The best gift of all
I got sober in AA in 1991. I got a sponsor, and we worked all 12 Steps. I attended meetings regularly and did service. Then came December of 1994.
Two weeks before Christmas, I started feeling really down, more desperate than ever. In AA, I learned that there’s no life situation that a drink or a drug will solve. I knew I didn’t want to drink, but I was extremely depressed. I found myself reluctantly planning to take my own life. I had the means, the motive (or so I thought) and was searching for the opportunity to carry out my plan.
But that Saturday morning I was sitting in our Cherry Creek Promises meeting, and someone announced that they were having difficulty getting people to fill the secretary commitments for meetings during the holiday marathon at our clubhouse, a popular meeting center in the Capitol Hill section of Denver. The clubhouse is a touchstone for many sober people.
I had more than two years of sobriety under my belt. I’m a smart guy. I figured that if I committed to serve in that capacity, I might be able to buy myself an additional two weeks of living because I had learned the importance of making and keeping commitments in our program. I figured that if I took this volunteer commitment I could always kill myself afterward.
When I showed up at the clubhouse for the Promises meeting the next Saturday, I was barely holding on. “What’s the marathon meeting that’s hardest to cover?” I asked the person at the service desk there. “Christmas morning, 7:00 A.M., on the third floor,” the service person answered. “I’ll take it,” I said.
So for the next two weeks, still struggling every day with my desperation and depression, I promised myself that I could end my life after my Christmas commitment was honored.
Mercifully, Christmas morning finally arrived. I drove to the clubhouse early, with my newly printed meeting formats in hand for the AA meeting. I swept the floor and put on a pot of coffee. I placed the meeting formats around the table that seated approximately 10, with more chairs on the perimeter of the small room.
Once everything was set up, I sat in silence and watched as a light dusting of snow outside added to the Christmas atmosphere. But not for me.
I watched the minutes click by on the clock: 6:58, 6:59, 7:00. It was just me in a cold but sunlit room that Christmas morning. I laughed to myself, patting myself on the back for a “mission accomplished,” in the sense that I had indeed bought myself a couple more weeks.
Just then, a young guy almost fell through the doorway. It looked to me like someone had pushed him into the meeting room. He sat down and there we were, two complete strangers staring at each other across the table in silence.
I struggled to pick up my meeting format as my hands were visibly shaking. I began to follow the script, walking my eyes cautiously down the page. I read aloud the welcome and then the Preamble, followed by the Serenity Prayer, and eventually arrived at the usual questions.
“Is there anyone here from out of town?” I asked. The poor guy looked around the room, clearly thinking to himself, Who is this AA guy talking to? Then I asked, “Is there anyone here for their first meeting?”
The man said, “This is my first meeting, and this is a lot like church, isn’t it?” I was of course horrified. I took a deep breath and said that I understood his comment, but that he shouldn’t get the wrong impression of AA based on this first meeting or anything I might say. And then, I had my own epiphany.
What had I learned in these last two years? Isn’t AA simply one alcoholic talking and listening to another, just like Bill & Dr. Bob did? I’m happy to report that I put my meeting format away and this young man and I spent the next 50 minutes talking and listening to each other. I shared my experience, strength and hope and tried to answer any questions he had.
At the end of our two-person meeting, as he was about to leave, he turned to me. “I don’t know who you are, mister, or whether you have a family and kids waiting for you at home who you’re not with on this Christmas morning,” he said, “but I want you to know that you may have saved my life today.” I took another even deeper breath as I took in what he said. How could I share with him that it was he who had surely saved my life that Christmas morning? I replied, “This is how we help each other in this program, and you will do the same for someone in the future, if you can get sober and stay sober, and I hope you will.” We gave each other a hearty AA hug and went our separate ways. We had saved each other’s life.
The AA Grapevine online store has a variety of books, ebooks and other publications full of inspiring stories of fellow AAs on their journey to recovery.