My Alcoholism, My War
I was a professional army man, and a newcomer, when my country, Argentina, became embroiled in a border dispute and came close to going to war with Chile. I was stationed in Comodoro Rivadavia, and was sent to Rio Turbio in the province of Santa Cruz, in the southernmost part of the continent.
I remember that all sections of my regiment had a mate kit. (Mate is a hot beverage brewed from a native shrub, popular in some Latin American countries. It is normally served in a hollowed-out gourd with a metal straw and is constantly refilled and passed around for sharing.) Our mate, ostensibly because of the cold weather, was generally spiked with gin. Fear made me extra cautious. At the time, I had been sober for three months and, as you can imagine, I needed to be alert and avoid having another slip. My hands still trembled and sweated. My body was just beginning to recover from the beating it had received from King Alcohol.
All this was happening on Christmas Eve, 1978. I felt desperate, not because of what might happen in combat--after all, it was my job, if necessary, to die serving my country--but because of my own internal war. I tried to be by myself and pray. The only company I had were the letters sent by fellow AAs in the Balvanera and Santa Cruz groups back in Buenos Aires. One of them wrote: "Remember, Augusto, that you have to say no to the first drink and keep thinking about your group."
I had no one to share my sorrow, my feelings of desolation and anxiety. I tried to be like an actor who does not give his inner feelings away. That was my situation in the presence of my superiors and the people under my command. But I always managed to find a corner where I could drop a few tears, call on my Higher Power, and repeat to myself, "I'm not going to drink. I'm not going to drink."
I also carried a precious object in my backpack--a card given to me by the Santa Cruz group with the Serenity Prayer printed on the back. My mind was so damaged from my eighteen years of alcoholic drinking, that I couldn't even memorize the Serenity Prayer.
Let's go back to December 24. From various parts of the country, people had sent us all kinds of alcohol. Christmas Eve dinner was nearing. Drinks were served in mugs, people were laughing, there was a loud, nerve-racking din which made me crazy. Some guys began to cry. I, thank God, was sober, and found that I could offer consolation to those who were depressed, even though there was a war raging inside of me which no one could see.
At midnight, when everyone raised their mugs for the holiday toast, I toasted with tea, and thought about the principle of AA, one alcoholic seeking another. It was then that I found one person in my section who had given up drinking, because, as he put it, "alcohol didn't agree with him." So we spent the whole evening talking until we got sleepy. When I woke up on the 25th, I felt so good! I was happy. I had met a challenge which I'd never believed I could meet. And that wasn't the only one: on the 27th, when we were informed that there would be no war, some of us were granted a home leave, so we could spend New Year's Eve with our loved ones. For me that represented another challenge: how could I spend New Year's Eve at home without drinking? But that New Year's, for the first time, I was able to say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new year, sober.
I thank God for my fellow group members back home and all those who helped me out. I'm also indebted to my sponsor, Fanny, and to all those AAs who made it possible for this alcoholic to celebrate twenty-two years, eight months, and one day of recovery to this day, one day at a time.
Years later, when I was sent to fight in the Falklands war, I did what I had to do, carrying with me the Twelve Steps. At that time I also felt the presence of my Higher Power, but this time around, I had the certainty that comes to those of us who get used to living one day at a time.