It was straight up noon on a typical, early January day in the City of Boston, with the sun shining down as warm as one could wish for, against a bright blue sky that lacked even a wisp of clouds. The wind blew in off the chilly water of Boston Harbor at about fifteen knots, defeating the slight and teasing warmth that the golden globe in the sky sent my way, and my ears and cheeks turned a shade redder with every step I took.
But I didn’t feel the cold and was just barely aware of the sun in the sky, because my thoughts were everywhere and nowhere at the same time, as scattered and troubled as they had ever been over the past number of years. “How many has it been” I wondered to myself while quite possibly speaking out loud, which was something that happened more frequently of late. But I didn’t have an answer so I just kept striding down the walkway between two buildings, toward the frigid and white-capped water of Boston Harbor, a mere fifty feet away and noticeably devoid of any wind-filled white sails.
I was a man on a mission, searching for a place I had never been, heading into a situation where anything was likely to happen, which only served to increase my level of anxiety, as if that was possible. Once beyond the end of the buildings, I stopped to take stock of my whereabouts until I found what I was looking for, a stairway leading to the basement of the building on my left, and the hope that lived beyond the doors.
I was on my way to my second meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, having somewhat uneventfully attended my first meeting the evening before in a town called Acton, not far from where an intrepid group of American Colonists bravely stood and faced a column of highly trained British troops, and fired “The shot heard ‘round the world.” If you looked down from an eagle’s eye view of both instances, you would notice I looked like I belonged at that meeting about as much as the British soldiers belonged at Lexington Common.
I had quit drinking about 6 ½years before, cold turkey style, leaving two perfectly good Bloody Mary drinks on the table of the European Restaurant on Hanover Street, in Boston’s North End. I will probably tell you more about what happened to make me stop drinking in the next post called “The Backstory to my Miraculous Awakening on 9/11.” But for now, you do need to know that for the past 6 ½ years I hadn’t had even a single sip of alcohol. This, after having regularly driven my car in alcohol induced blackouts, very often waking up, looking around, wondering where I was, how I had gotten there, and never once considering that there was anything even remotely unusual about what I was doing. This kind of behavior had gone on for years.
Once having it explained to you in the next post, you might understand how it was that I didn’t even know I was an alcoholic, and I didn’t know that I didn’t know. In fact, the only thing I knew about AA was that my father wouldn’t go. But, for 6 ½ brutally painful, totally insane, and ultimately suicidal years, I became what I later found out what is called a dry drunk. All I had going for me was a slowly but surely, diminishing determination to live. I would not give in and allow myself the relief of a drink, nor was I receiving the medicine I very much needed for a disease I didn’t even know I had.
That medicine was very much available to me in the form of The Twelve Steps of Recovery and the Fellowship of other recovering people in Alcoholics Anonymous. The fact is that I didn’t know I was suffering from the life-threatening disease of Alcoholism certainly helped keep me unaware that the medicine I desperately needed was right around almost any corner in the city. It is amazing how healing it is when one alcoholic speaks honestly with another alcoholic, but I hadn’t quite found that out yet.
I had plummeted down the ladder of sanity so far that there was no more down to go. I looked good on the outside because of the position I had in sales, but on the inside, I was a dead man walking. As near as I could tell, I had taken it as far about as I could go on my own, and all I had left was two options: one was to eat a bullet, but I didn’t own a gun and I was afraid I would somehow miss and end up a vegetable for what would be left of my miserable existence. The second option was to go out drinking and chasing women again, knowing perfectly well I would end up smashed against a bridge somewhere, but I was afraid I wouldn’t die and that I might kill somebody else along the way. As incongruous as it may sound, both of those options, with an honest assessment of the possibility that I could possibly fail in the attempt were perfectly acceptable to me.
About five days prior to my second AA meeting that I spoke about above, I found myself driving down route 117 in Stow, MA, once again white-knuckling my steering wheel until it was about to break, running it over and over, and over again in my head. It was the same old stuff: “What the hell was wrong with me? Why was I so goddamn crazy? What the hell could have gone so wrong?” It was nothing but cruel and malicious mental self-torture.
Then, out of the clear blue sky it hit me with the force of a runaway locomotive! “I have a disease! I have a disease! And just like that (finger snap, please) it all made perfect sense! I have a disease!! The relief was so massive, so instantaneous, and so overpowering, that all I could do was weep without control. I was weeping so hard I could just barely see the road ahead of me, and I was also laughing like a madman at the very same time. Both together. Weeping and laughing! I could see all the dominoes I had so meticulously lined up for the past 6 ½ years go tumbling down, all in a neat row. And everything I experienced since walking out of the European Restaurant, finally all made sense. “I have a disease” Not only that, the best part was that I knew there was something I could do about it!
Which brings me back to my second AA meeting, the following Tuesday, in the basement of an unknown building, somewhere along the edge of Boston Harbor. When I opened the door, and took a step inside, I was met with a cloud of breath-stealing, eye-watering, cigarette smoke. I had stopped smoking many years ago and this was the first time since then that smoke in the air really bothered me. I believe I could have cut it with a knife. But it wasn’t only the smoke that made an instantaneous impression on me – it was the people at the meeting.
These people were not the style of individuals that you would have found me hanging around with. Yes, I was more than a little judgmental back then, but you must remember that I was just coming off a rather extended (if I wrote the number 6 ½ again, I think I would go ahead and eat that bullet now!!) dry drunk, and I only had one half of one percent of a single synapse working in my brain. I was entirely unable to correctly process any kind of intellectual or emotional data at all.
This was a very rough looking crowd, they were disheveled and downright dirty, some with holes in their jackets and keys hanging from their belts on chains that looked like they could kill you with one little swing. Men and women had leather biker jackets with gang names and colors all over the backs of their coats. As I drew slowly near the coffee line wondering if it would be a better idea to head for the hills, I overheard some of the men talking about the prison time they served and the jails they were guests in.
On closer inspection, more than a few had badly stitched slices on their faces, arms, and God knew where else they might be found. I was slowly approaching the point of no return, the approximate area where I wouldn’t have a choice other than to get a cup of coffee and stay to see what would happen, when the guy beside me somewhere grumbled a “hello” at me and I felt obliged to groan one right back at him. Therefore, I was stuck.
When I walked into that meeting I was wearing a very fashionable (at the time) London Fog, double breasted overcoat with the wide lapels, belt and everything. I had on a dark blue suit with just a hint of a light blue pin stripe. I wore a crisply starched Bright white, button down Polo shirt with monogrammed cuffs (c’mon, it was 1990), A red, and I do mean red, power tie, and my shoes were shined to the point where you could use them for a mirror. If you were looking down from that eagle’s eye view, it would have been quite clear to anyone watching this calamity, that I did not belong in that hall. I was very self-conscious and imagined that everyone in the room just stopped what they were doing when I walked in, and stared at me, giving me the hairy eyeball so to speak, hoping that I would leave. I felt like I was for sure in the wrong neighborhood and I was about to get my butt kicked.
I was, without a doubt, seriously unbalanced and quite paranoid, but I didn’t know this at the time. However, I did not want to be a stationary target so I needed something to do, I needed to keep moving. So, I ambled up to the coffee table and tried for anything I was worth, to look like I wasn’t shaking. That would have been a little bit difficult to pull off if I had a full cup of coffee, so I poured ¾ (at least it wasn’t 6 ½) of a cup of black coffee, turned around, spotted a seat in an area that did not seem too inhabited, walked very carefully to hide my shaking, made it all the way over to the seat I picked out, and sat down with my forearms resting on my thighs and my eyes cast down, looking at the floor. So far, so good!
When I felt like it was safe enough, I picked my head up, looked around the room and the only words that came to were: “My God, I’m Home.” Those words: “My God, I’m home.” Shocked me. I was shaken to the core. But at the very same time, I felt such a wonderful wave of calm, of Inner Peace, life, and serenity, that I can’t recall ever having felt in my whole life. I think my mouth was wide open, my chin was somewhere on my chest, and I was at peace. It was such a wonderful feeling – the overwhelming sense of calm and the inexplicable feeling of being totally at peace. I know this sounds like I might have destroyed more brain cells than I care to admit to, I felt as though I was one with everyone and everything. I can feel it today just writing about it. “My God, I’m Home.”
And what’s much more extraordinary than everything I said in the previous paragraph, the truly, off-the-charts-amazing thing about that experience is the fact that THEY WEREN’T EVEN MY WORDS!!! I had NEVER, NEVER either said or thought those words in my entire life. They did not come from me. They COULD NOT have come from me. I did not know those words. I could not even say the sentence because I had never, never felt at home!!! This is what really shook me at first – the fact that I was totally incapable of saying those four little words because I had never had the feeling that I had come home.
Those words came to me in the most unlikely place they ever could have come – and they calmly welled up from somewhere so far down inside me that it could only have been one possibility: That was the Voice For God!!! They were the words that came to me, specifically for me, specifically in that place and at that time.
There is no other explanation! Those words came up from inside me and they were right there before I ever knew they were coming. I could not have made them up – and I couldn’t stop them from coming. And I certainly could not make up the amazing emotional effect they had on me. For the past 6 ½ (I had to do it) years I was a physical, mental, and emotional train wreck. But God gave me a gift.
He gave me peace. And it was the Peace That Passeth My Understanding.
And all I could do was sit there and thank God. In one fell swoop, He undid the past nearly seven years. And more than that, He gave me a path in life.
My God, I’m Home!