#recoveryposse … I Can’t, We Can

RecoveryPosse

The Lonely Road to Recovery

The road to recovery can be very lonely.  During my first year of sobriety I was alone most of the time.  I’m not exaggerating when I point out that the only two people playing a prominent role in my life from before my last drink are my two sons.  I’m not complaining but only using the fact to explain the reality of my story and how lonely in can be especially early on.

It doesn’t help that the stigma of alcoholism made me hate myself for the damage I caused to my family.  I felt I deserved to be alone.  My destructive actions during the height of my run didn’t have to define me.  Was I just a degenerate, a liar, morally weak person who chose booze over everything else?  That’s how I felt but what I realized was  … I was just like everyone else in recovery.  I was an alcoholic, an addict.  I was afflicted with the disease of alcoholism and there was a simple solution.  Life got a lot easier when I realized that I wasn’t alone and there were many people just like me.  The more I joined these others traveling the same road to recovery the easier it was to get out of my own negative head and focus on the positive.

Friends

During my first 18 months coming around AA I was unsuccessful at staying sober as I tried to do it on my own.  As most people do when they first come in to the halls I was a LIFO newcomer…Last In First Out (sorry for stealing the old inventory term but I’m a finance guy).  I didn’t talk to anyone.  I didn’t get cell numbers.  I tried to rely on my flawed pride, self-will and pure determination to stay sober. And it just wasn’t enough.  Many alcoholics go through this same stage and fail miserably.  Realizing that we can’t go it alone and that it takes being an active member of the AA Fellowship is critical and why Unity is one of the three legacies of the program.

The Circle and the Triangle

Circle_and_the_Triange_wo_AA.3833358_std

“The circle stands for the whole world of A.A., and the triangle stands for A.A.’s Three Legacies of Recovery, Unity, and Service.”  The Recovery represents the 12 Steps and the spiritual solution they lead to as the foundation of our program which is why it’s on the bottom of the pyramid.  The Unity side is the fellowship I’m blogging about today.  It’s described so well at the beginning of Chapter 2 in the Big Book; There Is A Solution.

“We are average Americans. All sections of this country and many of its occupations are represented, as well as many political, economic, social, and religious backgrounds. We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful. We are like the passengers of a great liner the moment after rescue from shipwreck when camaraderie, joyousness and democracy pervade the vessel from steerage to Captain’s table. Unlike the feelings of the ship’s passengers, however, our joy in escape from disaster does not subside as we go our individual ways. The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us. But that in itself would never have held us together as we are now joined. “

The Secret Society

Newburyport Market Square:
MktSqChristmas

 

This Fellowship is real!  I live 40 miles north of Boston in the historical seacoast small city of Newburyport.  It’s a vibrant, upscale community, a scene out of a Dickens novel, that hosts year round events in it’s Market Square.  It also hides a secret society and I’m not referring to the Illuminati or Free Masons. At last Tuesday’s “Hotdog Meeting” (yes, free hotdogs!) a resident of our recovery home in town, The Link House, who was celebrating his one year anniversary and credited in part our “secret society”.  I knew exactly what he was referring to.  There is something so comforting early in the program and as much today for me when you bump into ‘one of us’ around town.  The first time it happens it’s as shocking as seeing your teacher at the supermarket as a school kid.  You’re afraid to make eye contact as to give away a hint of the anonymity but as you accept your place in the program and appreciate the importance of the fellowship these daily meet ups are so comforting.

I live literally above Market Square in what my boys and I refer to as the Crow’s Nest.  We call it this not just because I’m raising pirates but because I have the top floors above our charming dive bar the Thirsty Whale.

CrowsNest

I can’t walk out of my door without running into members of our secret society and it always makes my day!  I see Maggie at Starbucks, Barry on a Mkt Sq bench, Katie working in a nautical cloths shop across the street, Kat walking a baby she’s nannying, Steve cooking at a restaurant, Diana being her positive social butterfly self will stop to kiss me on the cheek. TJ will take a break from waiting at an Italian eatery to say hi when I walk by with my son, and there’s always the guys from the Link House everywhere downtown. During one of my dark nights in the first few months of my recovery I thankfully bumped into Doug, sent with the timing of an angel, who sat next to me on one of the benches as I cried my eyes out.  This fellowship is real and such an important part of our program.

#RecoveryPosse

Just as powerful as my local fellowship has been the online Twitter recovery community.  I say ‘just as important’ because there are many hours a day when I’m truly all alone. Since around the time of my last drink I rarely sleep through the night.  Like clockwork I’m awake at 3 A.M. each and every early morning.  There’s nothing worse than not being able to fall back to sleep because you’re lost in your own fears and resentments. It’s this community of many twitter users on the same path to recovery that have saved me at my most vulnerable times.

3am

Over time I’ve added to my Twitter list called “Friends of Bill” which today has 177 members from around the world and different stages of recovery.  Just as at my local meetings I’ve followed the old timer’s advice of ‘sticking with the winners’ and most of these friends have successful recovery.  It’s their posts, blogs, podcasts, meme’s and advice that have continuously reminded me that I’m not alone.

My Twitter friend, Tami (@tamiharperwinn) writes on an amazing blog called Drunkless.com (how cool a name is that?) and just yesterday shared her latest post, “My Birthday 5th Step” in which she discussed her 6 year sobriety anniversary as we do in our 5th step Tami sharing the exact nature of her wrongs over the past year of sobriety.  It was so powerful to me and she addressed so many issues that hit home particularly how we deal with the personal trauma we go through in our final drinking days and early sobriety.  I’ve never discussed with anyone else what she touched on yesterday and it meant so much to hear her describe exactly what I feel.

http://www.drunkless.com/tami-harper-winn/2016/5/27/my-birthday-5th-step

She also shared this video yesterday that had two messages that stood out to me.  The first was that “anyone who truly works a program stays sober” and thinking for a while about it I had to agree.  When we hear about someone’s relapse it’s always because they were away from the program.  The second related message was the importance of searching out your sober brothers and sisters!  They also promoted using the hashtag #soberwins to find positive stories of recovery.

#SoberWins video

For anyone who doesn’t know a #hashtag is a word or phrase preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) and used to identify messages on a specific topic.  This makes it even easier to find posts from people in recovery if you were to search online for something such as #sober, #aa, or #recovery.  I have this great list of users however it’s still not easy to follow everyone’s content.  I conducted a poll this week asking for their favorite recovery hashtag we could use on our posts.  The winner was #recoveryposse.  It’s perfect since a POSSE is a group of people, typically armed, who have a common purpose.  We are all armed with the tools from this program.  So if you’re looking to grow your fellowship just search #recoveryposse and we’re here for you!

RecoveryPosse

Greg, RagamuffinDad

WeCan

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Pray, and if it doesn’t work, Pray again!

TrexPray

Today is National Day of Prayer.  It’s also Cinco de Mayo but since I no longer drink margaritas & prayer has been working for me I think I’ll stick to praying.  I’ve written in earlier posts that prayer has led to a miracle for me…my desire to drink has been lifted and is gone.  I’m very aware that it can all come crashing down with one wrong decision, one drink, which is why I still pray and stay active in AA every day.

I start each day praying and pray or meditate many times during the day. All I know for sure is the white-knuckling wasn’t working until once I started each day on my knees praying and then the obsession with the next drink went away.  It happened just as promised on pages 84-85 of the Big Book.  I also take all of my problems to God and when I’m lost I’ll actually listen for an answer … and receive one.  I love the saying, “prayer is talking to God, meditation is listening” and I do both every day.  I haven’t had all my prayers answered but I do trust God’s plan.

One of my goals this year is to show others the same grace I have received. The most meaningful act shown to me was having friends from church praying OVER me.  I don’t mean folks saying they’d pray for me, my addiction, my boys, my marriage and then expected that they prayed in private.  I mean them standing with me in church, or even in the center of Market Square in my town, putting hands on my shoulders, bowing heads and saying a several minute long prayer out loud for me.  This was done by one or several friends at once.  I have to admit that it was kinda uncomfortable the first time, and then the second, third and maybe even the fourth time!  But it was also one of the most intimate acts of kindness ever shown to me.  It was such a show of love and compassion that I wasn’t feeling anywhere else in my life.  One of my personal resolutions this year is to gain the courage to do the same for others.  I say courage because showing ones faith today, outwardly, takes a lot of courage.  But I know that it is such a bold way of sharing what we were given, God’s grace. To me, I could feel the love of Jesus working through the hands and words of these friends and it moved me to tears every time.

Praying can be intimidating. I realized when I starting praying each night with my youngest, Brody, that it can be hard to find the right words.  I forgot the words to “Now I lay me down to sleep” and also worried the “if I should die before I wake” part would scare him!  With my son and the kids at church I also try to keep prayer light and fun.  I listen to sermons from Judah Smith who is Lead Pastor for City Church in Seattle and love how when praying with his congregation he ends by asking God to help the Seahawks and his buddy/church member Russell Wilson win that Sunday!  So I do the same with my kids but of course it’s the Pats or Sox.  At night I also always end with “and all the Kelly’s in the bed say…” and Brody answers”Amen“.  At Sunday School I finish with “and all the kids in the room say…” and they reply, “Amen” to which I reply “louder?” and they scream, “AMEN!”  I want kids to know that praying and this church stuff isn’t all serious. Jesus loved kids! They were drawn to him throughout the bible.  “Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.”  Matthew 18:10

You can find Judah’s sermons here:
https://www.youtube.com/c/JudahSmithOfficial

Kidspraying

If you are intimidated or you’re not sure how to pray you can turn to pages 86-87 of the AA Big Book and learn how.
http://www.howitworks.ca/Meditation/Meditation.pdf

Or you can take the advice I heard through this Brennan Manning story which moved me very much, “prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus.” It’s that simple.

Once I related the story of an old man dying of cancer. The old man’s daughter had asked the local priest to come and pray with her father. When the priest arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed. The priest assumed that the old fellow had been informed of his visit. “I guess you were expecting me,” he said. “No, who are you?” “I’m the new associate at your parish,” the priest replied. “When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.” “Oh yeah, the chair,” said the bedridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?” Puzzled, the priest shut the door. “I’ve never told anyone this, not even my daughter,” said the man, “but all my life I have never known how to pray. At the Sunday Mass I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head. Finally I said to him one day in sheer frustration, ‘I get nothing out of your homilies on prayer.’ “‘ Here,’ says my pastor reaching into the bottom drawer of his desk. ‘Read this book by Hans Urs von Balthasar. He’s a Swiss theologian. It’s the best book on contemplative prayer in the twentieth century.’ “Well, Father,” says the man, “I took the book home and tried to read it. But in the first three pages I had to look up twelve words in the dictionary. I gave the book back to my pastor, thanked him, and under my breath whispered ‘for nothin’.’ “I abandoned any attempt at prayer,” he continued, “until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Sit down on a chair, place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky because He promised, ‘I’ll be with you all days.’ Then just speak to Him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.’ “So, Padre, I tried it and I’ve liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm.” The priest was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old guy to continue on the journey. Then he prayed with him, anointed him with oil, and returned to the rectory. Two nights later the daughter called to tell the priest that her daddy had died that afternoon. “Did he seem to die in peace?” he asked. “Yes, when I left the house around two o’clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me one of his corny jokes, and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the store an hour later, I found him dead. But there was something strange, Father. In fact beyond strange, kinda weird. Apparently just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside his bed.”

Manning, Brennan (2012-02-27). Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging with Bonus Content (pp. 124-125). Navpress. Kindle Edition.

“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” Matthew 21:22

prayer-warrior1

It works – it really does!

In faith,

Greg – RagamuffinDad

Go to a meeting!

Meeting

I’ve had a tough couple of weeks.  I’m not even sure why but I couldn’t get out of my own head during the day and tossed & turned at night.  I’ve had a hard time letting go of the idea that I could get back things that I’ve lost.  One of my greatest struggles over the past 26 months has been giving IT to God. IT is not just my drinking but my will and my entire life over to the care of God. As I’ve shouted from the highest mountain God took away my thirst for booze so I’m all in with my trust in Him…theoretically..but tactically is where I still struggle at times. I’ve heard Faith & Fear can’t coexist. It’s easy to say I trust His plan but it’s another for me to LET GO and stop thinking about the plans I had in mind.

Whos Will

The good news is that having a tough week doesn’t lead to falling off the wagon as I know where that would lead.  However I’m also not taking any chances. I’ve been collecting tools that I use everyday. Sometimes the best advice is the simplest…

Go to a Meeting! 

Don’t drink and go to meetings
We’ve got a chair here with your name on it
If you hang around a barber shop long enough, you’ll get a haircut
Keep coming back
Meeting Makers Make It
Sit down, shut up and listen
It’s the second meeting that’s the most important one
Seven days without a meeting makes one weak
If I don’t go to meetings, I don’t hear what God wants me to hear
I am the black sheep of the family. I came to a meeting and found the rest of the herd
Bring your body, your mind will follow

In other words:

Meetings are Wicked Important!

I never leave a meeting feeling worse than when I came in. I always leave saying, “we truly are the lucky ones” as most people don’t get to experience what we have.  It’s true that you always hear just what you need. There is no better place to see God’s grace at work. And I see it every time.  

So I have a meeting I can get to every day of the week.  At least one.  Now life happens and you often can’t get to a meeting when you need it.  This was even more true during my first six months when I could of, should have, been at a meeting all the time.  But I had to work and raise my boys so I often had to bring meetings to where I was.

One of my favorite resources, a lifeline, has been Tom Murphy’s ‘Your Daily Reprieve‘.  Tom has a daily email blast that he sends around the world every morning around 5:30 am Eastern time.  It is packed with resources including inspirational quotes, AA sayings, daily podcasts of AA speakers, and links to endless other podcast resources.  I’ve spent hours in my car, my office, airports, hockey rinks, on park benches, and in bed in the middle of the night listening to speaker podcasts that came from Tom’s emails.  You can also google or search YouTube for AA speakers or some of the classic old times such as Joe & Charlie, Sandy Beach, and even Bill W.

One of my favorite sections of Tom’s Daily Reprieve is “Celebrate Your Anniversary” where he lists all of his readers (name, town & years) who have an anniversary in the current month and then he highlights them on the day.  On this month’s emails it reads his April list has “1310 Total Years of Sobriety!”

DailyReprieve

Tom’s email has also been a lifeline to help me find meetings whenever I travel.  Readers send Tom an email in preparation for a trip or moving and he blasts it to his 3000+ subscribers (30k daily readers).  I’ve used this when traveling to Cincinnati, Dallas, Montana, Poland, Romania and France.  Thanks to a reader & now friend named Crowe I was able to get to a meeting in Paris hanging onto 90 days sober and he again helped me find the American Church in Paris to pick up my 2 year chip earlier this year!  If you have never been to a meeting while traveling I highly recommend it.  A drunk is a drunk in any land or language! 😉

Please email Tom at txm1@comcast.net if you’d like to receive ‘Your Daily Reprieve

ParisChip
So when I have a tough day I get to a meeting one way or another.  It always makes me feel better.  There’s no excuse for not hearing what you need if you just put in a smidgen of effort.

But you can’t leave your house?  You now know how to find meetings online!

You say your power is out?  Read the Big Book!

Ohhh so you say you’re in the pitch dark? ….PRAY!

Finding a meeting is simple   All you need is a resentment and a coffee pot.

Greg – RagamuffinDad

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Who brought the kid to AA? Parents in Recovery

Sitting in my WGAT (What’s Good About Today) meeting this morning I was positioned so that I could see out the window.  About ten minutes into the meeting I saw a father alone in the parking lot straining to one side carrying a large baby car seat.  He was rushing to get from his car into the the room.  When they entered the room he made a beeline for the kitchen and a minute later made his way to an open seat with the baby in one hand and a cup of joe in the other.  He laid the baby carrier on the rug in front of his seat, sat down and let out a slow, audible exhale and then smiled.  In less than a few minutes a woman next to him was holding his adorable baby while he soaked in each speaker as it went around the room.  This five minute scene made my day.

fatherbaby
There is something warming that I feel in seeing children at meetings. I don’t shy away from bringing my own kids.  My seven year old Brody will sit on my lap lost in his iPad until I hear the occasional snicker when someone cusses through habit.  My older son Aidan has been to each of my anniversary meetings and has recently joined a group of us at a commitment where we spoke to a group at a local detox facility, most of whom were young opiate addicts. I don’t find this unhealthy at either age.  Aidan and I always have open discussions about what we hear each time.  There’s a stereotype of AA meetings being desperately sad, smoke filled rooms where you could cut the atmosphere with a knife.  That couldn’t be further from the truth. And the alternative is far worse…

One of the few childhood memories I have of my own father was visiting him for a weekend from my north shore hometown of Marblehead to south of Boston in Mansfield.  I remember hanging around a bar room all day; knocking balls around the pool table, drinking Roy Rogers (coke & grenadine), playing with cards, …and then being bored to death the rest of the long day. I still have a taste for vinegar on my fries that I was enticed to try by the women who paid me extra attention at the bar.  I remember the small cooler he kept on the floor of the passenger side and feeling small sitting next to him on the big front bench seat as he drove.  One weekend he had my older cousin and I in his car after spending much of a Saturday on his regular stool and decided it would be a perfect time to drive north to New Hampshire to go camping. My cousin, who had never been north of Boston, jumped out of the car at a red light next to Wonderland Race Track in Revere.  Luckily I convinced him that I needed more cloths and gear to go camping and he drove me to my house in Marblehead.  I jumped out of the car as soon as it came to a stop across from my house.  He parked and fell asleep with the car running and I remember my neighborhood friends peeking in the window at the strange man snoring.  Luckily he was gone the next time I looked.  My older brothers lived with my father longer than I did so I only have a few such memories. Even then I didn’t blame my father nor was I angry at him.  I saw him as sick even as a child and I was more right than I knew at the time.

I love the recovery fellowship I’m apart of on Twitter.  I’ve created a ‘list’ called Friends of Bill (https://twitter.com/GregMKelly/lists/4-friends-of-bill) that allows me to view updates from all my sober friends.  (if you haven’t heard the term “Friends of Bill” it’s in reference to Bill W. the founder of AA).  I was told early on to stick with the winners in AA in order to get what they have.  I gravitate to parents who have their children as part of their motivation.

One such friend, Melissa, had her children removed from her home almost a year ago because of her drinking.  She is one of the strongest fighters I’ve seen grab hold of recovery.  She is fighting not just to get her children home but to be an all around healthier person and parent.  From my outside view I see how God has worked in her life and how something changed in her so that she’s no longer suffering daily to stay sober.  She’s talked about how she’s disgusted now at the thought of drinking.  She’s given up completely on the idea that one day she’ll be ‘fixed’ enough to drink again.  She’s a recovery winner which is why I love following her progress and hearing about the healing going on in her young family’s life.

It reminds me of the promises on pages 84-85 of the AA Big Book where it says:

“And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone-even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normally, and we will find that this has happened automatically. We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality-safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is our experience. That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition.”

This promise came true for me and it was nothing short of a miracle.  I have no doubt that it was the prayers…the psychic change… of asking God for help and he took it away. The only thing that changed from my earlier attempts to stop drinking was the prayers. They say that you can only do this successfully if you’re doing it for yourself and not someone else.  You often hear that you can’t get sober or stay clean because of someone else’s ultimatum or threats.  I do believe this and it wasn’t until I was dropped to my knees in desperation that I finally asked God for help….every day, on my knees, I begged God for help.I cried in fierce prayer to God so many times I couldn’t count them if I tried. I gave Him my addiction, I begged Him to take compulsion to drink, I gave Him my whole life, my self will, and He took it all from me. My children have played a huge role in keeping me from taking my life back from God.  I had a mantra I would say to myself for months throughout the day, “God’s will be done.” which was to remember that my own self will made a disaster of my life and it wasn’t until I gave it to God did my life improve.  My kid’s father today is not only sober but I’m also a really good father and role model for them.  It doesn’t take going to meeting for them to hear about recovery as they’ve lived it and seen remarkable change in their father.  And they know I credit God.

Last week at a meeting a young man living in a local recovery house for men talked about seeing his kids over the weekend before returning sadly to the house.  He agonized out loud about how much his children are suffering from being apart from him.  Clearly it was hurting him very much.  After the meeting I asked him if he remembered how old he was at the time of his earliest memory as I barely remembered anything from before the age of eight or ten.  As we talked I told him that my youngest son will never remember me drinking but he gets to see his healthy father all the time.  I suggested to him that his children won’t remember this time away from their father especially if he gets healthy this time for good.

Lastly, Aidan asked me last summer if he could have a friend sleep over. It was a friend that I hadn’t met yet so I spoke to his mother on the phone and we agreed that he could.  When Aidan introduced me to his friend he asked, “You look so familiar.  Do you play in a punk band?”  I smiled at Aidan with a ‘is this kid for real’ look but the boy continued by asked if  I knew his father who grew up in Charlestown, and several other questions before reluctantly giving up.  Thirty minutes later he came out of Aidan’s room confidently declaring that he figured it out.  “I went to a meeting with my mom and heard you speak a while back and I remember really liking what you had to say.  It made an impact on me.”  Aidan followed up by saying he goes to meetings too and asked if he could go again soon.  I told them both that they just made my day.

Children see the drinking and are impacted negatively every day by alcohol, drugs, and addiction.  Not many are untouched by it, including my brothers and I and my own children. I not only remember spending entire days at bars with my father but I used to take my own kids to the ‘social club’ across the street from my old house. The club Christmas party was a highlight we looked forward to as a family and anytime we were together with friends they witnessed all of the adults drinking.  They see the fun times parents have with drinking and have to suffer the consequences too often.  Witnessing the miracle of recovery isn’t so bad. 

Greg – RagamuffinDad

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What’s Good About Today? John F. Willey

RIP John Willey

My home group is a wonderful meeting at 7:00 am everyday but Sunday in Amesbury, MA called ‘What’s Good About Today‘ or WGAT.  The meeting is as positive as its name despite being a large meeting which averages ~70 people each morning dealing with all stages of recovery.  Some of the local, angry dry drunks frequently refer to it as the meeting with bunnies and puppies!   The format is that after the intro’s the discussion goes around the room with most people starting with “My name is Greg and I’m an alcoholic and what’s good about today is….”  I love the diversity of the meeting ranging from wise old-timers, steady “yuppy-row”, young desperate opiate addicts, to candid Hell’s Angels … yet it’s amazing how we’re all so similar.

I found the meeting a few days after my last drink when I came in so raw and met my first temporary sponsor, Tim, one of my closest sober brothers, Tom, and several others who have helped me so much in my recovery.  Due to my work I rarely make it during the week but I start my Saturday’s with this new family.  My two young sons have both been on several occasions including my two anniversaries when most every speakers commented on their father which was so powerful for them to hear.  It is truly a special PIC which I never leave in a bad mood having found something said that I needed.

My other home group is the sober community I’ve pieced together over the past two years on Twitter (which I’ll talk about often).  I was fortunate last summer to come across a woman named Catherine (@TheBubbleHour) who along with a group of women hosts a online weekly recovery webcast called The Bubble Hour (www.thebubblehour.com).  Catherine reached out to me when she saw that my twitter handle, NewburyportDad, referenced her home town.  Now living in NYC she and her husband where traveling to Plum Island (Newburyport) and she wanted to know of any good meetings.  Of course I told her of WGAT and we ended up attending that Saturday together. Catherine was one of those visitors who spoke wisdom and touched most in the room.  She’s continued to visit WGAT whenever back from NYC visiting her family.

Catherine introduced me to sweet, 86 year old ‘old-timer’ named John F. Willey with 45 years sobriety.  John also lives in NYC and grew up in the Merrimack Valley of Boston’s North Shore.  As his family’s patriarch, he was traveling through the area for a family vacation on Bailey Island, Maine. Catherine had told him he had to contact me and visit us at WGAT!

John lit the room up when he spoke.  One of our regulars remembered John from the “Waco Meeting” in Haverhill back in the day.  His positive message of sticking with the winners and stepping out of your comfort zone to meet others in need of help has inspired me to do just that.  John added me to a regular email that he sends out and we’ve kept in touch since.  Less than a month ago I received his email update, titled LIFE and it read in part:

Last year Catherine informed me about a PIC in far off Amesbury, Massachusetts named “What’s Good About Today. ” I went and never forgot the sense of Optimism that pervaded the meeting.  Today I awoke to a refrain that would not stop, “What’s good about today” over and over. I decided I had to contact Catherine to respond to the refrain; either that or go nuts. Then I remembered the Optimist’s Creed.

As you ramble through Life, Brother,
Whatever be your Goal,
Keep your Eye upon the Doughnut
And not upon the Hole.

Tuesday night Catherine let me know that John was in a NYC hospital and asked me to please pray for him.  She visited John yesterday and reported that despite the gravity of his health he remains his positive self.  “He told a guy with 6-7 months who went to see him today – if you go out, I’ll haunt you!”  She also read this Top 10 list to John which I told her I’d share at WGAT tomorrow morning:

Top 10 things I learned from John Willey (aka. What’s Good About Today)

1. I’m so damn grateful to be sobah! This should be your daily starting point.
2. God gave you free will and a brain. Use them! That is, get off your ass and take action, make a change.
3. Get the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth. If you really listen, you’ll learn something to be excited about.
4. Be excited about life!! It’s an honor to be here to grow and learn.
5. Keep learning. Read everything. Study. Don’t stop.
6. Forget about your mother issues and your father issues. It’s over. Know they did their best. And get into action. (See item two)
7. Twelve step service isn’t about the other guy and what he does or doesn’t do. Did it keep you sober today? Then it was a success.
8. Be willing to change your mind. You can change your perspective about anything, at any time.
9. Laugh and show up. Even when you don’t feel well. Do it anyway. It’ll help you (and you may help someone else.)
10. The first forty years of sobriety are the hardest. So just keep coming back.
John’s sober anniversary 4/7

BTW, John is also an author and his biography, Living the Life I Always Wanted, highlights that despite some bumps along the way, John has lived an amazing life surrounded by adventure, loving relationships, and friends. He did not sit and watch life go by but participated in it every step of the way. Learn from his experiences and find inspiration in Living the Life I Always Wanted. You can find here:

http://www.amazon.com/Living-Life-I-Always-Wanted/dp/1450290310/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1461332221&sr=8-6&keywords=John+Willey

JohnFWilley

Have you every met someone in this fellowship that makes you feel so blessed to be a part of this?  John & Catherine both are two of those people.

Updated 4-25-16
Last night Catherine informed me that John passed away yesterday.  Over the past several days, she had the privilege of visiting with John and his family. She described John as comfortable and lucid.  He knew the end was near and he was ok with it although sad about leaving his wife, Barbara.  He did have a son on the other side that he would soon be reunited with.  Friday night she let me know he had been moved to hospice care where he was surrounded by lots of family members.  Catherine and I discussed how it was like a scene out of A Wonderful Life.  Here is a man totally at peace with leaving this life for another.  He no longer has to worry about ‘One Day at a Time’ as he could see the finish line in sight and he knew he used his final 45 years to finish strong.  I described the odd feeling over the past few days of not praying for healing and recovery but instead for John’s family.  As our local WGAT prophet, Rodney, likes to quote most of us Ragamuffins can etch the same epitaph on our tombstones, “I’ve Been Worse.”
RIP, John Francis Willey

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,
for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life,
which God has promised to those who love him.
James 1:12

Please join us all in praying for John, his wife Barbara and family and all of those he helped through his many years of service.

Greg

A Ragamuffin’s testimony

My final drink was sometime in the wee hours of February 7th 2014 after 1.5 years of attempting to white-knuckle it to sobriety. I woke up in a Charleston hospital with stitches above my eye and no recollection of how they got there during the final night of a business trip. For the first time in my life my will power wasn’t enough to achieve my goals leading me to pick up once again. That last drink cost me my wife and being a full time father. It slammed me down hard, well below what I thought several times before was rock bottom.

I know today that my will needed to be broken for me to surrender. The next day I went to a meeting and got a temporary sponsor who instructed me to open that Big Book I had been driving around with in the back of my Jeep for over a year and read to page 164, twice. I started my 90 mtgs in 90 days (more like 120 mtgs) and I spoke at every meeting, exchanged numbers and most importantly I started every morning on my knees praying to God. I committed myself to my church volunteering to teach Sunday school each week for the first time in my life. I introduced myself to the Bible; the Children’s Storybook Bible, which I read to my youngest son before bed. I read everything I could find on recovery, faith and marriage reconciliation.

Each day was brutally long with lots of breaks to listen to AA podcasts or praying in bathroom stalls at work. The nights were cold, lonely and restless. But the days added up to a new monthly chip which always led to my oldest son getting my previous month’s chip. Before long my youngest boy decided he needed a chip too since big brother got one so I’d have to claim my chips at two different meetings each month. After about three months of the same strict routine each day I looked back and realized that I’d spent the loneliest, most painful time of my life while for the first time in 10 years I’d been alone most nights accountable to no one. Yet drinking or drugs had not once crossed my mind. It had never been an option. The difference has been the program and the prayers I started each day with. I realized that I’d received the first of the promises from this program …from God. Just as described on page 85 of the Big Book, “the problem has been removed”.

Around this time I was watching one of many faith or sobriety movies, Ragamuffin. In it there was a 3 minute clip that dropped me to my knees in tears. The scene recalls the first time Christian singer Rich Mullins heard a powerful sermon from Father Brennan Manning, one of us, who referred to we downtrodden as Ragamuffins – saved sinners who receive God’s mercy and grace. This 3:00 clip changed my relationship with my higher power, Jesus Christ, who Brennan believes will says to us, “I dare you to trust that I love you. Just as you are. Not as you should be. Because none of us are as we should be.” I recorded this clip on my iPhone and share it with anyone who I feel it can help receiving over 2,240 views since June 2014. Here’s the clip:

 

Since that first summer I’ve continued doing everything I can do to grab onto and hold tightly to God and sobriety including being Saved in a southern Pentecostal church, baptized in the rough Plum Island Autumn surf, been to meetings all over the world, and been working the steps meticulously with my sponsor. The only social media I’ve used during my recovery is Twitter (@gregmkelly or NewburyportDad) because it avoids the drama that comes from actually knowing people you communicate with and I’ve been able to build up a wonderful Recovery community. A highlight was meeting a group of women who host a weekly recovery podcast called @TheBubbleHour which they invited me join on week to share my story.  Catherine, one of the women, has even attended my home group meeting with me several times while visiting the area with her husband from NYC.

Catherine invited me to talk about my recovery story last summer which you can find here:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bubblehour/2015/07/13/speakerdiscussion-meeting-with-greg

Today I continue my walk with God, a Ragamuffin, saved sinner and beggar at the door of God’s mercy who each day receive God’s grace to add another day of sobriety and to live as the man I was intended to be. I’m 26 months sober who came here on my knees to stop drinking and became a better all around man. I’m proud of the father and man I am today and although my marriage was not restored I trust God’s plan and each day I pray to release the grip on my own will so Thy will be done. Today I remain very active at my church, reading the adult Bible this time, as well as my local AA community. I continue to have Hope for my future and for my boys’ future. I found a quote on Twitter that I keep close:
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“I choose…My children! Breaking generational cycles – Addiction STOPS HERE!”

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I hope that my testimony and sharing can in some way  help you on your path. 

Greg – RagamuffinDad