Alcohol convinced him he was all alone, unable to live life. The Steps brought him back into the light
Before I got sober, most of my time was spent drinking and thinking about how I should be elevated to the appropriate stature that I so rightly deserved. I was determined to prove to everyone that I was very important.
I eventually found myself sitting alone in the dead of winter, surrounded by snow in a small mountain cabin that had no heat or power. I had lost my job. I had no friends. I didn’t even have any real food. And yet, I had liquor and cigarettes.
I tried to reassure myself that everything was OK even though I was broke, alone and drinking bottom-shelf whisky while staring out the window into the empty coldness of winter. How could this have happened to me? After all, I was fairly hardworking, decent, reliable and a pretty much all-around nice guy.
Yet there I was, alone and desperate. Despair enveloped me. In my quest to achieve self-sufficiency, I had rejected any type of assistance, companionship or love because I was afraid. Afraid to be expected to be a part of something, to do something, to be something that was beyond my capabilities. I was missing something that others had, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
So I took more classes, engaged in more physical exercise, went on backpacking, mountaineering, scuba diving and skiing excursions. I raced motorcycles and always celebrated with a drink, which connected me with others.
But no matter how much I drank, I couldn’t recapture that moment of fleeting connection through alcohol. Inwardly, I had become as empty, bleak and cold as the winter that lay outside. Despair made me willing. Sitting there at the window, I finally asked God for help.
Not long after that prayer, I moved back in with my parents, the last refuge of a scoundrel. Within a few days, I found myself sitting in a meeting of AA, being welcomed by people I had never met. No one needed to tell me. I knew that this was the end of the line.
All the people I met at the meeting had one thing in common: they seemed happy, interested in my welfare. They wanted to help me. I wanted the help. I needed the help, but I was afraid of rejection, ridicule and shame for not knowing how to live.
When anyone asked how I was I either responded with a long litany of problems, most of which were imaginary, or I’d say that I was fine.
Every time I heard someone say, “You’ve got to give it away to keep it,” self-pity would well up inside me. At times, I’d respond with self-righteous indignation, insisting that my problems were different. I kept thinking, How are these Steps going to help find me a job, a place to live or friends? I had a rotten attitude.
What I didn’t understand was that my relationships with God, people and myself were all broken. But despite all this, my prayer for help was answered. The answer came in the form of an AA member who asked me to meet him the following night. For some reason, I showed up.
I told the man about all the things that were wrong in my life, but before I could tell him that they were caused by others, he stopped me.
“Let me ask you a question,” he said. “I come out of a blackout in the North African desert during World War II and I’m in an Army uniform. I’ve got two Thompson submachine guns and an Army jeep. Now, there’s only one problem with this picture. I’m in the Navy and my ship is over in Tripoli. How’s that for a problem?”
This man didn’t preach or lecture. What he did was share his brand of crazy, which I could accept. This started our journey through the Steps. It wasn’t long before I found myself stuck at Step Three. I couldn’t stop thinking about an encounter I had had a few nights ago with three drunks while I was working as a security guard. They were hanging around the retirement complex I was assigned to. I told the three of them that they couldn’t sleep in the bushes there. As they were leaving, I said, “You don’t have to live this way anymore if don’t want to,” which was a saying I had heard at an AA meeting.
They stopped and turned around and one of them looked me in the eye. “You’re one of those damn AAs, aren’t you?” he said. “Listen, kid, you’re going to have more problems than you know what to do with. Soon you’ll have a wife, mortgage, kids and a job. The only problem I have is where I’m going to get a bottle. I can always get a meal at the rescue mission.”
The next day, I told my sponsor what had happened. I said, “Fine, I’ll take the Third Step but I want a guarantee that nothing bad is going to happen to me.”
“So do I,” my sponsor answered. That was 35 years ago.
So I took the Third Step. Shortly afterward, I was sitting in a meeting and all of a sudden the thought crossed my mind that from now on everything thing was going to be OK, and that I might even be able to fix a few things. This was a revolutionary idea for me. As far back as I could remember, I never felt that anything would ever be OK and certainly nothing was fixable.
That night, I wrote my Fourth Step and began my journey of living the principles of the Twelve Steps. Slowly, my relationships with God, others and myself were restored.
Since practicing these principles in all my affairs, I’ve had the opportunity to serve in the Coast Guard, get married, become a father of four, return to school, build a career as an engineer and buy a house. Along the way, I’ve had my challenges. I lost friends and family members, some to alcoholism and others to health problems. But I’ve also gained friends and have witnessed the miracle of recovery many times.
During the Great Recession, I found myself out of job in my mid-50s. But thanks to the program, I was able to fearlessly inventory my assets and liabilities, using the same format that I used when I first got sober and my sponsor asked me, point blank, what I could really do. I was able to find another job.
After three years working in this new position, I was diagnosed with leukemia during a routine work-related physical. I was initially told that I had only six months to live and that I should get my affairs in order. That was six years ago.
Currently, we are dealing with a family member who has significant health issues and another who is deep into the despair of active alcoholism. I’m beginning to understand what was said to me by one of those three drunk guys so long ago: “Listen, kid, you’ll have more problems then you’ll know what to do with.”
I used to be so afraid of what could happen that I never used to really live. Now I try to the best of my ability to live every day as an opportunity to be of service, and when I do, all is well. That feeling I had when I realized that everything was going to be OK has never really left me, even if that idea can sometimes seem distant. Also, I no longer worry about disappointing those around me, nor do I live in self-loathing.
As the Big Book says, I have “a new employer” who provides what I need, not what I want. That awful despair that I experienced on that cold winter day has never returned, and for I that I am eternally grateful.