Three little words, one big difference
My loneliness was a ceaseless, tangible thing, which gnawed away at my guts like a particularly nasty form of cancer. The cause of all this loneliness was that something inside me, beyond my control, made me vicious and frequently violent. I drank heavily every day in an effort to keep down the pain of being me. But the more I drank, the worse it got. And, the worse it got, the more I drank. I found myself trapped in the proverbial vicious circle. I didn’t want to be the way I was; I just couldn’t stop.
I had no friends, my family feared and hated me, and, after a while, I feared and hated me. It seemed that no matter what I tried, I failed miserably. I even screwed up an attempt at suicide. Apparently I would be forced to live this miserable existence forever.
One day, while walking in a filthy, windblown alley, an unusual pamphlet blew against me and stuck to the front of my ragged jacket.
I’m the sort of guy who reads everything–even cereal boxes. I picked the pamphlet off the front of my jacket and saw that it contained a list of questions, questions like “Do you ever try to get ‘extra’ drinks at a party because you do not get enough?” With nothing better to do, I sat down on a nearby rusty garbage can to take the test.
I’ve never been very good at taking tests because I’ve always been too lazy to study for them. Consequently, I was surprised when I passed this one with flying colors. Out of twenty questions, I got seventeen right.
Pleased with myself, I read the fine print at the bottom of the page: “If you answered yes to four or more of these questions, you are probably in trouble with alcohol.”
Baloney, I thought. I drink because I have problems, not the other way around. To prove the point, I decided right then and there to swear off drinking.
That lasted three whole days.
On Saturday evening, having assured myself that I didn’t have a drinking problem, I decided to have one beer with my dinner. Opening a fresh case of twenty-four cans, I took one out.
Six hours later, around midnight, I decided to have one more beer before going to sleep. I opened the refrigerator and, to my dismay, found just one lonely beer–not the expected twenty-three. Not even twelve. Just one.
My wife was, as usual, sobbing quietly behind the locked bedroom door as I wandered aimlessly through the house looking at the twenty-three crushed, empty beer cans scattered over the floor.
To this day, I don’t know why, but, for the first time in my life, I uttered what I now call the three magic words. Standing stock-still, in the middle of my kitchen floor, I said, “God, help me!”
I don’t remember using the telephone, but I must have done so. My heart is filled with gratitude for the unnamed, but very wise, telephone operator who knew precisely what was wrong and connected me to the AA hotline.
At around two o’clock, less than two hours after I had uttered those magic words, I found myself sitting on my sofa talking to a man named Bill.
Bill told me that he was an alcoholic and that he had found a way to put a stop to his drinking, and his misery. When he finished telling me his story, he did a very strange and wonderful thing. Bill asked me if I was interested in finding out more. Somehow, I managed to blubber through my tears that I was willing to do anything he asked.
Bill told me to try not to drink until seven o’clock that evening; when he would come by and take me to a “meeting.”
I spent the entire day pacing outside my house because I knew that, if I went inside, I would probably drink that last beer and then go in search of more.
Bill arrived, just as he’d promised, and drove me to a field house in a nearby city park. The place was jam-packed with laughing, happy people. Someone handed me a Styrofoam cup of coffee. I sat quietly in a corner trying valiantly to not be noticed and, using both hands, trying to keep my coffee from leaping out of the violently shaking cup.
When the meeting began a few minutes later, a gentleman at the front of the room asked if there were any newcomers to AA.
It must have been God who raised my hand. No one was sitting very near me because of the way I stank. I had neither the strength nor the courage to do it. It must have been God.
The mood in the room seemed to change suddenly. Each person seemed to speak directly to me. They welcomed me! I hadn’t been welcome anywhere for years. They told me to keep coming back. Everyone else told me to never come back. Everyone there told me about his or her experience with drinking and how, one day at a time, he or she managed to not take a drink.
Throughout my thirty-eight years of miserable existence, I had been searching for something that I found that night. It came as a gift, freely given, by a roomful of happy, smiling, total strangers. They gave me hope.
Somehow, with the hope those people had given me, I managed to not drink the next day. At seven o’clock that evening, Bill showed up to take me to another meeting.
This process continued every day, until one evening, on the way home, I asked Bill to be my sponsor. Somehow, through the miracle of our Fellowship, each day got to be a little easier.
Today, I know that I am one of the lucky ones. The vicious, violent beast within me has been asleep for a long time now. By not drinking–just for today–God has granted me over twenty-two years of happy, joyous living.
In the meetings I attend, newcomers sometimes ask me how I’ve been able to stay sober so long. My answer is always the same: every morning, the first thing I do is say the three magic words–God, help me.
I’m sure he’ll help you, too. All you have to do is ask.