Today’s episode features a conversation with John M. from the Sober Speak podcast. John is coming up on 30 years of sobriety this year and has posted 52 episodes of his wonderful recovery podcast. Our conversation shows how two AA’s one a believer and another an atheist can find common ground through shared experience. Topics covered in this episode include a discussion about podcasting, John M.’s AA story, and how he found healing from growing up in a home with a mother who suffered from mental illness.
00:00 John S: This is episode 104 of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast.
00:24 John S: Life certainly has some interesting twists and turns, and I think that’s what this episode is all about. Last summer, I took a long and unexpected break from podcasting, during which time, a listener of AA Beyond Belief discovered Sober Speak, a podcast hosted by John M from the Dallas, Texas area. John learned about us from this listener, sent me an email, and I made a new friend. So, I guess that unexpected summer break did some good after all.
Later in today’s episode, John shares about another interesting twist and turn concerning his relationship with his mother. It’s a story you don’t want to miss. Now, heads up, John’s a believer, and he does talk about God, but he’s interested and supportive of us secularists in AA, and I’ll be appearing on his podcast in the near future. I have to say it was a good experience to speak with a believer, an AA traditionalist, as it were, and to find common ground. The language of the heart, it seems, connects us all, no matter what we may or may not believe.
John, how you doing?
01:27 John M: I am doing very well. I’ve been looking forward to this interview. I appreciate you having me on today. As we have talked offline about a little bit, it’s nice to talk to another podcaster.
01:39 John S: Well, thank you. As I was telling you, I was listening to one of your episodes, and it was funny, a listener wrote you, and said, “Hey, AA Beyond Belief hasn’t posted a podcast for a while, so I thought I’d check you out.” So, I guess that’s how you discovered us.
01:55 John M: Yeah, I asked how they had found me, and they said it was exactly what you said, AA Beyond Belief had not posted a podcast in a while, so I went to look you up.
02:07 John S: Yeah.
02:08 John M: And, lo and behold, found another podcast here. It’s a good find too.. I’ve actually listened to, I don’t know, at least six, seven, eight of your episodes, and I enjoy them very much.
02:20 John S: Well, thank you, thank you, I enjoy doing them. I felt guilty, for that long period of time, I wasn’t doing any, because I’ve been pretty good, religiously, about posting every week. But, man, something happened this summer, I just really needed to take a break. Unfortunately, I didn’t announce it because it wasn’t really planned, it just happened. I just needed to take some time off, I think.
02:42 John M: That’s the way it all works. It’s ebb and flow, up and down. Sometimes you need to rest and come back to have that good energy for what you’re doing, and what you’re creating. In fact, I’ve heard you talk about finding something very profound within yourself, just the creative piece, of what a podcast does, and how it makes you think outside the box. I have found that same thing. I understand exactly what you’re talking about.
03:08 John S: Yeah, it’s really done a lot for my recovery, and my program, and I’ve learned so much from all the people I’ve spoken with over the last couple of years, so it’s been an amazing experience.
So let’s talk about you. The best way, I think, to get to know somebody, especially in recovery, is through their story. Could you give us a little bit of the personal background, the traditional story about how you got into recovery?
03:36 John M: You got it. What I was like, what happened, and what I’m like now. I understand. Well, first of all, I’ve been sober since May 29th, 1989. And [chuckle] I started to say… And I’m going to say this, for me, by the grace of God. I think you’ve been sober about the same time, is that correct? When did you get sober, John?
04:03 John S: July of ’88.
04:04 John M: Okay. So we’re right in that same area. And that’s why I was so interested in talking to you, because we’ve been sober about the same amount of time. And we’ve had, I’m sure, in a lot of ways, similar experiences with Alcoholics Anonymous, and I’m sure, in some ways, some differences.
And it’s very interesting to me, because, in fact, I was at a meeting today at 12 o’clock, noon here. I’m from the Dallas, Texas area. I was at a meeting at noon, and we were talking about tradition three. And it made me think about this particular podcast that I was coming on, and that is… I remember there was one time. This was probably around ’86, maybe a little bit before that. I was at my cups one night, I called up the intergroup, the local intergroup, here in the Dallas, Texas area.
05:00 John M: I don’t remember anything from that conversation except for one line. The gentleman who answered the phone said to me, he said, “The only requirement for membership is the desire to quit drinking, the only requirement.” And that really caught my attention. I’m thankful that he didn’t say the only requirement for membership is that you come in and you do a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself, and then you go out and make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. He stuck to the traditions.
Maybe someday I’ll meet that gentleman at the meeting in the sky, if there is such a thing. But I am so thankful that he did that. And so… Oh gosh, in regards to my story, where do you start? As you know, how do you always cover 30 years in just a few minutes?
05:58 John M: But I can tell you that I was like a lot of people in Alcoholics Anonymous. And, by that, I mean that I was a loner, and my absolute favorite song… It still is one of my favorite songs today is Desperado by the Eagles. And I can remember, I used to listen to that song, and I would travel down the highway at high rates of speed. And I would be drinking my tequila, which I absolutely love. Cuervo gold was my thing. And I would be drinking that, and I would just start bawling my eyes out when it got to that crescendo, saying, “You better let somebody love you before it is too late.”
That’s probably not the best way to drive your vehicle down the highway. But, nonetheless, I was doing that. And so I, somehow, some way found Alcoholics Anonymous. There were a few steps that lead there. And I was in and out from ’86 to ’89, John, and, oh gosh, that was probably the worst three years of my life. And every time that I would go back out, I would say to myself, “Just one more night of fun, and then I will start over tomorrow.”
07:22 John M: And that sounded good in theory, but it was never that clean. It was usually a few months, and I would get back in, maybe a year, I would get back in, and a lot of damage and a lot of destruction in the meantime. And so, that went on for several years. And I do want to go back to my roots, if you will. And I hated when somebody gets on… Up from the podium, and says, “Well, I was born in… ” I’m like, “Ugh, how old are you? How quick is it going to get up to a real time here?” But this is an important part, is that my parents met in Scotland, which is where my mother is from. She had an eighth grade education over there, and she met my dad, who was in the Air Force, and then they moved over here to the States, and I was actually born in Bangor, Maine.
08:19 John M: I don’t know much about it. I just know I was there for like six months or so. And then, as time went on, when my parents were… I got to be, I think, it was 5 or 6, they split up. And you hear a lot of times people split up, go through divorce. But with my mom, she was a single mom, I was an only child. We grew up, we set a track for ourselves. And then around my… I guess, when I was like 10, 11, 12, something like that, I started to notice that my mom was not like every other mom, so to speak.
In other words, she had… I would notice she would go to unlock a door, or to lock the door at night, and she would go, “Check, check, check.” She would go to turn off the stove, she would say, “Check, check, check.” And it wasn’t just three times, it was 40, 50, 60 times over, sometimes 100. And she would do that with locks on her car and all kinds of things. And so, she had a true… We didn’t know what it was called back then, but she had true obsessive-compulsive disorder. Now, people tell me I am OCD, and use it in a joke kind of fashion.
09:46 John M: But she had true obsessive-compulsive disorder. And then when I got to be a teenager, she started to… Well, she’d always had… She always talked about her weight, I’ll put it that way. And, in fact, she used to say… She was from Great Britain, and she would always say that she got something from a queen over there. And they said, like you’d never be too rich or too thin. And she took that to heart. And so she would, on a consistent basis, throughout my teenage years, get down to the 70s or so with her weight. It was one of those things where she would go out to the pool and she thought she looked absolutely fantastic, and you could see all of her bones sticking out of her body, and everyone else knew that there was something wrong with that, but it was very, very hard to explain to her.
So she was true anorexic. She was bulimic. And then, as we started to get a little bit older, she had words, they were going through her brain, like death, and we would sit around the kitchen table and talk about suicide, and what she had considered that day. And so, all that to say this… And, by the way, my mom was doing the absolute best with what she could. This is not a… Some sort of… I’m not trying to blame her for anything, but it was a perfect vacuum, if you will, for somebody like me who had a predisposition to alcohol. So when I found that alcohol when I was about 17, I was off to the races.
11:23 John M: I had never been real popular in school, but when I found it, it was a solution. It worked, and it worked very well. And, all of a sudden, I was very popular in high school, and a lot of things were going my way. And I just knew a lot of people, I fit in with a lot of different groups, and it was all because of alcohol. So it definitely, like I said, was a solution for me.
So, I drank for probably 10 years, and I don’t get into it a lot just because I like to respect the traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, if you will, but through a lot of outside issues, if you will, that I was involved with, I dealt a lot of drugs, and I’m sure that ramped up my progression, and taking those… because when you would take those drugs, one of the only ways to deal with it, for me, at least, and to be able to come down and be able to level out, was to drink a lot of liquor, a lot of alcohol.
Then I found, like I said, Alcoholics Anonymous, for the first time in 1986. Went in and out for three years, those were the worst three years of my life. And finally, in 1989, I had a sponsor, who is still my sponsor today. I tell him he’s a temporary sponsor, even though it’s only been 29 years.
12:49 John S: Wow.
12:50 John M: Yeah. I said, “I’m going to try you out.” And he told me the other day, he said, “I would advise taking me on as your full-time sponsor before I actually die.” [laughter] He’s a good man, and we’ve been through a lot together. As you know, I’m sure, I haven’t heard your whole story, I’m going to hear your whole story eventually, because I want to have you on my show. But we’ve been through so many ups and downs together. And so, that’s the basis of my story, getting me in to Alcoholics.
Oh, and I meant to say about that sponsor. He told me… He says, “Hey, have you ever worked the steps?” And I was like, “Oh, I could’ve had a VA.” And so, we went through the steps, and ever since that time, I have not had to have, by the grace of God, a drink of alcohol, and I’m very thankful for that. Very thankful for AA, has changed my life in many ways, but that’s basically my launch into Alcoholics Anonymous.
13:55 John S: One thing I could relate with you pretty well was the situation when you were growing up. My mother didn’t have OCD, but she was seriously depressed, and she was medicated a lot, and spent a lot of time in her room, asleep, and had fits of anger, and so forth. And so, there was a lot of yelling and screaming, and instability in my household. And I’d actually discovered alcohol even younger. I was like maybe eight years old when I came across it, and it immediately was the fix I needed for, I guess, the fear and the uncertainty that I was going through.
Like you, I’m not blaming my parents for anything, but that was just the situation, and it just carried on for the rest of my life, and progressed from there. So I relate to that, and I think that’s a common thread that runs through a lot of our stories, is something happening early in our lives, that we begin using alcohol to mask the pain, or hide the pain, or numb the pain in some way.
15:01 John M: Yeah. I remember, after I’d gotten sober, I was trying to… I was about to go to an AA meeting one day, and I was in the office. And I was getting a cup of coffee before I actually went. And a lady came up to me, and she said to me, “Oh, do you drink caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee?” And I was like, “I don’t even… ” I said, “I drink coffee, essentially, because I like the effect produced by the caffeine.” And so, it’s always that, that I don’t drink decaffeinated coffee, and I don’t understand non-alcoholic beer.
15:40 John S: It’s really funny. I love coffee now, but I never was much of a coffee-drinker until I got into AA.
15:45 John M: Me neither. And I didn’t eat candy and sugar and all that kind of stuff either. So, all of a sudden, I was eating desserts like they were going out of style. I didn’t understand that. Somebody explained it to me later, but, yeah, I just started… But I wasn’t get pulled over traffic stops for…
16:06 John S: And it’s funny too, people at work will see me drink a lot of coffee, and they’ll think, “Man, doesn’t that just wreck you up?” [chuckle] And I’m, “Coffee, for me, is like a calming thing. It’s… “
16:19 John M: Yeah.
16:19 John S: It reminds me of AA, I think. And so, it’s just something that, obviously, I shouldn’t be using it like this, but, like you say, no one’s throwing me in jail for drinking too much coffee.
16:28 John M: Yeah, that’s right.
16:30 John S: So, I’m okay with that. So another thing you said, that I could identify with, was the third tradition. When I walked into my first AA meeting, they had the steps on the wall, and they had the traditions on the wall. And my deal was I was so young, I was only 25 years old, and during my years of drinking, I just couldn’t believe I was an alcoholic because I just felt I had to be a lot older.
So when I walked into that first meeting, and I saw that step on the wall, we admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable. That was just the perfect description of where I was at at that moment in my life. And then I saw that third tradition, that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking, and I had that.
17:15 John M: Yeah. Yeah.
17:16 John S: And that was all I needed. I had that first step in a third tradition.
17:20 John M: That was all I needed. That’s right. And, you know, I don’t know how much you want to digress in this, but I heard one of your episodes where the gentleman was in and out in the Denver area, was struggling with getting a… His meeting listed. And you know, I’m not an atheist, I’m not an agnostic, but I’m on his side, because I think that is ridiculous. In other words, if you have people coming into the meeting and they have a desire to quit drinking, they should be able to open up a group. And I’m… You got my support on that. Not like it helps, but you got my support, the guy out there.
18:00 John S: Well, thank you. Yeah, it was funny, you found out that our site was kind of… Our niche audience is secular people in AA, or agnostics, atheists, and free thinkers in AA, and you thought, hmm, I wonder if I’m really going to fit in there. But you know, what I have found, John, is that we have more in common, us, than not.
18:19 John M: For sure. I’ve been a listener to your episodes, and every time I listen to it, I think, this is not any different, really, they just don’t have a deity. And I don’t want to put words to what you believe or anybody else believe, but my perception of it is, well, they’re doing the exact same things and…
18:36 John S: Exactly.
18:36 John M: They just don’t have a deity, so to speak, that they believe in. And, hey, God bless them. I mean, it’s better than people having DUIs.
18:43 John S: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. And I came to that conclusion too, that I just kind of… For me, it got to be to where the program, for me, is practical, so things that I do. And when I listen to a believer, and they’re sharing their story, the only thing different is how we explain the experience, and what happened. And, for some people, it’s… They were empowered by something outside themselves, or a God that they believe in, that’s important to them, that empowered them to change and to do these things. And I was empowered by the group of people in the room, the people that cared about me and supported me. So it’s really no different.
19:19 John M: Yeah. I started to say, “Amen, brother,” but I don’t think that’s an appropriate response.
19:24 John S: That’s okay. Actually, that’s okay. Yeah. So I was really happy to have you on, to talk about that, and… Because I think it’s interesting, and I really… One thing that we wanted to do early on, when we started the podcast on the site, is we really wanted to reach out and kind of build bridges to others, because a lot of people in recovery didn’t really know that us atheists and agnostics even existed in the room.
19:52 John M: Well, okay, so here’s the deal, and this is just kind of an opinion deal. And I didn’t realize I was going to go this way, but it came to my mind, I just want to talk about it. And that is, I have heard… You hear this in the rooms, and you’ve been around long enough, and I’m sure you have heard this, right? And that is, people will say, “Well, there’s atheists and agnostics, and there’s people in the rooms, but, you know, I knew one a long time ago, and they didn’t have anything I want.” Right? Have you heard that before?
20:20 John S: Yes. Yes.
20:21 John M: And I always kind of cringe, right? Because here’s the deal, well, you can say that about people who are atheist, agnostic, but I know a lot of people who are atheists… Who are not atheists and agnostic, who don’t have anything on what I want. So, it kind of cuts both ways. And so… And I got to admit, when I found your podcast and started listening to it, and realized that there were… That there was a larger subculture than I even… Than I knew, I thought, “Well, this is great. I want these folks to have a place to go to, to feel comfortable, to feel safe, to be able to share, to be with people who are like-minded, and…
So, that’s the main reason I want to have you on my podcast, because I came here to you… The vast majority of the people that listen to my podcast are believers, if you will, but I want them to know… The ones who are not believers, I want them to know there’s another option out there, right? And you can plug in in different ways, and it’s all about carrying the message to the man and woman who still suffer, and getting them sober.
21:36 John S: For most of my time in AA, I just was very traditional. I don’t know what I believed, but I went through the motions and prayed, and everything like that, but I never knew about… That these agnostic meetings even existed, and they’ve been going on since 1975. So after about 25 years of sobriety, when I realized and accepted that I’m really an atheist, and tried to understand the program differently, and started expressing that, I was having some difficulty, and feeling not really comfortable, and that’s when I learned about these meetings.
It’s really amazing that, over the last, really, four or five years now, since 2014, the number of our meetings has been growing exponentially because we’re so well-connected on the internet, through this podcast, this site, AA Agnostica, other sites, Facebook. It’s just amazing how social media has helped kind of bring us together and help us organize a little bit.
22:30 John M: That’s it. And did you realize you were going to be… And I’m getting into questions I want to start asking you when you’re on my podcast, but I don’t mean to derail this, but did you realize you were going to be the leader of… Or one of the leaders of a movement, so to speak, when you started this?
22:47 John S: And I always feel comfortable hearing that, but I did not, no, I’ve never been. I’ve always been kind of a quiet person, I never thought I’d be doing a podcast. But what happened is I went to this conference in Santa Monica, California, of agnostics and atheists in AA, and it really made AA come to life for me again. And I met people, primarily, some great people up in Canada, and one of those people had a website, AA Agnostica, and he helped me a lot, and helped me start AA Beyond Belief. And a lot of other things are going on. I just ended up starting this podcast, about the time I started this website in September 2015, and it’s been amazing. But ask… One question I was going to ask you, how in the world did you ever get into podcasting? What made you do this?
23:38 John M: Right. And it’s almost like an accident. Now, see… And here’s the thing, I had… Okay, about this time last year, I went to a… We have a holiday party here for our AA group, and it was pretty big, and there were a lot of people there. And there was this one gentleman there, his name was, or still is, Alex, Alex Z. And Alex Z is one of these guys that… Absolutely love him. He’d been sober for, I think, a couple three years at that point, and he always sits in the back of the room, but it’s not really where he sits, it’s more of like when he gets called on, he would always have very short and abbreviated shares, or he would pass.
And Alex is a… He’s a Muslim, he’s from Iran, and so, I kind of cornered him… Both me and my wife cornered him at the Christmas party. And I said, “Alex, I want to know more about your story, and where you’re from, and what you have going on.” And he’s sort of telling me this story, and it involved… It was back… Remember the Iranian hostages and all that shit?
24:53 John S: Yeah.
24:54 John M: Well, he was living there then, and his father had to basically smuggle or come up with some sort of ruse to get the family out of the country, he had to pay a lot of money to do it. And he got them to Germany, and once they get to Germany, they didn’t know where they were going to go. Then he came to LA, and he had to read the quote ‘Persian version of The Big Book’. And all this stuff that he went through, I was like, “Alex, nobody knows any of this stuff.” And we’re on the way home, and my wife said to me, she said, “That could be a movie.” And I said, “That could be a… “
So, it was going through my head over the next couple of nights, of how can I get Alex… At first, I thought, well, maybe I should get him to go to groups to tell his story, but… But he’s kind of reserved, was just not one of these guys. And then I thought, how else could I do this? And I thought, what about a podcast? And then I go, podcast? I know nothing about podcasting. Why would I want to do a podcast?
25:54 John M: How do you… What do you do? You get a mic? And then how does it get out on the internet? And, as you know, there’s much more to this than meets the eye. I mean, it’s a… Especially when you’re first getting started, it’s like, “Oh my goodness.” You’re doing the best, pick up bits and pieces from there. But…
So, I started the podcast, and Alex is the second episode that I did. There was a guy that I grabbed out of my meeting one day, he was visiting from Mumbai, and it was like at the end of December. I said, “Hey, will you come over here? I’m trying to do something.” He said, “Sure, whatever.” And I recorded him, and I almost used it as a test, to put it out there. Didn’t know what I was doing, and I thought, “Oh, look, this publishes.” And then I said, “Okay, I’m going to get Alex in and do that.” And so, at that point… And then a buddy of mine said… He said you ought to do it once a week. Once a week? Are you kidding me? You know how much it took to get one thing published here? I’ll be once a month, if I’m lucky, but we just hit our… I noticed you just hit your 100th episode, which is fantastic, that is great. And we just hit my… We just hit the 50th episode.
27:04 John S: Oh goodness.
27:06 John M: So I kind of picked up the pace a little bit, and I was able to get quite a few published throughout the year. So, that’s what started it for me, and right now, I’m just kind of doing it one week at a time, see how it all goes.
27:18 John S: So tell me, has podcasting… Especially podcasting about recovery, has it changed you in any way?
27:26 John M: It has. As you know, John… Too many Johns here. As you know, John, John S, right? John S. As you know, John S, I’ve been to… Over my first four or five years, I was going to seven to 10 meetings a week. Now, I still go to six meetings a week. And you just hear, basically, the same thing, over and…
Now, in different ways, and you get to see more people recover, and it’s great to see the light come on for people, and work with different guys and such, but you need a little something to spice it up. In fact, I can tell you when things kind of go a little bit awry in our group, in other words, somebody says something they’re not supposed to say, or they break one of the traditions or something, I was like, “Oh good, a little bit of excitement here.”
28:20 John S: Right.
28:22 John M: But we had a guy come in the other day, he was sharing… Oh gosh, I can’t even say what he was sharing, it was so inappropriate, and we had to deal with that and such, but… And he was drunk and high. Nothing wrong with people being drunk and high, I mean. But, anyway, we had to take him outside, and somebody had a gun pulled, and all this sort of stuff.
28:39 John S: Oh crap.
28:40 John M: Yeah, so it makes it fun. But this has helped me to… How would I have met somebody like you? There’s a lot of people… I do a lot of remote interviews as well, so it’s really helped me to dig in a little bit, see things from a different perspective. I listen to other people’s podcasts, including yours, and yeah, but… And all the guests, right?
I mean, I knew these people… I know a lot of them, but for me to be able to sit down many times… I do a lot of in-studios, what I call it, podcasts, which basically means my guest bedroom with a mic up there. I do a lot of person… Eyeball-to-eyeball types of interviews. And a lot of these people I’ve known for a long time, and to hear them talk about things that I had no idea was going on in their life, or where they came from, it’s drawn me closer to each and every one of them.
29:39 John S: Something about going through the editing process of one of my interviews, that these people’s stories, they get sunk into me because I have to listen so carefully. I’ve learned to listen during the interview process, but also during the editing process. And I swear to God, every single story of every single person I’ve spoken to is still in my head. And I can tell you… Oh, someone might say, “So, what are agnostic meetings like in South Africa?” And I could tell you what’s going on over there. And I can tell you about Japan, and I can tell you about what’s going on in all these different places. And also, I’ve learned about how… Different approaches to the program, different approaches to… Or different thoughts on and experiences on the steps. And that’s helped me as well. So, yeah, it’s incredible.
30:25 John M: For sure.
30:26 John S: Yeah, the internet’s an amazing thing, how it’s opened up the world for us and connected us in so many ways.
30:32 John M: So John S, let me circle back to my mom there, because I always talk about her. And it’s always important to tell the other side of the story, so to speak. So she… Like I said, obviously, she had some pretty severe mental illness, and she used to… There’s a place here in Dallas, it’s in North Dallas, and she was basically kind of a… If you want to call it, a bag lady. She would walk the streets. She was very thin. She had dark jet black hair, which she would dye, and she would shave with a number two razor. And then she would wear all black clothes, and then she would walk the streets over there.
My friends would see her, they knew who she was. It would stand out. And I was trying to get on with my life. And, as you can imagine, it was… Somebody in their teens and early 20s, it was just embarrassing. And, so, I got on with my life, and there’s many different phases of this, but when I got sober, I had probably not seen her in two to three years. And I went up to my sponsor, the one I still have today, that I was telling you about, Mr. Bob, and I said, “Hey, Bob, I want to go out, and I want to make some amends to my mother. And he was just hesitant about this, but he said, “Okay, I will let you go, but on one condition, you keep your side of the street clean.”
31:55 John M: So, I went and I found her. I knew where she’d be walking in the streets, I saw her, and I yelled out to her from a distance. I said, “Mom, it’s me, it’s your son, Johnny.” She used to call me Johnny. And she looked at me… First, she didn’t recognize me, but then she kind of clued in on who I was, and she said, “I hate you. Get out of my life. I never want to see you again.” And she turned on her heels and she walked away. And so I went back to my sponsor.
Obviously, that didn’t go as I was hoping that it would go. I didn’t even really get to talk to her. And he said, “She’s emotionally unavailable. Just leave it alone and get on with your life.” So I went back to school, and no one in my family… I take that back. There’s one person on my dad’s side of the family who had graduated at one time, but nobody on my mother’s side ever even thought about graduating from college.
32:49 John M: So I went back and I got my degree, and now I’m going to fast-forward you about two years. And, one day, I’m driving down the highway, and I said to myself, “You know, it’s time. It’s time to go find her.” And I had my graduation announcements in my car, and I thought I’m going to give her a graduation announcement. Maybe, just maybe she’ll be proud of me now, you know. Our mommies and daddies, we always want their affection, no matter how off-kilter they are.
So, I went to go find her, and I went walking in those same streets because I had heard that she was still down in there. And I couldn’t find her. And so, I went to a couple of the stores, and I asked if they had seen her. They said, “You know, we see your mom here all the time, but it’s very interesting. She has not been here in a couple of weeks, and we don’t know where she is. You may want to check on her.” So I called around all the hospitals. One of the hospitals I call was Parkland.
33:47 John M: A lot of people in the nation know Parkland is the place where John F. Kennedy died, it’s the city hospital in Dallas. And so I called down there, and they said, “Well, we can’t confirm or deny that she is still… That she is here, but if we are able to, we’ll call you back. They called me back, I think, it was less than a week or so. I get confused with some of the time. But they called back, and they said, “She is here, she’s confirmed that it is okay to reach out to her. Would you like to come in and visit her?” So I said… So I had to think about it, but I went down to the hospital. And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the film ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, it literally looked like that. This was a… Basically, a state psychiatric ward. And I went in there, and there were people wandering around aimlessly. My mom was there. She was sitting at a table. She was 76, 78 pounds, at the time, and she looked over the window behind her, told me that she was thinking about throwing herself out that window. And after we had a little bit of a conversation, I was able to… I was just talking to her and tell her about my life, and she said to me… She said to me, John… And it’s something I never heard her say in her life before. She said, “You are different.”
35:09 John M: “For you, John, is it that God that you talk about?” And I said, “I believe so, mom. I think it is.” And I said to her, “Listen, I don’t know what it was between me and you, but whatever it was, it’s not with me anymore. And I want you to be happy, and joyous, and free. And I don’t know how you’re going to get there, but I’m hoping that you will somehow, some way, be able to find peace in your life.” And so, we went on from there, and she got out of the hospital.
By the way, I found out when she was there, they had used her, I call it, like a guinea pig. And this is nothing against the hospital, but they would bring her in before the classes, she was there on a free ride, I guess, and they would have people study her and ask her questions. They hooked her up to machines, studied her brain, because she was very interesting to them, and they wanted to figure out what got her to where she was.
She was not in good shape. So she got out of the hospital, they got her on some medicine. I, at the beginning, was unable to have contact with her just because I was concerned about some of the volatility of our relationship, but as time went on, lo and behold, she started to get better.
36:25 John M: And she started to see things in a different way. We were able to have more frequent visits. We started a relationship. She kept on her medicine. She was doing much better. She started to eat, I wouldn’t say like a normal person, but she gained weight back, she didn’t look… She didn’t look like she was about to have… She didn’t look like she had one foot in the grave. And she started to work, and there was a lot of things that she started to do. In fact, one year that she got… Her sister, my aunt gave her a car, and she got some false teeth, and she got some new glasses, and she said that was the best year of her entire life. And so, it’s all perspective.
37:05 John S: Wow.
37:07 John M: So, that went on for probably eight years or so, eight to 10 years. And then, one time, we were living in the same city, and I got a call from her one night, and she said, “There’s something going on with my stomach.” And so I went and I picked her up, and I took her to the emergency room, and she seemed to be doing okay. They got her stabilized. And she was there for a couple of days, and I was kind of going in and out. And she was a tough, very tough Scottish lady, and she was in a lot of pain on the second day.
I was calling the doctor, and I said to the doctor, I said, “Hey, listen, she is in a lot of pain. You have got to come help us out.” And he didn’t come quick enough. And I went into her room, and I put my hand down, and I held her hand. And she smiled at me, and then her little eyes rolled up into the back of her head. And I went out to get a nurse. They hit something, it was called a code blue. I had never experienced anything like that. There was like 15 or so medics of different types that came running into the room, and they tried to save her.
38:21 John M: My wife called me. And I was sitting there, watching all this. I picked up the cell phone, while I’m watching it, and my wife said, “I think I have found somebody to help your mom.” And I said, “It’s too late. I’m watching her die right in front of me.” And they came out and they told me that she had passed. And I was the one who gave the eulogy, John, for her funeral. And I could tell you that I felt grief, grief, grief beyond any… I didn’t even know grief like that was possible. And I can say that when I went in there, and I gave the eulogy, I said, “I felt tons of things this week, but none of them was regret.” And I’ll just close it out with this, at least the story about her, and just saying that all those years we were separated, I used to go in and look at all these Mother’s Days cards, and I would look at them, and absolutely none of them worked. I hated Mother’s Day.
39:25 John M: And I would think, I just need a blank card to send, or… Just to say ‘Happy Mother’s Day. Love, John’, or ‘Johnny’, and… But during those years we had back together, so to speak, I remember walking into the drug store to pick up a Mother’s Day card, and every single one of them worked. And when she died, and I was over there, cleaning out her apartment, she had a shoebox, and she had saved every single one of those Mother’s Day cards…
39:58 John S: Aww, that’s sweet.
40:00 John M: Written to her. So… And the whole… As that relates to recovery, I just want to say, in Alcoholics Anonymous, from my perspective, it’s a process, right? You get in, and you follow the process. And this is nothing that I was looking for, and you don’t know what is going to come of the process. But the idea is that you just get in and you follow. Whether you’re doing it from a atheist, agnostic perspective, a free thinker perspective, or a believer perspective, the idea is just to follow the process. And there’s a lot of unintended consequences, both good and bad, that will come from that. And I never know exactly what it’s going to be.
40:47 John S: I think that… I think, to a large extent, recovery, for me, has been about those hard times, not drinking no matter what, and coming out on the other side to see what happens, and I’m often surprised. Like that story, had you gone back out drinking, you never would have had that experience, that reconciliation experience with your mother, and seen that part of her.
I’ve got a similar situation with my younger brother, he’s got schizoaffective disorder, and he’s homeless, down in Florida. And, for the longest time, he was in jail. And so, around Thanksgiving, I thought, “You know, I might see if the jail will let me talk to him. And it turned out that he was released, and then he was arrested again and released, for like… When you’re homeless, you… Sometimes people get into like abandoned homes and stuff, and the police will arrest them for whatever.
41:42 John S: So anyway… But I’m not even at the point where I would… I’m even thinking about escaping that, or drinking, but if I were to drink that, I’m never going to know how this turns out. And the way that I’m dealing with it, there’s a certain amount of detachment, because when someone’s mentally ill, there’s not a lot you can do to help them until they get to a point where you can prove they’re a danger to themselves or others.
So there’s not a lot I can do, but I think sometimes, you know, I just have to believe that there’s somebody down there in Florida who might be able to reach him some day, and maybe I’ll have an experience like you did with your mother. All these things are possible. As long as we… As long as we keep putting one foot in front of the other, not drink. God, it’s really the program that has enabled me to learn how to deal with these things, to learn how to detach when I need to, and to get involved when I need to. Not easy to know how to do sometimes.
42:40 John M: No, it’s not. Speaking of the process, I remember another thing that really came out of doing the steps, for me, is that I used to have these movies that would play in my head, you know, from some sorted spaces that I had been in when I was drinking, and they started to get to where those movies would play more often, and they would come up in inopportune times. And when they would come up, I was developing like this twitch, if you will, to almost like a Tourette syndrome type of a twitch, it would just take me, and it was… I couldn’t stop the twitch once it began, and the movies began to play. And sometimes, I was in a business situation, or I was talking to a family member or a friend, I wish it was just always when I was at home. And so I went through the fourth and fifth step, and I remember, at the end… One time, after I’d done that fifth step…
When I had done that fifth step, the first time, it was about a month later, a couple of months later, and I wasn’t thinking about not having the movies play anymore, it wasn’t even on my radar, but, all of a sudden, I said, “You know what? Those movies aren’t playing in my head anymore. And, if they do play, I don’t shudder over them, and I don’t have twitches over them.” And so, that’s just one of those unintended consequences that comes from just getting in and following the process.
44:11 John S: That’s right. And, you know, what I’ve learned over time too is the steps have taken on different meanings for me, at different times, and that it’s been a real evolution. So there’s a certain richness, I think, in the whole process, because it can be tailored to whatever is going on in your life at the time. In the early days of my recovery, it was all about not taking that first drink, and then it was about rebuilding my life.
44:40 John S: It’s just amazing, so… And so, when I’m in meetings today, I’m so much more relaxed when I’m listening to a newcomer. I think, when I was like two or three years sober, I’d get a little nervous or anxious if somebody wasn’t having this very same experience that I was. But now, I’m like, “Well, that’s cool, I’ve been there before too.” So, it’s kind of fun to see how those steps can be tailored to whatever is going on at that particular time. So, yeah, it is pretty cool.
I don’t go to very many meetings anymore, where there are believers. I do get connected to people in AA that go to, I guess, traditional meetings, and so forth, through the service structure. I’m really involved with general service, and I really enjoy that, so I go to my district in my area. And, by doing that, I get to know people in other groups, and speak at their meetings, and so forth, and work with them on things involved with the area in the district, and I really enjoy that.
45:45 John S: But I should really make an effort to try to reach out more by going to some of these meetings and letting them know. There’s a discussion about that within our community, because we have… We do have these special interest groups for a reason, but some people feel like it’s kind of dangerous for us to be siloed like this, and that maybe we should try to build bridges a little bit, and connect with others, and go to these meetings and let… Because they’re never going to really get to know you, unless you start talking to them.
46:12 John M: That’s true. That’s why I want to have you on my podcast as well, right? Like I said, it is… I’m repeating myself now, but, like I said, I have listened to many of your podcasts, and it is… I’m telling you, there’s a ton more similarities than there are differences, just a ton more.
46:36 John S: It’s just a matter of not… For anyone, whether you be an atheist or a believer, is to just allow people to be whoever they are, and whatever they want to use to get sober, I support that. Whatever works for that person is what I support.
46:57 John M: That’s right.
46:58 John S: It’s nice of you to come on. I don’t get to speak with very many other podcasters. And that’s something that I would like to start doing more of as well, because it’s a really… It is kind of a unique experience, especially podcasting about recovery issues and so forth. So, it was like, “Oh man, it was so nice to be able to talk to someone who has that experience.”
47:23 John M: I agree. And likewise, my friend.
47:26 John S: Have you ever gotten to a point… You’ve done 50 of these. Have you ever gotten to a point where it’s just kind of hard to do? Or has it just, so far, just been like… You’re just compelled to do.
47:39 John M: No, no. There have been some efforts where… Some weeks where it’s much more laborious than others. I don’t mind the recording piece. That, to me, is… It brings me energy. But sometimes… This is an avocation for me, this is not my vocation, right? I’m sure… I think I’ve heard you talk about… I have a very much full-time job that I’m taking care of during the week.
48:05 John S: Yeah, same here.
48:05 John M: And so there are times where… It comes on a weeknight, or the weekend, and I’d rather be watching a football game. Or I can do both of those at the same time, but I’d rather be just relaxing, doing something else.
48:21 John S: Right.
48:21 John M: And so, the editing part, and that getting it published part, and making sure all the sound is right, and it just takes a little while, but…
48:32 John S: And the sound quality of your podcast, by the way, is superb, really, really well done.
48:37 John M: Well, thanks. Yours too.
48:39 John S: But, yeah… I’m working on it, but, yeah, that is the thing too, for me, it’s when I… Like this conversation with you, it’s very energizing, I love this. What could be better than to sit down and talk with an AA person? I’m sitting here with a cup of coffee, a flask of water, enjoying the conversation. I love it. And it’s like the best meeting that I will have all week.
49:01 John M: Yeah, yeah. I get it.
49:02 John S: But then the part of the editing, though… Yeah, because I can spend… I can spend… It kind of depends, but I can spend about four or six hours, sometimes, because I get a little ridiculous about trying to really smooth things out as best I can, leaving just the right ums and ahs in, to make it natural, and it’s just…
49:19 John M: Right, I understand.
49:21 John S: And some require more work than others, because I do most of these by Skype. And sometimes the connection and the sound quality isn’t all that great, and I really have to do my best to try to enhance that, and…
49:33 John M: Yeah, like I have a mic, but I’m sure not a lot of your… At least, in my world, they’re using their earbuds and…
49:42 John S: Exactly.
49:42 John M: They don’t quite know how to get set up to where you have as good a quality of sound as possible. And then, there’s sometimes a lot of pauses, and you have to go up, and you kind of edit out some of the pauses, and, like you said, the ums and all that sort of stuff, but I’m sure people are completely bored with this, but I’m having a fun time talking to you about it.
50:01 John S: Well, I love it. But, yeah… And so, I went through… This time, I was like, I was really doing really well. I was like… Every single week. But, in August, I stopped. And what happened is I went off to this convention, that… We have these secular AA conventions like every two years. And this year, we… This time we had it in Toronto, Canada, just really wonderful.
My wife and I, we drove up there from Kansas City, and just had a wonderful time up there, but it kind of got me off of my rhythm, and I had a couple of these recorded, that I still needed to go back to edit. But something happened when I came back, I kind of hit a wall, I kind of got a little bit depressed, I guess, and I would go to edit a podcast, and I just couldn’t do it. It was this… Like the biggest effort, and I just didn’t think I was ever going to break out of it. And the funny thing was it happened after episode 99. And so, people would write me, and they said, “Are you just going to stop at 99?”
51:03 John S: So anyway… So then I reached out to my friend, Benn, Benn B from Omaha Now. And I’ve done a lot of podcasts with him. And I said, “I just need to break out of this. Let’s just record one together and just help me break out of this.” So I had a really nice talk with him.
51:22 John M: Is Omaha Now a secular podcast?
51:26 John S: Yeah, he’s from Omaha. He doesn’t do a podcast or anything. He does podcasts with me, he was like a co-host for a long, long time. We went through the steps together through our podcast. And those are real popular episodes, by the way. And he’s just a really good friend. We’ve done other podcasts together, where we talk about a movie related to recovery, things like that. But, yeah, he’s just a really good friend. He’s somebody I can reach out to whenever things are getting kind of crazy. And that’s what I did with him.
So, actually, I’m going to put that… That conversation is going to become a podcast. I don’t know how great it’s going to be, because it was really me reaching out to Benn for help, with getting out of this rut that I was in. But it helped, it worked, it got me out of it. And I’m back at it. So, yeah. So thank you, thank you so much for contacting me and educating me about your podcast. I’ve enjoyed the episodes that I’ve listened to, and I encourage all of the listeners here at AA Beyond Belief to check it out, Sober Speak, it’s a great podcast. And look forward to appearing on your show.
52:31 John M: We’ll talk about a schedule right after we’re done here.
52:34 John S: Sounds good. Thanks for watching.
52:35 John M: You’re welcome.
52:50 John S: Well, that concludes another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast. Thank you for listening, everybody. We’ll be back again next week with another episode. Thank you, John M, from Sober Speak, for participating this week. If you want to learn more about John and his podcast, Sober Speak, visit the website soberspeak.com, that’s soberspeak.com.
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