Another chance
May 2020 | Getting Into General Service

Another chance

An old-timer recalls how AA helped him grieve and gave him the opportunity to give the kind of love a dad can give

In 1974, while stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, my wife and I attended Lamaze birthing classes while preparing for the arrival of our fourth child. Just before Halloween, my wife’s water broke, and we headed for the base hospital. 

My job was to coach my wife’s breathing and to give her comfort and support. We had used the Lamaze method once before for the birth of our son in Wichita, Kansas at a hospital off the base, and everything went well. 

But this time was different. The doctor had to perform a caesarian section because the baby’s head was enlarged. Our daughter was hydrocephalic and was born with spina bifida. In 1974, the outlook for her future was not good and there was no treatment available for little Sara’s condition.

My wife spent many hours each day at the hospital rocking Sara and singing lullabies. I had become a full-blown alcoholic by 1974 and my Higher Power helped me remain lucid during the next five weeks while caring for our other three children as Sara grew weaker and weaker. In December, Sara died. 

During all the time that she was in the hospital, I never held her or rocked her. I felt numb most of the time. After her death, I applied for emergency leave, which was granted.

Our family traveled to Phoenix, Arizona, where we held the funeral and burial. We had a somber Christmas that year and we were able to spend it with my mother-in-law. After the New Year, we flew back to Anchorage. We had a stopover at the Seattle/Tacoma Airport while waiting for our flight to Alaska. I called my assigned unit and was informed by the commander that I had been passed over for a promotion to major. I had hoped to be a career officer in the military, so this missed promotion was like a double kick in the stomach. 

I left my family in the motel room and went down to the lounge looking for relief. I don’t remember how long I was there, but I was drunk when I came back to the room. We arrived back in Anchorage and spent the next year working through our grief over Sara’s death. 

Later that year, I was again passed over for promotion. I could have stayed in the service to reach retirement, but my pride and self-pity wouldn’t allow me to do that as an enlisted man. My family left Anchorage for Phoenix in January, 1976, and I followed in April. I got drunk about every night during that time.

Arriving back in Phoenix, I thought I would seek employment at another Air Force base in the area as a civilian, but discovered that the Air Force had a hiring freeze. So I continued to flounder and drink. Finally, my wife and my mother-in-law told me that I should go stay with my parents in New York if I didn’t do something about my drinking. I said I would try AA. 

I attended two meetings, but I didn’t take it seriously. A number of weeks later, in complete desperation, I returned to the AA meetings, got sober, got a sponsor, took the Twelve Steps and later became a chemical dependency therapist.

In 1989, our older daughter and our two tiny granddaughters came to live with us in Phoenix. The youngest was a few weeks old, had colic and had a lot of trouble sleeping. I was able to get her to sleep by rocking her every night. God had created an opportunity to heal my grieving from 1974. Today that baby girl is now a mother herself, with a 3-year old daughter.

God has done for me what I could not do for myself. After leaving the service, within six months I had become a member of AA. Fourteen years later the pain of abandoning my infant daughter was greatly lessened by rocking my infant granddaughter. I discovered a new purpose in life, not as a military man, but as one who can be of service to other alcoholics, addicts and their families. This I have been able to do for more than 30 years. In later years, I also visited the cemetery and made my amends to Sara.

It’s the tough times we go through without drinking that are the acid test of our commitment to the program. These are the times we share with new prospective members to let them know that they are not alone, and that recovery is possible.


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