This is a series about getting your life back on track and achieving your goals.
“What’s your bottom?”
That’s the question people in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) always talk about. They say things like, “When my car was repossessed because I forgot to park inside the warehouse where I was sleeping, that was my bottom,” or, “When my wife asked me to leave and wouldn’t allow me to see the kids and the kids were relieved she did it, that was my bottom.” The lowest bottom is death.
I had what’s called a high bottom.
I loved to work. It was a great way to bury issues in my life I didn’t want to think about, never mind deal with. But when I left my corporate job, I found myself with time. Time to reflect on my day to day behavior and the drivers of those behaviors. I’m not talking healthy behaviors but destructive behaviors driven by guilt and resentments. Work helped me avoid this self-reflection, but when I didn’t have work, the destructive behaviors came into focus.
Here’s my story
Kathy and I had dinner and our usual bottle of wine. She drank a glass, and I drank the rest of the bottle. She left to clean up, and I grabbed a beer and sat down to watch a Braves game.
I was on my third beer when it hit me. “You’ve become your father.”
I loved my dad. He was a passionate romantic. He loved people and loved life. He was well read for a man with only a high school education and loved to talk on any subject. He was fascinated with people, and people loved him.
Except when he drank.
After a few drinks, he turned unpredictable. As his son, I didn’t know if he would love me or verbally attack me. I watched him do it with my sister for years. Janet, the firstborn, is 11 years older than me. She took his verbal abuse for years, long before I showed up. She stayed his primary target long after my arrival.
I realized I’d become my father.
I was sitting in the family room all alone. Kathy was in the master bedroom with our door closed. As my eyes swept up and around to the second floor of our house, I saw Julia, my oldest, was in her room with her door closed. Lisa was in her room with her door closed. David was in his room with his door closed. No one wanted to be with me because they didn’t trust me. They knew I was drinking again.
At that moment, a thought hit me, “If you keep drinking like this every night, you will be alone the rest of your life. You will lose Kathy and the kids and everything else you treasure.”
This thought sent a chill down my spine.
I decided I needed to do something. For the past few years, I had been thinking about my friend and one-time neighbor Jim. He was 15 years older than me. He was married forever to a wonderful lady, had four kids, was a regional manager for a printing company, and was a very social guy. Normal, right? One day I heard Jim was in rehab for his drinking problem. That scared the heck out of me because even back then with a good job and great family, I knew I had a drinking problem, too.
I was controlling it, I told myself.
Even though I hadn’t talked to Jim in a couple of years, I called him the next day. He was defensive at first thinking I was trying to sell him something. But then I said, “I want to talk to you about drinking. I remember you went to rehab.”
He replied without hesitation, “Are you free for lunch today?”
Jim and I sat at a table for two by the window. I remember it like it was yesterday. He told me some of his story. “As a regional manager, I looked for opportunities to go to liquid lunches with customers. When I couldn’t find a customer for lunch, I would eat at my desk and grab a few beers from my personal office refrigerator.” Then he asked me, “You know where this goes?”
I shook my head from side to side.
He said, “I would wake up, get dressed, and go downstairs for breakfast. I would pop open a 16 oz. Budweiser and drink it down in three sips. Then I would grab another one for the drive to the office.”
As he told me this story, I was thinking to myself, “Could that ever be me?” I was a night drinker. I rarely drank during the day except on Saturdays and Sundays or if the “let’s go to a late lunch with the office and blow off some steam” opportunity presented itself. I knew this: when I drank, I drank too much. I couldn’t help myself.
He said, “Come with me to an AA meeting tonight.”
I was stunned. AA? Me? He saw the panic in my eyes and said, “Don’t worry. It’s not a bunch of smelly drunks in dirty raincoats there. It is filled with people just like you and me.” I agreed to go.
This was during my crazy and mostly unproductive networking days, so when I showed up, I was dressed in a suit and tie. I was not going to look like a drunk. I saw Jim and latched on to him. He was my lifeline in this strange environment. I was relieved to see well over fifty people there. I asked if we could sit in the back to be sure I wasn’t recognized.
I don’t remember most of the meeting, but the end of the meeting changed my life. What happened never happened again to anyone in the hundreds of meetings I later attended.
AA meetings all end the same way.
They ask, “Is there anyone here who wants to stop drinking one day at a time?” Sometimes people come forward and take the white poker chip. This white chip represents the international sign of surrender.
After that, different colored chips are offered in recognition of 30, 90, 180, and 360 days of sobriety. Then the meeting leader concludes the meeting by having everyone stand and hold hands. We say the Lord’s Prayer together and then shake our joined hands up and down while saying, “It works if you work it.” When everyone stood up in my first meeting, a house painter jumped to the front of the room.
He said, “Everyone sit down!”
He then stared at me as I sat, head down, in the back of the room.
He said, “If you want to stop drinking one day at a time, you need to commit to doing two things. First, come up here and take this white chip and stop drinking one day at a time. Second, when you wake up in the morning, drop to your knees and ask God to keep you sober that day. Just before you go to bed, drop to your knees again and thank God for keeping you sober.”
I don’t remember what happened.
It was almost like an out of body experience. The next thing I knew, I had a white chip in my hand.
That man died two years later from colon cancer at the age of 42. But he changed my life. I didn’t know him, and he didn’t know me. I can’t even recall his name. But he cared enough to challenge me so I could have what he had. A life without alcohol. A real life.
What he didn’t know was he gave me permission to do the two things I wanted most in life. He gave me permission to not drink. And he gave me permission to talk to God. The God I had stiff-armed since I was 18.