My name is Paul Doyle and I am a Recovered Alcoholic and I say of myself, "I was a defect looking for a character - that is my semi-humorous assessment of my former self. My sobriety date is 31st January 1985. “Strangely, despite a culture, which has made victims of us all, I do not blame my background for my alcoholism. I put it down to chemistry or being born that way. I always felt different.”  

I was born in Plymouth, England on the 9th August 1949. My father was an Irish Roman Catholic who left Dublin at the age of 17 to come to England. I was sent away to what was called at that time a ‘special school for maladjusted children.' This was a painful time where I felt very rejected and lonely. Only in later years did I diagnose myself as being dyslexic.

In 1976 I remember praying to God to make my father better from lung cancer. But when my father died, I saw this as God not answering my prayers and so I blamed God for my dad dying. Already drinking heavily,” My father's death and my anger with God led to more drinking and I was finally admitted into Morehaven mental institution with a 'nervous breakdown’,(a normal symptom of a practicing alcoholic like me.)                 

I became unemployable in 1979 after an accident in the dockyard where I worked. My addictions were taking me over by 1980. I would be in the pub and I would say to myself, It's nine o'clock, I'll go home,' but I never did. I was always the last one out. And, I would wake up putting the key in the door, having blacked out. Then waking up the next morning full of guilt and remorse, saying, 'It will never happen again,' and then two days later going out and doing the same things again." My behaviour became volatile and violent and I was subjected to eight sessions of electric shock treatment at Morehaven mental institution.

I came into alcoholics anonymous with that feeling of helplessness and hopelessness describing my rock bottom. That morning of my last drink I woke up to an empty house and the ‘Four Horsemen’ of terror, bewilderment, frustration and despair - along with a wet bed. I began thinking about God that old man with a long cloak and white bread writing bad things in a book about me.

Two years later I became a taxi driver in Plymouth and was still dry but on the verge of committing suicide. No one told me how I could change from the inside out by doing the 12 steps of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

I then was given a tape of Clarence Snyder, which was going to change my life, and my concept of Alcoholics Anonymous and my concept of God. I learned from Clarence that God was at the centre of the original AA message and that He was the only one that can change us from the inside out. In June 1989 I found out more about Clarence Snyder by writing to the Alcoholics Anonymous office in New York. They replied that Clarence's story was in the Big Book, "The Home Brewmeister", with no more details about him. Still determined to find out more, I found a meeting in Florida through a local A.A. ‘Where to Find.'

I discovered through an A.A. member in the USA that Clarence died in March 1984, but that Clarence's wife Grace was still living. I rang Grace and she sent me a flyer for the November 1989 retreat in Leesburg, Florida, along with a photo of Clarence. I worked hard in my job as a taxi driver to raise the money to be able to go to the retreat.

My son Michael and me made our way to Grace's home in Casselberry, Florida, staying in what was Clarence's office, surrounded by his books. Grace prayed for me. The main speaker on the Retreat weekend was Ed Andy, then the oldest living member of A.A. in regard to sobriety time, with 51 years. He had been Dr. Bob's drinking buddy in the late Twenties. Grace was 22 years sober and I was coming up to 4 years without a drink. The next day we left for the Retreat in Leesburg.  "There was something about them that I was not seeing at the meetings at home in Plymouth; they were joyful and happy. I went through the Twelve Steps with Steve Foreman on the Saturday afternoon of the retreat. Clarence took Steve through the Steps in the same way in 1979 just as he was taken through them by Dr Bob Smith back in 1938 in Akron, Ohio, U.S.A. I was presented with the tapes of the weekend along with some books and pamphlets about how A.A. had started. They prayed over me telling me to go back to Plymouth and let my light shine and carry the message of the Retreat to other Alcoholics. Returning home, I started carrying the message but there was still something missing."

In 1992 God put a clear message on my heart, to start a retreat in Plymouth. So in September 1993 I started the first came to believe retreat with Noel Scully at Buckfast Abbey near Plymouth, UK. Steve and Sue Foreman with Annette Nelson and Liz Rogers come over to plant the Retreat for us. Today there are 14 retreats in the UK at different venues - many holding two retreats a year. The power of God runs deep. When I was with Steve Foreman in Orlando I remember Steve saying when asked how the program works, he would reply “it works great.” And I would insert my own reply, which was "It works BLOODY great!"  In closing, come and experience the 12 steps at a Came To Believe Retreat and do them as the founders of AA taught. Taking them over a weekend. And discover there’s more to the program than just going to meetings and not drinking or using.

Paul Doyle organised the first UK retreat in 1993

Here is his story

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