With lots of love
what does his home group do?
Why, give him a job, of course!
I had my first taste of alcohol when I was 13 years old. At 15, I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that would slowly take my vision. When the doctors gave me my diagnosis, they told me I would be blind by the time I was 30. This was the beginning of my years of alcoholism. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was already acting alcoholically. I didn’t drink every day, but every day I couldn’t wait until the next time I’d get a chance to drink again.
Over the next 20 years, I lived in denial about my eye condition, even though each year that went by I lost a little more of my vision. I acted as if nothing were happening and alcohol helped me with that denial. I’d tell my wife things like, “I’m going to be blind by the time I am 30, and this is how I want to live my life, since life won’t be worth living after I go blind.” When I stayed intoxicated, I didn’t have to think about it. I didn’t notice the progression of my drinking, even though those around me did and mentioned it on a regular basis.
I got two DUIs by the time I was 18, and when I was in my early 20s, I was rushed to the hospital with alcohol poisoning. My alcoholic brain didn’t register that I had my stomach pumped because I drank too much alcohol, only that I drank too much rum. So after that episode I just stopped drinking hard liquor and became a faithful beer drinker. Problem solved. When people would ask me if I thought I was an alcoholic, I’d just laugh and say, “No, I’m a beer-a-holic!”
After many years of drinking, it became an all-day, everyday habit. I needed it just to function. By 34, I still had enough vision to drive and once, after a full day of drinking, I got into a car accident. Thankfully no one was hurt, but somewhere in the haze, I knew it was just a matter of time. This was the event that started a process that would totally change my life.
I got another DUI as a result of that accident, and ended up in a program that required me to attend AA meetings. Even though I had no desire to stop drinking, I wanted to get the courts off my back, so I went to the meetings, and a strange thing happened. After 10 or 11 meetings, I started thinking maybe I was an alcoholic, and if I was ever going to get sober, this was probably the only place it would happen. I continued to drink and go to the AA meetings they told me I had to attend, but once I met those requirements, I continued to go to meetings.
It took a while, but I finally got sober in 1999 and joined a home group. Over the years, as I have lost more and more vision, my home group has done many things to make it possible for me to get involved and feel like an integral part of our group. My sponsor told me early on that I could get the Big Book in large print and that there was other AA literature available in large print too.
My home group members decided to put the cream and sugar in plastic containers instead of using the shaker containers. This has allowed me to measure the cream and sugar myself with a spoon, so I don’t have to ask someone to make my coffee for me (and we all know how important our AA coffee is!). My home group members also started setting up our meeting the same way every week, so I’d know where the chairs were. As my vision-loss progressed, members printed our meeting format in a larger and bolder font, so I was able to continue to chair meetings. It’s always fun when I pass out the chips, since I can’t see the color of them. People also make sure I always have a ride to the meeting, and some of them take me to other AA meetings as well.
In early sobriety, my sponsor told me to get in the wagon, not on the wagon. When I asked him how to do that, he said to get involved with AA and take on service responsibilities. When I decided I wanted to step into service work and was elected our home group’s GSR, members were patient when I had to use a magnifier to give my reports. When they elected me treasurer and couldn’t get to the bank to make deposits, several members offered to help by taking deposits for me.
I decided that maybe treasurer wasn’t the best position for me, and in the end, stepped down. Because of the things my home group members helped me with, I had the confidence to take on some district positions. It started with committee chair positions and progressed to DCM. Over those years, I was faced with many challenges to be able to fulfill those positions, and my home group was always there to help me figure out how to overcome every challenge. By the time I was elected DCM, I was using a magnifier with a table-mounted camera and a monitor so I could enlarge documents and be able to read. Our district always made sure there was a table available for me to set up my equipment.
At the Virginia Area assemblies, members also went out of their way to make sure I had everything I needed to fulfill my duties. When I could not read my notes, they allowed me to put an extra light on the podium. When my vision got to the point where I couldn’t read my report, it was my sponsor who suggested that I make notes with a magic marker and just use a few key words to help me remember what I put in my report.
Today, I am almost totally blind. And guess what? My home group thought I’d be a good secretary! That was a challenge I didn’t think I could pull off, but they said I could record the business meetings and type the minutes. This has been working great, and I feel like I’ve been the best secretary my group has ever had, if I do say so myself, though others may disagree. I now have our meeting format on my computer in an abbreviated form with some key words. And when I chair our meeting, I email it to myself and use my phone and a Bluetooth headset as a sort of teleprompter.
For a member in your group who has a disability, it can be the little things that make all the difference. I always say it’s only a disability if you allow it to disable you.
Because of all the things my home group members and others in AA have done for me, I’ve learned to be a valuable member of the Fellowship. I don’t have to allow blindness to disable me. They’ve helped allow me to find acceptance with my blindness and realize that life isn’t over because I am blind. AA not only taught me how to live without alcohol, but it taught me how to simply live.
I would like to give a special thanks to my home group, the Mid-Peninsula Group, for always being there for me. I love you all.