January 2020 | Spiritual Awakenings

A grateful holiday

Though not the fancy getaway he was used to, the journey this year was to himself

My drinking had gone from being a way to escape life’s pressures to a long, slow descent into hell. But the end came quickly, a few weeks after one fateful Christmas.

If you saw my life a couple of months before that, it seemed pretty good as long as you didn’t look too closely. I was married to a smart, beautiful, funny woman. I had a great job, a nice house in a trendy neighborhood and lots of shiny toys. I spent that Christmas on a private island in the Caribbean. And I was being served 20-year-old scotch in crystal tumblers by smiling waiters in white linen jackets.

My life was like a Hollywood set. From a distance it was impressive, but up close you could see that it was hollow, nothing more than painted canvas. I was physically exhausted and emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. Financial ruin was not far behind. 

I had convinced my wife that this trip would be a new beginning. We would escape the mad whirlwind of Christmas back home in Toronto and put our relationship back on track. I swore, for the umpteenth time, that things would be different. But I simply couldn’t stop drinking and I hated myself for it. It was killing both of us. The more clearly I saw the pain in her eyes, the more I drank to escape my guilt and shame. The worst part was that the booze had stopped working. All I could think about was killing myself, but I lacked the courage.

When we returned home after New Year’s Eve, the whole house of cards came tumbling down. By the end of January, my marriage was over. I was living in my car and my employer was preparing to get rid of me.

I crawled into my first AA meeting at what would become my home group, The Beaches Group, in Toronto. I was a broken man. My God, I thought, this is what it’s come to, Alcoholics Anonymous. How desperate can you be? I should have killed myself, I thought. 

I was not an ideal newcomer. I was angry, argumentative and, despite everything, full of self-centered pride. When I heard people introduce themselves as “grateful alcoholics,” it was like nails being dragged over a chalkboard. But I had nowhere else to go so I kept coming back.

I kept telling people I was “different.” Finally, someone told me to read the story “Physician, Heal Thyself!” in the back of the Big Book. I’m not a doctor, but for the first time I actually identified with the writer. Those words on the first page of that story, “the skid row of success,” fairly jumped off the page at me. That phrase cracked my shell of pride just enough to let in the healing sunlight of humility.

The earth completed another orbit of the sun. Christmas was a few days away once again. I took stock of my life. There was no private island in the Caribbean this Christmas. I was living in a one-room apartment with a hot plate and a view of a brick wall six feet away, but I had a warm, dry place to sleep and food to eat. 

I was going through divorce proceedings, but thanks to the work I had begun on the Steps, I was able to accept responsibility for the damage I had done to that relationship. I had serious financial issues to deal with, but I was dealing with them. My employer had decided to give me one more chance and seemed pleased with the results. Best of all, though I still had moments of fear and uncertainty, I also had moments of serenity. Hope had become a very real part of my life. 

The week before Christmas, my home group holds a candlelit gratitude meeting. It’s normally a speaker meeting, but for this one evening everyone is given a few moments to share. I wondered what I could possibly say. I thought back to that first meeting 11 months before. I realized that the desperation I had felt was the greatest gift I had ever received. It was the key to a new way of life.

When it was my turn, I simply said, “My name is John. I’m a grateful alcoholic.” 

And I actually meant it.

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