Episode 2: Jay and Terry - Inspiring 35-Year Journey in Recovery

Join Jay in a powerful conversation with a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, sharing insights on recovery.

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Episode #2 Podcast Transcript:

Hello, everyone. My name is Jay, and I'm coming to you from Choices Books and Gifts, our new podcast, “You Always Have Choices.”  This is the second podcast we're proud to present.  I have the great pleasure of speaking with my good friend, Terry.

Thanks, Jay. It's good to be here. 

Thanks, Terry. Let me jump right into it. So let me ask you, what led you to realize that you needed a change when doing your thing? 

Well, I think after 20, 21 years of drinking, the unacceptable just became acceptable. Blackouts, hangovers, the stuff I was getting into just catching up with me. I realized I just couldn't continue to live like this anymore. I was 37 years of age, and I just needed to do something. So, I wound up, I knew about AA, and I knew it was a place to go, and I wound up coming to my first AA meeting AA coins, AA medallions are the best here.

I'm blessed and happy that you did because that's how I know you. Let me ask you this. What is the hardest thing you remember about early sobriety? What are some of the most difficult things to remain sober and continue on this journey?  

Well, I think the hardest thing is when you first come to Alcoholics Anonymous, not knowing what to expect. Everything is new, you don't quite know what it is. It's like being a beginner in anything, you got to give it time. And it's difficult realizing that you don't have to drink a day at a time, the importance of coming to meetings and getting into a group. Getting a sponsor and finding an outlet through the steps and everything else in sobriety.  But in the beginning, everything is new and trying to incorporate it into your life to the best of your ability on a day-to-day basis. Being a beginner is never easy in anything, and I think it's much harder when you're trying to deal with sobriety and doing that - because everything is new. AA coins, NA Coins.

Understood, understood. So with that, what is a piece of advice you would give to someone very early in sobriety in order to have some success? 

I think the biggest secret is you've got to keep coming. It's a day-at-a-time basis. And I think one of the keywords is you've got to give time, time. You didn't become an alcoholic overnight, and you're probably not going to get sober overnight. You've got to continue to come and just put one foot in front of the other. And, get yourself some tools, like an AA Coin to help guide you. 

And as time goes on, it'll get better and easier. But the beginning is always difficult because you're coming off the blues, and your body / the whole way of living your life is going to change. People, places, and things. The old things you've done for years and years just don't work anymore, and you have to find a new way of doing things. 

Understood. What would you say is the biggest change you've seen in yourself in sobriety? 

Well, I think the biggest change is I don't fight the drink anymore. I've come to meetings, I got sober, I don't feel like drinking, and that went away. I'm pretty comfortable with that. I'm pretty comfortable with how I live my life. I try to practice these principles a day at a time in all my affairs. I show up, I'm reliable, I do the best I can, and I live a pretty good life because of it. So… I look back at my life, I realize that I'm not enslaved to drinking and that attitude I had when I came there.  And the best AA coins are here.  

So I assume today's life is a lot better than the life you were living before?

Absolutely. It's a hundred times better.

Excellent.  What do you think impacted you in other aspects of your life - with relationships, with fear, with showing up for work? Your day-to-day daily life? What was it like then, and what is it like today? 

Well, I mean, I think when I was drinking, it was all about the drinking, and I went to work, and I had a job, and I showed up, and I was married, and I did all that stuff that I did, but you know, I was unreliable. I was unpredictable. I'd start drinking, and then all of a sudden, other things become more important. I didn't give 100%. I wanted to give 100%, and I meant to give 100%. But somewhere along the line, I was either sick from the night before or hungover, or I was drinking; I just couldn't put it all together. And now I'm not that way. I show up a day at a time.  

And you tell me to be there at nine o'clock. I'm there at 10 to nine. I'm reliable. People realize they can count on me. It's a huge difference when people can count on you. I had many people say, you're a good guy - we just can't rely on you, you're unreliable.

Being reliable is always a strong suit. My family's reliable. And its something I had lost. But, by coming to AA and sobering up, I'm a much more dependable person. If I say I'm going to be there, I'm going to be there. 

That's great, and I know how important that is. Because even for me, I could never be there, or I would just not show up at all. What is your favorite recovery axiom? We have first things first; life on life's terms; one day at a time. Do you have something that has stuck with you over the years in that regard, that you use when you talk to others and advise. 

I think it's one of my favorite things, and it's really the crux of the program; it's a day at a time.  And no matter what, I can't live on yesterday's sobriety, and tomorrow's sobriety's not here, and I just have to take it a day at a time. No matter what happens today, I'm going to be okay. If I don't pick up the first drink, I'm going to be able to deal with what comes down the pike to the best of my ability.  And, I'm going to get up tomorrow and it's going to be a different day. I think it's a wonderful thing about AA. You're only sober 24 hours at a time. It's a 24-hour a day program. I can't worry about what's going to happen in six months, a year or five years from now.  I just have to take care of today. 

When I take care of today, the rest of the stuff falls into place. Sometimes good stuff and maybe sometimes not-so-good stuff, but even not-so-good stuff is a learning experience. I carry aa AA coin everywhere I go, to remind me. 

Yeah. I know how important that was because in early sobriety, a lot of people, sometimes have to live one minute at a time. They're going through something, something's going on, and they really have to hold on. It is truly a great saying.

I also love, this too shall pass.  I'm involved in something and there's insanity going on, and as long as I remind myself this too shall pass, it does. So, what do you think is one of the most rewarding things about your sobriety?

I think one of the most rewarding things for me is the fact that I am a much different person than when I came to Alcoholics Anonymous. I'm reliable, I show up, I have a family, I had a good job. I retired now. I worked for many years sober. And there's something to be said for being reliable, showing up a day at a time and living comfortably in my own skin.

No matter what happens, I know if I make a mistake, it's a mistake. Not because I've done something I wish I hadn't done.  If I make a mistake, I come back and I can rectify it. I never had that ability when I was drinking. If I made a mistake, I'd pretend like I didn't do it or I blame somebody else for it. So, the great thing is, I'm accountable for my life today.

I think that's a real blessing in Alcoholics Anonymous because I don't pick the first drink up, and I come to meetings, and I get a group, and I do all the stuff we talk about in AA. And by doing that, I think one of the greatest gifts I've ever been given is that I've watched other people go through this process. By watching them get through it, I realize I can get through it. I've actually lived people's lives with them. I've seen people come to Alcoholics Anonymous who are going through cancer or AIDS and other stuff and went through that thing one day at a time and came out the other side and realized that it's going to be okay. So, no matter what may come, no matter what happens, if I don't drink and I come here a day at a time, I'm going to be okay. It's an incredible freedom. 

Well, that's amazing. Because we're friends and I know you outside the program through going to lunch, dinners, and things like that, I wanted you to talk a little bit about how you're such a New Yorker. Can you tell us where you grew up and how that went down? 

Yes, I grew up down in the Lower East Side. It was called the Lower East Side back then, and then it became the East Village. I'm born and raised on fourth and second. I moved down to third and first for years. Now I'm back on fourth and second again. That's almost 73 years' worth of geographics. 

 love New York, and New York has changed. I grew up in the bowery, it was in full swing –all the flop houses and men's shelter and the wine gangs and all that stuff. But I grew up in a great neighborhood; it was all kids; back then, it was much different than it is today. Everybody had two or three kids, and we'd be down in the schoolyard, which was just concrete and a couple of basketball courts. We'd be playing stickball and punchball and Ring-a-levio, softball.

So, for me, it was a great place to grow up.  I grew up with all different races of people, Italians, Irish, Polish, Hispanics and African-Americans.  I never thought much about any of that stuff because I grew up with everybody. It was insane. We played ball together. We went to school together. We hung out together.

So, it was a great, great for me, a great learning experience. No matter where I go in my life, I'm always comfortable in my own skin. 

That's great. And they tell me in AA, wherever you go in the world, when you walk into a meeting, it's like home. Is that true? 

That is true. It's always a little awkward when you first walk in because you don't quite know what the make of it is, but you just know that everybody's there for the same reason. And I've been to meetings all over the place on cruise ships and down south in California and the Caribbean. And the meeting is the meeting. They may say things a little differently, they do things a little differently, but the bottom line, they're all there because they don't want to drink. And by coming to meetings and doing what we do, they stay sober day at a time. So it's a little different, which is a nice change of pace sometimes.

It's all about going to meetings, no matter where I am. I try to fit the meeting in because by taking that hour a day and doing it, the rest of the stuff just falls into place. 

That sounds great. Now, it's only because I know you, and I hope I'm not getting too personal here. I know that you yourself have been through some trials and tribulations in life, especially, you know, over the last few years. And, you know, I've watched you in awe, and I must say that because I don't see much of a shift or a change in you. You just handle it. You do what's required. You show up. Can you tell me what one of the toughest challenges in recovery has been? 

Well, it's always about the health stuff for me. I got diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. They gave me a treatment program of four and a half months of chemo and radiation treatments, which I went through. And I learned in AA because I was around a lot of people throughout the years who had gone through similar experiences, and I said,  if they went through it, I can go through it.

So, you know, it's one of those things by coming here a day at a time, you get the opportunity to live people's lives with them, to be around people. And when my turn comes or when anybody's turn comes (because everyone’s turn will come), I remember the people who were here before me and the people who are still here who went through these things and look at them as a reference point and realize if they did it, I can do it.

Yes. And you do show that each and every day to us all. Can you tell me a little bit about because I think this encompasses so much of the beginning of the program, what is 90 meetings in 90 days actually do for the alcoholic and non-alcoholic? 

It's a term that we don't necessarily, well, sometimes people say it in AA, but it's a really, it's much more of a rehab term, I believe. I mean, this is a day-at-a-time program.  We encourage people to come to meetings. We use the word 90 sometimes because it's a three-month window. So, we encourage people to come to Alcoholics Anonymous – to give it a try. Give it a nice try. Come for 90 days.  Don't drink and see if it's for you.

You know, they may not be or may think after 90 days and going to a whole lot of meetings and being around a lot of people, they may say, “Well, I'm not really an alcoholic, or I'm just not ready or whatever it might be.”  So you always want to give time time.  We say, don’t come in for two, three days and think your going to like it, just like in anything in life, two or three days is not enough.  We say, give it some time. And after that, a couple of months in the program, whether it's 90 meetings or 90 days, you'll have more of a feel for where you want to be.  You might listen to enough stuff and realize I need to be here, and you'll stay. So, I think it's about giving time time.  But no matter what, it's still a day-at-a-time basis. And we encourage you to come and just sit there and listen, and you'll figure it out as the time goes on whether or not you belong here. 

Interesting, yes. I guess it's like that saying about attraction not promotion, it's attraction. So if you hear certain things and identify, I guess that's when you realize, I belong here and I should stay here, right? Right. And what do you think is, what encompasses it? Is there or is there not one special thing? Is it sponsorship, the steps, meetings, or fellowship? Is it all of it or a mix of things? What would you say to that newcomer? Say you are talking to me like I'm a newcomer - what advice would you give me? 

Well, I would say that it's important to realize the importance of going to meetings and I don't think there's any one particular thing. I think it's a combination of all the above. If you come to meetings, you'll do the other stuff. You'll go out for some fellowship, you'll get a sponsor, you'll talk about the steps, you'll get to live other people's lives with them.

I think that's the way this thing works. But you have to come here a day at a time. If you don't come, you're not going to be able to do the other stuff. So, I think that the secret is to come to meetings, get a foundation in the meetings, get a group, and give it a try and see if it's for you. By doing this, the other stuff will blend in. AA coins help too, you can carry them with you. 

So, Terry, I know you're sober 35 years.  In AA, I think they call it double digits and you can speak at ‘old timers meetings’ and things like that.  What does it mean to you that you have 35 years of sobriety? I believe you are now sober longer than you were using, is that correct?  

That's correct. I have many many AA chips from over the years. Im proud to carry them with me.  

Yeah, I think it's pride to have that number, but I always have to remember it's a number. You know, it's a date in time - for all of us.  I remember all the people that were here when I first came in and a lot of them are not here anymore. So, I try not to put too much emphasis on the number because you still get 35 years one day at a time. If you take care of the day, the 35 will take care of itself.

Love that. I love that. 

So, it’s nice to say but in reality –I still have to do today - go to a meeting, get a group, get a sponsor, some service, put the steps in my life, pray, meditate, all those things. They come in handy. So even though it's 35 years, all that stuff I learned in the beginning, if I practice it on a daily basis, the next day will take care of itself. 

Fantastic. So what I heard in that is that in AA, there's a lot of humility - you keep yourself in check and don’t let those years get to your ego.  In the past, I've seen some people with time talk down to others.  I've never seen you do that. You're always very humble. You only give your suggestions, not advice. What I mean by that is what I've seen by knowing you is you'll only talk about your experience instead of advice. Is that a big thing in AA? 

Well, it really is. I mean, people come, they show you how to do things, and somewhere, you get some guidance from a sponsor, you know, some things come up, and you get a little more clarity. I think it's important because when you share your experience, what you're doing is sharing your experience. Let the person know you don't have to drink. That's the most important thing and what they need to do.

It's also important to realize that my experience is just my experience. You don't know what to do if you have a legal problem or a medical condition or something. You probably need to go to a lawyer or a doctor and get a professional opinion. But somewhere along the line… I never think that. I always think the next guy next to me is going to give me the answer – like, “What do you think about my tooth - my tooth's boggled?” And he'll give you something, “Well, it could be this or that.”  You’d probably be better off making a phone call to a dentist. 

So even though AA is that bridge back to real life – we still must deal with life a day at a time as life throws things at us. And from what I've heard, you're saying the program helps you deal with life outside of AA?

It does. It's never always easy. There are things that do come up.  Just because you're not drinking anymore doesn't mean that the damage you did to a family means you're going to get your family back.

I think it's important to realize family, no family, job, no job, relationship, no relationship, money, no money. It doesn't matter. If I'm an alcoholic, I can't drink. If I don't drink, everything is going to work out the way it's going to work out, and I'll at some point have the acceptance to understand that and then move on with my life. I think that's important to realize that just because we do this doesn't mean everything else is going to fall into place on the outside. Sometimes, some things are just not repairable.

So there's a lot of ups and downs, but at the end of the day, if you stick with it, you can get through it with faith in AA and the people in AA. 

There's a lot more ups than downs. There are a lot more good times, and there are going to be some difficult times, and that's just life. AA is part of life. Life goes on whether you're sober or not, whether you're drinking or you're sober, but it's much easier when you're sober; you can deal with it on a much better basis.

Thank you, thank you. So, you know, what we're trying to achieve with this podcast is to reach people and to help them understand that they have other choices. At the end of this podcast, I'd like you to tell us what you think is the most important thing that a person that is on the fence, they're not sure, but they have fear or trepidation to come in. What can we tell them? What can you tell them? 

Well, I would tell them, if you don't know that you're an alcoholic or are not sure, come to a meeting or come to several meetings, not just one meeting, come to meetings, sit down and listen, listen to people who share their experience, who tell their stories, and you'll get a feel whether or not you're an alcoholic or not. You may not be, but on the other hand, if you are, at least you'll have a way of having people give you a solution to your alcoholism. But if you don't come, you'll never know.  So, come and know that everybody's welcome in Alcoholics Anonymous. 

Even if you're drinking, you say, “I had a couple of drinks and I want to go to the meeting.”  Well, come to the meeting. Nobody's going to throw you out. As long as you don't disrupt the meeting, you'll be fine. 

And I heard along the way that, you just mentioned it yourself – go to a few meetings. Is that because in some meetings, you may not hear what you need but if you go to a few, eventually you'll hear what you need to hear?

Well, I think it's that you got to clear up.  When you're drinking, if you go to two or three meetings and you drank three days ago, you're probably not as clear headed as you would like. But the more you come, the more you'll understand what we're talking about. You'll get a much clearer picture.

I think that's what it really takes. That's why we always use the words – don't drink, come to meetings for 90 days. At the end of the three months, if you feel like drinking, you have a little additional money, you probably can go out and drink. But the bottom line to the story is you'll have much clearer picture if you belong here or not.  It works better. You got to give it time, in the program.

You don't pick up a drink after the first meeting. That was my experience.  Other people may struggle for years. It doesn't mean they're any better or worse than me. It's just my experience. 

Okay. Well, with that, the podcast is coming to an end. I would like to say I am very grateful for you coming in and sharing your time with us.  I hope you have a wonderful and blessed day. And you folks out there, may God bless you and look after you. And we hope to see you or hear from you very soon with our next podcast.

Thanks and have a great day.