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February 2002

Amends In Paradise

I hit my bottom on the island state of Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia. I lived on Moen, the largest island. You can comfortably jog around Moen in two and a half hours.

Chuuk is everything you ever imagined about a tropical paradise--except that it is plagued by alcoholism. And as we all know, alcoholism is a disease that touches many more people than just the alcoholic. The women of the island, despite the fact that they didn't have the vote, had encouraged their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons to pass a law making Chuuk a dry state. However, as with Prohibition in the United States, this law did not stop the devastating impact that alcohol was having on the population and the culture. Instead, it brought in criminal waves of bootlegging. Every patrol boat had a machine gun mounted on the front of it because bootleggers on boats carrying illicit cargo--151 proof rum--were willing to shoot it out.

It was a common Friday night occurrence for some young men who had gotten hold of these goods to come ranting and raging through the village, throwing rocks at anyone who came in their field of vision. The islanders truly knew that their young men were possessed by spirits. We learned later that the tribal chief of our village, who was in his early seventies, felt so responsible for our safety in the village that he would patrol around our home in the wee hours of the morning. We came to love this man for his tremendous graciousness and generosity toward us.

Unfortunately, I was not even close to recovery when I was his guest on Chuuk. Quite the contrary, I deeply abused his hospitality by indulging in my alcoholic behavior as often as I could get my hands on some of that bootlegged booze.

As a periodic and binge boozer, I would hold out as long as I could, and then I would go on a depraved run looking for as much booze as I could consume in as short a time as possible. My method of operation was to get blind drunk, make an absolute fool of myself (when I thought I was being brilliant and entertaining), and humiliate myself with some form of lewd behavior. On one of these runs, I embarrassed the lieutenant governor and followed up by dropping my pants in front of a senator who was trying to escort me safely home.

I had done worse in my years of alcoholic drinking, but I had never before woken up on a tiny island having to face the music. The next seven years were a dry run before I found AA. I had six beers in seven years and every one of those beers looked like a live cobra about to strike. I did not know why, but I was scared to death of alcohol. I only knew that when I took a drink, I had absolutely no control of my behavior.

Finally, after I left Chuuk, I found AA and began working the Steps. Thinking about my drinking on Chuuk, the question arose: how do I make an amends to a whole state, country, and people? Even with the help of my sponsors, I couldn't work this riddle out for myself. The amends I knew I needed to make lay dormant and unresolved for five years after I came into AA. I'd think up one approach after another but never felt secure about how to do this amends without causing even more injury to myself and others. It was all so foggy, confused, and painful. Then, about two months ago, the Goddess stepped in and just took over the whole project. It was obvious that I wasn't getting the job done despite my willingness.

It all started with a remark by a close colleague that he was going to Chuuk. Going to Chuuk? I rarely met anyone who even knew Chuuk existed! And here was a good friend taking a trip there. I could feel the hand of the Goddess in just this one sign. I leapt at the opportunity his trip offered. With that one piece in place, I called my grand-sponsor and asked for his help putting together a packet of information about Alcoholics Anonymous. He suggested a Big Book and an information packet for starting and conducting a meeting. Great! My sponsor kindly put together enough packets for all five villages on the island.

But there was still one piece I couldn't feel settled on. I didn't like the idea of being another outsider telling an indigenous culture what to do, no matter how well-intentioned. The Chuukese were just discovering their own cultural voice and political autonomy. I wanted to honor that while carrying the message. So here I was, holding up the boat again with my obsessive perfectionism and lack of trust in the Divine.

The weekend before my colleague was flying to Chuuk, some friends invited me to an AA conference in San Francisco. Going into the city is one of my least favorite things to do but spending time with AA friends and having a day of recovery together was irresistible. So, off we went.

In the second hour of the conference, we were taking the elevator up to an Al-Anon meeting and exchanged a lively and welcoming hello with a woman in the elevator who I could have sworn was Micronesian. I assumed she was an employee of the hotel because she was wearing a white jacket with a Mandarin collar. Then I saw her up at the podium as the keynote speaker for the Al-Anon meeting.

She opened by identifying herself as a double-winner, a member of both AA and Al-Anon, who was an indigenous tribal person from the Philippines. My heart started to pound furiously. I knew instantly that, once again, the Goddess had done for me what I could not do for myself. This woman's story could carry the message in ways I could never dream of.

Her share could have been from any of the island nations along the equator in the South Pacific. Her story was heart-wrenching, terrifying, and magnificently inspirational; her sensitivity, humor, and wisdom touched me at every moment. She had gone from devastating abuse and poverty to the self-actualization of becoming a fine artist.

It was hard to believe that the woman standing before us had survived, much less come to know herself as an artist who had a vision and passion to give to everyone she met. She was absolutely explicit that all of this was due to her recovery in AA and Al-Anon. Afterward, I asked her permission to send her tape with my packet to Chuuk. She was delighted with the request and so, the last piece slipped into place.

My colleague graciously carted over ten pounds of books, leaflets, and tapes on his seventeen-hour-flight. He assured me that it had been a dream of his since being a little boy to be an ambassador to another country some day. He felt that this trip was giving him that opportunity.

Following my map (hand-drawn from memories of fifteen years ago), he located the retired attorney general of Chuuk. This man had held the top legal post for his nation and was one of the people I hoped would welcome the packets and know the best way to distribute them. Within days I received an E-mail from this good man warmly thanking me for the packets and saying that he knew just where to place them.

I still laugh out loud and wonder what the Goddess had up her sleeve on this one. The miracle of recovery and her delightful ways of making sure that the message gets carried are truly beyond my wildest dreams. I am quite certain that the story does not end here.

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