There and Back Again

Last night at 10:15pm, my actors and I landed at SFO. We had spent six nights in Atlanta, GA, performing three shows as part of Sobriety Celebrations' Celebration of Recovery Festival at The Rialto Center for the Arts.

Performing during the week of international recovery conference was magical.

It was joyful. It was stressful. It was a service and it was a gift.

I can never fully express my gratitude to my amazing cast of actors, my stage manager Angelo B. for their hard work. They were up at 3am on Monday morning, to make it on the airport shuttle by 4am, to check-in with their baggage and over 18 pieces of cargo at 5am, to spend two hours in the airport, five hours on the plane. And with barely two hours to unpack and rest, they were at The Rialto to run lines and sound check before a 9am call the next morning for a dress rehearsal. 

Touring theater is hard work. 

Heck, for those of us who struggle with depression and anxiety, going to a conference can feel like work! Navigating three square miles packed with 65,000 other drunks is hard work! Finding a place to have dinner is a rat race. I don't take with people who say that if you are really working the program, you won't experience depression or anxiety. Bill W. struggled with his "dark night of the soul" and faced countless accusations about his spiritual program. He must not have been practicing the spiritual principles of the program in which he was considered a founder.

That said, let me admit that I've been in the best spiritual condition or working a program of recovery.

I made it to one archivist panel (and I was late) and the old-timer meeting on Saturday night. That meeting was the first 12-step meeting I've been to in over a month. The old-timer meeting was incredible and I loved the sober countdown. I loved sitting in a stadium of 65,000 other alcoholics and saying the Serenity Prayer. I love sitting in the Bay Area section and seeing the joy and tears of wonder on the faces of my fellows and friends.

I truly believe that what my actors and I brought to Atlanta became a meaningful addition to those who attended. I believe that the time we took away from our own sightseeing and conference attendance to put on this play really mattered to other people. One kind gentleman told us if he had to turn around and drive home to Louisiana, it would have been worth it. 

Like all good things in life, the creative rewards of putting on a play, like the spiritual rewards of attending a conference, don't necessarily come easily. And now I am home, and there is an aspect of picking up the pieces of my life and my program, and that is scary. 

I would love to throw myself into planning another tour. Maybe get down to really working on the Third Legacy play, after all Detroit is coming up in five years. I can feel emotions churning towards the surface that have been suppressed by months of prep and planning for Atlanta. I'm afraid of what will happen when the post-partum blues meet the post-conference crash. 

I've written and directed plays about recovery. I know my fair share about our history. I'm articulate when I try to carry the message during meetings or with sponsees. None of this makes me immune to drinking thoughts or poor behavior. 

I've been dishonest, selfish, full of fear and self-seeking, all leading up to this conference.I haven't talked to my sponsor and my prayers have been intermittent.

And on Saturday, after the old-timers meeting, I really wanted to drink.

Someone said something that I thought was unkind after the meeting. An actor who is just another sick alcoholic like me offered me a few words of criticism and reproach. He did it right as the old-timer meeting was ending. That spiritual high I felt burst like a bubble. I headed back to the dorms we were staying in, crying in the rain. The bars on Peachtree offered the perfect revenge. How poetic it would be to relapse during the Conference. How bad he would feel! After all, the play was over. I had fulfilled my responsibilities to the cast and crew and producers. 

There I was walking down a street filled with thousands of recovered alcoholics, any of them happy to be taken aside and offer comfort to a suffering fellow. But I didn't talk to any of them. I walked in the rain stewing. But I did pray and I did make a phone call to one of my actors. And I made it back to the dorms sober. And then I cried for a little while with my roommates. And I felt better.

I'm very grateful that I went to Conference.

I'm very grateful to have performed in Atlanta.

And I'm humbled that I stayed sober even though I really, really wanted to drink that one night.

I don't know what's ahead. Maybe instead of thinking about making it to Detroit in 2020, I'll focus on making it to a meeting tomorrow.

A Family Reunion of Sorts

We are in week three of a five-city Northern California tour and 15 days away from jumping on a plane for Atlanta, GA to perform Our Experience Has Taught Us during the same week as the 14th International Conference.

Today we performed in San Jose, CA. Santa Clara County puts the "Fellowship" in Fellowship of the Spirit, let me tell you! Ever since they did their own production of In Our Own Words in 2011, I've greatly admired the unity and commitment to intergroup and general service I witnessed there.  So I was very excited to bring our little troupe to perform in San Jose this weekend.

During my internet trolling, I mean research, I came across a Flickr photo album of black and white photos of Sybil C. and her brother Tex A. taken in the 1940's and 50's. It was created by Tex's grandson, Mark A. The flickr album is down now, but it was a real treasure trove! There were photos of Tex and Sybil outside The Hole in the Ground, the meeting place founded by Tex in the early 1940's. The Hole in the Ground was the second or third A.A. meeting in California (depending on whether you ask archivists in Los Angeles or San Francisco, but that's a story for another day). I've heard different stories, but most sources agree that Tex started the meeting in late 1941 or early 1942 because there were no highways in LA at the time and he was tired of taking the long drive to downtown for the Friday night meeting.  This was also during WWII when gas rationing was required by law, and as someone recently proposed on the AAHistoryLovers website, rationing may have been a major factor in the rapid spread of new AA meetings at the time. In fact, Bill W. wrote a letter to the government requesting that AA members be excused from the rationing limits in order to continue their 12-Step Work.

Through his Flickr profile, I realized that Mark A. lived in Los Gatos, CA and we had just confirmed our San Jose shows. After some more internet trolling, I mean sleuthing, I found a contact email for him and invited him to the show. Mark told his father, Tex's youngest and last surviving son, who lives in Nevada and they came to see the play today along with another one of Tex's grandchildren.  It's always been such a pleasure to meet someone who knew one of the old-timers portrayed in the play, usually one of the LA folks like Sybil or Bob C. or Tex.

Tex's son had some wonderful stories about his father. First and foremost he made sure we knew that Tex always wore a suit. He wore a stenson, so we got the hat right, but Tex was always in a well pressed and tailored suit. He had a couple of yarns about the Athletic Club and the restaurant bar that Tex operated after he got sober. And he told us that Tex was a man's man (but also very popular with the ladies), big-hearted, warm and friendly. So we got that right. 

I got a little choked up during Tex's final scene today, when he says goodbye to Sybil and passes out of this world. Bill W. is reciting the beautiful letter he wrote to comfort Sybil C. during her time of grief and a simple guitar instrumental of The Streets of Laredo is playing:

"My dear Sybil, your letter has stirred me more than anything in recent years. The real test of our way of life is how it works when the chips are down. Though I've sometimes seen A.A.'s make rather a mess of living, I've never seen a sober one make a bad job of dying.

 “In God’s house there are many mansions. And somehow or other, I see Tex sitting out on the porch in the sunlight of one of those mansions, talking with another drunk, and I believe that’s okay. When my time comes, I wish to do the same.

 “But I will tell you, Syb, that life is nothing but a long day in school, and some of our lessons are hard, and some of our lessons are easy.  And it doesn’t matter much what happens to us. It is what we do with our experience that counts.  Keep on passing along what you have learned, for what more can one alcoholic ask of another? Affectionately, Bill”

I look over and Tex's grandson is wiping his eyes with a hankerchief and I'm reminded again that these were real people who lived and breathed not very long ago. Tex A. was just another drunk like me, and possibly you reader, and he had a full and impactful life, and not just in the rooms. 

Tex, thanks for starting The Hole in the Ground. Thanks for always putting service first. Thanks for taking care of your little sister and for sponsoring so many men. We'll get you a nice suit next time, I promise.

Jackie B.

 Ivy W. (actor portraying Young Sybil) and Jaime D. (actor portraying Tex A.) with the son and grandchildren of Tex A.

Ivy W. (actor portraying Young Sybil) and Jaime D. (actor portraying Tex A.) with the son and grandchildren of Tex A.

***UPDATE JUNE 16, 2015***

I received a lovely note from Mark A. and wanted to share this one part that affected me greatly: "My father was obviously touched by the parts of the play that regarded his father and aunt, but the story of A.A. is the story of many families. Throughout my life, I have heard stories about Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson, and regard them, in some way, as part of my extended family -- I sense my father certainly does. And because of A.A., I grew up in a home of sobriety. I am very grateful for that -- and I am grateful to every member of A.A. who has striven for sobriety. It is all the members -- Bill W., Dr. Bob, Tex, Sybil and every member -- who have made A.A. what it is. I know that there are many sons, daughters, wives and husbands who have benefitted from the work of A.A., who themselves are not members, but who have loved ones who are. The play, I believe, certainly captured the larger story of A.A." 

For some of Mark A's online resources about Sybil and Tex, click here.

Artist in Recovery

I was asked by Florida Beach Rehab to write an article about my experience as an artist in recovery. 

“It’s a nice talent you got, to make music, to move people. Make ‘em wanna laugh, make ‘em wanna cry. Make ‘em tap their feet. Make ‘em want to dance. That’s an exceptional talent, Joey. Don’t waste it.” – “Passage for a Trumpet”, The Twilight Zone (1960) by Rod Serling

 

My name is Jackie and I’m an addict.

My name is Jackie and I’m also an artist.

Surprisingly, for me, it was easier to accept the first statement. It took a couple of years in sobriety to stop making excuses and accept what it meant to be a creating artist. I felt undeserving and feared the sense of responsibility that came with the title. Being an artist meant you created, and it had been years since I had created anything other than wreckage. It was one thing to name myself an artist; it was another to take action around it. Fortunately, I learned how to do that in recovery.

When I was five or six I drew a picture of myself (blonde of course, though I am a brunette) standing on stage, hands extended to accept the audience’s applause, lights shining on me. All my life I had created. I wrote stories and plays, and in college I began directing. When I graduated, I followed my friends to New York. I worked for a Broadway producer and directed an off-off-off Broadway production. By that time I was drinking and smoking pot every day and “partying” with my roommates every weekend. I had no idea that it would be another six years until I wrote a single line of dialogue or found myself in a rehearsal room. By the time I was 27, I was defeated and I moved back to San Francisco. A cocktail of booze, coke and vicodin cost me a job, several friendships, my apartment and landed me in the hospital. And it was there I made the decision to go into treatment. It was Valentine’s Day of 2006.

Those first two years of recovery were tough but also magical. I can’t describe it any other way. I joined a twelve-step fellowship after completing my outpatient program. I had a sponsor, a home group, I worked the steps, and I began sponsoring. Life had meaning. I had energy. I went to meetings everyday and a fellowship built up around me. I got a job working as a projects manager for a performing arts company. So many of the promises came true … for a little while.

After two years, life in recovery lost a little of its shine. My new life in sobriety became a mundane routine. I still enjoyed meetings and sponsorship, but I trudged my way through the time in between and it just felt wrong. What had happened to my life of sane and happy usefulness? Why did the same resentments crop up over my friends and my work mates again and again no matter how many times I inventoried and prayed over them?  What was missing?

I believe in a higher power. It’s been an important part of my recovery. I often call that higher power God. And I believe God brought me to my place of employment so that I could see living examples of artists in action. The artistic director of the company I worked for had been making dances for over forty years. We had a rehearsal studio that I managed. I could use the space for free for rehearsals. At three years sober, the idea struck me that I shouldn’t waste the opportunity. I had wasted so many when I was drinking and using, and being in recovery meant doing the next indicated thing.

I decided to direct a stage reading of a play about the history of recovery in the United States. I invited friends in recovery to perform it as a benefit for our local service organization. Creating theater, which had always been exhilarating but also fraught with the fear of failure, had become a faith-filled and giving experience. It became an act of service and therefore the only possible failure was in not trying.  Inspired by the idea of “one alcoholic working with another,” we became a nameless bunch of alcoholics performing for our fellows in recovery. The Bay Area recovery community is large and active in fellowship. We had over two hundred people at the reading. After the show, I had old-timers with tears in their eyes coming up to tell me that watching the play was one of the most profound spiritual experiences of their lives. Newcomers thanked me and told me how proud they felt to be a part of this fellowship. I was blown away and I was hooked. I knew I was an artist, and I knew I had a responsibility to continue creating. And in the last six years, I haven’t stopped.

When I’m not in rehearsal, I’m researching and writing my next play. I work primarily in the recovery community and since that first staged reading, I have written and directed full productions of recovery-themed plays that have toured all over Northern and Southern California. We have performed in jail pods, coffee shops, church auditoriums and state-of-the-art performance complexes. Over 10,000 people have seen my work and we have raised almost $20,000 for recovery organizations. One of my plays performed in San Antonio, TX during a major international recovery convention. My new play on the history of the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous will perform in Atlanta, GA this summer during the Celebration of Recovery Festival.

Just this year, my troupe of loyal actors and I have decided to formalize under the name Recovery Works Theater. I am now the Artistic Director of a theater company. All I wanted since I was a young child was to tell stories. In recovery, my life is filled with stories. I hear them at every meeting; I share them when I qualify and when I sponsor. And at nine years sober, I now I spin them on stage for the most attentive, loving audience one could ever hope for.

My name is Jackie and I am a grateful artist in recovery.

Sybil, Jim, Bob and Helen, Los Angeles, 1955

This is one of my most exciting discoveries. I was going through the dregs of my gmail account devoted to my play work and I found a link I sent myself five years ago, while I was doing the very character research for Our Experience Has Taught Us. It is a link to a YouTube video of Bob C. (Los Angeles) singing that was filmed by his daughter in the early 2000's. Today I realized that right there on the sidebar was a suggestion to view "The Mad Butler," a little film Bob and Sybil made in 1955, when Sybil's last name actually started with a W. and not a C. 

I would LOVE to show this video but Bob, Sybil, Jim and Helen were members who valued and cherished our Traditions of Anonymity and this is a public website. If you are dying to see it and you are an A.A. member, then message me and I will send you the link. In the meantime, enjoy the soundtrack at least! And try to picture the rest.

To describe the video, it is a silent comedy in color set to the Benny Hill theme song, a super-8 film that looks storyboarded and edited. It's about a clumsy and cheeky butler who infuriates the master of the household while the ladies find the situation immensely amusing. The men are particularly adept at the physical comedy, and there is mugging to the camera galore by the fellas and the gals. The camera is graining and jerky and I'm pretty sure they sped up the film to givee it an authentic slapstick pace.

These guys were entertainers, Jim and Sybil penned the-still-to-this-day performed sketch known as the 12 Traditions Play, available on the AA World Services website, www.aa.org (not to mistaken with my play on the Traditions, Our Experience Has Taught Us). This is the classic 12 Traditions Play with characters like Moneybags and Eager Beaver. They wrote and performed this play with a group of their friends, though I'm not sure if Bob or Helen were involved in it. They performed it not only in Los Angeles but all around California.

In one of her speaker tapes, Sybil has a wonderful story about how they went to Bakersfield to perform some of their short plays, 

When we got there, they had printed posters saying “celebrated Hollywood actors will portray the birth of AA.” We did the 12 step play and the Central Office play. It was a good thing, it showed people how the steps were born [ – just as this play tonight tries to show how the traditions were born – and it was a good thing, is a good thing,] and we did it at all the groups in California. Bakersfield had all these posters up, all around town, and it said “AA meeting and play, $2.50.” My troupe of ACTORS, some of them been sober a half an hour, they began to quote traditions to me and wouldn’t go on to perform. I thought about these well-meaning AA’s who didn’t know about the traditions, they had just got out. They didn’t know that the public shouldn’t have been invited.
— Sybil C. "How Our Traditions Were Born", Laguna Beach, CA - 1980

The troupe took a group conscience, our final authority after all, and it was decided that they could be of most service by performing The 12 Traditions Play.

Can you see why I just love this woman?

Back to the YouTube video.  A the time this video was taken, 1955 according to the captions, Sybil was married to her fourth husband (!), Jim W., who founded Gamblers Anonymous in 1952! Also, incredibly -- and this is one of those "is it God or is it odd moments" I live for in our history -- Jim W. took a woman who was neither an alcoholic nor a gambler through the 12 steps to help solve her problem ... Rozanne O., the founder of Overeaters Anonymous!  Isn't it amazing how this one woman, Sybil D. A. S. H. M. W. C. was a participant and witness to so many important moments in recovery history, and not just A.A. but the growth of the 12-step model as one of the most important social and spiritual movements of the 20th century?

And when she went to meetings, all she desired was for her share to be "adequate." (See my earlier post this morning.)

Wow.

Sybil is wearing cat's eye glasses in the video. Her hair is permed, and do I have a story about Sybil and her perms, but that is for another day. What a smile that woman had! And my, isn't Bob handsome, and what a voice! The man could croon.

One last story, little-known and personal. Matt M., Sybil's sponsee shared with it with me and I don't think Sybil and Bob would mind at all. Consider it their Valentine's Day gift to us. This is the story about the day Bob asked Sybil to marry him. After they had both divorced, Bob from Helen and Sybil from Jim, Bob and Sybil used to drive together and attend meetings for several years. They were best friends. One day at an A.A. dance, they were sitting together at a table and someone yelled across the dance floor, "Hey, Bob, when you finally going to marry her?" Bob thought for a moment, and yelled back, "You know what, I think I will!" and he got down on his knees right then and there and proposed to Sybil. They were happily married for decades until the end of their lives.

Happy Valentine's Day. Love and be loved.

xoxo Jackie

[PLEASE NOTE: I have tried to located the "Central Office Play" and the "12 Steps Play" Sybil describes in the tape to no avail. Her daughter, Addie H. did not have a copy and the only archived document is the script of The Twelve Traditions Play. If you have or come across a copy of any older sketches without an attributed author, please message me AND contact the LA County Archives AND World Service Archives. I'm happy to do it on your behalf!]

A Valentine's Day Anniversary

Nell Wing

Nine years ago today, Nell Wing, A.A.'s first archivist passed away, on Valentine's Day 2006. It was the same day that I checked myself into an outpatient rehab clinic and the first day in my entire life that I made the conscious decision to TRY and not drink or use drugs. I relapsed four months later, but Valentine's Day will always be a happy day for me, as long as I stay sober.

Speaking of Valentine's Day, I am having a love affair right now with the A.A. archivists and historians who share their treasured discoveries and happy accidents with me. Recently, we lost one of the big hitters, Ernie K., author of Not-God, and my personal favorite, The Spirituality of Imperfection, among many other books and articles on A.A. history and spirituality. I had not had the pleasure of corresponding directly with Ernie and I wish I had taken the opportunity sooner when I had the chance. From what I understand, he was as generous with his time as he was in spirit.

During the first annual A.A. History symposium at the Sedona Mago Retreat I was fortunate to see an interview with Ernie about researching and writing history, produced by Page 124 filmmakers Kevin Hanlon and Dan Carracino (who I have been lucky enough to meet and what do you know, they're super friendly and generous with their correspondence too!). 

 There are so many amazing gems in this but I remember at first viewing being incredibly moved by Ernie saying that as historians (and I apply this to myself as a creator of documentary theater and historical fiction), our job is "not to convince but to present." 

"We present what we find interesting."

I had a moment of clarity hearing Ernie speak those words. I present what I find interesting. It's that simple. Nothing grander is required. I can let my curiosity take me to places I, and perhaps others, had not thought to explore  (or hadn't from this particular entry-point or angle). I verify my discoveries with independent sources, and then I present to others what I think is interesting at the end of my search.

Keep it simple, right?

As any one who has seen or read one of my plays knows, I'm quite enamored by Sybil C. of Los Angeles, the first woman to get sober on the west side of the Mississippi. Sybil's sponsee, Matt M who now lives in Florida, told me a beautiful story. Matt was sponsored by Sybil during the last part of her life, and he would drive her whenever she spoke at meetings or conferences (which was quite a lot!). Before every share, Sybil would go to the bathroom and get on her little old lady knees and ask God that her share be "adequate." Not funny, not moving, just adequate.

Now that's humility.

I don't have to be brilliant. My play does not have to be innovative and launch the field of theater into the next epoch of artistry and cultural evolution. My next play doesn't even have to be the next best thing I ever wrote. 

It can just be adequate. Sufficient to get the job done. Just enough to show someone else what I found interesting and why.

This is why I love writing and thinking about A.A. This is why I love living the program, to the best of my ability at a given moment. Because I am asked so little and in return given so very much.

It's 8:56 a.m. I've stayed up all night working on this new website and writing my first blog entry.

NIne years ago I stayed up all night because it was my last chance to get high.

This is the better deal.

Thank you and good night ... I mean good morning.

Love, Jackie