Friday, December 12, 2008

A long time between drinks

"I thought that when I got sober, God would open up the gates of heaven, and let me in...but He didn't. Instead, He opened the gates of hell, and let me out." (Bill S., Atlanta, GA)

"I know for sure that Jesus Christ saved my soul - but you people, and AA - you saved my ass." (a wise fellow whose name I cannot remember)

It snuck up on me, this year.

In fact, even though I have the date circled on the calendar, life has been moving so fast that I haven't really been thinking about it. And, to be honest, I had missed the Monday night meeting because of my month-before-year-end dance of death with my employer (who has come to be known as The Evil Empire, once again).

So it wasn't until Tuesday night, in a meeting, that someone said, "Hey, they announced your anniversary at the Heatherdowns Monday Night Men's meeting - congratulations!"

December 12, 1990. Eight thirty in the evening. The Chapter Five Club on Airport Highway in Toledo. The night my life changed.

There are lots of things that are unchanged about my life from that day to this. My ability to control my weight, my big mouth, my tendency to "boot up" each morning in selfish-and-self-centered mode, and my seemingly unending addiction to praise and encouragement - none of them have waned all that much. As my old Southern friend Sam used to say, "Ah ain't much, but Ah'm all Ah evah thaink about..."

But despite all my character defects (or, as my friend Michael D. would say, "my charming eccentricities"), and my best efforts not to work the program of recovery over the years, there is one thing that is different: by the grace of a loving God, I have not had a drink or a mind-altering drug in eighteen years, today.

"It is," a friend said, "a long time between drinks, really."

I'd like to think that the worst of the man who walked into the meeting on that night in 1990 died there. My prayer ever since is that any part of that man that walked out of that meeting was worth saving, and remains worth working on. I haven't done anything perfectly, and I haven't done a lot of things right - but as folks in recovery say, "Not taking the first drink is a good start..."

So when a fellow asked me to moderate a meeting tonight down at the Open Door, a transitional-housing project for men getting sober, I knew what the answer had to be. I'd been told time and time again, "If AA asks, and you can possibly do it, the answer is 'Yes'." It didn't matter that the car was in the shop, or how rested or tired I was, or anything else. So I hopped in Chris' truck (yeah, picture me riding to the inner-city in a '96 Ford F-150 pickup), and rode down to Kenilworth and Cherry St.

The topic was perfect - "going to any lengths to stay sober," especially around the holidays. So many of the things those men shared took me right back to that first Christmas season, and how impossible it seemed that I could stay sober for anything like twelve months in a row. For the second time in two days, I walked in with a medium-sewage-brown attitude (thanks to my inability to practice the Serenity Prayer at work) - and walked out thanking God for everything under the sun and moon.

I'm thankful, tonight, for the men who have mentored me along the way - including Bob S. (my first, and current, sponsor), Gene E., Bruce F., Nick T., Barry H., Tom S., and hundreds more who have graced my journey. But I'm even more grateful for the men - young and old - who have had the courage to reach out to me before they took the first drink. Every man who has asked me to sponsor him; every person who had the courage to call me instead of choosing to drink; and every person who has shared their sober life with me - they are each very special gifts from God - gifts of love and grace.

Back when I lived in Kansas, AA anniversaries ("sober birthdays") were a big deal. The Lenexa "Little House" Group had "birthday nights" on the weekends, where people celebrating an anniversary could get up and share their story. Frequently, a group of us would go out for dinner before-hand, or out for pie and coffee afterwards. The celebrant would buy a birthday cake to share, and it was just a big deal. But since I've been in Toledo, I've just never found anything like that. So it doesn't seem like as big a deal - but I know in my heart that it's still a gift of grace.

So in about six hours, I am taking the morning off work. I'll be at the Early Bird meeting at 7:30 AM - partly to get the "Woo-HOOO!" factor, but mostly to testify to folks who need to hear it that this impossible thing called twelve-step sobriety really, really works. Then, hopefully Chris and I will visit the "Homespun Holidays" at the Wildwood Metropark Manor House, and I will take him to lunch and then in to work. He asked me tonight, "Is this something where I should be getting you a card, or taking you out to eat? Because I think this is something worthy of celebrating."

He's right, of course. People like me - people who have lost the power of choice in drink, who have been saved from a living hell by a loving gift of sobriety - get to celebrate every day we wake up sober. But this year - this day - the celebration will be getting to share my life with my partner, my family, and the community of recovery. Oh, yeah - and continuing to give it away, one day at a time.

Soli Deo gloria...


Michael said...

Happy Day, Steve!

Keep coming back.

Hope said...

Congratulations Steve!! I wish I was there to celebrate with you. You know, I've said it before, your sharing here on the blog, was a big influence in me getting back in the rooms of AA. For that, I will be forever grateful.

Black Pete said...

Light them candles, Steve man!

wilsonian said...


I've been thinking about you often, as I talk with a friend who has just started with AA. Sort of a stuttering start. I find myself telling her things I learned from you.

Just wanted you to know, friend, that your influence is even wider than you think.

xo to you and your guy.

BentonQuest said...


Bear Me Out said...

Congratulations. Don't get a swelled head. Just today.

Yo go bro!

Im A Foto Nut said...

Hip Hip Hooray

Hip Hip Hooray

Hip Hip Hooray

kberman said...

Steve-I have had a blog for 4 years but have just started to comment. My sobriety date is Nov.24,1976 is more important to me than my birthday. I have read you for years and enjoyed every post I've read. Maybe someday we could join or start a group blog of recovering persons. For now, I am found at Kathy Berman. Thanks for all the good reading. Kathy

PJTXUN said...


I remember talking with you at SNL in the early days. I was just a couple of years sober myself. We learned and grew together. I am so happy to know that you are still carrying the message. It seems we were destined to carry the message to other parts of the world. You to KC and me to TEXAS. Do you remember the meetings in Toms basement and my cold garage or Bobs living room ? Those were the days. Stay well and lets get together soon. Your bro, PJ