Trial by fire
February 2022 | Getting Through Tough Times | On the Cover

Trial by fire

What’s the first thing you do when you lose your home and all your belongings? Her answer was simple—AA

Early in my sobriety in Alameda, California, I learned that a solid foundation is a critical element to having continuous, useful and rich sobriety. For me, that meant solid AA Step work, early and continued, specifically on Steps One, Two and Three.

I always thought a solid foundation was symbolic, until 2:30 A.M. on October 9, 2017. My wife and I learned a wildfire had reached the city of Santa Rosa and—according to my stepdaughter—the fire had jumped the freeway and was heading toward our home. Of course, that sounded ridiculous. After stumbling around for about 20 minutes inside in the dark, I went outside to a bright red sky and thick smoke. We quickly evacuated, figuring we would come back in a few hours. 

As we were fleeing, I suddenly realized I needed to run and check on my mother with dementia in a care home four miles away. We left with our dogs, our sober selves and, for the most part, what we were wearing. We didn’t know it then, but we got out just in the nick of time. We saw a video days later and learned that by 3:00 in the morning our home was totally gone. 

Watching the news from my mom’s care home in the next few sleepless hours, we learned that about 1,000 homes in our neighborhood were destroyed by this fire, all within the city of Santa Rosa.

When we returned to our neighborhood outside Coffey Park the next day, we confirmed that ours was one of the destroyed homes. There was nothing left. We were literally burned down to our foundation.

What do you do when you lose your home and all your belongings to a wildfire? You go to an AA meeting! And the next night, I was at one of my regular meetings. Two days after that, I was in my regular home group. Our meeting location was displaced by the fire, but AA was alive in our temporary location at the local recovery bookstore. While only two other members at the meeting had lost their homes, all were affected by the fire.

Our emotions were raw. We were all frightened and horrified. We shared how we—individually and as a group—were affected by the fire, and started making plans to ensure the hand of AA was there for all of us.

In the coming weeks, months and three plus years since, I learned that my AA foundation was strong after all. My wife and I—we met in AA and have been together for 21 years—got to work. We did two things:

First, she and I recommitted to one another. We knew the road would not be easy and we were committed to make it through together. Second, we agreed to stay positive no matter what. Fake it till you make it! We didn’t know where the “bottom” would be and we did not want to find out. We agreed to do that and did it the best we could. When it got real, we had to focus on keeping it simple and HALT (don’t get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired). We even had to set alarms to make sure to eat!

We started to rebuild. We moved three times during this period, which was stressful, as it was not easy to find a rental to take us and two big dogs, but we did the work and turned over the outcomes. At each step our AA friends volunteered to help, whether it was packing a few boxes or placing plates and silverware we started to accumulate in cupboards and drawers in the next rental. The house “rebuild” began through difficult fits and starts, as well as a contractor who stole $90,000 from us! Through it all, we did what folks in AA taught us: Keep showing up, easy does it, keep doing the work, do the next right thing. And there we were, three years later, in our rebuilt home.

I weep with gratitude and humility as I write this. Our AA community is amazing—the outpouring of love and kindness. They gave us clothes, food, even a big mug for my nighttime tea. Treasures, yes, but the love and caring they gave and continue to give every day is an inspiration. 

We learned so many lessons and continue to learn. But it was Step Three that dominated: Turning our will over to the care of a Higher Power. While we knew we would need plenty of will to rebuild our lives and home, we had to let go of the outcomes, trust the process, show up,  and keep going to our AA meetings. Let the insurance do what they needed to do. Let our contractors do their work. Speak up when I needed to. Had the original contractors not done the horrible things they did to us and many others, we would not have found the perfect contractor to rebuild our home. We were so fortunate to find them.

So, we made it through. Amazingly, it all worked out. My wife and I are so happy to have AA. It gave us a foundation based on gratitude, an appreciation of the little things—the people in our lives, the kindness we share and how we can be of service to the next person.

 

The AA Grapevine online store has a variety of books, ebooks and other publications full of inspiring stories of fellow AAs on their journey to recovery. 

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