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Knock Knock Who's There
Knock Knock Who's There
Hello family, you know me. I’m your dad, brother, the uncle you love, or the odd cousin you avoid, and I’m an alcoholic. Yes, it’s hard to believe because most of you have never seen me even take sip a sip of wine. But before I explain why I’m an alcoholic, I want to explain why I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not an alcoholic because I drank too much, although I did; or because I drank too often even though I drank every day; or that I drank whiskey instead of beer because beer lost its strength. The reason I’m an alcoholic is because of the effect that alcohol has on me. If you remember nothing else from my story, remember this: it’s the effect, the effect, and again – the reason I and most other people become alcoholic – it’s the effect that booze has on them. That’s an important fact because if drinking too much whiskey too often is why I’m alcoholic, then after twenty years of sobriety I could declare myself “healed” and go out and try the old way of life again. Those kinds of choice and quantity dilemmas are a falsehood that makes sobriety uncertain. I’ve personally seen several fall into that snare and they often die within a year of “self-diagnosis.”
I’m an escape artist and have been since the very beginning. Early on “after a few simple drinks,” I found that alcohol was a good escape vehicle and did for me far more than what it seemed to do for other people. I used to wonder why everyone didn’t drink because it sure made my world a better place. The effect that alcohol had on me was a magical one that I fell in love with as a teenager and I chased it all the way to my mid-thirties.
Many of those early years were good ones but by age thirty-five, hard drinking had prematurely aged me, and the consequences of my disease often made life intolerable. As my youth disappeared, alcohol turned on me. Its magical effect that I’d chased for all those years became elusive and fleeting,as it was replaced by a terrible taskmaster who made my drinking simply a temporary escape from pain. Many of the later effects that alcohol had on me were unbearable. The black and whiteouts, the Jeckle and Hyde syndrome, the cravings, the hiding, lying and stealing, none of my hopes and dreams ever came true back then, and now I realize that I’d lost the ability to truly love anyone. Perhaps worst of all were the three o’clock terrors. Most mornings the booze had dehydrated me so badly I awoke in the middle of the night with horrible dry mouth. I’d stagger into the kitchen to drink what seemed to be two quarts of tap water and my way back to the bedroom I’d pass by the bathroom mirror, and that’s when I’d see the three o’clock terror, my ugly, bloated reflection. The man in the mirror would tell me that I was worthless, a waste of oxygen and doomed to die. And he always finished by telling me that the very best I could do was to go back to the kitchen and finish that bottle of bourbon, and just maybe, maybe I’d feel good for a few hours. Sometimes even that didn’t work.
If my drinking was so bad, why didn’t I quit or ask for help? Well, there were over a thousand brief forays into what I call the “False Promise Desert.” How many times did I promise myself that today would be different, that I didn’t need to drink and wouldn’t drink when I got home from work? How many times did I end up in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings because I got caught “drinking-after-promising” to my angry wife, family, or bosses? How many times was I injured or even hospitalized from some wound – always related to alcohol – and sincerely promise that I would quit, that this time I got the message and it would be different? But the reality of my disease always overwhelmed any will power I could muster in the “False Promise Desert.” I was powerless and within a few hours of my release or discharge the upstairs committee meetings would start and within a day or two I’d realize that a drink was legal, fitting, and proper for the day, and I’d be off to the races again. The number of attempts, oaths and promises to stop are known only to God. I do know that none of them worked for any real length of time. And all the attempts and failures taught me was that it was far better to have a short drunken life than a long dry miserable one.
So what was different this time? How did I escape the false promise desert? It started one Sunday after Thanksgiving with a knock on the door. A man by the name of Roger was there, and he wanted to talk with me about my drinking and what was going on in my life. As it turned out, it was not only an intervention-twelve step call, but proof that my Higher Power lives because He rescued me from an alcoholic death. As Roger and I talked about my situation, I felt something inside my chest actually move and I said something that I’d never revealed before. I confessed my darkest secret – that I was drinking myself to death and couldn’t do anything about it – that I was out of control and afraid for my very life. Oh boy, now the cat was out of the bag. Until that day I’d backslapped about being an alcoholic for years, but I’d never admitted that I was powerless or out of control to someone who mattered and could do something about it. So, that twelve step call started a sequence of events that ended with me being hospitalized for six weeks of Alcohol Rehabilitation. They reintroduced me to a recovery program that worked, which led me to a God of my understanding. Somewhere along my first ninety days of sobriety I fell in love with sober life and the wonderful people in it. I will always be grateful for my new life in sobriety!
How is a twelve step call proof of my higher power? Because I didn’t want Roger to come by that day and I sure didn’t pray for any kind intervention. Besides, my prayers were usually said from inside the commode and there was no doubt about them being worthless. A twelve step call – how embarrassing would that be? What if one of those fanatics found out my secret, and I ended the day locked up in another hospital? Booze was the only thing that made my life work. How could I survive somewhere if they denied me bourbon? The fact was that the disease had me right where it wanted me. I was alone, sick, and living a lie. Regardless of my stubborn craziness, there it was, the unexplainable knock that has divided my life into a before and an after. What about that physical and emotional sensation that affected me so powerfully that I was willing to tell the truth for once? Many months later, I asked Roger what motivated him to come to my apartment that Sunday. He described that while he was watching NFL football that afternoon, he had a building sense of urgency to talk to me about alcoholism. By the end of the first game Roger knew that he had to go. So he turned off the TV, told his wife he was headed to my place and that he’d be back soon. By the time he knocked on my apartment door Roger also knew what he was going to tell me, that it was time to come clean – this was my appointed hour – and tomorrow might be too late. I’m convinced that when I opened the door to let Roger in, I also invited in enough spiritual power to be honest, willing, and open minded. I believe that these kinds of events are supernatural and they happen all the time. We can’t make someone like Roger to come to our door on a Sunday, to share the good news of real hope in sobriety, a new way of life to the suffering alcoholic, but God can. That kind of compassion only comes from a power greater than ourselves and that, dear friend, is an effect we really need.
The final pages of the story haven’t been written yet, but so far the chapter doesn’t end as well as it could. Alcoholism is a cunning, baffling and powerful disease, and most of the time it doesn’t lose. Although Roger has enjoyed periods of sobriety, the disease has never left him alone. Without a recovery program he answers its “it will be different this time” call and repeatedly climbs back into the ring for another round of excess. Our relationship has been relegated to talking once or twice a year and he always volunteers that he’s doing fine, that he has his drinking under control, that the grandkids are keeping him straight and that he’s sticking to beer. It’s a funny life we live on this spiritual path – who gets sober, who doesn’t, and who’s really helping who – the one who knocks on the door or the one who answers it.
Copyright © 2013 James Cressler