Life Story

Answer the Phone Dummy: Phone Lists Really Do Save Lives

By: Tami Harper Winn

Fear, as a motivator, is a very strong force. In doing an honest and thorough inventory, I found that recently much in my life has be driven by fear. This is a commonality amongst those who are in recovery. I have also found in my short time here on earth, that it is a commonality we share together as the human race. It is a primary emotion that sets off a chain of secondary and tertiary emotions that often have undesirable results. For me, I have found that the only way to conquer my fears is to face them head on and challenge their existence.


Most of my life I have been riddled with fear. I cannot pinpoint the exact moment it started nor does it matter. All I know is that it has consumed me most of my life crippling me in so many aspects. It has been a sword in my side, a detour in my progression, and a stumbling block in my recovery.


Early in recovery, I was given the instruction to complete a fear inventory. For those who do not know what that is, it is just as it sounds. It is a moral inventory of our fears, how they have affected our lives, and what our higher power would have us do with them. It is a way to sort out the lies from the truth – to seek out a solution to the problem of fear.


Like any good business, in order to stay functioning, it should take regular inventory of its stock. My program of recovery believes that in order for us to truly assess our recovery we have to do a thorough inventory of ourselves and a regular one at that. One of those inventories is to account for each of our fears. This can be a daunting and terrifying task.


 In order to stay sober, which I wanted more than anything, I needed to follow directions. So, I set off with pen in hand and took stock of what fears I had. Almost immediately, every fear I had ever known and some I had yet to acknowledge were crawling out of every crack and crevice of my life. I was consumed with anxiety.


As the days turned into weeks, I would find myself hiding from the world – afraid to go outside. Anything that could go wrong was happening in rapid fire motion. I dreaded the pen and paper. I stalled out of fear. It was so bad, that every morning I would roll out of bed crying the minute my eyes opened and hit the floor in prayer begging to be spared that day from whatever pending doom was looming over me.


To no avail, I got little relief. If this didn’t cease soon I would surely drink.


One day that stands out vividly to me comes to mind as I weave the story of fear.  After many weeks of constant worry, I decided to take a drive to clear my head one afternoon. It became a ride I will never forget.


Now, it pretty much goes without saying that many of us in early recovery don’t have our ducks in a row when we first get clean.  Often times we don’t come with driver’s licenses, car insurance, or even registration when we hit the doors of recovery. We don’t have the money for that. I know I didn’t. I could barely keep the lights on for myself and my daughter.


So, as most of do, I tried to skirt around the law in early recovery in hopes of being able to bide myself enough time to be able to afford to drive legally – at least that’s what I told myself. I was a pro at justifying bending the rules to fit me. Just because I wasn’t drinking didn’t mean I still didn’t have a drunk’s mind. You can sober up a drunk horse thief but what do you still have? You have a sober horse thief that’s what you have. I was still a horse thief in my actions and thoughts.


I will say in my defense though, that getting in trouble with the law was one of my worst fears and still is to this day. I had managed to stay pretty dang clear of it my entire life. I didn’t have so much as a no seatbelt ticket. Sure, I drove drunk and without insurance in a car that was up for repossession, but alcohol numbed that fear obviously. Now that I was sober, I had no numbing agent so the fear was in high gear that afternoon when the police got behind me and flashed those blue and red ballerinas on their dashboard.


As the police officer approached my car, my life flashed before my eyes. I would lose my license, have to pay big fines, appear in court, have to carry a SR22, and be without anyway to get a job, take care of my daughter, or much less get to a meeting. It was all over. My years of skating under the radar had finally caught up to me.


Just then, my phone rang and snapped me out of my hysterical thinking. I answered without two thoughts put together. It was a newcomer who was ready to drink. She had gotten my number from a phone list I had put it on.


Phone lists are put together for those early in recovery to use if they are sitting on a ledge - whatever that ledge may look like. They are told that if they use the phone list it might save their lives, what they don’t tell them is that it might save the person’s life answering the call too.


She needed to talk to me. As the cop stood at my window, I told her that I would have to call her back and that I would. Looking up at the cop standing outside my car, I hung up the phone and didn’t give it another thought.


I rolled the window down, received the bubble busting news that not only was I going to be getting a ticket for no insurance, but that my plates had been suspended and I couldn’t drive my vehicle any further. My life went up in flames.


Upon returning home I was at the end of my rope. In hysterics, my then boyfriend called me and I told him that I was “done” with this thing called sobriety. What the hell was I doing this for anyways if I was still going to manage to mess my life up while sober? I might as well be drunk if my life was always going to be one disaster after another. At least then I wouldn’t care. It was beyond my comprehension. I had every intention of saying, “F*** IT!” I could almost feel the cold beer lather soothing the raw nerves just under my skin.


Just as I hung up the phone with my boyfriend, God smacked me back into consciousness. It occurred to me that I hadn’t called that young lady back as I said I would. A power greater than myself picked the phone back up and placed that call. She said, “I’m about ready to drink.”


I thought to myself, “So am I.”


Without a second guess, I grabbed her up and took her to as many meetings that night as I could find. We spent all evening with friends in recovery laughing, sharing the message, and offering hope. I didn’t drink that night. I don’t know if she did or not, but the most important thing to me is that I didn’t. I faced fear head on and challenged its existence.


I finished my fear inventory the next day without any further delay. I had begun to know a new freedom. I had also realized my first truth in sobriety – that I was living proof that the phone lists they offer in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous really do save lives. It’s true. They saved mine.


~Tami Harper Winn~


The story written here is solely the work of the author’s. Any use or reproduction of this article is prohibited without written consent of the author or credit to the author through works cited.