By: Jeff J.
It’s an early Sunday evening, and I am required to attend an AA meeting at the local Alano Club. I have a choice between the speaker meeting downstairs, or the book study upstairs. Both start at 7pm, but there’s a problem. Both meetings are full, and there’s not a seat to be had at either. I am outside the downstairs meeting, finishing up my cigarette, when the community director comes by and tells me to get inside. I have been at my new rehab for less than two days. I haven’t found a sponsor yet. My head is spinning. I’m pissed, and my attitude sucks. Old behavior is begging to get out. That’s it. I say to myself. I don’t need this crap. I am a survivor who has spent his share of nights on the streets. I ask God one last time for help. “Did you bring me 1200 miles from my home in Texas for this??” Another minute passes as I hear the speaker meeting getting underway. Nope, this isn’t for me. I’m out of here. I start walking. Out of the blue, I hear a girl’s voice from behind asking, “Hey Jeff, where are you going?” I am 37 years old at the time, fresh out of detox, after years of alcohol and substance abuse.
First, a little background. My story isn’t unique. I started drinking at age 12, got drunk on the weekends at 13, and started smoking weed at 15. I loved the combination of weed and alcohol because it put me right where I wanted to be— under the table. Somehow I graduated from high school, and earned a golf scholarship to a private university in my hometown of Austin, Texas. There were way too many distractions for a burgeoning alcoholic in Austin in the early ’80s. I flunked out after one semester and lost the scholarship. I started experimenting with harder drugs and fell in love with cocaine soon after.
I tried school again two years later. I joined a fraternity. My drinking grew exponentially, as did my substance intake. I was elected president of my fraternity, because I led by example. I was a hard partying 20-year-old leading a group of hard partying 20 somethings. It was the best of times.
It was during this stint of college that I was first introduced to crack cocaine. I dabbled with crack my first few years out of college. You know, a weekend thing, and I was in total control. After all, my drinking had decreased since college, and I was a successful weekend warrior able to hold down a job. This scenario continued into my 30s, but with some differences. I started losing jobs at a more frequent rate. My relationships with people started deteriorating. I tried to finish college in my early 30s, but I quit school, once again, because my drinking and drugging was my first priority. I lost my best friend at age 33 to a heart attack, and my life started spinning out of control proportionally to my drinking and using. At 36, I had lost pretty much everything, and I found myself homeless on the streets of Austin. I turned 37 on the streets in May of 1999. If I ever write a book about my life, an entire chapter could be devoted to the day of July 29, 1999: that was the day I said to myself, “Self, this isn’t what you bargained for.” Long story short, I picked up a pay phone and made a call that would change my life. I spoke at length with a gentleman named Bill S. Within 48 hours, I was on a plane heading to California for detox and a long-term rehab. I was done.
The person belonging to that girl’s voice was Lisa, someone I had met when I checked into rehab. She was at my first Friday night AA meeting as a resident. I chose AA over CA and NA because my alcoholism was the alpha and the omega when it came to everything that happened in my life the past 20 years. For me, I also found more solution in the meetings of AA.
I turned to Lisa as I was walking away and said, “I am out of here.” She could see my head was spinning, and she knew of a local coffee shop nearby where we could talk. She convinced me to come have a cup of coffee with her. I begrudgingly agreed, assuring her that it wouldn’t help, and my mind was made up. We spent the next 2-3 hours exchanging stories, getting to know each other, and her gaining my trust. Like the phone call I had made a week earlier, this conversation would change my life.
Lisa convinced me to sleep on it and make a decision about what to do in the morning. We also spoke at length that night about my Higher Power. I told Lisa that I was struggling with the concept of having and maintaining a conscious contact with my Higher Power, who I knew to be God. I had this grand notion that God would appear before me and say “GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER!” How grandiose of me. I knew deep down inside that wouldn’t cut it regarding a conscious contact. I knew I could do the steps and vigorously participate in AA, but I was genuinely concerned about not having that connection with God that people in the program told me was essential to my sobriety. Lisa also convinced me that, in time, I would make that connection with God that I desperately wanted to make. I went home that night to my sober house unsure what the next day would bring. I remember humming the classic Clash tune “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” on the way home.
I woke the next morning to my community director informing me that because I missed the required meeting from the night before, I would be under “house arrest” for the day and would not be able to participate in any daily activities. I was also informed that any more missed meetings after that day would result in more punitive actions. Great. I had been here less than three days and I was already in the doghouse. Little did I know that missing that meeting with Lisa was the start of many life-changing epiphanies that would affect my recovery in a positive way.
I had a good breakfast, and headed for the showers. While in the shower, I reflected on what had happened the night before. I realized that the thought of leaving had not entered my mind until that moment. Then, BOOM, it happened. A feeling of calm was taking hold in my body from my head to my toes. It was a feeling I had never experienced before that moment. I knew at that moment that everything was going to be OK. It was at that moment that I saw clear as day that God had answered my short prayer from the night before and sent Lisa to talk to me, and that He spoke to me that night, through Lisa. “SO THAT’S HOW IT WORKS!” I exclaimed. The angst I felt about not connecting to God was gone. He speaks to us through each other. Amazing. My life would never be the same, and I embraced it. I remember it like it was yesterday.
I haven’t forgotten it to this day. That was 16 years ago. My life continues to amaze.
Thank God the elevator was broken.