John Shaifer, His Life in the Program (continued)

John S. on the Twelve Steps

I realize tonight that I'm an admitted alcoholic: I have accepted the fact that I can't drink; I have accepted the fact that my life is unmanageable unless I let God help me manage my life. I was at a meeting this morning and they were talking about motives, and one guy spoke about the Four Absolutes: Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness, and Absolute Love. And you know, I fall short after thirty-eight years?

The first step, ladies and gentlemen, is the only step that I have been able to maintain perfection, a day at a time. Now some of you might be new: I got news for you, when I get up in the morning, I'm new on this program. See, I don't have it made; I'm still striving for perfection. I'm a hundred per cent better tonight, than I was [back in 1960 on that] Wednesday, which was the 16th of September, [when] I went back to my group, the Midtown Group. I'm a hundred per cent better as far as character is concerned.

But I still don't have it made. It all depends upon my maintenance today, whether or not I'll be sober tomorrow. I know I'll be sober, but what I'm speaking about is my spirituality. I fall short of the mark: if I was satisfied, I wouldn't be here tonight. I'm still active in the program; I'm still active in service work. I usually make maybe two or three of the general assembly meetings in the state. I'm a GSR -- I guess I've been GSR about eighteen times, treasurer about ten times, secretary about eighteen times, chairman about eighteen times. But I'm still learning; I'm still trying to master this program.

Your second step, "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." I might fly off the handle twice a year. That's good, for me, 'cause I used to fly off the handle every day, three or four times a day. I have to be awful particular as far as my association is concerned. Most of my friends are sober people. About the only people that I associate with in the morning, at McDonald's, at 5:30 in the morning, is about nine guys I meet, and out of the nine, it's three of us on the program, but [the other six] don't know it. See what I mean? And when they get to talking off the wall, well we look at each other.

Your third step, "Made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as we understood him." I make decisions every day, with God's help. I have a program. I plan my program tonight before I go to bed, what I shall do. But I know sometimes, my higher power will intervene, and I recognize that -- see, I used to get angry -- I recognize that, and I take it with a grain of salt.

They'll tell you, don't make any major decisions your first year on the program, and I kind of agree with that. I like what my sponsor told me. He said, "Lot of people come in the program and they start talking about relationships." Well, he told me, says "Your first relationship . . . you already married, John . . . your first relationship should be with your higher power, getting to know him better." See, that's where so many young people relapse. They looking for a relationship, and both of you stoned as hell, your mind is pickled! [Laughter] I don't know about you, but it took me three years to get some sense up here -- three years around the program before I really understood what you meant about the steps.

And like I said, I work one, two, and three every morning. I ask God to
Guide my faltering footsteps,
       And don't let me fall.
Be patient with me,
       Because this way of life is steep to me.
But if I keep my feet till evening time,
       Night will bring rest.
Then stronger grown,
       Tomorrow climb with a newer zest,
with the help of the higher power.
  See and then the inventory step: I was rather fortunate, I took steps four and five with Father John Doe. I made about fifteen of his retreats down at Gethsemane in Kentucky. A wonderful priest.  

  Father John Doe was Ralph Pfau (Nov. 10, 1904–Feb. 19, 1967), the first Roman Catholic priest to get sober in A.A., the author of the Golden Books, and one of the four most widely-read A.A. authors. Father Ralph got sober in Indianapolis on Nov. 10, 1943, only three years after Doherty "Dohr" Sheerin had started the first A.A. group there on Oct. 28, 1940. See "Ralph Pfau (Father John Doe) and the Golden Books" in the section on A.A. Historical Materials.  

  Sixth step. Are you willing "to have God remove all these defects of character"? Yes John, John is willing. Well, he sure hasn't removed all of 'em, but he's removed my grosser defects of character. I'm still working on it, like I told you in the beginning.

"Humbly asked Him to remove my shortcomings." I constantly ask him to remove my shortcomings. There was a time when I walked in the house with a wife and seven children in the house, and I always would walk in the kitchen, the wife say, "Get the hell out of here! Well, wash your hands! What are you looking in them pots for?" And I look at the garbage disposal and it's running over. And there are bags in the cabinet. And I just couldn't understand: why didn't somebody empty that damn garbage? And boy, I take off raising hell, and I made the mistake of going to the meeting that night. And Bud told me, say "John, what's wrong with you emptying the garbage, man? [Laughter] Don't you live [in that house too? Why don't you just put the garbage in the bags] and shut your damn mouth? You'll feel a lot better, and you won't work your blood pressure up." [Loud laughter] So ladies and gentlemen, I been emptying garbage thirty-eight years. [More laughter]

Or when I walked in the bathroom, and sit on the john, and when I'm done, I [reach over and there's no toilet paper on the rack. And somebody at the meeting say, "Don't you have to pass by the closet where you keep the extra toilet paper] before you enter the bathroom?" I said, "Yeah." He says, "What do you have eyes for, John? You look and see if there's a roll on the rack. And if it ain't, you take one with you." And that's what I started doing. I'm still opening up the new bar of soap. Can't nobody put that toilet tissue on that rack but me, [laughter] and I do it every day. I used to get angry. I did it this morning, but I don't get angry anymore.

Just like there 're kids squeeze the toothpaste tube in the middle. I'm a perfectionist, I squeeze it at the bottom. [Laughter] Sometimes it bursts. And I made the mistake of going to the meeting, telling my peers around the table. They say, "John, buy your own toothpaste" -- back then a tube of toothpaste didn't cost but fifteen cents -- "then put it in your drawer. Lock it up if you have to [laughter] or put a lock on your door."

See, with five sons, when I got ready to go to a meeting, I didn't have no drawers or socks. [Laughter] And they told me, "Lock it up." "Lock it up from my children?" "Lock it up, John!" [Laughter] So very seldom . . . . I have to watch out for the blind spots, as far as my shortcomings are concerned. I'm a much better guy today.

And I made the list, long list, as far as step eight says. I've worked step nine. I'm still working step ten. Still working at step eleven. Still working at step twelve.


And all I can say to the new person tonight is, whatever you doing to stay sober, continue to do whatever it is you're doing. And I'd like to shoot a few clichés to the new people. I want to tell you,
Turkeys don't soar with eagles.

If you want to get hit by a train,
put your butt on the track and you'll get hit.

And if you sleep with a dog tonight,
you know darn well when you wake up in the morning,
you're going to have some fleas on you.
  And I tell you something else,  
When you pray for good harvest,
don't you forget to reach for the hoe.
  You'll have no harvest unless you work for it, and that's for sure. See, prayer is good, but after you get up off your knees, you better get busy. See, because nothing's gonna be done until you start working, see.  
And associate yourself with sober people,
and sober people you'll imitate.
  And that's true. And then this is the last little cliché:  
Meetings are important.
  When I first came in, I made meetings every night, on Saturday I made three. I did that for about thirty years. These last four or five years, two meetings will keep me in good grace, as far as my thinking's concerned. Then sometimes I have to fall back to seven, because of my thinking. And I like to say to that young person, if you don't make meetings, your chances of staying sober is like a snowball in hell, you ain't gon' make it! [Laughter]

Just remember, you gotta hang with me, or hang with us, 'cause in that first step,
In the WE is the KEY.
  I had to turn ALL them partners down: a guy I used to drink with, a guy I'd known for thirty-some years -- but I had to turn him down, 'cause I knew he still drank. And I have no business in a tavern, or where booze is sold, or in a liquor store. When I did smoke, I go to the grocery store and get my cigarettes.

I don't smoke anymore; I don't drink anymore. And I owe it all the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, the greatest fellowship on the face of the earth, bar none. And all I had to do was make meetings -- [and] keep an open mind, be honest, and the willingness -- these are indispensable. And I like to thank you for listening to me.

The Chicago-Gary-South Bend
axis in early Indiana A.A.

In the spread of A.A. across the state of Indiana, there were three major axes from which other groups were started. The largest axis was the one that ran diagonally from Evansville in the southwest through Indianapolis to Fort Wayne in the northeast. In particular, J. D. Holmes in Evansville and Doherty "Dohr" Sheerin in Indianapolis worked together in the earliest years to spread the message over an incredibly wide sweep of the state.

The second axis, which ran along the St. Joe river valley, centered on South Bend, Mishawaka, Elkhart, and Goshen in north central Indiana, and in the early days inspired groups in southwestern Michigan, and as far along the coast of Lake Michigan as Michigan City. Later on, through the spread of the groups inspired by Red K., the influence of Brownie and Nick Kowalski from South Bend was felt even further away.

The third axis was made up of black groups, and extended from Chicago (where Bill W. the tailor, at the Evans Avenue Group, traveled every weekend to visit and support black A.A.'s in northern Indiana), through Gary (where John Shaifer got sober), to the South Bend area (where Bill Hoover and Jimmy M. had come into the program in 1948, and Brownie and Goshen Bill joined the A.A. groups there in subsequent years). John Shaifer was one of that generation of formative leaders. With his passing, we will all sorely miss his calm, gentle wisdom.  G.C.


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