This alcoholic finally got sober after bouncing in and out of AA for thirty-nine years
I went to my first AA meeting in the spring of 1953. It was a prerequisite to being released from a state hospital where I’d spent sixty days for alcoholism at the tender age of twenty-one. The hospital experience scared the hell out of me, and at my exit interview a wise and compassionate doctor painted a very grim picture of my future without treatment and strongly recommended that I follow up with AA. My initial reaction to AA meetings was one of relief in finding that I wasn’t alone. But stopping altogether wasn’t part of my plan at that point, and since I couldn’t find anything in “the book” about moderation, the book went on the shelf, and I went on my merry way. But I was starting to run a little scared.
A couple of years later, the book came off the shelf again and I began attending meetings in a desperate attempt to save a marriage that meant everything to me. But in the end, I drank again and lost everything. I’d wanted it to work with all my heart and became despondent and confused by my seeming inability to grasp the AA program.
Later, in a new location with a new family, I turned to AA again but could never put together more than a few months at a time. This began the pattern of my life: jails, hospitals, detoxes, and treatment programs of all descriptions. I escaped twice from a state hospital and had to stay on the run for a while. I usually went into treatment to avoid more serious consequences or to show someone I was trying to do the right thing. The truth was, I was only wanting to want it. My drunken episodes were coming more often and lasting longer.
The downward spiral of my life was having brutal effects on me physically and mentally. One crisis after the other became the norm, and one by one my friends and family gave up on me. I was filled with regret and anger over my wasted life. And through all of this I’d occasionally show up at AA meetings, sit in the back, and get out fast. I was living in a survival mode and losing the battle.
The summer of 1992 found me living alone in a little studio apartment where I had come to die. The previous year I’d been in and out of the hospital ten times for breathing problems and withdrawal from alcohol. During lucid intervals I’d been contacting old friends and loves in one last final hope of finding forgiveness. The wreckage of my past haunted me continually and I was terrified that it was all going to end this way without any kind of resolution. And then, suddenly, in one transforming moment, the most extraordinary event of my life occurred.
I was sitting at my kitchen table consumed with despair, staring at a bottle of whiskey and contemplating my lifelong love affair with my destroyer. My desolation seemed unbearable. I wanted to die.
Suddenly I became aware of what I can only describe as a presence. I was overwhelmed with a moment of truth so crystal clear it defied description. In that brief interlude of clarity I came to understand, with great certainty, that I could finally stop drinking right then if I really wanted to, and that God would show me how. All I had to do was ask. I sensed not to worry about the way; it would be revealed to me. There was a feeling of urgency, but without panic, to start at once. Then a sweet calmness swept through me, and I heard my voice saying through the tears, “Thank you God. . .at last.”
I began at once to take action. I had to taper myself off to avoid the DTs and convulsions I’d experienced in the past. And while the physical aspects of withdrawal were rough, the mental anguish was amazingly less severe this time.
During the third day, while almost sober, I had to go to the emergency room for breathing problems. The next day I called a cab to take me home and the driver happened to be an AA member. He became my sponsor that very evening. Two days later I was able to go to a meeting with him and a new life for me began in the program.
I knew from that moment at the kitchen table that I was on to something wonderful and big and new to me though I was reluctant at first to share the actual experience with anyone. But I never doubted the reality of what had happened that day, and as time went on, I began to realize the impact it would have on my entire life.
A few weeks into sobriety, about the time that my binge cycle usually came around, I awoke one morning to realize my compulsion to drink was gone. The little clock that had always before started ticking off the time to my next drunk was silenced. I haven’t heard it since.
Age and abuse have taken their toll on me, and starting a new life at sixty isn’t easy, but these last years of sobriety have been absolutely the best years of my life. My sponsor got me into service and the Steps immediately, and somehow everything was new again, untainted by those years of half measures and failure. Old situations that haunted me have been resolved. Loving relationships are being renewed. New and wonderful friends are showing me a new dimension of love. I feel for the first time in my life that I’m exactly where God wants me to be. Discovering sobriety is especially sweet since I came so close to never knowing it at all.
All this has occurred after thirty-nine years of bouncing in and out of AA. That’s a pretty dismal track record, but I don’t let it diminish the quality or joy of my newfound sobriety. I’ve learned the futility of trying to understand what I was doing wrong all those years. I do know that most of that time I was in a kind of spiritual limbo of just wanting to want it, which is nothing more than yearning for something better without doing much about it.
I’m writing in the hope that someone out there who is still struggling will see this and take heart. I don’t know of anyone less likely to get sober than I was in 1992. But God gave me a gift of inspiration and hope, and I know with certainty he yearns to give the same to anyone who really wants it and asks for it. It’s never too late for a miracle.