The Story Hall
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The Story Hall

Addicts In the Trees

Ivyland Memories

Are there any addicts up there? Tree shot by me

Home of the 7th World Literature Conference of N.A.

Alice commented on my last article about my early days in recovery. She was at the Stories Conference in Ivyland (aka the 7th World Literature Conference) with her sponsor from Harrisburg, Kathy B. That was the final conference prior to the initial publishing of the first edition of N.A.’s Basic Text. It was held in our place at 75 MacFarland Avenue in Ivyland, Pa, a little farm house out in the countryside of Bucks County.

I thought I’d write about my recollections of that house — how we came to live there, and how an N.A. World Literature Conference came to be held in our living room.

I’d gotten clean in Bucks County N.A. My clean date is March 17, 1980. That’s the day I got back from my only relapse. Devastated, I threw myself on the mercy of my home group, the Hulmeville Group of N.A. We had two meetings, the Friendship Group that met on Saturday nights, and the Hulmeville Steppers that met on Sunday nights, in the basement of a little church in Hulmeville, Pa.

They were all teenagers and very early 20-somethings, while I was a very old 25, a burnt-out disabled veteran who’d initially wondered what the hell he’d wandered into in that church basement. It didn’t take me long to recognize those N.A. kids as the key to my survival.

More Tree Shots — I took these at a retreat in Woodstock, Connecticut

Getting Canned

At the time, I had my own apartment in nearby Bensalem, in the Neshaminy Woods, backing right onto Neshaminy Creek. Two months into recovery, I got canned from a good job I’d held for two years as a warehouse manager for a printing firm. It would be quite awhile before I got back to earning what I’d earned at that job — years, in fact.

I could no longer afford the apartment, so had to temporarily move back in with my parents in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. That was very inconvenient, since it was about 45 minutes away from my home group in Bucks County, where all my N.A. meetings were. The gas costs alone were killing me. There wasn’t any N.A. in that part of New Jersey at the time. They had some meetings down by the Jersey shore, but that was another 45 minutes to an hour in the other direction, and I didn’t know any of them, yet. Those Bucks County kids were my peeps.

Going In With George on a Place

George R. was the kid with the most clean-time in Bucks County, with 3+ years. He was just turned 20, but he was the one with the connections to what was going on in N.A. outside of Bucks County. He was in the same boat I was, financially, and suggested we go into a place together. We found the farmhouse in Ivyland, and went into that together. It had three bedrooms, so in short order, we found another housemate, Al R.

Ivyland quickly became the place to go after meetings on a Friday or Saturday night. I’ll never forget the first time we had a houseful of addicts on a Saturday night, a “clean party” that went on into the wee hours of the morning, with lots of music, dancing, and general mayhem and good times.

The little farmhouse in Ivyalnd

Addicts in the Tree

Our landlords, who lived in the larger house right next door to the little farmhouse, were none too thrilled about all the noise and commotion. I was called on the carpet by Mrs. Conant, a nurse, the next day about the “crazy kids up in our tree at 2:00 in the morning”. She was certain there must have been underage drinking and drug use involved, something she did not approve of, and thought I should know better about such things.

Embarrassed, I explained to her who we were, and what we were about. She immediately backed off and said, “We fully support what you are doing — just try to keep the addicts out of the trees, okay? This will be your only warning about that. Next time, you’re out.” We never had any more addicts in the trees after that! I know, because I always checked the trees after that, whenever we had a houseful of addicts.

I did a lot of checking because, over the next several years, that house was always filled with addicts. I wasn’t being all spiritual when I walked out front and gazed up into the trees!

N.A. Lit, Bristol Lit, and Philly Lit

George and I got heavily involved in the N.A. Literature work following the First East Coast Convention. We had a number of mini-literature conferences in Ivyland, weekend long sessions of intense work on the Basic Text and other literature projects. By then, we were also helping out a group of addicts in Northeast Philly who wanted to work on the literature.

In Bucks County, we had the Bristol Literature Committee, or Bristol Lit, while in Philly they had the Philadelphia Literature Committee, or Philly Lit. George chaired both committees, employing the skills he’d learned at the World Literature Conferences he’d already been to.

We started up a Friday midnight meeting up the road in Doylestown at Pebble Hill Church, a Unitarian Universalist church. Billy A. from Allentown used to always come down for that meeting, then George would go up to Allentown with Billy for a Saturday morning meeting up there.

The Rainbow Connection

Connections

The addicts we’d met from down in Georgia had this great newsletter, the Rainbow Connection, that they encouraged us to submit articles to. Right before I got clean, I had rediscovered my writing, and just had words pouring out of me that needed a place to go. I sent a lot of poems and articles about recovery down to Georgia, and would be excited to find them in the next issue of the “connection”. Others in the group were experiencing the same thrill, and it was putting Bristol Lit on the N.A. map. We were proud of what we were doing.

A Message of Recovery — Issue 4 of the Clean Sheet

Clean Sheet

George encouraged me to start up a newsletter for the Philadelphia Area, which we were still a part of at the time, so I started up and edited The Clean Sheet, in January of 1981. Now, Bristol Lit and Philly Lit had a place of its own to publish work by its members.

I found I absolutely loved working on that newsletter. I was discovering a lot of problems, socially, in recovery, so the written word became my way of communicating what was going on with me. That still is my chosen form of communication, although I have since discovered that I am also very gregarious. I wasn’t then, though.

World Literature Conference

Flash forward to January, 1982, the 6th World Literature Conference was being held in Miami. The Basic Text was nearing completion. They had a bunch of stories they wanted to include in the back of the book, but they would need some work, some editing and ensuring they had stories representing a broad cross-section of the addicts that were currently in N.A.

George and Terica W. were at that conference, and maybe Al R. (?), I’m not sure, but I was typically at home, trying to hold down another job. I went through a lot of jobs in early recovery. I could get them, but I had trouble keeping them. Someone was always talking me into running off to some convention or conference, and I had trouble saying no. But, I was trying to be a responsible citizen in recovery.

All I remember was the call from Terica, from Florida. “Hey, Pete, guess where the next World Literature Conference is going to be?”

“I don’t know, Terica, you tell me.”

“Yeah, well, they were trying to figure out where we could hold it, and I piped up and said, ‘Oh, I know — let’s have it at Pete and Al’s house!’ Everyone thought that was a great idea!”

I did not! George had recently moved out, and we had a new housemate, Jerry S., a guy with about 10 years clean who was now a counselor, much more mature than the rest of us. I didn’t think he would be too happy about it ( he wasn’t, at first). Al was cool and definitely into it. I surrendered and just said, “Okay, when?”

Bringing the Mountain to Mohammed

The next call came from Bo S. “We couldn’t bring Mohammed to the mountain, so we decided to bring the mountain to Mohammed.” I had no idea what he was talking about, so I said, “Great, Bo. What do we do? I’ve never hosted a World Literature Conference before. Oh,and by the way, we have a ‘no-addicts-in-the-trees’ policy here in Ivyland.” I think I confused him as much with that statement as he’d confused me with his Mohammed and the mountain statement. We were mutually confused.

Bo Knows Literature!

Bo, however, was not confused about how to run a literature conference. Bo knew literature conferences. He told me exactly what I needed to make the place ready, and I just followed his guidance. We had rented copiers placed in Jerry’s bedroom (he moved out for the week), and we had addicts in every nook and cranny of that house, all weekend. Outside was a record blizzard, but inside, we were on fire with N.A. stories to edit.

It was held on January 15, 16 and 17, 1982. Bo and his wife, Anita, slept on the floor of my bedroom closet, using my slippers as pillows. I had no idea they were there, because I did not sleep that whole weekend. How could I? I had a houseful of addicts, and a tree to defend!

A Whopping Phone Bill!

I blew off another job that weekend, and got elected as the Vice Chair of the World Literature Committee. Page C., who had been the Vice Chair, got elected as Chair. Roger T., the previous chair, had gone missing in action, and the work on the book had to keep moving forward. Phone calls were made all over the world from our house that weekend. We had a whopping $847.00 phone bill at the end of it all.

That was hefty chunk of change in 1982. I don’t remember if we ever submitted it for reimbursement. I seem to recall finding another job, and paying it off myself. We didn’t worry about such things, then. We felt we were doing God’s work, and God would provide. I know the bill eventually got paid, since we never got our phone shut off.

I remember Bo trying to understand an addict from Japan who spoke no English. Somehow, I think an interpreter was found, as we got that addict’s story over the phone. There were many others like that.

History of Addiction, Recovery and N.A.

I was still two months shy of two years clean at that conference. Right after it was over, I went off to study at Leslie College in Massachusetts. There was a retreat in Ippswich, Mass, where I had to formulate a thesis. I chose to do my thesis on the history of addiction and recovery. My first job as Vice Chair of N.A. World Lit was to put together the History of N.A. I worked on N.A.’s history for the next two years. I never finished my thesis. I couldn’t afford to pay the tuition, even though it was being subsidized by the G.I. Bill. It was just too much to try to do.

Another Job Bites the Dust

I got a job as the warehouse manager at Windowizards and worked 6 days a week, 12 hours a day, trying to dig my way out of debt. That lasted until the N.A. World Convention in Milwaukee that fall. I went out there to present at a workshop on N.A. History, along with Greg P. and a few others. I also hosted an impromptu workshop on N.A. newsletters, where we put together the first issue of the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Freedom Connection. It was a hands-on workshop.

We also helped Vicki S. get Pittsburgh’s Miracles Happen Newsletter started at that workshop. I helped her with editing the first couple of issues of Miracles Happen. I remember meeting her at the Pittsburgh airport, where I was switching planes on my way to speak at a fund-raiser in Charleston, West Virginia, and going over her story boards for one of those first issues. She did a great job with that newsletter.

I came back home and had to find a new job. That was the story of my life in those days.

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Hawkeye Pete Egan B.

Hawkeye Pete Egan B.

3.2K Followers

Connecting the dots. Storytelling helps me to make sense of this world, and of my life. I love writing and reading. Writing is like breathing, for me.