Jim’s Chair

After years of adhering to the traditional extemporaneous style commonly used by AA speakers, I decided to take a different approach this time. I chose to compose and edit my speech in advance of the meeting.

Although my delivery might have seemed a bit stiff and could have benefited from more rehearsal to appear more spontaneous, I am quite satisfied with the content I shared.

An additional benefit of this method is that, since the speech was pre-composed, I can share it online. This allows those who were unable to attend to experience it as well. I hope it serves as an inspiration.

Good evening. My name is Jim Stalker, and yes, I am an alcoholic.

I stand before you, a patchwork of many things, warmed by familiar faces and stories that resonate with the hum of our shared journey. A special thanks to David for inviting me to share a slice of my AA odyssey with you tonight.

Gratitude hardly captures the essence of what AA has bestowed upon me. Perfection is not the prize here; it’s about evolving into the best version of ourselves. And today, and I say this with humility, I’m the most authentic Jim I’ve ever been. I am also the happiest and most energetic Jim I’ve ever been. 

If you’re on the fence about this path, let me offer my story as a beacon of hope. Long-term sobriety is a gift everyone deserves to unwrap. As many of you long timers know, it is a gift that keeps giving regardless of what life presents.

My Backstory

Rewind 21 years, and you’ll find me, my wife Annette, and our newborn Riley, trading the temperate embrace of Redondo Beach for the scorching embrace of Roseville. Why, you ask? That question still dances around our dinner table, its answer as elusive as ever.

My sober roots took hold in the South Bay of LA. For those unfamiliar the South Bay is made up of the mostly coastal cities south of LAX, like Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, and Palos Verdes. This mélange of indistinct cities, middle class incomes, and total lack of diversity earned the South Bay the nickname the “Orange County of LA.”

My high school years in Palos Verdes, set against a backdrop of insanely great music, mediocre marijuana, and constant mayhem, somehow concluded with a diploma, despite my relentless efforts to achieve the opposite through a haze of intoxication.

Junior College was my next ill-fated stop, followed by a near-miss at a degree from UCSB—just 12 units shy, thanks to a two-quarter tailspin fueled by alcohol.

In those pre-background check days, a fabric of lies covered the holes in my story, complete with a faux graduation party that even my parents attended.

Hitting Bottom

But that wasn’t rock bottom—not yet. I still had to travel to Aspen CO to take my addictions even further. Apparently, I needed to have MDMA be part of my story.  Humiliatingly this chapter ended with me begging my mother for a pad to crash at while I “sorted things out.”

On my mom’s couch I was still hopeless, lost, and confused. What happened to me, I thought. I had all that potential! Now I couldn’t even land a minimum wage job.

Then I had what Jules in Pulp Fiction called “what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity”, at a Thursday night meeting in the Neighborhood Church in Palos Verdes. A stranger spoke of making amends, and a light flickered on inside me. I think it was hope. I hadn’t felt that in a while.

The Last Best Hope – AA

I was then just a couple days sober but was clearheaded enough to think, “AA can help me reboot my life.” And, I better not screw this up like everything else. AA seemed like my last best hope. Not a minute too soon either.  

The South Bay Trudgers took me in, and I was marinated in classic AA culture—meetings, post-meeting coffee runs, and the relentless nudge towards the steps.

To the outside world, my life was in disarray. Crowned the ‘king’ of the Carson Palms, a cash-only motel promising nothing beyond a roof, I was shadowed by debt and the concept of steady employment was as distant as a mirage. It sucked.

Yet, through this, I found my stride in meetings, chipping away at the steps, until life began to shift.

An old timer at meeting, one of those who is always sharing, said, “Doing a Fifth Step was a catharsis!” Adding, “for those who don’t know –a catharsis is like taking an inside shower!” Calm down Rachid, we know what a catharsis is.

I knew what he was talking about but for me it was the ninth step where I felt everything turn.

Transformation

Soon afterward those elusive 12 units were completed, a salaried job materialized, and unexpectedly, a company car. My address changed to a condo beside the Harbor Freeway that seemed like a huge step up from the Carson Palms. That deafening sound? We called it our ocean, but make no mistake—it was a freeway.

AA stayed my constant as life’s tapestry grew richer. Service positions, countless meetings, and a litany of blunders didn’t deter my ascent. Then love entered the equation, followed by a house, a dog, a child, and the impulsive leap to Gold Country.

The transition wasn’t seamless. The AA here didn’t fit my LA mold and expectations. The clipboard was foreign, and calling on numbers rather than people to share didn’t seem smart. Apologies to those remember me then not noticing the “work in progress sign” my neck.

But kindness from the AA people bridged the divide. A men’s meeting at Kaiser became my anchor, and there I met my sponsor of 17 years—a bond that time has only strengthened.

Friendships in AA have been my wealth, and I stand before you, a retired man living a life of choice, all thanks to the foundation of AA and the gift of sobriety.

Two Nuggets of Wisdom

After attending thousands of meetings across 36 years of sobriety, I offer you these two nuggets of wisdom:

First, cultivate curiosity. Curiosity is a trait that’s served me since my childhood, leading me to a Philosophy degree, A master’s degree in communication and into the depths of AA. Curiosity spurred countless questions, deepened my understanding, and left me at peace with our program and the contradictions and challenges one might expect from something created over 80 years ago.

Writing has been a keen ally for me in this quest for understanding, and I know many of you share the enthusiasm for discovery that comes through journaling.

Second, I would encourage you to embrace the AA adage, to “Keep coming back.” It’s as simple as abstinence, but a bit more profound, as it holds the promise of untold treasures just around life’s bend.

In recent years, I’ve seen myself anew, seeking to let go rather than control, to support rather than criticize, and as a result have calmed down and making many new and surprising friends.

All of this serves as a reminder that my knowledge is but a drop in the vast ocean of life. And everything can change.

And, One Last Thing

And what, in the end, do I really know? I always ask myself this. Here I borrow from Winston Churchill’s who described Russia as ‘a riddle wrapped in mystery inside an enigma.” Sort of captures it.  The Big Book, too, a bit more directly, we realize we know only a little.

Just as I stood before you tonight, a patchwork of stories and experiences, I leave you with the essence of our shared journey in AA. It’s about the evolution, not the perfection, and it’s about the collective strength we find in the stories we share and the steps we take.

Steve Jobs once urged us to ‘Stay Hungry. Be Foolish.’ For us, it’s about staying curious and embracing the path of continuous growth. So, as I began this evening by thanking David for inviting me to speak, I end by thanking each of you, for it’s in your presence that I’m reminded of our most valuable lesson: ‘Stay Curious and keep coming back.’

Together, we are the most authentic versions of ourselves. Thank you.