A month into her sobriety, she was experiencing a craving for alcohol she feared she couldn't overcome—until a forgotten scene from an action movie pulled her through.
I was 30 days sober, and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it to day 31.
I dug my nails into my mattress and squeezed my eyes shut. One minute I’d been folding laundry in my bedroom, the next I’d been overtaken by a craving for alcohol so strong, I had to cling for dear life to my bedsheets.
I thought I’d already experienced every withdrawal symptom possible. The shakes, nausea and headaches. But this was the worst one yet. Not a dream. A vision that played out before me like a scene from a movie. I saw myself as a thirsty golden retriever, frantically lapping up liquid from a golden lake that sparkled like diamonds. A lake filled with Chardonnay. My drink of choice. Or maybe I should say I’d lost the ability to choose. I was like that thirsty dog. No choice.
I took a deep breath and tried to remember everything I’d learned in my outpatient treatment program. “Go home, don’t drink, come back tomorrow.” That’s what my sponsor kept telling me. Those seven words had become my mantra whenever I had a craving, which was all the time. But what on earth were you supposed to do when you started seeing yourself as a dog drinking from a bottomless lake of Chardonnay?
Part of me knew it was just my disease talking to me. That, on a subconscious level, I wanted to drink so badly that I conceived of myself as a thirsty golden retriever. But another part of me was scared to death. Was I going crazy? I was supposed to be getting better, not worse! Was I one step away from ending up like my father?
My dad had always been a heavy drinker. I was just a freshman in college when he died of liver disease at the age of 54. Even though he was an alcoholic, as I realized now, he was still a good dad. My rock. The one person who really got me. So when he died, I turned to the one thing that made me feel closer to him—alcohol.
By the time I was in my 20s, my occasional social drinking had turned into a bottle-of-wine-a-day habit—and sometimes a glass or two more. I was building a successful career in advertising. The perfect cover for a budding alcoholic and an overachiever like me. In my field, it was normal to start drinking at noon. Nobody blinked an eye if I downed a few glasses of wine at lunch with colleagues.
Things got worse when I went through my divorce. I drank more. Sometimes I didn’t quite remember going to bed. I still didn’t see myself as an alcoholic, though. I was thriving in my career, raising two young daughters and maintaining a beautiful home. Alcoholics slept in doorways and drank out of paper bags, right?
One morning, nursing my daily hangover, a voice popped into my head: “Mary, you’re one glass of Chardonnay away from losing everything.” My kids, my job, my home. The voice scared me, really scared me. The idea of losing my girls was too much. I sought treatment.
People at rehab were always talking about “God shots,” those moments of divine intervention in the midst of recovery. I knew the voice that popped into my head could’ve only come from God. As much as I wanted to believe he cared for me on a real, personal level, though, where was he when I really needed him? Like when I had a hallucination about drinking from a lake of Chardonnay? Was I having the DTs? Was I losing my mind?
I got up from my bed and paced the room. I drew in a deep breath and released it. Again and again. With every breath, I imagined just a little something to take the edge off. I’d long since thrown out every bottle of alcohol in the house, even my vanilla extract, as well as my crystal stemware. But my keys were on the kitchen table, my car was in the driveway and the liquor store was less than a mile away. I didn’t need a wineglass. I could drink straight from the bottle. Nobody would ever have to know.…
My hands shook. I picked up the phone and dialed my sponsor. “Come on, pick up, pick up,” I said. No answer. I dialed the number of one of my rehab friends. No answer. I called another friend. And another. No one was there! I sat back on my bed and did the last thing I could think of. I prayed. The only word that came to mind was “help.”
It happened just like in the first vision. A scene playing in slow motion, like an IMAX film projected onto my brain. This time I saw an old man lying on the floor of a cavern. He’d been shot. A younger version of the man, dressed in khakis and a beatup fedora, crouched by his side. The man’s son. He knew how to save his father, but first he had to go through a series of deadly tests to prove himself. Finally, he reached the edge of a canyon. Across the chasm was the source of his father’s healing—the Holy Grail. It was impossible to jump across such a great distance, though. He was only human.
Then it dawned upon him. “It’s a leap of faith.” The man put his hand to his chest, momentarily paralyzed by fear, and made a decision. He extended his left leg and took a step into the void. He fell forward, seemingly to his death. But a stone bridge appeared, making his footing sure. He took another step and another. Crossing the abyss…
The vision was gone as quickly as it had come. I blinked. It was so bizarre, but I’d seen it before! It was the final act of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Of all the movies in the world, why had I seen that one? I wasn’t a fan of action flicks or even Harrison Ford. I’d seen the movie once, about 15 years earlier. So how on earth did I remember it so clearly? So vividly? And what was I meant to do with it? Was it a message from God or just another sign that my mind was going?
Except for one thing. One amazing thing. My craving for alcohol was gone. Lifted. I curled up in bed, exhausted, and fell into a deep sleep. After I woke up, my sponsor called back. “It’s okay,” I said. “I’m okay now. I got through it.” I didn’t tell her about the visions. How could I? She’d think I was crazy if I told her my mind was playing scenes from Indiana Jones!
“I’m so proud of you, Mary,” she said. “You fought back against your disease. Good for you!”
I guess. But how much longer could I keep going like this? I was terrible at being sober. What if next time I wasn’t saved by some weird scene from an old movie?
I hung up the phone, got some snacks from the kitchen and plopped back on my bed. I just needed to get through the night. I turned on the TV, flipped the channel…and almost fell off the bed.
On the screen was the same exact scene, to the second, that had played before me hours before. The scene that finally convinced me to put my trust in my higher power. The scene that I still turn to today, 13 years of sobriety later.
Professor Jones stepping out into the void, stepping out into apparent nothingness—a leap of faith.
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