Borrowed Faith – Grapevine Article May 2022 by Michael C.

He was back in detox again, but this time was different. A fellow member helped open his soul

The craving traveled a well-worn path that started in the pit of my stomach. It moved up to my heart, making it beat harder and faster. My heart ushered it to my lungs, which responded by taking rapid breaths, which made my heart beat even faster. The relentless march continued to my neck and the back of my head, where a magnificent storm would become a crushing headache. 

I looked at my hands. The shaking would soon amplify until I would not be able to hold a cup of coffee without spilling it. I needed a drink to stop this familiar parade. That would fix me. 

The room began spinning. I closed one eye. But I was not in my bedroom. I started to panic. I was damp with night sweats. There was another bed to my left, where a man was snoring. To my right was a chest of drawers on top of which I could see my wallet and some change. On the black and white-tiled linoleum floor were the clothes I had worn during my entire two-week drinking binge. Where was I? What had I done? My mind began spinning. I needed to get home. 

I could remember lying on my couch at home, a magnum bottle of white wine within easy reach. I had just returned from the store where I had purchased four magnums. Then, I recalled the cashier. “Good morning, sir,” she had said. “Did you find everything you were looking for?” I responded, “Yesh,” reeking of alcohol, smelling every bit as bad as a man can smell after not changing his clothes or taking a shower for weeks. I smiled weakly as she put the change into my trembling hand. 

I recalled marveling at my driving 10 miles home with one eye closed. I would return to those memories later when I did my Second Step. I remember walking into my house where I felt safe because the four magnums represented another day I wouldn’t have to confront the outside world. Another day I would ignore incoming calls from people wondering if I was OK. I returned to my couch watching NCIS reruns I had seen a dozen times before. I took six long pulls from the bottle and closed my eyes. I wanted to sleep. I closed my eyes and promised myself that I would do better tomorrow.

With a sudden jolt of fear and shame, I remembered calling my best friend, asking for help. I was in and out of a blackout when he came for me. Next thing I knew I was in this detox—again! I got up and put the slippers on my feet and walked to the common area. I asked Thomas the nurse for some medications to stop my jitters. He was talking to a young woman who I interrupted. He asked if she would mind if he took care of me. She looked at me and smiled brightly. She held out her hand to me and said, “Hi, I’m Meredith. You look like you need Thomas a lot more than I do.” Thomas chuckled and walked me over to the nurses’ station. He took my vital signs and said that my blood pressure was 210 over 140. I am not a physician, but I know that a normal blood pressure is around 120 over 80. “Am I having a stroke?” I asked. “You don’t appear to be,” he responded calmly. I don’t appear to be? That was not the answer I was expecting or wanting to hear. “Can I get some medication that will lower my blood pressure and stop my tremors?” I asked, in a pitch higher than I intended. Thomas checked his chart. “Not until eight o’clock,” he said.

I returned to my cold, damp bed. At 7:30 I was standing in line at the nurses’ station to get my medication. I was not the first person in line. The others were shaking like I was. I looked around the common room. It was filling up as people strolled in from breakfast and joined the line behind me. Over there was the woman I had met earlier, Meredith, who was not standing in line. She sat by herself, reading a book. I put her out of mind once the line began to move. 

After receiving my meds, I went to my room. I showered, shaved and put on clean clothes. I went to look for a book or a magazine in the common room. I would be in detox at least five days. I knew the drill. I had been several times. I was feeling much better as the meds started to take hold. I spied Meredith still sitting alone, still reading her book.

I went over and stood before her to thank her for sharing Thomas with me earlier that morning. I found out she had been in detox for two days. I asked if she had gotten her morning medications. I was stunned when she said she had not. I asked her how she could possibly stand the anxiety she must be feeling and then she said something that fascinated me: “My faith gives me strength.”

From that moment I was hungry for whatever it was that she had. I had no faith in God, but I felt starved for the strength she garnered from this faith she had. When she could see that I was serious about learning, she became serious about helping me. “How does one gain faith if one has no faith?” I asked her. “Well,” she responded, “it tells you in the Big Book how to gain faith. It says here that if you have willingness, you have the key that will open the door to faith. Relax, you have the willingness. I can see it in your eyes.”

Meredith went on to say that faith is gained from prayer but that in her experience, prayer does not work as quickly as alcohol. Foxhole prayers said once or twice rarely get a response. Prayer requires perseverance and the openness to accept God’s will, which does not always neatly align with ours. She went on to tell me that some of the worst things that happened to her had turned into disguised gifts that developed the very strength I admired.

I spent 10 days in that detox, much of it talking about spiritual matters with Meredith. I’m happy to say that the spiritual seeds that Meredith planted have really bloomed. I have begun to see God do for me what I was never able to accomplish on my own. For the first time, I can feel serenity and what it’s like to be “right-sized.” I’m using the Third Step Prayer as my spiritual GPS. I’m getting a feeling for who I am, and I like what I see.

At my very first AA meeting, the discussion theme was the Ninth Step Promises. I clearly remember my reaction to hearing those Promises. I thought, That’s fine for everyone else, but they are never going to happen to me. I am a trauma survivor. I left home feeling enormously ashamed. You would never know about my shame because of two things. First, I never talked about my shame, and second, I presented myself as a self-assured, confident man who had all of life’s answers and was delighted to share them with anyone. 

I got a sponsor and I thank God for him. He taught me how to pray and strongly encouraged me to pray consistently. He taught me to be transparent, to show my fear, shame and rage openly in AA meetings. He mentored me into asking for help. He took those seeds that Meredith sowed and taught me how to nourish them.

I am on the cusp of my fourth anniversary in AA now and I’m thinking about the dark days that led up to that last, horrible drinking spree. I think about Meredith and the long talks we shared. We lost touch immediately after our detox experience. She did not feel comfortable giving a man her telephone number. But she gave me a spiritual gift that I vow to pay forward. I wonder how she’s doing, but I don’t worry about her. I’m confident that she’s flourishing and spreading more seeds wherever she is. I now have my own seeds and I’m working hard to follow through on my commitment to pay it forward.

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