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May 1988

Who's on First?

Three years ago I came to, as if from an alcoholic blackout, to find myself standing in my yard with a flashlight and 12-gauge riot-gun. My adrenaline was up and pumping like a shot of cheap crystal, and the finger on the trigger was trembling in anticipation. Something had made a loud noise near the garage that housed my Harley-Davidson, and I was going to kill it. "It" may have been the greasy thief of my nightmares, a stray cat on the prowl, or a neighbor's child searching for a lost ball, but I was ready to shoot first, ask questions later, and pay for it the rest of my life.

Insane, you say?

I was seven years sober at the time.

I had been living in virtual poverty, sharing my rundown house with a large population of rats, roaches, and other pests. Though I had maintained sobriety, the program's spiritual ideals still eluded me. That motorcycle was the only thing of value in my life, and when I felt it threatened I reacted the way a child's father might: with hostility, rage, and violence. My precarious foothold on serenity collapsed, and I tumbled headlong into a war waged against shadows. It was insanity, and all the worse because I couldn't blame it on the booze this time.

Somehow I made it back into the house, and hastily ejected the unused shells from the gun. In a chair I covered my face with my hands, and shook to think of what I had done. I felt alone, and overwhelmed by the madness of that moment. I was terrified.

I've heard it said that, once we pray for a "God-centered" life, God will remove anything that tries to take his place. My priorities below that number-one position may take any order I choose, so long as I don't get loaded or lose sleep behind them, but the top spot must be reserved for my program which, for me, includes my Higher Power.

Aloud I prayed, "God, if that motorcycle is going to come between me and the sober, serene life I want to lead; then please take it away." Then I got on the telephone to a program friend. When I described the evening's events she said, "Has God ever taken away anything you really needed?"

I had to admit that he hadn't.

"Has God ever taken anything away without replacing it with something much better?" she asked.

Again the answer was negative.

"I know you love your scooter," she said, "but if it's going to rob you of your joy, instead of enhancing it, then you're better off without the thing."

I rang off and sat there, contemplating the marvelous power which had moved me to that point.

Three miracles took place that night. First, God took care of me when I was once again incapable of tending to my own needs. No shots were fired. No one died. No police, arrests, trials, or jail cells, when I'd certainly qualified myself for all those things.

The second was an instantaneous flood of relief, and a return of my long-absent faith. For the most part my spiritual experiences have been of the educational variety, slow and often painful, but on several occasions, after a surrender like that night's, there has come a sudden rush of serenity as my faith in God's presence was renewed. It is as if I've been alone in a darkened room, and suddenly heard God whisper, "Need a light?"

The third was a hindsight realization, rather beside the point, that once I became willing to give up that motorcycle I no longer had to. The problem was lifted from me, much as my drinking problem had been. I could still take "reasonable precautions" to protect my investment, but I was granted the assurance that nothing was going to happen to that motorcycle, anymore than to me, without God's explicit approval. That's called "freedom from fear," and to a man accustomed to paranoia, resentment, and violence as part of everyday living, that freedom was an exquisite relief.

My story may seem extreme, and it is. It is an extreme example of the power I give fear over my life, and the extremes to which that fear can drive me. In many ways this was my pattern, through a decade of alcohol and drugs. In lesser ways it still haunts me in this decade of sobriety. My faith deteriorates, fear creeps in, and I "come to" in the midst of a raging fit wondering what went wrong this time. What went "wrong," I discovered, is that I forgot my priorities, and placed something besides God at the center of my life. What I'm experiencing, then, is simply the pain of excision.

Fortunately, the longer I stay sober the less I tolerate that kind of pain. Where it once took months to reach my breaking point, I have progressed, through AA's Twelve Steps, until now it takes only hours. I remember, then, who I am and what I'm about (to wit, a child of God trying to live a sober, happy, and productive life) and I can ask God to replace my fear with faith. That simple prayer has never failed me, and today I live more and more in God's world, and less in the shadows of terror.

The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once proclaimed "Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty we are free at last!" Though he was speaking of a different type of bondage, this is one grateful alcoholic who can definitely relate.

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