Brenda J is from west Texas, with a sobriety day of July 3, 1990
“When we come to those days…when we come to those days where we don’t know if there are better days ahead of us – that’s what it’s like to live without hope. And one of the things that I do every day is I get up and hand out bushels and bushels and bushels of hope.”
We all, each of us alcoholics, reach a point where we need just one thing. HOPE. We need to know there is another way than the despair and isolation and fear of sitting with that drink.
For me, the moment came on January 2nd, 2019. I came out of my latest spree on a cross-country flight from South Carolina to Portland Oregon, not sure why I was even on the plane. On New Year’s Eve I had awakened sometime after midnight, in the New Year, once again passed out in my chair, an empty drink glass beside me, the lights off, and my partner in bed. Dammit…I asked her to not leave me that way, to awaken me and not just let me sit slumped there in the dark…but in her disgust, she did leave me there in the dark and alone every time I passed out.
So right then I grabbed my computer and booked a flight to Oregon for a day later to see my sister. She couldn’t treat me this way. I needed to be in my home state.
But…why am I going there? Why am I on this plane? I had no idea.
The idea came to me on that plane that finally, this time, I needed to stop drinking once and for all. In my 60s, retired, had two divorces, many more broken relationships and friendships, and two careers behind me.
With my one brief foray into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous 20 years behind me, I had no options left.
I arrived at my sister’s in the early evening. She had just a few ounces from a bottle of red wine, left from a friend’s Christmas visit. I drank that, set the glass down, and said goodbye, I hoped, to the drink. But I had no hope that I could really quit. I would have gone to get more but her home is far out in the country, it was dark and the roads were treacherous. I gutted out the night in her guest room.
The next day I found a list of Salem Oregon AA meetings online and drove to one – but I couldn’t get out of the car. Getting out of the car meant finally admitting that I was powerless, that I couldn’t do it on my own. I knew I was powerless – but I couldn’t admit it to anyone else. I didn’t have any hope and was so weary of this life.
So I looked for one of those (then) new apps on my phone – a podcast player. And I found Sober Speak. On the list of episodes there was one from a few weeks ago – “Brenda J—Do Not Be Discouraged” Well…too late for that…I’m discouraged as hell, 2000 miles from home, in my sister’s bedroom, and embarrassed to even call home. I have no hope.
So I listened…
…and I found hope, thanks to God, reintroduced
to me by Brenda J
“There has always been something profoundly beautiful and precious about the little kid and the woman that God created me to be. And when I was in my active alcoholism that was the thing that I was afraid I was going to lose. That I was going to lose my own light, my own voice, my own way, my own experience. I thought that alcohol would take that because it had taken everything else.”
“I was 12 or 13 when I took my first drink, and I sobered up when I was 24. And people were like “God! You barely got a chance to drink!” And for a long time I would say “yeah, so unfair, right?” But I had been at it for 12 years. And I drank every drop I needed to, to help me to my knees. And I have worked every step and told every truth that I needed to in Alcoholics Anonymous to help me to my feet.”
“The greatest act of courage I engage in every day is to surrender my life to God.”
“(To the newcomer) I’m not afraid to tell you how good it gets here. I’m here to tell you that you may not have money, not have that great job, and yet be completely whole, and be completely happy, and be completely full of love. It is good here.”
Brenda J’s talk is so content-rich, so full of wisdom, that to continue quoting all I love about her talk I would just have to transcribe it. And I don’t want to take from you the experience of hearing her wisdom, in her own voice, for yourself for the very first time.
This podcast touches on:
- Early childhood trauma and family memories. Saying goodbye when the time comes.
- Coming into the AA room for the very first time
- Being a newly sober young Latin woman in a room of older sober white women – not fitting in, skittish and afraid, feeling out of place till she found her grace
- Getting in touch with your feelings after getting sober
- Accidentally reading the 3d step prayer – opening the door to her Higher Power
- Working with a sponsor (I love the humor in her descriptions, don’t miss this!)
- The big slump Brenda J experienced at 12 years in the program (Bob B, episode 193, also talks on this extensively and calls it his “second surrender”)
- Working with the newcomer
- Experiencing the steps means learning to trust God
- The Big Book is the treasure map, God is the treasure. Don’t get confused by the map readers!
- Turning Points as an alcoholic, and turning points in Alcoholics Anonymous
- Being discouraged, living without hope, and finding hope in the program of AA
- Some people use the AA tools (books and language) as weapons to beat up other people – don’t let them do it to you
- Religion and how we should experience the results of God in our lives
- The blessings of God start with sobriety, but there is so much more
What I have NOT described here is Brenda’s beautiful and wry sense of humor, her impeccable timing in taking the listener close to tears, and then making us laugh out loud.
Because I don’t want to steal her lines. You are welcome, Brenda.
I don’t listen to Brenda’s talk too often. I’m a proud old man. I’ve had two successful careers, traveled the world, spoken with authority to people there to hear my wisdom, and was there to do what I said because I was a man of authority. And all of that as an active alcoholic.
And listening to Brenda J takes me back to a cold rental car parked outside of a church activity building on a rainy January day in Salem Oregon.
Looking through the raindrops on the windshield with tears in my eyes as I watch the people go in the door, and so afraid to just get out of the car and walk to the door and go in. No hope.
But I listen to the rest of what Brenda says, and I laugh, and I cry, and I remember my turning point: Listening to Brenda J, and driving back to that place, and parking, and with some fear but with a little hope, I go to the door, open it and walk inside.
I’ve got some time in this program now, and I’ve got a sponsor, and I’ve worked my steps, and I’ve walked into a lot of AA meetings. I’m always excited to go – it always feels like going home.
And I’ve learned a new meaning of the word HOPE – Hear Other People’s Experiences
And thanks to Brenda, and thanks to AA, and thanks to John M, and thanks to Sober Speak, and mostly thanks to my God, I now have bushels and bushels and bushels of hope.
Jim S. lives in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, and is always happy to talk to anyone seeking the hope that Alcoholics Anonymous provides. He may start a Brenda J fan club. His home group is Downtown in the Morning, in nearby Greenville, South Carolina.