He went to a meeting; his brother went to a bar
What is that saying–when God closes a door, he opens a window? I have found this to be true in my life since getting sober. I have been sober since May 1996. With the help of a sponsor who told me what to do, and by attending many meetings, being of service, helping others, praying, listening to other sober people and working the Steps, I am living a life beyond my wildest dreams. If you had asked me during my first year of sobriety, I would not have been so positive about my AA experience.
I come from a family of alcoholics and people addicted to “more.” I was raised in Philadelphia with my two older brothers, and each of us developed our own addiction. Fortunately, mine didn’t bloom until I was in college. My middle brother was not so lucky. He died three times from his addiction before he finally died in May 1997.
I was at a graduation for a friend from the program. Tiffany was my “sober buddy.” We were both young, gay, and trying to start a new way of life while finishing up college. She had won a special award and I was sitting at her “family” table, because no one from her family had shown up. I had a strange feeling of urgency to get home to my parents’ house, because I knew something was going on. I waited until after her award was presented and eventually bowed out, heading home on a hunch.
When I got home, I found both of my parents crying hysterically in the living room. My mother couldn’t look at me. My father could only say “It happened. Your brother is dead.” I remember not feeling surprised or overwhelmed by grief at that time. I sat with them and tried to comfort them as best I could. My other brother got the news and went to the bar. I went up to my bedroom and called my sponsor.
I was fortunate to have a wonderful sponsor who went to all lengths to help me get sober. My sponsor was not home. I left him a message saying I needed to talk to him right away. When he called me back, I told him that Chris was dead. When I heard his voice, I finally felt safe enough to let down my guard and I cried and cried. My sponsor told me to ask my family what they needed me to do to help them prepare for the funeral, and he reminded me that I was the only sober person in my family. I knew what this meant.
The first horrible task was to tell my brother’s children that their father was dead. My six-year old nephew listened to me explain how his father was an angel, and finally interrupted me. “So he’s dead,” my nephew said. I told him yes. All he wanted was to go home and be with his mother.
Each night of that week, someone else in AA gave me a different commitment. One night, I had to open the church. Another night, I had to drive a newcomer to the meeting. Another night, I had to speak. Another night, make coffee. And so I went through the motions of the days, burying my brother, having a mass and a wake, and each night going to a meeting. At each meeting, I cried. At each meeting, people held my hand.
I didn’t realize the power of AA or sobriety at that point. I didn’t know that AA was a winning lottery ticket. The payback for me has been a range of emotions, choices, friends, faith, family, responsibility, and self-respect. Time goes by, and each May I remember my brother and it is bittersweet at my anniversary time. But all the things that have happened in my life have been a gift.
Now, I live with a wonderful partner in Maryland. I am active in AA, have a new and equally wonderful sponsor, reach out my hand to others, work the Steps, and pray. Most importantly though, I never forget. I don’t forget the faces of the people who helped me through that horrible week. I don’t forget to offer that support when someone else needs it. I don’t know their names anymore, but our exchange was beyond words.
I know that this opportunity to live a life riding a winning lottery ticket is not cashed in by each person who tries AA. I don’t know why I got sober and my brother did not. I don’t know why AA works. I just know that I am sober and grateful today, and I hope I die sober. But there is little I can do to control the future, so when I lay my head down and pray tonight I will again thank God for the fortune I have received. And when I die, I can’t wait to tell Chris about how wonderful life can be.