The Halloween Tale of the Haunted Couch
Happily for us, we in AA have found that we need no human authority whatever.
We have two authorities which are far more effective. One is benign, the other malign.
There is God, our Father, who very simply says, “I am waiting for you to do my will.”
The other authority is named John Barleycorn, and he says, “You had better do God’s will or I will kill you.”
(As Bill Sees It, Two Authorities. 319)
The Halloween Tale of the Haunted Couch
Many of us are possessive of our favorite seat or place in a recovery group like AA, NA, or OA. After all, we’ve paid dearly for our place in recovery so we ought to be able to take ownership of the one we like. The Haunted Couch is a story about a favorite place to sit on the left side of a stuffed sofa, closest to the hallway leading to the back of the Youth House. So what’s the deal with the ragged old couch? How’s it jinxed or haunted? Paddy and Seamus always sit on the middle and right, and the left was the favorite seat of Dale and then McHank, two sober members of our Home Group of Alcoholics Anonymous. Both men died sober in 2013. Lung cancer got Dale and an aneurism took McHank well before they were qualified for social security. And some of us have scratched our heads and wondered if it’s more than a coincidence. I’ve noticed that it’s one of the last of the more comfortable seats to be taken most meeting Nights. Little John apparently didn’t buy it because that Monday night he was happily sitting in the haunted chair. I on the other hand, tend to believe in the supernatural. For instance, I believe in a Higher Power because I’ve seen His hand at work in my life and others. So I get that there’s a fourth component, an eternal life. And in this “fourth dimension” we fight not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities, where even our spirits and souls are at risk.
While sitting there passively listening to Finbarr read “How it Works,” I suddenly caught a vision of Dale and McHank in the hallway in back of the meeting. Their ghosts – a collection of many good memories for most of us – were present. That certainly woke me up – I could feel my hair stand on end! Caitlyn, Molly, and I were the only AA’s out of the thirty-six present that could see the end of the hall but they didn’t seem to notice them. Maybe people can’t see the departed ones unless they have them framed in their minds. I’d been thinking about Dale and McHank that very hour. And I’d just recalled a conversation with McHank about eternity. Were there hours and days on the other side? Does Alcoholism follow us into eternity? So maybe that’s why we were connected at that appointed hour and place.
The two ghosts edged into the room and began to look over the meeting and try to connect with someone, but nobody responded. Were they really there or was I losing my mind? I dared a discreet wave and caught their attention. McHank mouthed, “Can you see us?” I gave him the thumbs up and Dale gestured me to the backroom. As the door closed the meeting voices quieted to a muffle. I asked them how death was and what could they tell me about eternity. McHank brushed off both questions with a reply, “We’ve returned to bear witness to anybody able to see us. Visitations are usually unsuccessful and time is limited, so we must use these moments well. Life revolves around God so seek Him in Prayer. Read the big book, call your sponsor, go to a meeting, and help the newcomer.”
“Believe us,” Dale continued, “death is very permanent. If you die drunk, you’ve died drunk forever. But if you die sober, you died sober forever. You can only change that reality before you die. So guard your sobriety because it’s worth an infinite value in eternity.”
“Alkies can’t choose their birth place, or date, or who their parents are. So they might have a poor start in life’s race. Then most of us lose control of those middle years as our disease grows stronger and consequences accumulate. But we can stop in time; we can choose how we finish our life race. Sobriety gives us the power of choice even in though our alcoholism is with us until the moment we die.”
Then Dale said, “This's a good bunch of folks. Never doubt the importance of your meetings.”
Then they looked at each other and nodded that they had to go. And before I could plead for them to wait or ask when they’d be back again they faded back into eternity. Now that’s what you call a “Spiritual Meeting,” I said as I collected myself and rejoined everyone in time to hear the chairperson, Roy, ask for a topic.
Some alkies will enjoy this piece and others won’t. Regardless, there’s a moral to be learned from this ghost story. That we must share our sobriety with others in this life, or others will tell our drunken tales while we’re moldering in the grave – our choice – but our story will be told. We alkies in recovery have cheated death and live on borrowed time. Every alcoholic can become a spirit of recovery, like Dale and McHank, who left behind a collection of many good memories and wise counsel for us to use the rest of our lives. Or become a ghost – of a sad lonely drunk – who woefully cries, don’t do what I did. What kind of legacy will you leave for family and friends?
Nobody has claimed the haunted couch seat, and likewise, it hasn’t claimed its next AA. Personally, I’m not going to test the hypothesis to see if it’s true for a third alky. Regardless it’ll be interesting to see who’ll choose the haunted chair as their own, because “The Haunted Sofa” is a double edged sword. The one who claims it also gets its curse and may die – but they die well – sober. Is that such a bad thing? Isn’t that what we hope for, a good life while it lasts, to persevere, and depart to our maker well-loved and sober?
Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be.
Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned,
For we were born only yesterday and know nothing,
And our days on Earth are but a shadow.
Bildad the Shuhite, Circa 3,000 BCE (NIV, Book of Job. 8.7)