From the Bottle to the Big Book: Michael Shares his Recovery Story

I was in the Navy for four years and then began my bachelor’s degree in drinking. I say that because my real education came from an old bartender.

He began teaching me his trade having been in that business for over 40 years. I was one of the best students. I worked high volume bars and I worked hard

At 22 years old I was making nearly $6,000 per month, sometimes more. By that time, I was working on my Ph.D. in drinking and boy could I drink.

I was out three years when I came to the conclusion that working for a living was harder than being in the Navy so I signed up again.

Tragedy Strikes

One night in October of 1966, I was on a beer run with my friend from high school who was home on leave from the Navy at the same time I was. He said I was too drunk to drive, so he took the wheel. We picked up the keg and headed home.

We had no sooner got on to the freeway when he drove into the center divide and rolled my 1965 high performance Dodge Dart.

I was taken to the local hospital, stitched up and after a few days, transferred to Vandenberg AFB and then on to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. Much of this I have no memory of because I was in a coma.

I had an eggshell fracture on the top of my head with brain damage, but back then, if you could walk and talk then you were fit for duty. 35 years later the VA diagnosed me with an organic brain syndrome.

You would think this would have an effect on my drinking but it didn’t. It would be another 10 years and a lot more drinking before I finally entered the world of abstinence.

All this time I knew something was wrong, My memory would frequently just leave me and I didn’t have a way to articulate what I was experiencing. I would get very angry about it, exploding for no apparent reason. Drinking helped me control these outbursts.

Finding Sobriety

I moved to Naples, Italy as a Radioman (RM) and freshly married to my second wife. Our relationship was shaky from the get-go.

We moved into a place about twenty miles from the base. Between the base and our home was a bar named Kings, and I spent a great deal of my time drinking and playing pool there. I got to be pretty good at pool and I hardly ever drank on my own money.

It didn’t take too long for my wife to leave. Not wanting to be a failure in another marriage, I went looking for help.

I ended up walking into an inpatient treatment center at the naval hospital in Naples, Italy, on November 22, 1976. After 42 days of treatment I was told I had a less than average probability of staying sober.

In fact, the head counselor pointed me out as being one that would not make it. Ironically, to the best of my knowledge I am the only one, including staff, that has remained sober from that day.

The Struggle for Recovery

It probably comes as no surprise that the help I got didn’t save my marriage. After the divorce, I did whatever was necessary to keep from drinking.

I went to a lot of meetings, got involved in prisons, sometimes six days a week, worked with newcomers and didn’t drink or use.

It was a lot of work, but I stayed sober and in 1993 I showed up to a weekend seminar called: “Back to the Forty’s.” It was like I was given a shot of enthusiasm for my sobriety! It was the answer I needed for my lethargy in AA.

I went to the seminar again the next month and asked the presenters for the syllabus. It was like the Big Book on steroids—it brought the Big Book alive for me.

It wasn’t long and I was researching AA history and AA’s roots.  That is when I realized that Dr. Bob and Clarence Snyder were the ones who put AA on the map.  Yes Bill W. wrote the Books, but Dr. Bob and specifically Clarence brought the most people into the fellowship.

It is reported that Dr. Bob helped over 5,000 individuals find recovery, probably more, in a 10 year period—that’s over 1.5 persons per day if you do the math.

Clarence did 5 times that amount. Up until the day he died, 44 years sober, he was helping people find recovery.

Carrying the Message

I have worked with one to three new people a week for the last ten years using Clarence’s example of taking people through the steps. I teach individuals how to take the steps in two days, how to highlight, underline and annotate the Big Book and how to teach others how to do the same.

It very foundational and it will change the way you read the Big Book. I also take those I work with to the roots of AA by showing them how to study the Bible. I am not trying to convert anyone to Christianity, just show them where the founders’ success came from.

As Clarence Snyder would say, “I never quit working.” I am happy, joyous, free, usefully whole and productive. And one more day sober.

We’d like to thank Michael (Santa C) for writing this guest post for our site. Michael is an author, biker, recovery advocate and AA mentor. You can find more about his services on his website.