I was five days old when I attended my first A.A. meeting. They passed me around the table. My mother brought me into all her meetings until I was old enough to wait in the common rooms and hang out with the dry drunks that practically lived there. I sat in torn faux leather chairs and watched football and baseball and westerns on the club TV with “Don”. I begged candy money from “Grandpa Jim”. I learned chess from two very patient men whose names I’ve long forgotten. Always there was cigarette smoke and the motorized air filters that sounded like chainsaws. I hated those air filters as if they were the cause of, not the remedy for, the choking smoke.
I grew up around people torn up by grief, by their “shortcomings”, by their cravings for alcohol. They cried and hugged and cracked obscene jokes and laughed. They talked a lot about God and their Higher Power. They said “I love you” to each other.
I could recite all the A.A. steps and traditions by heart.
Then I was old enough to stay home alone and I lost touch with the extended family that was the A.A. crowd.
I grew up and visited France for a month at age 19. There I sampled alcohol for the first time, and it was bliss. I tried beer, wine, and hard liquor. I also tried hashish rolled up with tobacco.
The alcohol and tobacco became a habit with me. Both caused me problems, but of course the booze was the main problem. I’m not going to get into detail for the moment, because I’m not ready to share the details and because it’s not germane to the point of this story, which you will soon see. Alcohol abuse is not the one and only problem I have ever had, but suffice to say I usually found it difficult to experience any usable measure of inner peace while sober.
I crawled through life for 14 more years, and then not two weeks ago I had what A.A. alkies and my mother would call a “spiritual awakening”. I started talking to God. I still talk to God.
A few days after my supernatural encounter, a kind and generous friend invited me out for beers and appetizers. We shot the bull, talked about my newfound spiritual life, checked out the young women there. My friend even let me say a prayer for him, though he doesn’t necessarily share my preferred spiritual vocabulary, which revolves around the Christ figure. Like I said, my friend is kind and generous.
We had two beers each. As I swallowed up round two, the conversation turned to a certain unpleasant topic. I’ll not get into detail right now about that topic either, but suffice to say it was about personal relationships and how they can sometimes go bad.
I started to get angry. I said uncharitable things about someone who was not present.
And then I felt it: I started to lose touch with God.
Up until then, in the few days since my encounter with the Christ figure, I had been in steady communication with God. He had been filling me with peace at every turn, reminding me to be generous of spirit and to exercise forbearance. Anytime an old petty impulse began to whisper its chanson macabre in my ear, I remembered to interrupt it with a request to God that he shine his good light on me. It had been working like a charm.
But now I was two beers into the darkness and I couldn’t hear God. I wasn’t drunk by any measure, but it was enough to shut down communications with him.
That’s when I realized a very important and beautiful thing: I really hate this. I hate alcohol. I hate what it does to my soul. I hate that it had come between me and God.
I didn’t want it anymore. Normally I would have asked my friend if he was up for another round, but when the server came around to ask if we wanted more, I just said, “Nah, I’m done.”
I was back in touch with my God the next day.
In 1976, four years before I was born, my mother had what she called a spiritual awakening, and it was even more dramatic than mine. She “saw” the ghosts of her mother, her grandmother, some other family members, and Jesus. They asked her, “Do you want to live?’ “Yes,” my mother replied, and so they took away her desire to drink. Just like that. The ghosts took away her desire to drink, and she never had a drop of alcohol after that for the rest of her life, no matter how painful life ever got for her.
“It’s not even fair,” she once said to me. “Most people don’t get what I got. Most people have to struggle and suffer and bite and claw their way through their cravings for the rest of their life. But not me. I was given a gift, a special gift. They took away my cravings. They saved my life.” She always maintained that she would have died had she not had her experience with the ghosts.
I think I understand my mother a little better today.
When I found myself uninterested in resisting embracing the cultural construct known as the Christ figure and rejoiced in my sudden lack of existential pain, I certainly didn’t expect this little side effect–having the desire to drink be taken away from me–but lo and behold, there it is. I don’t want to drink anymore. Alcohol puts me out of touch with God, and that’s simply not on the negotiating table.
I haven’t had any desire to drink since that evening with my friend. The desire is just gone. I’m free of that burden. Truly it is as simple as that.
That’s how good God is. That’s how much I appreciate his presence in my life. He’s addictive. I’d do anything to stay in touch with him–even quit drinking.
It’s not even fair.