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June 1988

A Conspiracy of Love

A fellow named D. C. was one of those who conspired with my doctor and family, I was sure, to get me to my first AA meeting. When I called AA, at the insistence of wife and doctor, I explained to I. P.--another conspirator--that I had seen a brief sequence in an old movie which depicted an AA meeting, so I knew all about this outfit, and I was sorry but the religious aspect wouldn't suit. This lady then had the gall to recite from the Big Book about "contempt prior to investigation." Of course, my intellectual pride now required that I attend a meeting, if only to qualify for contempt after investigation.

But first, there was this fellow, D. C., who had been around the fringes of the binges over the previous couple of years. He was the one who quietly brought his own six-pack of pop to the parties, and left just when the conversation was becoming profound. Still, I considered him an intellectual in good standing; and he had mentioned once or twice that he had consumed his share of booze.

So he became "the man who came to dinner," my final alternative to going to an AA meeting. I would find out from him how he did it, and try his way. But right after the chicken fricassee, he wanted to take me to a meeting--without even waiting for dessert! He had been waiting for over two years for that moment, he explained to me a few weeks later.

He took me to my first meeting the following evening. My suspicions of a conspiracy were confirmed when it seemed most everyone there knew more about me than they should have--offered hope and help that suggested they really knew what I was going through, though I certainly knew little myself, that night, of the true nature of my condition.

D. C. saw through the intellectual posturing to the paralyzing fear that caused my early troubles with AA. When, after a couple of meetings, I explained I couldn't accept "the God bit," though I wanted whatever else these people had, it was he who took a day off work to drive me two hundred miles to the only treatment center I could afford, a bleak place out in the middle of nowhere, fifteen miles from the nearest bar. Not the posh sanatorium I had in mind, where I would write the novel of the century while recuperating.

But I did have plenty of time to study the Big Book I had impulsively bought at my first meeting, as part of my contempt after strategy. The chapter "We Agnostics" wouldn't apply to me, I knew, as I was a convicted atheist, and agnostics in my view were the kind of people who deliberately watered their whiskey. Yes, I actually wrote a note in my Big Book: I am a convicted atheist. I had meant to write convinced, of course. It was thus I realized that all the Second Step asked was that I entertain the possibility of a power greater than me in the universe. And thus I had a sudden spiritual awakening, or deflation of the ego, so intense that it is still a sharp memory.

And D. C. was at my first posttreatment AA meeting, where I announced I had the equivalent of eighteen months' sobriety as a result of my three weeks out of circulation. Right there in front of everybody, he suggested I stay sober through Thanksgiving at least, and then tackle Christmas and New Year's, and a few paydays and Maydays and so forth for eighteen months, as most AA members claimed sobriety in chunks of only one day. This was how my sudden spiritual awakening gave way to daily spiritual experiences of the learning variety.

Shortly afterward, I came to him with a long list of those I wanted to make amends to right away or I feared I might drink again. Many were old creditors from a bankruptcy, family members living in another country, and former colleagues, also five thousand miles from my end of a series of geographic cures.

"Wait a minute," he answered--and I hadn't even asked the question yet. "You just got through the Fifth Step, and now you want to take the Ninth. How well have you done with the Steps in between?" I learned why they're called steps from this encounter--and something also about how it was possible to be honest and loving at the same time.

He always seemed to be on hand when attacks of fear, confusion, unreality or resentment shattered the cloud-nine bliss of early sobriety, to show me how the Steps could work on the root causes of my spiritual disease. He seemed endlessly patient, and clearly wanted to help as much as he could; yet he solved not one of my numerous overwhelming problems! Rather, he waited out the storms with me, and sometimes tactlessly indicated fellow members with truly serious problems--homelessness, physical disability, impending legal proceedings--from whom I learned the extreme lengths it sometimes takes to stay sober; and how we come to live in a new dimension of being.

A few days after the jubilation of my first AA birthday, D. C. quietly let me know that his role as my guide to the program was over. He hoped I would understand: it had sometimes been a strain, but he wanted to remain my friend. It took a few days more for it to sink in--my sponsor had fired me! After all the times I'd intended to fire him, and given him another chance, just so I wouldn't hurt his feelings! And anyway, I'd never actually formally appointed him as my sponsor--he just took that role on himself. So how could he?!

Shortly afterward, D. C. moved out of the area, and we saw each other only rarely. Then there came a day of crisis, after several years of slow growth in sobriety, when it seemed I had to make a final, immediate decision affecting myself and several others very profoundly.

It was a brilliant Fourth of July holiday. I stood bewildered among thousands of people in Riverfront Park who were enjoying the music while they waited for the evening fireworks display. I felt as if entombed in a dark cavern. I prayed.

And there, coming through the crowds sprawled on the grass in the sun, was D. C., arms outstretched in greeting, his big lopsided grin marvelously in evidence! We spent over two hours in a secluded corner of the park overlooking Spokane Falls, and in that time, simply by his example, he brought me to see for myself what would be the consequences of my impatience and my false egocentric notions of responsibility. And so he again helped me continue my journey toward "the sunlight of the spirit."

The role of one I go to when I need to discuss something I'm tempted to keep to myself, as our Big Book suggests on page 86, has been filled for the past ten years by F. P., who knows me better than I know myself, and who has led me into the infinitely rewarding world of AA service. Both D. C. and F. P. have been invaluable models for me in the way they have shared their lives with me and many others. They have made it possible for me in turn to carry our AA message, however inadequately, but at least with the result that I have seen "our experience benefit others," and "that feeling of uselessness and self-pity" almost completely disappear, as promised on page 84 of our Big Book.

May God bless these two men, who are as family to me, and all my co-conspirators in this divine conspiracy we call a Fellowship.

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