December 2013: Sophie’s cake
A long holiday drive to see the in-laws … so what’s wrong with having some sweets?
I hadn’t taken a drink for two years and five months. It was Thanksgiving, so I drove my wife and two daughters up to Pittsburgh to visit my mother-in-law for the long weekend. I was looking forward to the trip, not for the food or the in-laws, but so I could read the stories from the back of the 2nd edition of the Big Book that had belonged to my late father-in-law. I didn’t even know he’d been a member of AA until several years after his death, when, on my first sober New Year’s Eve, I was filled with so much nervous energy about not drinking that I decided to re-shelve everything in the family library—in alphabetical order! It was then I discovered my father-in-law’s Big Book inscribed with his 1962
When we got to Pittsburgh, my mother-in-law was still at work as secretary of the church office, so we let ourselves into her house with my wife’s key. One of the church members, Sophie, had left us a freshly baked pound cake on the doorstep as a welcome present. Tired, irritable and hungry from the long drive, I helped myself to a piece of cake.
The very first bite was electrifying. I could feel a tingling shooting from my taste buds throughout my entire body. Instantly, I felt much better, more alive, alert and awake. The room brightened. Simultaneously, though, there was also an increase in the volume of noise going through my head. Everything was louder and my nerves became jangled. I felt a growing unease, a dread, a restlessness. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t understand what was happening. All I knew was that I wanted another piece of that delicious pound cake.
I sliced a big piece and grabbed the Big Book from the shelf in the family room. I began to feel a twinge in my lower back, a pain that had plagued me periodically since a sports injury in college. I also noticed that my left knee was stiffening up. After two knee surgeries and the six-hour car trip, I wasn’t particularly surprised. I read a story from the Big Book and finished my second piece of cake.
After my mother-in-law got home from the church office, we were visited by her best friend, a woman she had known since childhood, who had lost her husband in the same year that my father-in-law had died. My brother-in-law and his wife also stopped by, and we all sat down for a big Thanksgiving Eve dinner. I was a bit annoyed when I was sent out to entertain the children while the rest of the adults laughed and joked and enjoyed a bottle of wine. I became convinced that they were talking about me, and my irritation grew. For dessert I had another piece of cake and some ice cream.
By the time I put the kids to bed, I was in pain. My back hurt so much that I was doubled over. All of my sports injuries from fifteen years of football and another dozen years of rugby came back with a vengeance. My back, knee, neck, ribs, elbow, ankle, shoulder, hip and fingers all were screaming with pain. I couldn’t even sit on a chair. I had to lie on the floor with my legs propped up on the couch for even the slightest sense of relief. It was too late at night to call my sponsor. Besides, it was a long distance toll call. It was too late to go to a meeting, so I’d just have to suffer through the night. I filled another bowl with ice cream, lay on the floor with my legs propped up, read that precious Big Book and finished the last piece of pound cake.
I barely slept that night. I had a pounding headache. Everything was so wrong, so unfair. God had abandoned me. My in-laws were all jerks. What did they think they were doing, drinking around a recovering alcoholic like me? They didn’t like me, and I certainly didn’t care for them. My sponsor was too old. Why did he have to go to bed so early? This town was so screwed up too, with no late meetings on the night before Thanksgiving. Maybe I should just go out and find an all-night tavern. Then I could get good and drunk. That would show ’em!
The Big Book in my hands helped me recognize how ridiculous my thoughts had become. I asked God to restore me to sanity. Despite my pain, I laughed at myself. I stayed put. I didn’t go out in search of a drink that night.
I finally went to a meeting on Thanksgiving night, then to two on Friday, two on Saturday, two on Sunday, and one on Monday morning before we packed up and headed back home. My mysterious physical ailments gradually subsided. I was feeling close to a 100 percent again by the time we were ready to hit the road for the long trip back home. Just before we left Pittsburgh, we stopped off at the church office to say goodbye to my mother-in-law. As God would have it, Sophie was there too, working in the kitchen.
I made a special point to thank Sophie for the delicious pound cake. I told her it was the best-tasting cake I had ever eaten in my entire life. “Oh, I’m glad you liked it,” she replied. “I poured whiskey on top of it.” My jaw dropped. A few minutes later, my wife commented, “I guess you’ll have to change your sobriety date now.” I replied that I’d pray about it and talk it over with my sponsor. Besides, we had to get home so I could take the AA meeting into the detox unit that evening. I knew I’d have something worthwhile to share.
What had happened on Thanksgiving Eve had triggered my phenomenon of craving. I had both an abnormal physical reaction to the alcohol and a mental obsession to find more. I was restless, irritable and discontent without the sense of ease and comfort that only more alcohol could bring; but when I ate another slice of whiskey-soaked cake, my body reacted by demanding more. It had been nearly two and a half years since I’d taken a drink of alcohol, so I hadn’t recognized what was going on. I had literally forgotten what it felt like to consume alcohol.
What’s more important is that God provided me a way out. It was no accident that I had found that Big Book on the shelf two years before. God knew that I would need it to stay sober that night. He also knew that I would come to understand my powerlessness over alcohol, not just in my head, but deep down within my innermost self. God did for me what I could not do for myself.
Oh, and one more thing ...
I now make sure to find out the ingredients before I eat a piece of someone else’s cake.