Having fun wasn’t much fun
One of the last AA meetings I attended before my self-styled graduation from Alcoholics Anonymous was at La Tuna Federal Prison. Set in a windswept desert plain, La Tuna rises up like a Spanish hacienda surrounded by razor wire and thick white walls. I saw myself supporting AA with my participation in a “hospitals and institutions” meeting that carried the message of recovery to some poor fools.
We sat in a small room behind a maze of steel doors and told our stories of recovery to a small group of uneasy, blunt-faced prison inmates. I felt depressed, washed out, tired, and lonely when we left. I returned to my Army barracks and slept uneasily beneath a prickly, stiff Army-issue blanket scented with the piney odor of Army-issue, detergent. For all my good works and good intent, this was my reward? Simply not drinking for yet another day?
Five years of AA meetings was enough, I decided. All I needed to do was just not drink, pray once in a while, and focus on my new Army life. I didn’t mention any of this to my old sponsor back in New Hampshire because I knew that he would give me an earful of AA jargon: “Stop going to meetings and you’ll end up drunk again.”
I had better things to do than give my free time to a good cause like AA. With five years of sobriety, it was time to get busy living. Enough, already.
And live I did. I had a great time with my Army buddies. Sure, they drank a few beers, and sometimes a lot more, but I stuck with ginger ale and I was fine.
Then came the day I completed Army service and became a civilian. With the whole world in front of me, I felt giddy. Now I would chase my dream of becoming a world traveler, committed to nothing and no one. I would waste no time supporting do-good organizations like AA. I would fulfill my own sense of self-happiness. No moss for this rolling stone.
A month later, someone offered me a gin and tonic. My first reaction was fear: all that knowledge about the compulsion preceding the obsession. What the heck, no one knows me out here anyway! was my second reaction. I bolted it down and waited for the sky to crash down on my head. Nothing happened. I felt less ill at ease; a warm glow rose from my belly to my head. I took another. I became violently ill, heaving and dry heaving into the toilet, my face almost touching the water.
Eureka! I’m no longer an alcoholic, I thought. A real alcoholic could handle much, much more than two watery gin and tonics. Here I was, puking my guts out. At last! I could now drink like a normal person. All the fun I had missed!
For ten years, I tried to make up for all the fun I had let pass me by. I had fun marrying a beautiful, sensitive woman and infecting her life with my mental sickness; fun losing a beautiful new house and tens of thousands of dollars using alcoholic bad judgment; lots of fun getting fired repeatedly; big fun going into violent blackouts. I had so much fun on my last drunk that I had to bribe a couple of Mexican police officers to keep from being thrown in jail.
My wife was having so much fun that she began packing her bags to leave with our child. Good, I thought as she packed, now I can drink like I want to, without her constant nagging about how I drink too much. In a quiet voice, she told me how I had tried to strangle her to death the day before. As she was passing out, our six-year-old daughter started hitting me on the knee and crying, “Daddy, Daddy, stop! You’re hurting Mommy!” She told me that I released her and passed out on the bed until evening, then left the house to drink some more.
I remembered nothing at first. Then, little fragments of the living nightmare flickered into my conscious mind, including a vivid one of my little girl desperately trying to save her mother’s life. I had a vision of my life as a road that vanished into a barren, desert horizon. I was living in nothing and going nowhere fast.
Without another thought of word, I dropped to my knees and prayed for the first time in a decade. “God, I am a hopeless alcoholic,” I said aloud. “I have harmed everyone who ever tried to love me. I believe you can relieve me of this insanity, as you did fifteen years ago. I fire myself from being in charge of my life and ask you to run it for me.”
My wife looked at me with a mixture of contempt and wonder. She had heard my tearful repentance many times before. I would not drink for a day, a week, or a month. I would not break the living room, furniture, and on and on. She did remark that it was the first time she heard me pray to God.
An odd peace crept over me, although I felt fatigued and hungover. She could leave if she wanted to, I said. I had no right to ask her to stay, and she had every reason not to believe me. I explained that I had returned to full blown alcoholic insanity, having previously achieved six years of sobriety. I had to go back to AA, I told her, and my only hope was to abandon myself completely to God, no matter how badly I misunderstood him.
Days of sobriety turned into weeks, then into months, and then into years. I learned from the story in the Big Book, “Acceptance Was the Answer,” that I made my once cheerful and loving wife sick with my drinking. The only way to restore her to health was by listening to her as I would listen to a sick friend, that is, with respect and compassion. Today, we are closer and happier than we have ever been. We have three happy and beautiful children; two of them have never known the blight of active alcoholism.
In the years since my last bottle of cheap whiskey, I have prayed and meditated, asking, Where did I go wrong? How did I become disenchanted with AA? Was it just not having a sponsor and not going to meetings? Hadn’t I done an exacting and thorough Fourth and Fifth Step that made me sweat?
At church one day, while practicing my Eleventh Step, the preacher said, “I am just a cheap, ordinary garden hose. The water that comes from me and waters your spiritual garden is not from me, it is from God. I am merely a conduit.”
It dawned on me: AA never needed my “support.” All my good works, like going to share the message with those guys in La Tuna, were really nothing, because I wanted to claim the credit. I wanted to be the Big Man on AA campus. That was a terrible mistake.
When I effectively practice my program, I am only a cheap dime-store garden hose carrying God’s message of hope, recovery, and forgiveness. Neither Bill W. nor Dr. Bob tried hanging on to the notion that they got drunks sober. They believed they were used as agents of a Higher Power to serve his will.
When I go to a meeting today, I no longer have the delusion that I am supporting a good cause. I need AA; AA did quite well without me during my ten years of self-exile. I go to AA meetings today to hear and see how God is working. When I share at a meeting, it is not to try and “help” those poor wretches, it is because I need their help and guidance.
When I don’t share at a meeting, I listen intently to let my fellow recovering drunks know that God is listening to them through me, that God is being there for them through me.