It keeps our memories green and our hearts grateful
FEAR, FOR THIS alcoholic, is a two-edged sword. It really cuts both ways. If you don’t believe me, read on.
When I drank, in periodic binges, the panic inside me cut through the anesthesia of alcohol and tranquilizers. Sheer, free-floating terror demanded that I seek oblivion. Mine was an edgy, hagridden, pessimistic view of living.
When I finally and mercifully sobered up in Alcoholics Anonymous, another sort of fear materialized–but the new fear seemed manageable, even sensible and agreeable. It’s what I now know as reasonable fear. Unlike the horrors of drunkenness and pill abuse, reasonable fear came out of sobriety. It is the voice of reason, flowing from recognition of what I truly am–an incurable alcoholic who tries to stay sober a day at a time.
I believe that the terrors of drinking transmit, in their weird and disquieting way, the voice of God as I understand Him. He just may have been telling me that if I sufficiently became frightened and hurt, I might do something about myself. Fear does, indeed, have two edges!
Reasonable fear never lets me forget what I am; it helps me identify with the words and lives of other alcoholics as we share experience, strength, and hope in AA meetings.
It reminds me of the dangers that still lurk not far offshore, should I be tempted to plunge again into the waters of active alcoholism. It keeps me out of bars and other such centers of self-indulgence–I no longer have any business in bars. If I am thirsty, there are water coolers in abundance, not to mention soft-drink vending machines and roadside root-beer stands. Reasonable fear restrains me from accepting invitations to cocktail parties, formal or impromptu, because I grossly abused such social gatherings of normal drinkers many times in the past. It tells me I cannot take the first drink, because I failed to handle the last drink years ago.
It keeps me straight. It suggests that I read the Big Book more than just occasionally. It suggests that I attend Step meetings. It opens my eyes, ears, mind, and heart to the burdens of others. It cultivates understanding and even tolerance in a life once filled with self-seeking and cynicism.
Reasonable fear reminds me what I have today; it summons up a list of happy minor-league achievements that, when drinking, I never dreamed I would accomplish or even enjoy. It tells me that these good and satisfying things came of working the AA program, and that I did them with a lot of help from my friends, both in and out of the program.
Reasonable fear has brought me into closer touch with my sons. It has even given me some insight into children less close. I am often amazed how other people’s children ask me questions and even seek my advice as if they really thought I knew something about living!
Reasonable fear recurs every time I look with amusement and identification at the little Victor E. character as he appears each month in the Grapevine–all worried and perspiring, gazing longingly through those too-familiar swinging doors. Victor E. and I have a similar problem, you know, and you can’t blame him for getting me to write this article.
So here’s the story. It all began weeks ago when I was invited to a stag cocktail luncheon, an annual affair like those I hastened to with nervous relish in the drinking years. It was the hometown alumni reunion of my college.
You know the scene: much conviviality, old friendships renewed, new friendships begun, and at least one character prowling around the periphery of the crowd and arousing laughter as he heads repeatedly for the bar (that once would have been me).
Traditionally, everyone gets a bit mellow before lunch, and a speaker representing the school appears to tell us how important we have been to the sustained development of our alma mater.
In the bad old days, I would have planned for this event with some care. I would have left word at the office that I could not be expected until the following morning, because I intended to make business calls after the luncheon, while I was in town. Naturally, I didn’t want to return to the office drunk (though I attended the party intending to get drunk).
Later that afternoon, long after the luncheon had broken up in noisy farewells, I would perhaps retain some dim memory of what the speaker had said and maybe even what I had said to my colleagues. Maybe. Principally, I would have started off on another spree, for I used that perfectly normal occasion as an excuse for another round of unbridled drinking.
My problems would begin the following day when, after I retrieved my head from beneath the bed (that is, if I had made it home all right), I would try to reconstruct what I had done with the car after I drove off from the luncheon and started wandering about. Maybe I wouldn’t be seeing too well, but the car just didn’t seem to be in my driveway.
As the aftermath to several other “innocent” occasions, I found myself confronted with a pair of bored and belligerent cops who seemed determined to jail me. Now how could they do this to me?–me, a distinguished graduate, a husband, a father, a faithful taxpayer, a sincere patriot, a basically decent guy. Well, they could and they did. As a fellow sufferer once cracked in the drunk tank, “Everybody’s got to be someplace!”
Today, my story has a different finale. Reasonable fear saw to that. Reasonable fear said it was all right to attend the luncheon, drink two ginger ales, speak politely to the younger alumni, listen to the speaker, then return to the office.
I got to the party, all right, but I didn’t make it to lunch. I had two ginger ales, mingled with the troops, and remembered something. I remembered that there was an excellent meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous nearby, and that it would probably be starting about now. That day, I needed to hear what AA said more than I needed to hear what our coach would tell us about next fall’s football team.
Laying my finger aside of my nose, I vanished from the reunion, to reappear suddenly at the clubhouse, where the meeting had started minutes before. Reasonable fear had driven me and my car carefully through traffic to the meeting. The topic–I have a better memory these days–was the Second Step: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”