From the November 2010 magazine. First printed in December 1998.

Close Shave

A shaving bottle, a gun, and a trip to the hospital over the Christmas holidays led him straight to the first three Steps

In the fall of 1971, I was on my usual holiday drunk. It was the kind where I appreciated being able to go to a bar and not feel uncomfortable because I was shaking and looked like warmed-over death. A simple statement to the barkeep--"I really hung one on last night"--was enough to get a little sympathy and a double Bloody Mary. After about six o'clock, I'd start to get the eye, and it would be time to leave, but I was all right now.

After upsetting Thanksgiving dinner for my beloved wife and beautiful little daughter, I promised I would go to the basement rec room and get myself straight and give them a good Christmas. I lay on the couch with my wine bottles to help me taper off and went out the back door once a day to get more wine and a fastfood dinner or such. Occasionally, my wife would stick her head down the stairs to see if I was still alive. After a couple of weeks of this, I started the usual process of not being able to sleep; I was shaking and puking. I tried drinking nothing but sherry wine very slowly and sipping warm beer but nothing would stay down. I knew if I could just get a little alcohol in my system I would stop hurting so much. Nothing seemed to work. As fast as it would go down it would come back up.

Sometime on the eighteenth of December, I apparently became psychotic and took a 32-caliber pistol and put a bullet into my right temple. It is probably the grace of God that I don't remember it, and an even greater grace that my wife and daughter were out doing some Christmas shopping. When they got home they found me with what appeared to be a scalp wound, so 911 was called. The exit wound was hidden by my thick hair. While in intensive care, the pressure in my head started building up and I was rushed to the operating room for emergency surgery. I was in a coma for almost a week. When my wife asked the doctor what the chances of my surviving were, he said I had a 30 percent chance--if I regained consciousness. When asked what the quality of my life would be, the doctors wouldn't even discuss it. I finally regained consciousness on Christmas Day.

For 25 years I've tried to find the words to express the emotional and physical pain that I felt that day. What does a drunk do when he hurts and wants a drink? I didn't have anyone I could call to bring me something to drink and I had no money. But my wife had left my shaving kit with a bottle of shaving lotion in it. Don't scoff unless you've tried it. Two fingers of shaving lotion and four fingers of water and it will make up milky white, and it will do the job. Next, I needed to figure out how to get some more. I decided I could break the shaving lotion bottle and then I'd be given another one. If you want to break a shaving lotion bottle, you'd better get a sledgehammer. I banged it on the floor until I was exhausted. Finally, in sheer disgust, I threw it on the floor with all my strength. It hit the floor, bounced up to the ceiling and come down on some metal hospital chairs. One big racket! Since I was directly across from the nurses' station, they all came running. "What happened?" Nothing, I just dropped my shaving lotion bottle.

Somehow, this is what it took for me to be reduced to the point of hopelessness and helplessness. In disqust and desperation I lay back on my pillow and cried into the darkness. "Lord God, if you are there, take this life of mine and run it." I knew nobody could make a worse mess of it than me. This is probably the only time in my life that I've been totally devoid of any ego. As I lay there, I began to realize that every time I'd been in trouble I'd been drinking. Every time I'd wrecked a car, been in jail, been in a psycho ward--I'd been drinking. Unbelievable. If I didn't drink I didn't get in trouble. Not that every time I drank, I got in trouble--in my youth I had a whole lot of fun. But somewhere along the line the gadget broke. And I spent years trying to fix it, to no avail.

Little did I realize that I had just taken the first three Steps of AA without reservation.

Some get this program easily, but for some of us we have to go the hard way. Now, after all these years, I am the most blessed man alive. In spite of the fact that doctors cannot find the right medication to control the seizures, the loss of balance, and the sleep apnea, I've had the opportunity to give my wife and daughter that good Christmas I promised them. And I've had the chance to be the loyal, faithful, and loving husband to the best of my ability, and a real father. Through many years of carrying this message to the local jail, I've had the joy of seeing several men really put their lives back together and become productive, law-abiding sober citizens. Not my works but God made them responsive to the message. Thank God and this program, which makes it all so simple. If I do not drink, I do not get in trouble!


Fairfax, Va.