I heard Billiette Calling …, last night, July 6, 2017. She was asking where were we on the calling project? It was a hot night, I could not sleep, got up, came into my office to retrieve three of mom’s Billiette Calling columns she had written for Fargo’s Alcohol Anonymous Silver Dollar newsletter*. I read them slowly, imagining her typing them, and then realized she was with us in a dialogue on how we would move into this project. I also realized that if we were to undertake this project, mom expected me to be sober – I agreed but knew this would be a challenge. Understanding the loss of psychic energy when consuming alcohol is the focus of mom’s calling and I realized I needed to tap into her source of energy in order to complete this project. Billie often recited the AA Motto, which together let us recite:
God grant me the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to wisdom to know the difference.
Billiette, Mom, was born, raised, lived, married, died, and is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Fargo ND. She was an acrobatic dancer graduating from Fargo Central High School in 1939. She married her high school sweetheart Orlando Scherling in 1942 and together they continued running the Scherling Photography Studio after Orlando’s parents retired in 1947. Billiette and Orlando raised five sons and were a prominent family in the Fargo community. Like many, in the 1950’s and 60’s, they had built an attractive bar in their basement. I can see them both now with their many friends gathered about the bar drinking and many smoking, which Billiette did. However, it seems I never saw them stumbling about ‘drunk’. Now that I think more about this, it seems I can remember mom slightly ‘starry-eyed’ ‘out-of-focus’ on a few occasions.
I am the oldest son and was in my senior year at university when I remember confronting mom and dad about their frequent loud arguments. There was another woman involved now and their life spiraled out of control. Within two years they had separated and were divorced – mom’s alcohol dependence became dangerous, smashing our car through a cement garage wall! Mom was in severe pain and there was nothing, it seemed, we could do.
I am not sure how she found her way to Fargo’s AA Chapter, but there must have been a light form heaven as she soon entered Heartview Treatment Center, completing their treatment program, and remaining sober the rest of her life. As I started writing this, I watched the CBS Sunday Morning interview with Louise Penny, the murder mystery novelist. I was struck by her story that she was an alcoholic until she attended her first AA meeting and from that day on has not had a drink – this was Billiette’s experience. What also struck me was that Penny languished for years searching for a topic and a method to guide her dream to become a writer – one day it dawned on her, write murder mystery novels, her first novel was “Still Life”. So, I am now thinking Billiette Calling! is a mystery story? What is this mystery? What are you thinking it is? Intertrain this for just a moment… now write it down.
Billiette, continued caring for her two youngest children now in high school and then surprised us all at 45 years of age enrolling and completing her BA Degree in Counseling at North Dakota State University. Mom then enrolled and completed The Valley Hope Treatment Center councilor training program, and then was hired there as a full-time counselor. She retired from Valley Hope and moved back to Fargo, becoming again involved with Fargo’s AA Chapter. Mom answered her final ‘calling …’ in 2003 moving on, now working with An AA Chapter in The Sky.
This book has been a long time coming! Several years ago, I accumulated some of Billie’s Silver Dollar columns and started to color the image of her appearing in the upper left corner of each column. The broad-beamed hat remined me of the red-hat-photo taken of her by Orlando, her high-school sweetheart and husband of their five sons. Billie started witting her column in January 1970 and ended in December 2000. She wrote a total of 250 columns. Last month, as I was being called to begin this project in earnest, I rose in the middle of the night, retrieved the top 6 letters from my stack, and began reading the January to June 1974 issues. I read March 1974 first and so we begin here … “Hello, this is Billiette Calling!” Thank you Fargo Alcoholics Anonymous Chapter.
Billiette Calling! Having Had A Spiritual Awakening
“HAVING HAD A SPIRITUAL AWAKENINGT” – just what does this phrase mean? Webster says – spiritual is relating to, or consisting of spirit and to have spirit is the activating or essential principle influencing the individual – a lively brisk quality in a person, a mental disposition characterized by firmness, assertiveness and courage.
It seems to me, in AA, spiritual means to admit, to accept and to act. These are the 3 A’s of AA.
First of all, we alcoholics have to admit that we are powerless before our own obsession of alcoholism can leave us. And to “admit” the fact that the “spirits” that had been influencing our lives was driving us insane.
Secondly, we have to “accept” the fact that we are alcoholic and that our will power was not working – it has fizzled out. We needed a power outside of ourselves to help us to be assertive, to be firm, and to have the courage to smash the spirit of alcoholism.
We have to accept the fact that we are not the gods we thought we were. What we needed was a “Power” greater than ourselves and that power we found was in AA groups. At first it was the people in our group, then we found that there was a “Higher Power” that governed that group – a God, as we each understood Him!
Thirdly, we go into action, for if we only admit and accept, we are alcoholics, we will only stay where we are – which is living a minute away from a drunk. We have to move on in order to grow; to be a self-actualizing person, a fully functioning person, mentally, physically and spiritually. To have the courage to be ourselves; to have respect for ourselves; and to be honest about our feelings and dealings. In going into action, we have to continually practice the 12 Steps of AA. We are not saints and I for one, do not want to become one. I just want to be me, and to become acquainted with that “inner spark” that God created within me. For the alcoholic, having had a spiritual awakening means we believe we have faith that a Higher Power (which I choose to call God – the creative power of the universe) is working through other people in AA. A spiritual awakening” to the alcoholic means he or she will seek the truth – and “The Truth Shall Set Us Free”.
Nobody can “cure” an alcoholic, but the spiritual program of Alcoholics Anonymous can “save” us from a fate worse than death.
To realize that we don’t have to live in the dark sides of our minds, that there is a LIGHT shining to show us the way out of our private “hells” is “having a spiritual awakening”.
Receiving Billiette’s Call! Having Had A Spiritual Awakening
March 3, 2021: I did not sleep well in the night, as I was going over and over what was happening in March 1974 when Mom wrote this Billiette Calling column. I had to go back in time and retrace our life-lines and Mom was about to graduate with her BA degree in Counseling from NDSU and I was moving from teaching management behavior/theory at The University of North Dakota to teaching at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I remember our discussions about this point in the column she was preparing where she writes: “Thirdly, we go into action, for if we only admit and accept, we are alcoholics, we will only stay where we are – which is living a minute away from a drunk. We have to move on in order to grow; to be a self-actualizing person, a fully functioning person, mentally, physically and spiritually.”
Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need Theory of which ‘self-actualization’ is the highest need was often a topic in our conversations. The issue for us still is how do “we go into action”, how do we “grow; to be self-actualizing, fully functioning, mentally, physically and spiritually.” Just how does one do this? How do we stated living at the top of the needs pyramid? We begin by realizing we have to climb up this pyramid and this is a really rough slippery climb!
However, Maslow’s Need Theory operating principle is really quite simple. A lower-level need has to be ‘relatively satisfied’ before the next level activates to be a motivator of our behavior. Makes sense, we are primarily concerned with physiological needs like food and water before our personal Safety needs like personal and work needs become important to us. Once these are again ‘relatively satisfied’ the need for Love and Belonging becomes important. Our belonging need is critical, most challenging, as it requires a deep understanding of Others. Unless our belonging need is secure, the needs for Esteem and Self-actualization are basically inaccessible. So, here is the central role Alcoholics Anonymous plays, providing a safe loving space to recover one’s esteem in order to build a ‘creative imaginative response to life’. This is Billiette’s and all AA members’ calling! This is the sharing of Having Had A Spiritual Awakening! Now, in our personal journals write freely about what is being felt and thought. Steven S
Billiette Calling! Why Was I born?
WHY WAS I BORN? Seven years ago, on an April day, I asked that question of God. I could not live with myself, nor was I fit for myself to know. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I asked mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of then all?” And there before me stood the witch that alcohol had created. I hated myself for the things I’d done to my family and to myself. I couldn’t hide myself from me any longer. I could see that others could never see, and I hated what “me” had become.
Several years ago, I began my search for “Why was I born?” Today, I know that “I was born to love”. First, I fell in love with God – and He returned His love by giving me the greatest gift I have ever received – THE AA WAY OF LIFE!
My search for me was found when I began to know my brother and sister alcoholic. They shared themselves with me – their fears, their anger – their hurts – their very inner selves – their gut level feelings were mine, and mine were theirs and theirs were mine. What a wonderful awakening to know I could find myself through others who were lost like me.
What has seven years of sobriety brought me? I have tried to make up for the hurt I caused my family and the rewards have been great. They love and respect me when I once gave my drinking problem to God and regularly attend AA. Events in my life started to change. Many recall that four years ago I started going to col1ege. On May 24th’ I’ll be graduating – something that I consider a miracle for this 52-year-old “has-been drunk”.
July 1st I go to Valley Hope Treatment Center in Norton, Kansas for my training to become an alcoholic counselor.
My seven years of sobriety have not been a ‘bed of roses”. However, this I know, I have had a peace and contentment within, even though the storms I had had to face. I know that my serenity is the result of faithfully trusting and accepting God’s plan for me even though I could not understand “why at the time”. I do know now that through each trial and tribulation I have suffered, I have grown and become stronger.
I look to the future with confidence and I know I can’t lose as long as I have God and AA. In seven years, I have learned there is strength in faith. There is power in humility and there is happiness in helping others.
I am still learning to overcome myself, for it is not the difficulties of life that I have to conquer, but my own selfishness. Keeping sober is the most important thing in my life for without it, all I have gained in the last seven years would be lost. I am totally convinced that my whole life depends on my not taking that first drink. Nothing in this world is more important to me than my own sobriety. Everything I have or will have, or ever hope to have depends on my sobriety. Can I afford or can you afford to ever forget this?
Thankful I was born? You bet I am! I consider it an experience that I wouldn’t have missed for all the world! Billiette S
Receiving Billiette’s Call! Why was i born?
So, for me this is on one level an easy question – I was born because my mother and farther decided to get it on with having me – I had no say in this transaction. The Normandy Landing was exactly 3 months away from when I came into our war-torn World. And it is when I am depressed, more likely it is that I am anxious about something, that the question “why was I born?” surfaces. I also think that this is a question often for the second half of one’s life, say after 40. In the first 40 years we are too busy just living life. It is often in the second half that we realize we have reached the noontime of life and are headed into the evening of life and death. The issue for me, now 76 years young, is have I left behind a handprint like early cavemen did telling us that they lived. This is what I am doing here, telling you stories of my life’s experiences in hopes that someday they will be read.
I now remember an experience in 7th grade when girls were on my mind and I was wondering how they saw me as compared to my good-looking best friend Jim E and so we ask a trust girl friend to ask the other girls in our class. I think Jim won out. Years later teaching at UND I would use the The Johari Window technique that helps people better understand their relationship with themselves and others. The technique was created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham, and is used primarily in sensitivity-training groups and corporate settings as a exercise to assist group members to function better together.
The Johari Window has four areas as seen in the diagram below: Arena where you and others know about you; Façade area are items know by you but not by others; Blind Spots facts not know by you or by others about you; and Unknown areas not know by yourself or others. The object of the exercise is to expand the Arena quadrant by exchanging information about yourself with others in your group. The Johari Window process, in my experience, is how AA Chapter meeting operate. During the operation of the Johari Window process, it is suggested take one takes notes on what is revealed in each quadrant, and then write about what you have learned about yourself. Graphing the sharing of Self within a relationship offers a simple and quick explanation of this cube. There are many other YouTube clips available to enhance one’s experience of sharing views of each other. Steven S Johari Window: A Useful Tool for Understanding Self – YouTube. Steven S
Billiette Calling! Let Go Let God!
Let Go Let God – is an AA motto that may sound simple, but many of us find it very difficult to do. Many have asked me how I Let Go and Let God. Maybe what works for me will work for you.
When I am afflicted with worry or anxiety or have feeling of frustration or despair, here are the seven steps I try to take to gain serenity:
- Relaxation. I tell my “Big I” to get out of the driver’s seat and hand over the controls by returning to nature – such as lying on the ground and feeling its energy, sitting by the river, or a lake, or in the silence of my home. I relax and make contact with God by taking deep breaths, breathing God’s air deeper and deeper. Then let go, by completely relaxing every muscle in my body from head to toe. RELAX AND BE STILL!
- Turn your will, your thoughts, your life to the Higher Power. Remind yourself that the over-whelming Power of God is surrounding you. It envelops you like your mother’s womb. You are one with God – – growing spiritually with God’s energy flowing through like sap flowing through the trees.
- Consciously contact that Higher Power. Tune into it. Ask for the spirit of God to be present NOW.
- Keep relaxed. Be still. Soon you will feel the flow of this Power surging through your body, mind and soul. When it happens to me, I feel a cleansing, a renewing and creative energy flowing through my whole being.
- Surrender yourself, your needs, your problem, your anxieties, your fears – – dump them into God’s box. Somehow (don’t ask me, because I don’t understand) he takes them – and things begin to happen to resolve them.
- Think of the people who worry you or those you have resentments for. Bring them into the present with your Higher Power. Let go, Let God handle these people. Give your hatred to God and He will turn it into Love. It took me a long time to turn one of my resentment over to God, but when I finally let go, I found an attitude of love for this person. Having a conscious contact with God for fifteen minutes each day, this way will release you there will be a spiritual growth filling you with gratitude and humility. Billiette S.
Receiving Billiette’s Call! Let Go Let God!
The AA motto to ‘Let Go Let God’ is challenging! Billiette suggests seven steps that she took to accomplish letting go in order for her understanding of God to begin helping her. We will eventually address all of these steps but for now our focus is on Step 7, which is to “Be expectant, wait trustingly for the Higher Power results in His guidance. It’s there – but we have to learn to be silent, to listen and to relax in his presence, and to be thankful that God has freed us alcoholics form bondage of alcoholism to live One Life and that Life is God’s Life and that Life is ours if we Let Go and Let God.” The emphasis here Billiette suggests is that we have to learn to be silent, and to listen. So, the challenge is learning to listen! This is a real challenge since most of us like to hear themselves talk!
Learning to listen is where we begin to Let Go Let God! To do this we will develop Theodor Reik’s idea of ‘Listening with the Third Ear’ to more clearly understand what is being suggested. Reik’s extensive book is a tough read and so we look at Kyle Arnold’s condensed paper Reiks_Theory_of_Psychoanalytic_Listening (2).pdf, to help AA members sharpen their listening skills. Arnold’s short paper, can be downloaded as a pdf file which I will reference to briefly frame the key points of deep listening that AA members ought to consider developing.
Arnold’s paper systematizes Reik’s theory of listening by laying a foundation for assessing Reik’s contributions to psycho-analysis. Reik’s theory is organized around an emphasis on your natural sequence that begins with unconscious conjectures about another AA members situation and ends with conscious specific formulations about what is motivating this AA member’s drinking behavior. Arnold writes that “Psycho-analytical conjectures crystallize out of the intersubjective, reciprocal illumination of the therapist’s and patient’s, unconscious minds” (44?). In our AA meetings, our understandings are beginning to emerge out of our and the members unconscious minds. This is the process we wish to become more conscious off and therefore more in control of. Understanding others and ourselves is a reciprocal process – the norm of reciprocity – what you do for me, I will return to you.
At our next AA meeting, begin to apply the first sequence item of ‘listening with the third ear” – begin carefully tending to your own “unconscious conjectures about the other AA members.” As each AA member shares his story, begin to listen carefully to what is and how it is being shared. It will help if you can take notes on what you are hearing from others and also what you are hearing, slowly at first from inside yourself – this is a first step. This is not meant to be a secretive process, you are undertaking so, if you are asked what you are doing, as is the AA way, share what you are doing and hope to accomplish. We will be addressing the other let go let god points and the other listening points. Now work some in your journal – what are you feeling now? Just let yourself go and write what comes to you – do not stop to correct spelling or improve your grammar. Steven S
To be continued…