had stabilized to a great extent. It became time for me to let go of my former life, and do what the AA program had been telling me to do for five years, but I knew I couldn’t do this on my own.

I began to work much closer with my AA sponsor; I even began a formal effort to work the 12 steps of AA. Gradually, I began to let go and let my higher power take the controls out of my hands. As I once said in an AA meeting, I quit playing bumper cars with God. At this point, I knew I needed additional help, and my sponsor suggested that I try a group program that was headed by Jack Scott and Mona Sides.

I met Mona on a cold, rainy winter evening in the fellowship hall of a local Episcopal Church. There were close to a dozen people in the group, and because I was a new addition, they all introduced themselves and gave the short version of why they were there. I was surprised to find people with more years in AA than I, mixed in with people just trying to quit drinking.

After everyone had spoken, Mona turned to me and asked,

“Tom, tell the group why you feel we can help you.”

I remember thinking to myself,

“Why in the hell do you think I’m here?”

Then I realized I couldn’t answer my own question. Finally I managed to say something along the lines of,

“I think I need some help staying sober.”

Mona smiled and said,

“You think you do? It’s your best thinking that got you here tonight. Maybe you need to quit thinking so much, and start doing something.”

I was stunned! I didn’t expect to have my hand called in the first thirty minutes, and I blurted out,

“Okay, I’m good with that. Just what do you have in mind?”

“Oh, if you’ll keep coming back, that’ll become very clear. In the meantime, it’ll be helpful if you’ll simply listen, and don’t share until you’re asked to.”—Talk about vintage Mona!

I did keep coming back, and over the next two years, it did become clear to me. I was there to learn how to live successfully and fully, while not drinking alcohol. Gradually, serenity replaced anxiety, and my whole life settled down. Mona, more than anyone, encouraged the life change that allowed me to live peacefully.

Mona passed away earlier this year, but left a legacy of hundreds of people living better lives, thanks to her loving and wise counsel. I’ll miss Mona, as will all of those who went through her program, but my biggest regret is that she’ll not be here to help those struggling with addictions in the future.

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Categories: Uncategorized

7 replies »

  1. Great story Tommy—I’ll never forget you telling me that you didn’t have anything against drinking, it’s just that you used up your quota years ago

  2. Absolutely outstanding commentary Tommy and congratulations to you for a whole bunch of years of taking it one day at a time. If you are ever up in Birmingham just hanging out and trying to stay out of trouble, I would love to take you to a group here in Birmingham that calls itself “Prime Time”! First meeting I attended there back in May, 1998 I met a Registered Nurse who had been sober for 55+ years and had belonged to one of Bill W’s early groups in NYC. Talk about some stories she had to tell including Bill W’s departure from the straight and narrow and into the arms of LSD. Keep it Simple and put the cotton in your mouth, not your ears. Keep on Keeping On!
    Warren

  3. Very courageous of you to share this experience Tom. So sorry to hear of the passing of the someone who was so special and instrumental in guiding you through what was obviously a difficult period in your life.
    Marvin Ellison

  4. As it turned out, my best friend and I quit drinking on the same day in October 1996, he because he was going through a divorce and knew he couldn’t handle it as a drunk and I because my Doctor told me my liver was 90 percent shot. My friend later told me he knew AA was right for him because at his first meeting, a guy stood up and said “When I was drinking, all my friends were a**holes and I had this incredible run of bad luck. But now, my luck has turned around and my friends aren’t that bad after all.” Tom, I’ve been saving that line for a story, but you can use it if needed.

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