Apr 27, 2016

An Unintended 12th Step Call...

The other day I received a beautiful text message.  "28 years ago tonight, you made a 12th step call that changed my life.  I am grateful.  Hope you are doing well."  There's a great story behind that message.

For the benefit of those who may not know the term, a "twelfth step call" is when a recovering alcoholic in a 12-step recovery program reaches out to help a still-suffering alcoholic.  In the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, there is the notion that we stay sober by helping others.  Thus, the meetings where we share "our experience, strength, and hope" with each other.

I have never been very secretive about the fact that I am a grateful recovering alcoholic.   Everyone at my church knew my history.  Thus, on that night some twenty eight years ago, my pastor, Father Tom Field, called.  It was 10:00 on a Sunday evening.  I had just gone to bed when the phone rang.  "Can you come down to the church, " he asked.  "There's a fellow here who I think needs your message more than mine.  He's in pretty rough shape."  I told Tom I'd be right down.  I put on my clothes and twenty minutes later I got to meet our hapless victim.  For the sake of anonymity, let's call him Joe.

Joe looked pretty downtrodden.  He'd arrived at the church a few hours earlier and had been pouring his heart out to Tom.  He was still fairly inebriated.  Nobody understood him.  His life was a shambles.  He knew he had to cut down on his drinking, and if people would just understand him, he could do it.  But every time he had a few drinks, he just went nuts and got in trouble.  It was a pretty common story among us drunks.

I introduced myself and shared a little bit of my recovery tale, being careful to not be "Preachy."  I asked him if he was a member of our church, since I'd never seen him before.  Joe said, "Hell, no.  I used to go to the Church of Christ, but they don't know anything about drinking.  I came here 'cause you Catholics know a lot about drinking!"

We continued to talk.  I shared more of my story.  I remember thinking that this was probably a waste of time, as Joe wouldn't remember anything of our conversation when he woke up the next day.  Nonetheless, I did as I had been taught.  At the end of our conversation, I suggested to Joe that he might want to go with me the next night to meet some of my friends who had helped me stop drinking.  He agreed to do so.  I told him to come to my house the next night at 7:15 PM.  I asked if he thought he could go all day without drinking and he said he would try.

After someone came and got Joe, Father Tom accused me of being a real hard-ass for not offering to pick Joe up at his house the next evening.  I explained my belief that it was important for Joe to take the initiative of driving to my house.  There's something about reaching out for help that I think is an important part of the first step -- admitting our powerlessness.

The next night, Joe showed up.  Sober.  I was, quite frankly, surprised.  We headed to Huntsville to a particular meeting that I had in mind, but on the way, I remembered a smaller meeting that was on our route.  We went to Joe's first AA meeting at the Faith and Hope group on Meridian Street.  That group no longer exists, but it was there for him that evening.  Joe was shaking so badly he could barely hold a cup of coffee.  A lady sitting next to him put her arm around him and said, "It's all right, Sweetheart.  I can pour it faster than you can spill it.  You're gonna be just fine."  He knew he was in a place where he was loved without being judged.  All he had to do was show up.

I suggested to Joe that he try to get to 90 meetings over the next 90 days.  He did.  I suggested he find a tough sponsor to help guide him through the 12 steps.  He did.  In fact, Joe did just about everything that was suggested.  He bought a "Big Book" and read it from cover to cover several times.  He made friends in "the Program."  And recovery set in.

One time, after he had been sober a few months, I suggested that he might benefit from a visit to a big AA gathering in Nashville.  The International Conference of Young People in AA (ICYPAA) was having their world convention at the Opryland Hotel.  Joe went up on Friday evening.  When he finally located the conference, he was informed that there was a $10.00 registration fee.  He admitted to me later that his first thought was, "Ain't that just like Bob Mead to send me to an AA meeting where they charge admission?"

Over time, Joe went to hundreds of meetings, began to chair many of them, started to share his story at "Speaker Meetings," and sponsored many newcomers.  He became a fixture at more than one AA group.  And here we are, 28 years later.  How time flies.

Joe, you've been an inspiration to a lot of people over these 28 years.  I've heard you share your story many times.  It's always new and refreshing.  You are a walking, living miracle.  Keep it up, one day at a time.  And thanks for letting me be a tiny part of your miracle.

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