A life restored. AA’s Big Book, Twelve Steps shepherds Grand Rapids man to sobriety

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Cutline randyRandy: “I’m a much more peaceful person.”Editor's note: In keeping with Alcoholics Anonymous' spiritual foundation and tradition, WMCN will identify the person interviewed as Randy.

With his flowing white beard and Ben Franklin-style glasses, 60-year-old Randy radiates a peaceful countenance. The reason is as simple as it's profound: the outer man now matches the inner.

Randy gives Alcoholics Anonymous credit for his calmer demeanor and clear headedness. And for this, the Grand Rapids resident readily acknowledges his indebtedness to God.

"Without God's help, I couldn't have done any of it," he says.

"It" is a years' long battle with alcohol addiction, a compulsion that cost him the loss of jobs, his sobriety, and nearly his marriage to his wife of 35 years, Colleen.

What made an impact in Randy's life was when he decided in 2017 to take to heart Alcoholics Anonymous' (AA) Twelve Steps outlined in its Big Book that AA co-founder Bill Wilson co-wrote soon after AA was launched in 1935.

Today, AA has grown into an international fellowship of peer-to-peer alcoholics helping one another reach sobriety through its spiritually inclined Twelve Step program.

This includes, but is not limited to, a non-coercive self-improvement program of admitting to powerlessness over alcohol and its damage; acknowledging and striving to correct personal failings; making amends for past misdeeds; and continued spiritual development while helping other alcoholics towards sobriety through the Twelve Steps. The Steps suggest the need for the healing aid of God — "as we understood Him," according to AA's website.

In 2018, AA counted 2,087,840 members and 120,300 AA groups worldwide.

But as Randy readily acknowledges, 2017 was not his first rodeo with AA. He was first arrested for driving while under the influence (DWI) in 2013 where it landed him a short stay in the Ottawa County Jail and a court hearing that required him to attend monthly AA meetings.

But as he looks back on those days, Randy acknowledges he still had a thirst for alcohol and not what AA was offering. And he found a way to skew in his favor the court-ordered drug tests by drinking a solution sold at a local lifestyle retailer of paraphernalia that sells cannabis and tobacco — otherwise known as a head shop.

"I would smoke and drink even up to the day before my probation test, but there's a drink that masks everything," he says. "I wasn't into it (AA). I told myself I'm not an alcoholic. I would say (at AA meetings) 'Hi I'm Randy, I'm an alcoholic,' but I was still drinking and smoking weed."

So he soldiered on with his life, intermittently going from one job to the next, sometimes because of his drinking problem.

It came to a head again in 2017 when Randy was pulled over in Wyoming during the wee hours of the morning for not having his headlights on. The officer asked Randy if he had been drinking and he replied yes, a few drinks. A breathalyzer test said otherwise. He was arrested and sent to Kent County Jail, where he read a passage from the Old Testament: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you," (Jeremiah 1:5).

"I pondered that God's so much bigger than I previously understood," recalls Randy. "How did He know me? Did I exist before? It spoke to me and created an opening to see God in a bigger sense."

The judge he appeared before ruled Randy could be released on his own recognizance if he paid the $2,000 bail. He didn't have it. He spent 10 days in the clink.

In the end, following his court-appointed attorney's advice, Randy agreed to participate in the 61st District Court Sobriety Court, a comprehensive treatment and monitoring program for non-violent defendants whose rules include Twelve Step meetings. It was then he decided to utilize his Graphic Design training and take a leap of faith and launched his own sign painting business.

"I had made a decision to turn my will over to God at the lake," says Randy. "It took me awhile. I was powerless over my life. I started looking to God, as I understand Him.

He'd like to say that, this time, he took his AA meetings a little more seriously, but that would not be true.

Then, during a Salvation-Army men's retreat, Randy says God broke through, or he connected with the Almighty in the still of the woods at Little Pine Island at the Salvation Army's camp in Comstock Park. That's the day he marks his sobriety date: Sept. 16, 2017.

"I looked up and said, 'I want peace in my life. I want the carnival ride to stop," recalls Randy. "I heard a voice say, not audibly, 'How about you stop drinking? Do you trust me?'"

"And I said I can't (stop drinking). The Voice said, "I know you can't I will help you.' If I want peace this is the path I should walk."

"I had made a decision to turn my will over to God at the lake," says Randy. "It took me awhile. I was powerless over my life. I started looking to God, as I understood Him.

Once, alcohol was the solution to the problems in Randy's life. But no more. He credits AA's Twelve Steps to keeping him on the straight and narrow. Step-by-step, his marriage was mended as well as his heart and soul.

"I can pretty much quote the 12 steps. It's part of me. I've had a spiritual awakening because of these steps, including rigorous honesty. I need to be honest, to take daily inventory of myself. I'll go over my day: Was I unkind? If I was, I'm sorry and try to make up for it tomorrow. I'll start my day, 'God, relieve me of the bondage of self that I better do your will'. I try to stay in my own lane. Not to judge. That's a task in itself. I say The Serenity Prayer. The courage to change myself."

And for those wrestling with a drinking addiction, Randy advises: "The number one thing is to surrender. Wave the white flag. If they can recognize that they're unhappy, which most alcoholics are unhappy, if you can surrender, and start being honest with yourself, one will find a lot more serenity and peace."

Randy looks up and smiles.

"I'm a much more peaceful person."

Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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