Billiette Calling! Having Had A Spiritual Awakening (Introduction)

   I heard Billiette Calling the other day – 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 is:

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 Mom 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 effort 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. This 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. In the March 1974 issue, “Hello, this is Billiette calling about having had a spiritual awakening.

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”.
Billiette S

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 sharing Having Had A Spiritual Awakening! 

In my journal, I write more about feeling and thinking, and below we can share thoughts in Leave a Reply, I will be back to leave mine, read yours, and reply. The hyperlinks in the paper copy can be viewed at the blog site Steven

To continue…

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