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Get Up: A 12-Step Guide to Recovery for Misfits, Freaks, and Weirdos

Get Up: A 12-Step Guide to Recovery for Misfits, Freaks, and Weirdos

3.5 7
by Bucky Sinister

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As an atheist with a background in fundamentalism, Bucky Sinister was skeptical of 12-step groups when the time came for him to get sober. He was afraid of losing his artistic abilities and had big problems with the higher power concept. In spite of his hesitations, he stuck with the program and it rewarded him greatly. In Get Up, he shares the knowledge he gained


As an atheist with a background in fundamentalism, Bucky Sinister was skeptical of 12-step groups when the time came for him to get sober. He was afraid of losing his artistic abilities and had big problems with the higher power concept. In spite of his hesitations, he stuck with the program and it rewarded him greatly. In Get Up, he shares the knowledge he gained on his journey, from being afraid of AA philosophies to embracing them, motivating others to join him in their own efforts to get clean. Sinister, a spoken word artist, poet, and performer, well-known on the West Coast for his grabbing, truthful, funny performances, puts out his own story, no frills, no excuses, and no holds barred. He offers a tough-love approach to recovery for all those, like him, who are turned off by traditional "recovery" books. Sinister got sober in AA and has stayed sober in AA, and now he leads the very group he joined on his path to recovery. In Get Up, he shares the stories and the steps that come from the "self-identi?ed scum bags who just might save your life." He talks straight to readers about how to make it work if they can't buy into the program right away. For example, "Higher Power" can be a whole lot of things � Thor and metaphor among them. He helps readers to accept the group in spite of their differences, rather than walking away. Get Up is the book that Sinister would have bought for himself, with the advice he wanted to hear when he ?rst ventured into recovery.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This self-help book for the substance-abusing artistically-and atheistically-inclined is both a ringing endorsement of AA and a brilliant piece of literary performance with poetic and savagely funny insights. Spoken word artist Sinister-a self-professed "misfit" and recovering alcoholic and addict-celebrates sobriety and provides a methodical analysis of the 12-Step program interpolated with biting commentary ("The difference between the Bible and a Magic Eightball is that 400 years ago, you would've been burned at the stake for owning a Magic Eightball") and encouragement that is, by turns, sincere (in particular a foray into why artists are so prone to addictions) and comic ("Finding Your Inner A-Team"). The book is a wild mixture of autobiography, philosophy, social criticism, pop culture and nuttiness: the consummate self-help book for those too cool for self-help books. Although the author occasionally veers uncomfortably close to glamorizing his addictions, his advice is sound, detailed and heartfelt. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

A San Francisco-based spoken word artist, poet, and performer, Sinister developed a drinking problem as a teenager. When he decided to get sober, he took the traditional, faith-based 12-step group approach despite his fears about losing his creative muse and his issues with higher-power mythology (he's an atheist). The risk paid off, and for six years he's been clean. Here, he shares his journey through his addiction and recovery, detailing how he managed to integrate the 12-step philosophies into his own beliefs. He frankly reveals how he was initially afraid of embracing the techniques while motivating others to join him in their own efforts to get clean. The author's advice to addicts is soundly rooted in recovery practice, but he also debunks the oft-repeated excuses that prevent addicts from getting up from their malaise and getting involved in recovery. Sinister gives readers with similar beliefs a practical, meaningful alternative to the dogma of recovery. His iconoclastic approach to addiction recovery will make a valuable addition to the growing works in this field. Highly recommended for university libraries supporting the helping professions and larger public libraries.
—Dale Farris

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Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 2008 Bucky Sinister
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57324-366-7


12 Step for the Rest of Us

I'm not sure why you're reading this book right now. Maybe someone who loves you and is concerned for you gave you this book. Maybe you picked it up because you're worried about yourself. Maybe you're already searching through 12-Step communities but feel like your needs aren't being addressed. Maybe you've been in a 12-Step program but don't like any of the literature. Whatever it may be, my goal is to help you move past your problems into the next phase of your life.

What I'm going to assume is that you don't fit in well with others. Maybe this is true; maybe it's how you feel about yourself. Regardless of the truth of the matter, you're not comfortable with the status quo. You're wary of being one of the herd. If everyone goes in one door, you want to go out the window. If everyone jumps off a cliff, you jump off a bridge. What I'm saying is, you may not be making the right decisions, but at least you're not making the same wrong decisions that everyone else is making. From this perspective, 12-Step programs are a scary place.

What I'm going to assume is that you don't fit in well with others.

At the beginning, everyone mumbles out the same prayer from memory. That's an auspicious start to any group meeting. You don't like prayers, you don't like group chantings. Everyone's sharing a brain, you think. This is the Borg. Is it some kind of weird cult? Then it gets worse.

Somebody says a name. Everyone, in unison, greets that person with the same greeting. That person talks, and tells some horrible story, during which the rest of the group laughs. What the fuck? What is so fucking funny? Then it gets worse.

How much coffee can these people drink? Halfway through this meeting, a good portion of the room got up to go outside and smoke, and they were smoking right before it started; isn't that an addiction too? Then it gets worse.

The guy who drives my shuttle bus every day just told the room that he's a horrible crack addict. He has six months clean ... that means he was all cracked out driving me to work every day for years. Over there is the cranky guy from the corner deli. Is that my ex sitting in the front row? Dude, there are at least three bartenders in here right now.

All of this inner dialogue is normal. 12 Step is a little freaky at first. You'll see all kinds of people from your life, both dear friends and people you recognize from the neighborhood but don't really know. What you're going to have to get over is your preconception that these people have nothing to offer you, that they have nothing in common with you.

I've been around many different subcultures since the '80s. Punks, skinheads, Goths, skaters, rockabillies, Wiccans, vegans, slam poets, comedians, break-dancers, bikers, hip-hop thugs, gangstas both real and self-imagined. Inside each of these subcultures are even smaller subcultures: anarchists, animal rights activists, tech geeks, graffiti artists. I've been close by many of these groups but never felt like I was fully a part of any of them.

I've been around many different subcultures since the '80s ... but never felt like I was fully a part of any of them.

When it comes down to it, I'm a loner. Lonerism is a self-inflicted lifestyle. I isolate from others. If I find out that I'm fitting into a group, I find reasons that I don't fit so I can feel left out. I use my skepticism and cynicism to distance myself from the group mentality. It's saved me from joining gangs, mobs, and groups that would not be good for me; it has also kept me from developing the close relationships that I needed to grow as a person. No matter whether the group accepts me or not, I don't accept that I'm a part of it.

People who can readily accept being part of a group will take to 12-Step recovery much faster. Those who don't question the immediate help and friendship offered by the group will embrace the overwhelmingly positive parts of the program. It's a secure feeling to them that there are rooms full of people willing to help in nearly every capacity. But for you, You-Who-Do-Not-Fit-In, it's going to take some work. This book is for you.

Three Types of People

For our purposes, there are three types of people out there: Normies, Addicts, and Recovering Addicts. Normies are the normal people, who drink now and then and maybe tried drugs, but for some reason, they don't get addicted or overindulge. Addicts are people for whom drug and alcohol use supersede personal will. Recovering Addicts are addicts who no longer use and work to remove the obsession to use. This book is written for all three types, but mainly for someone who wants to move from the second group into the third.

Nature Versus Nurture

Why do some people get addicted and others don't? Is it genetic? Or is it a product of one's immediate culture? Are you born an addict or made into one? From a purely observational point of view, I think it's a combination of both. The only reason it matters is so that you see you shouldn't take an extended break from using or try to cut back. You have a lifetime of stimuli and a physiology that makes drinking and drug use entirely dangerous.

My point of view is this: You may start a Normie, but once you become an Addict, you can't go back to being a Normie, and once you become a Recovering Addict, you can't go back to being an Addict. People will fight me on the last part of this when they read it, but stay with me, I'll explain. This movement across definitions is an evolution of character. Once you make the successful transformation, you don't go back.

I started a Normie. I didn't touch a thing until I was seventeen. I didn't drink, smoke pot, or even smoke cigarettes until then. I drank when I had easy access to it and when it would not jeopardize my situation. I didn't go out of my way to find it, nor did I use it if I thought it wasn't prudent at the time. But when I did drink, I drank to get as fucked up as possible. That was a bad habit that led me to being an addict.

I come from a line of alcoholics, like many alcoholics do. On the nature side of things, I know that there was a history in my family. On the nurture side of things, while my father never drank, he was raised by a drunk, and therefore acted like one all the time, what we call a "dry drunk." It's the way he learned how to deal with other people.

There were always a lot of people in my house. I have two sisters. There were usually cousins or a student of my father's living with us. During the summers, my mother's sister would come with her kids and stay with us. There were various members of my dad's church who came for indeterminate amounts of time. I bring this up because of our food situation and my lack of control around consumption.

There was always enough food for us, but never too much. If we had a box of cereal, the most I could get at was a bowl and a half. At dinner, there might be seconds of one dish or another, but not much more than that. If there was pie at dessert, we each got a tiny piece and then it was gone. I never went hungry as a child, but I never had to learn when to say no to food either. There were a couple of instances when this didn't happen, and they stick out in my mind.

Occasionally, my sisters would go off to church camp, and I'd be left alone like an only child, which seemed the grandest luxury in the world. Not only did I have my choice of television shows, but my choice of seat while watching the show. I could have friends over without us being terrorized by my older sisters and their friends. Best of all, I got to choose the restaurant we went to for lunch after church.

One such weekend, my sisters were gone, my dad was out of town, and there were no other people in tow. It was just my mother and I. She told me we could go wherever we wanted to go. It was either Bonanza or Sizzler, I don't remember which, but I remember the meal well. I got the steak with the all-you-can-eat shrimp. I ate the steak, and started in on the shrimp. I finished the shrimp and asked for more. The waitress brought me more and made some remark about that should do me. I was going to show her. I finished that plate and asked her for thirds. She made a big deal about me being able to eat a lot, which was probably an insult in her mind, but I thought it was great.

My mom was of the generation where a kid who eats a lot is healthy and growing. Besides that, anything that wasn't expressly candy or dessert was good for you, whether it was battered, fried, or whatever cut of meat—it didn't matter. Whatever Bisquick casserole she made I ate with reckless abandon. I routinely had eggs, bacon (what we called "fatback"), and pancakes for breakfast. Lunch was sandwiches grilled in butter, or hot dogs. Dinner was more ordinary Good Housekeeping kind of fare, but the side dishes were carb heavy and often a colored gooey Cool Whip mess she called Ambrosia. I think the only thing that saved me from a junior high heart attack was that a lot of the meat I ate at dinner was very lean wild game that my father killed in the fall and that we ate from the deep freeze all year-round. My point is that my mom was the last lady in the town who was going to tell me not to have thirds, or fourths, even, although she'd be strict with dessert.

I'm not sure how much I had, but finally I was coaxed into leaving. I remember the heat coming through the window of the station wagon warming my neck. It reminded me of the time at the county fair when I was convinced to get on the Tilt-A-Whirl. Oh no, I thought, I'm going to barf.

Barf I did. All that batter-fried shrimp was returned to the sea from which it came. I had never been sick from eating before. The good news is I got to stay home from school on Monday.

This was the only time I didn't go back to what made me ill, but there were many other instances of excess. As I got older and the house emptied out of people, I'd eat a box of cereal after school, from ripping open the lining to the golden powder pouring in the bowl. After two bowls, my gums were torn up and hurting, but I wouldn't stop until the bowl was empty. After it was gone, I'd try to eat dinner a few hours later with my gums cut and my tongue rubbed raw. The next week the same brand of cereal would be there, and I'd do it again. The only thing that stopped me when I started eating was running out.

There were nights when I couldn't stand up, but as I la yon the floor looking at the empty whiskey bottle on the coffee table, I'd think about how I wished I had another bottle.

I drank exactly the same way from the time I started. I never left a beer or a cocktail unfinished. I'd buy half-pints of vodka or whiskey in my younger days and drink the whole thing. That seemed to be enough for me until I started buying pints; then a pint of whiskey was what I had to drink before I passed out. The fifth bottle proved my nemesis for many years, as I would drink most of it before passing out. But soon enough, I found myself finishing those over three or four hours while watching TV. Somewhere around that time I'd find my way back to the liquor store completely wasted, but still wanting more. There were nights when I couldn't stand up, but as I lay on the floor looking at the empty whiskey bottle on the coffee table, I'd think about how I wished I had another bottle.

So is it a matter of my nature that I couldn't control my eating as a child, and therefore couldn't control my drinking as an adult? Or is it a matter of nurture that I was allowed to eat as much as I did, and was never taught self-control? Is self-control something that can be taught to another individual, or is it something we learn through trial and error? If we learn it ourselves, are there those of us who are incapable of learning it? I don't know the answers to these questions. But what I do know is clear: I have self-control issues when it comes to physical things that give me pleasure.

Often people will offer me a bite of ice cream or a bit of their chocolate whatever. I usually decline. They usually force it on me. If I have one bite, when we part ways, I'm at the corner store buying a pint of Ben & Jerry's and thinking about what pint I will buy the next day. I'm obsessive about ingesting food. The bad side is, this food is bad for my health. The good side is, if I eat a pint of ice cream, I don't call my ex-girlfriends at 2 a.m.

When I drank whiskey this way, I combined a self-control problem with a substance that is physically addictive and lowers inhibition. There is no set of circumstances in which this turns out well. There are no tools left to fight the compulsion to drink more. The only things that would stop me at this point are the liquor store closing, running out of money, or getting thrown out of the bar after last call.

Where Everybody Doesn't Know Your Name

On 16th Street in San Francisco there's a bar called The Kilowatt. This is where I drank on Sunday mornings with The Boys. We watched football and drank like men. Andy, the bartender, made me bourbon and Cokes in pint glasses. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. we watched the brutal ballet that is the National Football League. Outside, Rob grilled the meat, and we were all bonding.

Many were the Sunday afternoons when I'd bid farewell to The Boys and stagger off to the BART station to make my way home, to catch HBO's Sunday night lineup with a nightcap of bourbon. All in all, a good day indeed, spent drinking well over a quart of whiskey.

I thought that if I quit drinking I'd let everyone down. They'd miss me. The bar wouldn't be the same without One of the Boys, would it? I was the literary one of the bar. I imagined myself to be the Frasier of the 16th Street Cheers. I was the hard-drinking, underappreciated-in-his-own-time writer, whose published book had unfortunately been ahead of its time.

There was no way I could let them see me in the bar during football without a drink. It would be much like seeing Barry Bonds limp after a pop fly in his later years, or watching a boxer past his prime step into the ring, or listening to the Aerosmith album they did right after they quit doing cocaine. It wouldn't be right. Luckily for me, I got sober in February, as the Super Bowl was wrapping up the NFL postseason.

I approached the bartender, Andy.

"I'm thinking about getting sober," I admitted.

"That's a great idea," he said without hesitation. When your bartender really wants you to quit, it's time.

Further than that, if you don't know who the worst drunk is in your favorite bar, it's you. When you quit, someone else becomes the worst drunk in the bar. They've all been comparing themselves to you, saying, "At least I'm not that guy." Quitting is threatening to them. Your drinking validates their drinking. You may know a lot of people who drink as much as you do; you also know a lot of other alcoholics.

For you drug types out there, if you don't know someone who hasn't tried cocaine, you're an addict. You've surrounded yourself with a social circle that thinks it's normal to do cocaine, even if it's a now-and-then situation. Most people in this country will never try cocaine or heroin. Most of them will never even have the opportunity. You've created this world for yourself with a reality to which you shouldn't compare yourself.

Drinking during the day, drinking whiskey in the morning didn't seem odd to me, since I knew plenty of other people who did it. Most people I knew did it, because I had created a world of problem drinkers around me. The people I knew drank every single day after work in the same bars.

That fall, I returned to The Kilowatt with about half a year sober. Andy poured me a root beer, and I handed him some poems I'd written since he'd seen me last.

"What are you reading," one of The Boys asked.

"Some of Bucky's new shit," Andy told him.

"Who's Bucky?"

"This guy," Andy said.

He looked right at me. No recognition whatsoever.

"Nice to meet you," he said.

It hit me. He didn't know me. I looked around the bar at the rest of The Boys. There was Panama Hat, Guy Who Drinks Corona With Lime, Redskins Fan With Ponytail ... I didn't know these guys. They didn't know me. They weren't my friends at all. They were random jerks at the bar. And I was a more random jerk from off the street.

So Life You in the Nads

First off, apologies for the decidedly male metaphor here. Gut Punch would work as well, but it doesn't quite have the same ring to it. The days of the Gut Punch are long over, any way; few people have been randomly socked in the midsection, but guys all around the world still know what a good racking will do.

Anyone who has partaken in playground violence understands the equalizer that is the Kick in the Nads. No matter how tough that bully is, anyone else can take him down with one well-placed Buster Brown.

Excerpted from GET UP by BUCKY SINISTER. Copyright © 2008 Bucky Sinister. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Bucky Sinister, is a spoken word artist who performs about 40 times a years at comedy clubs and theaters, primarily on the West Coast, but also around the country. He has published nine chapbooks and three full-length collections of poetry, the most recent being All Blacked Out & Nowhere to Go. His first full-length CD, What Happens in Narnia, Stays in Narnia was released in 2007.

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