From the September 2011 magazine.

September 2011: A Back Porch Prayer

With his wife still missing, a young African-American vows to make things right

"Now, I’m getting on my knees, right here on my mother’s back porch, and asking God for the willingness to take Step One."

On this beautiful spring morning, after almost three months without alcohol or drugs, I am beginning to feel alive again. I am noticing signs of life all around me. The birds are frolicking and building nests. Yellow flowers seem to have emerged overnight through soil, still cold from a long winter. As I’m savoring the hot coffee, allowing my eyes to focus on the beauty around me, I begin to reflect on the past 25 years of my life, a life filled with such promise yet wasted because of alcohol and drugs.

At 14, I was an outstanding football player and popular with my peers. My grades were above average and everyone assumed I would enroll in college. After my father left, my strong African-American mother worked hard to provide me with the things I needed to be successful. Her unconditional love gave me support and encouragement to fulfil my dreams. It wasn’t a big deal when I began drinking and smoking weed with my friends, I thought. No one could have predicted that in a couple of years I would quit football, drop out of school and become a juvenile offender.

Now, at 39, I’m sitting on my mother’s back porch, thinking about those wasted years. The only positive step I took was to join the Job Corps and learn a trade (before being expelled from school for selling drugs).

Five years ago, the courts sent me into treatment. When I graduated from the program, I went to Alcoholics Anonymous, found a sponsor and began working the Steps. Living in a large city gave me the opportunity to attend various meetings where I could find other young people and enjoy an active social life. I met a young woman, also new in recovery, and we married. We continued attending meetings and working with our sponsors, but material things slowly became more important. The trade I had learned gave me a good job and we bought a house and a car.

My wife began to use drugs and alcohol again. Before long, I joined her. It took only a few months to lose everything, including my beautiful wife, who is still out there, somewhere on the streets. Our disease took us to the gates of hell and I experienced the presence of evil. Somehow, once again, God delivered me to my mother’s house in Kentucky. He led me back to the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and the care of a loving sponsor.

So, on this beautiful spring morning, I’m thinking about my life and all that has happened to me in an effort to move forward. Have I considered all the implications of this deadly disease? Why have so many young brothers, like me, walked into our groups and stayed for a short time, returning to the alcohol and drugs only to join gangs, go to prison or die? So few dark faces amid the many white ... could it be because of race that they don’t stay sober? I was welcomed with open arms into this AA family and my sponsor is an African-American man with strong sobriety and a deep love for the people in this group. No, I believe it’s all about the power of this disease and the subtle ways it sneaks into our thinking and captures our soul. Just a few weeks ago, I became angry and resentful at an old-timer who asked me to stop laughing and playing around while she was sharing. How dare she say this to me! I was only having a little fun. I was also irritated when another old biddy told her new sponsee that she shouldn’t go out with me for coffee after the meeting. How dare she insult me! Only last week, I helped her move furniture. Besides, I don’t understand this deal about not getting involved in relationships during the first year of sobriety. My sponsor gets on my nerves when he insists that I walk up front and take a red chip, offered at three months of sobriety, when I don’t think I should do this.

My life is already much better now that I’ve gotten a job and car back. I just don’t like people telling me what I should do. Perhaps I need to check this stinking thinking and the implications of Step One with my sponsor.

On this morning, though, I want to work for a new life and a psychic change that leaves the old Vernon and his destructive thoughts behind. Now, I’m getting on my knees, right here on my mother’s back porch, and asking God for the willingness to take Step One.

-- Vernon J.

Frankfort, Kentucky