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January 1988

Making Manuel Drink

My parents had always taught me I not to drink alone. "Only alcoholics," they warned, "drink alone. People who drink with others are social drinkers, and never alcoholics."

I learned that lesson well. But years later, as a parish priest in a Central American country, I was faced with a dilemma. I liked to drink. In fact, I liked to drink very, very much. Too much, as a matter of fact. . .and I was alone. I staffed a one-man parish--isolated in the mountains.

To avoid being an alcoholic, I knew I had to get a drinking companion. It didn't matter that I was drinking a one pint martini each evening, and sometimes had a second. The drinking partner would keep me from the clutches of alcoholism.

But who could accompany me in my nightly drinking bouts? I didn't want the parishioners to know that their pastor was tying one on each evening. So, in my search for a partner, I had to come up with someone who was discreet, very discreet. Someone who wouldn't talk, who wouldn't tell the other people in the parish that their priest was a lush. Finally, I came across the ideal companion. Discreet--yes; tight-lipped--yes. Manuel was the answer to my prayers. In fact, Manuel was a gift--for he was a deaf mute. No word would ever escape his lips. Of that I was certain.

He had an added benefit. Manuel couldn't hold his booze. After a single shot, Manuel would pass out cold, and while his inert form accompanied me, I was free to continue drinking--without fear of becoming an alcoholic. The games we play!

One night, Manuel was visiting my house, and had already passed out. I must have gone into a blackout. The next morning, I woke up in bed--badly hung over. Manuel had left. When I got myself together, I began to notice that a few odds and ends were missing. Manuel had relieved me of a pocket knife, a flashlight, a ballpoint pen, and a few other bits and pieces.

The next evening, Manuel arrived for his nightly drink. I was waiting for him, and when he was inside the house, I began to beat him up--to teach him a lesson not to steal from me. Fortunately, he was able to escape before I did him any serious damage. I drank alone that night.

The following morning, I had a rare moment of clarity, and I began to ponder on what I was doing. I was beginning to turn Manuel into an alcoholic. I had beaten him, defenseless as he was. "My God," I thought, "I came here to Central America to do good, and have stayed to do harm to myself and others."

And so it was. . .my Higher Power did use Manuel, not to keep me from being an alcoholic--I was already that. He used Manuel to call me back from my alcoholism. My Higher Power writes straight with crooked lines, calls to me through the wordless cry of a poor and defenseless deaf mute.

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