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


Jay sits down with a long-time member of Alcoholics Anonymous about his experience, strength, hope and 35-year journey in recovery. This compelling episode is presented in audio format only in keeping with the AA tradition of anonymity.

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Podcast Transcript:

Hello everyone, my name is Jay and I'm coming to you from Choices Books and Gifts, where you always have choices. And this is our second podcast we're proud to present. And I have the very great pleasure of having a very good friend of mine. Today we're going to talk with Terry.

Thanks, Jay. It's good to be here. 

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

Well, I think after 20, 21 years of drinking, the unacceptable just became acceptable. Blackouts, hangovers, the stuff I was getting myself 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. 

Well, 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 stay 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 gotta give time 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 a group. Getting a sponsor and finding an outlet through the steps of the steps and everything else to stay sober. But in the beginning it's just 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.

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-to-time basis. And I think one of the key words 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 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's just shaping and your whole way of living your life is gonna change. People, places, and things. The old things you've done for years and years, they just don't work anymore and you gotta find a new way of doing things. 

Understood, understood. So let me ask you this. 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 in 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. 

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. 

How in your recovery, what do you think impacted you in other aspects of your life with relationships, with fear, with showing up for work, with you know, just 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, I just, you know, 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 hung over, 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 said, you're a good guy. We just can't, you're unreliable. And being reliable is always a strong suit. My family's reliable and something I had lost. But, I think by coming to AA and sobering up, I'm a much more reliable person. If I say I'm gonna be there, I'm gonna 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 at all. What is your favorite recovery axiom? Like, you know, 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? You even like to tell people that you talk to and advise. 

I think one of my favorite things, and I think it's really the crux of the program, it's a day at a time. And I think, you know, no matter, I can't live on yesterday's sobriety and tomorrow's sobriety's not here, and I just gotta take it a day at a time. No matter what happens today, I'm gonna be okay. If I don't pick the first drink, I'm gonna 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 day program. I can't worry about what's going to happen in six months from the year or five years from now, I just got 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. 

Yeah. I know how important that was because I think in early sobriety. A lot of people, sometimes they have to live one minute at a time. They're going through something, something's going on, and they really have to hold onto it. It is truly a great saying, and I also used to love, this too shall pass. Say, no, sometimes I'm 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 job, I'm not even retired now. I worked for many years sober. And it's just, there's something to be said for being reliable and showing up a day at a time and living comfortably in my own skin.

There really is. No matter what happens, I know if I make a mistake, it's a mistake. Not because I've done something that I wish I wouldn't have done. And if I make a mistake, I come back and I can rectify it. I never had that ability when I was directing the rectifier. I think 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, and I think one of the greatest gifts I've ever been given is the fact 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 gonna be okay. So no matter what come happen, no matter what happens, if I don't drink and I come here a day at a time, I'm gonna be okay. It's an incredible freedom

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

Yeah, 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. And I'm sort of 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 a, geographics, it's all in the straight corner. I love New York and New York has changed. I grew up in a bowery, it was in full swing, and homeless guy, you were down on 83rd Street, so I saw 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 and three kids and we'd be down in the school yard, which was just concrete and a couple of basketball courts. We'd be playing stick ball and punch ball and ringo, Livio and stick softball. So for me, it was a great place to grow up. And I think one of the greatest things I grew up with all different races of people, you know, back then it was Italians and Irish and Polish and Hispanics and African-Americans. And so 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, great learning experience. I'm always, no matter where I go in my life, I'm 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, 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 say things a little differently, they do things a little differently, but the bottom line, they're all there because they don't wanna 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. So for me, 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. 

Okay, okay. That sounds great. Now, you know, 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 some cancer a few years ago back. And then they gave me a treatment program of four and a half months of chemo and dirty radiation treatments, which I went through. And I learned that in AA because I was around a lot of other people throughout the years who had gone through other experiences in alcoholics and I, and so they, if they went through it, I said, 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, cause your turn will come. Uh, I just got to remember the people that were here before me and the people that are still here that went through these things and look at them as a reference point and realize if they did it, I can do it.

Yeah, yeah. And you do show that each and every day to us all. And 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, sometimes people say 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 we encourage people to kind of 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. 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, you know, and you may think of me after 90 days and going to a whole lot of meetings and being around a lot of people, you 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. So you can't come in for two, three days and like in anything like two or three days and all of a sudden, so I'm not an alcoholic, give time time. And after the end, there's a couple of months in the program, whether it's, you know it’s 90 meetings or 90 days, just you'll get more of a feel for where you wanna be. And then 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, you know, that sort of stuff. 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 or not. 

Interesting, yes. I guess it's like that saying about instead of promotion, it's attraction. So if you hear certain things and all that, and you 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? Like, is there or is there not one special thing? Is it sponsorship, the steps, meetings, fellowship? Is it at all or? Or is it a mix of things? What would you say to that newcomer? Saying, talk to me like I'm a newcomer and what advice should you tell 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, you know, but you have to come here a day at a time. If you don't come, you're not gonna 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 kind of blend in. 

So Terry, I know you're sober 35 years, which is in AA, I think they call it double digits and you can speak it, you know, old timers meetings and things like that to you. Is there a certain pride in that and, or maybe that's the wrong word. What does it mean to you that you have 35 years of sobriety? 

I believe it's probably longer than you were using your sober. Am I correct? That's correct. Okay. 

Yeah, I think it's, you know, it's, it's pride to have that number, but I always got to remember it's a number. You know, it's a date of time for all of us, you know, and, uh, I remember all the people that were here when I first came in and a lot of them not here anymore. So I try not to put too much emphasis on those because it's a you know you get 35 years one day at a time. Yeah. Well, you got to take care. If you take care of the day, the 35 will take care of itself. Love that. I love. You know, so I it's, it's nice. It's nice to say, but in reality is the stuff I did, I had the stuff I was doing 35 years ago back, I still got 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 hand. So even though it's 35. All that stuff I learned in the beginning, if I practice it on a daily basis, next day it'll take care of itself. 

Fantastic. So what I heard in that is in AA, there's a lot of humility. You have to keep yourself in check and not let those years get into some sort of egotistical. I know in my past, I've seen people sort of… you know, talk down to people and knowing you as a person. 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 how to do things and somewhere you get some guidance from a sponsor, you know, some things come up, you get a little more clarity. I think it's important because when you share your experience, what you're doing is you're sharing 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. If you have a legal problem or you have a medical condition or something, you don't know what to do. You probably need to go to a lawyer or a doctor and kind of get some professional opinion. But somewhere along the line… I never think that. I always think the next guy next to me is gonna give me the, sitting next to me, what do you think about my tooth? My tooth's boggled, you know? And he'll give you something. Well, it could be something else. In reality, you'd probably be better off making a phone call to a dentist. 

So even though AA, it sounds like AA is that bridge back to real life. And in real life, we deal with it a day at a time and life throws things at us. And from what I've heard, you're saying the program helps you deal with life in general outside of AA?

It does. It's, you know, it's again, you know, it's never always easy. There are things that do come up. People, you know, people, you know, just because you're not drinking anymore doesn't mean that, you know, the damage you did to a family means you're gonna get your family back. You know, I think it's important to realize family, no family, job, no job, relationship, no job, money, no job. It doesn't matter. If I'm an alcoholic, I can't drink. If I don't drink, everything is gonna work out the way it's gonna work out and I'll at some point have the acceptance to understand that and then move on with my life. Because I think that's important to realize that, you know, just because we do this doesn't mean everything else is going to fall into place on the outside. Well, sometimes some things are just not repairable. I see. 

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.

Okay, great. 

There's a lot more good times and there's 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 at this podcast is to reach people and to help them understand that they have other choices. At the end of this podcast, we're coming to the end of it, 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 interpretation to come in. What can we tell them? What can you tell them? 

Well, I would tell them, if you don't know, you're an alcoholic and not sure, come to a meeting or come to meetings, not just a meeting, come to meetings, sit down and listen, listen to people to share experience, try to 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. Yeah. So, and you know, come and that's, you know, everybody's welcome in Alcoholics. 

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 gonna throw you out. As long as you don't disrupt the meeting, you'll be fine. 

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

Well, I think it's just you got to clear up. You know, 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. You know, I think that's where it really takes. That's why we always use the word, you know, try to don't drink, come to meetings for 90 days and three months. 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.

And I think it just, it works better. You gotta give time in the program. There's no, you know, you gotta be fortunate to come in. You don't pick up a drink after the first meeting like myself, there are other people who struggle for years and it doesn't mean they're any better than me or worse than me. It's just my experience. 

Okay. Well, with that, the podcast is coming to an end and I would like to say I am very grateful for you coming in and sharing your time with us and 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.