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.