As summer ended and I was moving into the farmhouse in Ivyland with George and Al, my job at the Fort Dix Laundry ended. It was just a summer gig. Somehow, I wound up working for an outfit selling lama-skin leather tote bags. I was desperate for work, and it was a job. It lasted all of 3 days.
I had a trunk full of bags and and was driving down into Philadelphia trying to sell them. I was getting ready to set up on a corner when two guys mugged me, making off with half my merchandise. That was the end of my career as a salesman. Like my father before me, I learned that I wasn’t cut out for sales.
I liked the people interaction part, but not the pressure to sell something to people. I guess it didn’t help that I’d always had a natural aversion to sales people, myself. I don’t want you to try to sell me something. If I want something, I’ll go out and buy it. So, I could never buy into the mindset that one needs to have to convince someone else that they really need and want what I have to sell.
Next, I got a job at Alside Supply, driving a truck, delivering Aluminum and Steel Siding, roofing materials, and kitchen cabinets all over the Delaware Valley. It was back-breaking work, as I’d have to load and unload the truck myself, and then drive all over making the deliveries. But, it still beat the hell out of sales. My most memorable day on that job came when I heard on my truck’s radio, as I made my way back to Bucks County from West Chester, PA, that John Lennon had been killed. What a dark day in December that was!
Work on the Book
When we’d first moved into the farmhouse, George had gone off to a Literature Conference in Lincoln, Nebraska, but I’d had to stay back and work. There were a couple of conferences that Fall and Winter, the other being in Memphis, Tennessee, as work on the book continued at a feverish pace. I could never make it to the conferences, but they kept sending me piles of material to type up and edit, and I continued spending much of my free time typing on my old Underwood manual typewriter. Sometimes, I even had the luxury of being able to see what I was typing, when I could afford a ribbon for the typewriter!
There were all these people that I was getting to know from all over the country, who I’d never met. We’d write back and forth, and talk on the phone. Unbeknownst to me, this was building up this legend around me, which Bo and others I knew were apparently fanning, that I wouldn’t even know about until I finally made it out to a conference, myself.
Back to School
I finally went back to college on the GI Bill that January (1981) as Al pushed me to enroll at Bucks County Community College. I majored in Journalism, and took several writing classes, in addition to Theater, Psychology and History. It was very strange, being a 26 year-old veteran in classes with all these mostly 18 and 19 year olds. I quit the full time truck driving job, and picked up whatever jobs I could get and still have time to study and go to classes. I wound up being a “pack-out” man for Canada Dry, driving around to Super Markets all over Bucks County, putting all of their Canada Dry stock up on the shelves. I would drive like a maniac, as the more I got done in a day, the more I got paid.
By the time March rolled around, someone said I had to go out to celebrate my one year anniversary clean, on the 17th. It was hard to believe I’d been able to do all the things I’d done during that year. I felt like I’d been around forever! It felt stupid and empty to me to celebrate it, though. It bothered me, and I never knew why.
I only celebrated these “clean-time” anniversaries my first 3 years, and each time, they were the worst days of those years. After that, I just stopped counting time, especially when I realized time had nothing to do with recovery — of course, that would be later.
With the rapid growth of the program, there was always work to be done, and I was always working on something. There was a whirlwind of activity going on all around me, and I was right at the epi-center of that storm.
I was growing increasingly concerned over my lack of any kind of a spiritual basis to my life, though. My family became very concerned for my health. They could see that I was running myself right into the ground. I had merely traded one addiction for another — I’d become a full-blown workaholic, never being comfortable or content unless I was working on something, and as I’d always had, I had a very broad capacity and band-width for work. But, I was trying hard to strike a balance between my program activities, and my attention to other aspects of life.
Getting Talked into going to Ohio
In June, the Second East Coast Convention was held at Trenton State University in New Jersey. Hundreds of addicts showed up from all over the east coast, reflecting N.A.’s rapid recent growth. I kept a very low profile at the convention, trying to get that balance thing going.
There was a big, week-long Literature Conference scheduled to take place out in Warren, Ohio, the following week, that was all the buzz at the convention. Now that my first semester of college was over, I was working full time, trying to catch up on a shitload of bills that were piling up. It was a constant struggle just to keep my nose above water.
George was no longer living with us, so Al and I were having to split the rent two ways instead of 3. Al somehow talked me into blowing my job off and and driving out to the Literature Conference. It was about an 8 hour drive. We hit the road late in the afternoon and drove straight through, arriving late in the evening at the school building where we would all work, eat and sleep for the entire week we worked on the book, there.
Being an Instrument
I hadn’t previously been to one of these conferences — now, I understood why George loved to go to them. Apparently, I had developed a bit of a reputation among the folks who’d been going to the previous conferences, and it was like everyone there already knew me. Many deferred to me as one of the writers. I knew that all I’d really done was compile and edit a whole lot of the material, some of which I’d written, but I certainly never considered myself to be “one of the writers”. I was just intensely committed to the idea of an N.A. Big Book, by addicts, for addicts seeking recovery, and I had an unreal capacity for getting the critical typing and editing work done.
It was an incredibly intense week. I got very little sleep. There was work going on practically around the clock, somewhere in that large school building, the whole week, and if there was something going on, I just felt like I had to be a part of it.
The most amazing thing to me was the electric typewriters! I’d never tried one of them before. It was a beautiful thing to behold. I got behind one of those babies, and they couldn’t pull me away. I was a mad typing demon that whole week.
I’d never felt such a deep kinship with a group of people like I did with these people. It felt like we were part of something so very much larger than our individual selves. I felt like I was living the part of the Prayer of St. Francis that said, “”let me be an instrument”. Sitting behind that electric typewriter (a correcting selectric!), I very much felt like I was an instrument, a very efficient instrument, of some kind of a loving force. I could see each and every one of those 75 or so addicts that swarmed all about that place for 8 days as being an instrument, in each his or her own way, of this incredibly powerful force that kept us bonded together at this compelling task.
The Gray Book and the Approval Form
We were working on a draft of the book, which was referred to as the “Gray Book”, which had been sent out to every known group in the world for review and to submit comments on, 3 months before that. There were 605 groups in N.A. at that time. We were incorporating the thousands of comments and edits that had come in from that review, through the tried and true “cut and paste” method”, to eventually develop what was now being called the Basic Text for Recovery.
We felt like we were getting close to having the work done, but there would be one more conference that fall, in Miami, to complete the work. The final product, called the Approval Form, would then be sent out for review and approval by the entire fellowship. That mailing went to 1820 groups. The fellowship had TRIPLED in size in less than one year’s time.
Our Book in Ohio
On the long drive home from the historic conference, I wrote these lyrics to Neil Young’s “Ohio”, which I would later play and sing at the 4th East Coast Convention at Lehigh University:
Drug addicts are all uniting,
We’ve finally found a home
This summer I’ve seen them writing
Our book in Ohio
Gotta get down to it,
Drugs have been cutting us down
Now we have found recovery!
Jails, Institutions, and Death have been our “town”
Now, we can say, “C’est La Vie, (mother f***er)!”
The rest of the summer would be taken up by my continued efforts to find a balance in my life, which was really difficult without any real spiritual basis to how I was living. I started seriously searching for that, reading spiritual books, trying to learn how to meditate, and trying to figure out some way to just get comfortable in my own skin, which I was still so far from being.
Originally published at cowbird.com.