This recovering alcoholic describes three inexplicable events that saved his life.
Posted in , Jul 25, 2019
I was an active alcoholic for more than a decade. I drank through high school, college, law school and the start of my legal career.
I burned through two marriages and could barely function at work. Why not just quit and slink back to the small town where I’d grown up? There would be no legal work, nothing to get in the way of my drinking.
Mulling over my plans to leave everything behind, I finally hit rock bottom. I hated what alcohol had done to my life. Something had to change. I thought I could stop on my own. Yet as much as I wanted to get sober, I could not resist the urge to drink. Begrudgingly I tried Alcoholics Anonymous. I got as far as the first step of AA’s 12-step program. I admitted (sort of) that I was, in fact, an alcoholic.
The second step stopped me in my tracks. It required placing trust in a higher power. In God.
I didn’t believe in all that. The lawyer in me wouldn’t have it. As someone ruled by logic, I thought all that spiritual stuff was a bunch of starched, hypocritical baloney. I might’ve persisted in that belief and kept right on drinking to an early death. Except, right when I needed it, a series of inexplicable events changed my mind—and saved me.
Only a week into sobriety, I faced my first existential challenge. I came home from an AA meeting consumed by the desire to drink. I paced my apartment, fixated on running out to the deli for a six-pack. Who would ever know? I called Chuck, an AA veteran who’d taken me under his wing. “I think I’m going to drink,” I blurted out to him.
Chuck gave me three suggestions: “Eat some chocolate. Take a hot bath. And then get down on your knees and ask God to keep you from drinking.”
I tried the first two. They helped—but soon the craving was back, as strong as ever. That left option three. I had no desire to pray. I resented Chuck’s suggestion—as if that would actually help! But I was desperate.
Ducking beneath the apartment window, where people might see me, I knelt and lowered my head to the rug. I felt like a fool. “Please help me,” I mumbled. A wave of peace washed over me. All the fears and insecurities I’d spent years dousing with alcohol vanished. Deep in my soul, I knew that somehow everything in my chaotic life would turn out okay. My body went limp with relief.
I opened my eyes to crawl toward my futon. The room was permeated by a warm, white light, which seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. I pulled myself onto the futon and lay down. A gentle hand stroked my back. Under any other circumstance, that experience would have freaked me out. I just lay there, feeling loved and held. Thirty years later, I still tear up thinking about it. The desire to drink was gone.
I closed my eyes and fell into the deepest, most refreshing sleep I have ever had. When I awoke, I wondered about what I’d experienced. Had it been real? A hallucination brought on by alcohol withdrawal? I tried to brush it off as my imagination. But I couldn’t shake the sense that I’d experienced something profound.
Not long after that first strange experience, I was on the road for work, meeting clients I’d always liked because some of them were big drinkers like me. Determined to stay sober, I didn’t miss an AA meeting before the trip and had long talks with my sponsor. “Remember,” a speaker said at one of the meetings, “you can always ask a hotel clerk not to give you the minibar key for your room.”
A random piece of advice, but I followed it. After checking in, I asked a bellhop for help carrying several boxes of legal documents upstairs—something I never do. Ordinarily I carry my own luggage.
In my room, my eyes went straight to the minibar. Locked it would stay. But the fridge next to it was full of beer. “Can you take that beer out of here?” I asked the bellhop.
“They might charge you for it.”
“I don’t care. Just get it out of here. I don’t drink, and I don’t want to be around it.”
The bellhop studied me. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a bronze coin with the AA logo on it and the Roman numeral XIII. “I haven’t had a drink in 13 years,” he said. He wrote his phone number on a piece of paper. “You run into any trouble while you’re here, just give me a call.”
The rest of my stay, the bellhop kept a friendly eye on me. Having him there gave me the boost of strength I needed to resist my clients’ invitations to drink. Had someone or something sent him as extra support? I wasn’t sure.
A few weeks later, I was in a rough spot again. Sobriety felt overwhelming. AA seemed pointless if I couldn’t get behind one of the main tenets of the program: surrender.
I headed to a meeting, searching for something that might help. The meeting I went to that day was dedicated to this very topic—turning over one’s life and will to God. Speakers stood up one by one to say how much their higher power meant to them, how they couldn’t stay sober without it. But not one of them explained where their faith came from. I’ll never get what they have, I thought.
Then a grizzled World War II Marine stood up. He told of battling his way through the hell of Pacific Island warfare. Afterward, he’d turned to drinking to block out those horrific memories. I figured he was about to echo previous speakers at the meeting, going on and on about his unwavering faith as he walked the path of sobriety. How he just knew through it all that God was always with him.
“For me, turning my life and will over to God was like walking to the end of a diving board,” the Marine said. “I could get to the end of the board by logic. To get into the pool, I had to jump and trust that it would be all right.”
His words were a revelation. Not everyone walked into AA with a fully formed faith. Trusting God, taking that step into the unknown, was a challenge for many people at these meetings. It was exactly what I needed to hear. At exactly the moment I needed to hear it. Coincidence? No more than my encounter with the bellhop. Or Chuck’s lifesaving advice.
I had no further reason to delay. I jumped. Into the white light that had filled my apartment. Into the love and kindness of the bellhop. Into the arms of the power that spoke through that Marine. And with hard work and the help of my higher power, I’ve stayed sober ever since.
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