“You have become your father,” I said to myself 22 years ago. I was sitting in my living room watching the World Series. All alone. Drinking beer. Kathy was in our bedroom with the door closed. My three children were all in their rooms with their doors closed.
My father was a generous and compassionate man, sober. When he was drinking, he wasn’t. This is the man I had become. Alcohol changed my personality as it had changed his. Alcoholism is a terrible disease. It starts out as fun and games, a relief from the stresses of life. It morphs into bad decisions, broken relationships and death. Over time, it changes who you are into who you never wanted to be.
This happened to me.
While sitting in front of my TV that night, I saw clearly what my life would become if I continued to drink. It was a vision so clear and so awful, it scared me into action. I knew I would lose my wife and kids and my career. My family would unravel, and my sins would be passed on to future generations. I saw it.
First thing in the morning, I called a former neighbor, Jim. I didn’t know him very well but recalled he was a businessman who had gone through rehab for alcohol. Jim was defensive when I first contacted him. He thought I was trying to sell him something. When I asked him about his challenges with alcohol, he said, “Let’s meet for lunch.”
Jim recounted his life as a regional manager for a large company. He was talented in building relationships and showing customers a good time. As his drinking progressed, he told me he would get up in the morning, get dressed, then drink a 16-ounce Budweiser for breakfast. Open another and drink it on the way to work.
As Jim told me his story, how the disease progressed, I thought to myself, “Could this ever happen to me?”
The answer was “Yes.”
Jim invited me to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in the suburb where we lived. I told him, “I appreciate the invite, but I just don’t have that problem.”
He pressed on and said, “You should come. The people who attend the meeting are from all walks of life. The majority are business people just like you and me. The meeting is at the local bank and starts at 7 pm. Please come. Will you meet me there?”
I attended the meeting dressed in my best suit. I was not going to look like one of those drunks. I wasn’t one of them. I was a successful entrepreneur and executive who mostly just drank at night. Just like most people I knew.
When I arrived, I was pleased to see over 70 people in attendance. I was even more pleased I didn’t recognize any of them. I found a seat way in the back corner, and Jim sat next to me. I rested my forearms on my knees which kept my head down. I don’t remember anything discussed but do remember connecting with people who told their stories. Strange.
This being my first meeting, I had no idea what was to come next. The meeting ended the way all AA meetings end. Someone presented the chips of different colors. Each color marked how long someone had been sober. White was one day. Blue thirty days. Gold ninety days. Then six months and one year, the birthday chip. Then everyone stood, joined hands and said the Lord’s prayer or Serenity prayer.
But that’s not what God had in mind for me at this meeting. As we were standing to join hands, a man, dressed as a painter, jumped to the front of the room. He told everyone to sit down and pointed right at me in the back of the room.
He said, “I don’t know who you are or why you are here, but if you want to stop drinking one day at a time, then you will come up here and take this white chip. You will also hit your knees every morning and ask God to keep you sober. And every night you will hit your knees and thank God for keeping you sober. What do you say?”
I got up and took the chip. This painter, this stranger, gave me permission to do the two things I wanted to do most in life. Stop drinking and start a relationship with God.
I attended hundreds of AA meetings and never saw that happen again. The painter changed my life. His boldness gave me the courage to admit I was an alcoholic and to seek help from AA. He didn’t know me. He didn’t know I had been trying to control my drinking for the last ten years. He didn’t know about my vision of the family train wreck. But he did know people don’t just wander into AA meetings because they are curious. He knew I was an alcoholic. He challenged me to admit it.
Two years later, the painter died at 50 years old from colon cancer. To this day I thank God for using him and Jim B. to save my life. To save my family. To ultimately bring me into a relationship with Jesus Christ who blesses all future generations.
Today is day one of my sobriety. One day at a time.