(Bill Wilson, AA’s co-founder was born November 26, 1895 . I’m reposting this in his memory. Forever grateful, friend!)
That’s what I say most Sundays. I say it in a church basement, as my turn comes up to identify myself to the group of alcoholics gathered there to “share our experience, strength and hope” with one another.
It’s an act of trust and of humility. But more than anything, though, is an act of self-acceptance.
When my father died at the age of forty seven in a car accident in 1979, the impact of that tragedy affected me more than I understood, or was able to accept, at the time. It happened while on a return trip to Cuba, a decade after we had gone into exile. Suddenly a joyful event turned dark, it’s devastating shadow following me back to the States where I would only deal with it in the only way I found worked: I self-medicated, using drugs and alcohol, for the next few years to ease the pain and also to cope with a life that suddenly had stopped making sense.
There are many men and women that lose a loved one in an equally arbitrary and horrific way. Some in even worse conditions. Most of these folks learn to live with the pain and can carry on with their lives without resorting to the method I used. I reacted that way simply because I am an alcoholic, and as my late sponsor used to say “alcoholics drink.” I had used alcohol before to numb the pain, to celebrate an occasion — sometimes a very trivial one — or to cope with uncomfortable situations. I was mostly unaware that this was going on. But I certainly developed a relationship with booze from an early (and awkward) age that served and protected me.
I stopped arguing with myself, and with others, about the reasons why I drank myself right up to death’s foyer. I do know, without a doubt, that it nearly killed me and, most sadly, at times it appeared to me as a logical and deserved conclusion to the self-imposed destiny of doom. But life, being life, changed and I with it. I’ve called the change that took place and restored me to life a spiritual experience. My mother and other close relatives call it a miracle. A dear friend calls it an example of divine grace. All I know is that nothing had ever or since had the power, depth and certainty that this moment of rebirth had on my soul and on my spirit. Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous speaks of his profound experience when he reached the end of his drinking life. Burden by an overwhelming despair and desperation, Bill W. was then visited by a light and wind and a spiritual awakening of the kind that forever changed him. His being was shaken and his soul was opened.
Mine was a similar experience. Minus the light and the wind. I remember asking God — or the angels, or the universe, or my dead father — for help. I had asked before. Many times. But the difference this one time had to do with the honesty and intensity of the request, I guess. I truly reached my hand to the goodness and the light and the mysterious. Something touched me or I let myself be touched and healed. When I stood up I knew I’d never drink again. There would be other struggles, but alcohol and drugs would never be a challenge again.
That was twenty nine years ago today. I have faced, with the support of family and friends, incredibly difficult, as well as many exhilarating circumstances, in the last — almost — three decades. I have not once desired a drink. I have not wished that I could share a bottle of wine with a friend or a glass of champagne to toast a celebration. My obsession to drink — and believe you me, it was a sickening obsession — was miraculously lifted.
And I don’t take this gift for granted. I heard an “old-timer” say once that he had not stopped drinking, he just was not drinking for that day. He was sober over thirty years at that time. I was blown away by the simplicity, and effectiveness, of his approach. I’ve used it ever since. It keeps me grounded in the now, where eternity resides and where, for the most part, fear is impossible. But even more than that, I find that a grateful attitude keeps me sane and relatively happy. Service also helps. Helping others in their search of sobriety and a better life by sharing what has worked and continues to work for me.
Gratitude fills my life, especially on a day like today when I get to reflect on the miracle of it all.
Thanks for letting me share.