When I attended my first AA meeting in June of 2009, I had no idea that my resentments were ruling everything I believed about the world and my personal relationships. Fear had driven me to a level of self-centeredness that had completely cut me off from others and what I call the “spirit of the universe.” What I did know was that I was miserable. Driven by total despair, I was open to a series of simple AA messages: keep coming back, attend a meeting every day and work the Steps. I was off on a new adventure.
With a Big Book in hand, I listened to the greeters at the door, the speakers at the podium and my fellow members in neighboring seats. Two months later, I was sitting in front of an old-timer sharing my inventory in a lovely, Eden-like backyard.
One day, about four months later, with the guidance of my first sponsor, I started Step Eight. I began contemplating the harms I had done to my family, particularly to my brother. My brother had been my hero when I was a kid. Under the influence of fear and the bottle, I had trashed him, his faith and our relationship to anyone within earshot.
Around that time I got a text message from my niece. She was reaching out to me with an invitation to take part in a parent weekend at her university. This would be my first opportunity to make amends to my brother. So I seized the chance. I had hoped to use God’s grace to help make things better between us. But by the time I arrived at the event, I had snatched back my will and failed to muster the courage to get the job done. Still, a positive change in me was evident. My brother and I had a lovely time together and I didn’t need to turn to booze to make it through the weekend.
In December, our family gathered for the holidays. It was likely my first sober all-family event since I was 15. Again, I planned to make amends to my brother. But my thoughts, driven by fear, could only focus on selected words of the Ninth Step: “… except when to do so would injure them or others.” I rationalized to myself that Christmas was not a time to inflict the family with my drama. I had already done enough of that. And so I resolved to do my best impersonation of a bobble-head for the balance of my vacation and the holiday passed without a hitch. And then the unimaginable happened.
My sister-in-law called to inform me that my brother had a yet-undetermined blood disease. Panic came over me. Was I going to be prevented from making my amends to my brother?
Contrary to my old way of doing things, I simply said to her, “Is there anything I can do to help?” She sighed with relief. “Actually, yes,” she said. “I have plans to celebrate my birthday out of town with my sisters and I did not want to leave your brother alone.”
“At your service,” I said. I got online to make travel arrangements. By the time I arrived, my brother’s diagnosis had escalated to a life-threatening variety of leukemia. I stayed with him at the hospital while the doctors scurried around to find a solution. I also regularly attended AA meetings at a little cottage nearby.
On the morning my sister-in-law happily returned to my brother’s side, I went to an early morning AA meeting. I expressed gratitude to the group for supporting me. I spoke of my disappointment that I had not yet made amends to my brother. Several of the guys encouraged me with AA slogans, and one kind soul handed me a bookmark with a prayer that opens, “Look to this day, for it is life, the very life of life.”
Driving to the hospital before returning home, I tuned the radio to the local pop station. Making amends to my brother was the furthest thing from my mind in that moment. Suddenly, the words of a song rang out clearly, “Say what you need to say … say what you need to say … say what you need
There and then, I decided to make my amends and to offer to be of maximum service to my brother and his family. And that’s just what I did.
Unfortunately, the disease got the better of my brother. A couple of weeks before he died, we had time by ourselves to celebrate being brothers. I expressed my truth. I got to say, “You are my hero.” He expressed his. “I am so proud of you,” he told me, “I’m happy you’ve found AA and your own Higher Power.”
My brother left us with no resentments and no one resenting him: a free man. I felt the flush of freedom too.
As I look back at this experience, I see it as the most significant turning point in my recovery. It was the beginning of other-centeredness and my conscious constant contact with my creator.