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July 1997

Bidding for a New Life

My name is Johnny H., and I am a defeated drinker. I had my last drink on August 28, 1985 at the age of eighteen years and three days. Today I find myself a happy, joyous, and free recovered alcoholic and I owe everything in my life to Alcoholics Anonymous.

I had my first drink at the ripe old age of seven, at a party my brothers were having. One of them gave me a quart of beer, and challenged me to drink the whole thing. I tried my best not to let them down, but what happened was that I threw up a lot and had to be put to bed early. My drinking didn't take off until I was thirteen, when I quickly became able to drink a lot and to hold it down. I didn't like my life, and drinking allowed me to forget that (for a while). I never had enough to drink. I always wanted more; it was always the next one that was going to do it for me. When I wasn't drinking, I was thinking about drinking.

My mom and stepdad came to AA in 1979 just after I'd gone to live with my father. I didn't know much about AA, but I knew it was a lot nicer when I went to visit them. I also have three older brothers who came to AA in 1983 while I was away in a Florida military school (my father didn't know what else to do with me). I didn't believe for a minute that AA would work for me, but I knew that something had worked for my other family members. I went to a long-term residential treatment center in Michigan where my oldest brother was a member of the staff. I had no desire to stop drinking; I just wanted to stop the pain and the trouble that had come to be normal in my life.

Most of the residents there were in their twenties and thirties and didn't have glorious things to say about where they thought I was heading. We were taken to a lot of AA meetings, and were required to get a sponsor. We were also encouraged to take commitments at our regular AA meetings, and to just generally get involved in AA service. I made a coffee commitment my first day out and have been involved in AA service at some level ever since.

One of the guys I met in AA had gone to the 28th International Conference of Young People in AA (ICYPAA) in Denver, and he offered to take me the 7th Michigan Conference of Young People in AA (MCYPAA) if the center would let me. It didn't. Five or six other residents did get to go, and when they got back, they could hardly talk about anything else. I knew right then that I would not miss the 8th.

My oldest brother, Fred, told me that he didn't think he'd have stayed sober his first year out of treatment if he hadn't gotten involved with MCYPAA. I decided to join. Not long after that, a bunch of people showed up wanting to go to Boston to put in a bid for the next ICYPAA (pronounced icky-pa). I stood for every position and got elected to none. So I worked on the outreach subcommittee, and we traveled around the state trying to gather support for bringing the conference to Michigan.

Sometime that summer, one of the chairpeople of the bid committee asked me and a friend of mine if we'd be willing to produce a musical skit that could be used as part of the bidding process in Boston. No one had ever placed so much trust in me before. Nothing would have kept me away from Boston after that.

I spent the rest of the summer working and saving my money (which was a first), and finding people who wanted to be in the skit and go to Boston. We practiced every week, and at the same time I tried to get the music, without the words, to "Heard It Through the Grapevine" and "Ain't Too Proud To Beg," so that we could rewrite them with our own lyrics about our bid.

When we got there, we still didn't have the music and I began to panic. I knew that the show wouldn't come off--if only I had managed better. One of the older guys on our committee tried to calm me down by telling me, "Don't worry, I'll just go up there and get them all to clap a beat for us, and then we'll start singing." I'd never heard a worse idea in all my life. The whole thing would be a flop, and it would be my fault (I've never been self-centered at all!).

Then our turn came. The room was filled with around 500 sober drunks, and even before we got into place, the "clapping beat" became so loud that I was overwhelmed. I felt so much love in that room, I forgot completely about my dance steps, and started jumping up and down uncontrollably, crying out loud. It was like God reached out and grabbed me and made me okay all at once. At that moment, I knew that I had a home and it was Alcoholics Anonymous. At that point, I was two years and a couple of days sober. That feeling has never left me. In an instant I experienced a fundamental change that I can't describe except to say that I've never felt alone since then. I realized that I'd been given everything I'd ever wanted--love, freedom, a home.

I always remember that lesson when I have doubts about what's around the next corner. Since that day in Boston, I've seen many others experience this same joy.

I've since spent many years in service to "young people's AA," not because I think it always draws the clearest picture of what AA is, but because I've never seen anything so effective at reaching our younger members and making them feel at home in Alcoholics Anonymous. It has also been the most effective vehicle, in my experience, in getting young people involved in service at the district and area levels.

Early in 1996, I moved to Colorado with my best friend (David B.), basically because we wanted to ski and to get out in the world. When we got here we found many young members who were eager to get involved in AA service, so we got a bid committee formed out here. After being involved in ICYPAA bids for eight of the last nine years in Michigan, our two-month-old Colorado Bid Committee was granted the privilege of hosting the 40th ICYPAA in September 1997.

Today, I'm very proud to be serving as co-chairperson of the host committee (David is our secretary). The site for the conference--Estes Park Center, right at the feet of Rocky Mountain National Park--is one of the most magnificent settings I've ever seen for such an event.

As I said earlier, I am happy, joyous, and free today, mostly because I've found a sponsor, Tom N. of Milwaukee, who has taken me through the "program of action" found in our basic text, and I have "had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps." But I want to give some credit to my involvement in young people's conferences. Through them I've made hundreds of friends in AA from all across North America.

I must be one of the most blessed persons walking the earth today because no matter how hard I look, I cannot find justice in me getting to live such a happy life. All I brought here with me was a bad attitude and a desire to find a way to drink safely. I have a friend who once said to me, "What I deserved was Jackson Prison, and what I got was a new life."

AA is by far the best deal anyone has ever offered me, though sometimes it takes a little while to grasp what I've been given. I came in here an angry, scared kid who had nowhere left to go (believe me, I would have gone anywhere else if I could have). Today, my life is filled with great blessings, and I owe it all to Alcoholics Anonymous.

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