I became familiar with Sandy Beach after entering the program of Alcoholics Anonymous two years ago.
I sought out people like Sandy after discovering a meeting featuring the most honest speakers I’ve ever heard. Previously, I thought catharsis was only experienced in the middle of a bender.
The speakers at this meeting had multi-week commitments, and their talks resembled seminars. This is the kind of talk Sandy excelled in.
There is no hierarchy in AA. The highest rank you achieve is alcoholic. Whether you’re recovering or recovered the disease is the same.
Yet, some get a bit of notoriety due to their comprehension of the program, and knack for simplifying complex ideas.
Some people show you the way, others are the way. Sandy was a way shower, but he possessed an otherworldly wisdom. He had a mischievousness about him that gurus tend to have. He was at ease.
Sandy was a circuit speaker. He traveled around the country delivering the message of AA. Sometimes, a speaker’s talk is recorded, and this recording is known as a speaker tape.
To this day, you can go to a meeting and there might be a pile of CD’s for the taking. It might be someone’s responsibility to record the meeting and put it online. Few organizations take audio archiving and history as seriously as AA. After all, it’s not like people are taking videos or pictures at a meeting.
The most well known speaker tapes are the Joe and Charlie series. After that, you hear the names of Mark Houston, Chuck Chamberlain, and Sandy Beach. They’ve all passed away, and Sandy is my favorite to listen to.
It’s a combination of what he says, as well as how he says it. His voice is simultaneously recognizable and distinct. Before Murder on Middle Beach, I only knew him through his voice and these tapes.
The existence of speaker tapes may seem strange if anonymity is important to you, but they are very helpful in spreading the message to those who need to hear it. I now listen to Sandy’s tapes the way I listened to the White Album as a teenager.
Murder on Middle Beach has to do with the murder of Sandy’s daughter, which is being investigated by his grandson. Sandy accepts his daughter’s death with the grace of someone who’s been working a program for half a century.
The documentary is fascinating, in part, due to the accurate portrayal of those of us in AA — we are completely insane.
You will make some of the deepest connections of your life in the program. You will also participate in, or witness drama you never imagined. An AA meeting can be a form of entertainment; it is often better than TV.
The disease of alcoholism has a tendency to amplify our character defects. Our problem isn’t alcohol, or so we tell ourselves — it’s other people. In reality, the problem is how I react to other people and situations.
A large portion of the program has to do with emotional sobriety, and getting better at relating to people we find difficult — which is everyone.
Officially, those of us in the program are to remain anonymous on the level of press, radio, and film. However, the decision to remain anonymous is a personal choice. I will not tell Sandy’s story, but I will share an idea of his that stuck with me.
Sandy believes free will does not exist. According to him, we only get to make one choice in life, and this is it:
Imagine two roads diverged in a wood. One path is the path of the ego, the other the spiritual path. When we make decisions based on our ego, or solely on what we want, we are tricking ourselves into thinking we have free will. In fact, these decisions have already been made for us by our ego, and we merely justify them after the fact. Free will is an illusion.
When we’re centered on our ego there is no room for our true nature to come out. We don’t know what the core of us is — we only know what we have told ourselves.
So we must let go. I have to let go of every problem I think I have, and then individually question these things for the rest of my life.
Sandy’s hero was Chuck Chamberlain, and he loved to repeat a catchphrase of his — “uncover, discover, discard.” According to Sandy, “Chuck was just looking for one more thing he was wrong about, so he could throw it away.”
Choosing between the path of the ego and the spiritual path is the only choice we get to make.
It is common to hear people say, “let go and let God” at meetings. Sandy thought this was redundant, because all you actually need to do is the first part. I can explain the invisible force that arrives when letting go any way I want, but it’s easier to call it God.
Some people will tell you to live life on life’s terms. Others will tell you to live life on God’s terms.
Life and God are the same thing. To be in alignment with God is to be in alignment with life. Most of us ask what we want from life, rather than what life wants from us. The goal is to be a conduit for life.
What my ego wants and what God wants are frequently in opposition. But I do not want to be at war with what is. I need to be aware, and I need to keep giving things away to God.
When drinking, my primary purpose was to get what I wanted, when I wanted it. To think that there was another way to live was something I never even considered.
A common refrain in AA is, “clean house, trust God, help others.” The three things I learned in AA that I constantly repeat to myself are:
- Cease fighting
- God is everything
- Relieve me of the bondage of self
We may not all be alcoholics, but we can all let go.