Every fall I feel a renewed sense of gratitude for the people who helped me get sober. I wasn’t looking for help, so their job wasn’t easy. Fortunately, my resistance didn’t stop them from taking action—repeatedly. And for that, I am deeply grateful.
I had hit bottom more than once and had seemingly come to the absolute end of the road, but that fact didn’t have the miraculous effect people hoped for.
“Hitting bottom” is a fuzzy term, when it comes to alcoholism. In my experience, most people bounce along the bottom for years, and somehow manage to keep going. Most alcoholics have a well-meaning group of enablers who help them keep going—either emotionally or financially. The enablers are terrified of taking action, because they might do something wrong and the situation might get worse. Or, they just give up. I’m grateful my family took action. And took action repeatedly. I don’t think I would’ve survived otherwise.
I’m grateful for the medical and clinical staff who initially took care of me, especially Dr. William Keating of Hurley Hospital. He had been working with alcoholics for decades, and he was wise to the ways of the addicted mind. When I first met him, I was in detox and sitting on the edge of my hospital bed. He was a no-nonsense black doctor, and he had a message to deliver. He pulled up a chair, looked me in the eye and called to me like I was a hundred feet away.
“Boy, you’ve got a disease,” he said
He was so direct, it startled me. Dr. Keating sounded like the voice of God.
“You’re not responsible for what you’ve done,” he said.
“But you’re responsible for what you do now.”
“Your disease is incurable,” he said. “The most we’re going to be able to do is put it in remission. We’re going to give you a program to follow—12 Steps. You follow that program, and the disease will stay in remission. You stop following that program, and the disease will kick you in the butt again.”
And he stood up and walked out of the room. I had no idea what he was talking about. I didn’t know anything about anonymous programs or twelve steps or a disease or anything. But as I reflect back on it now, 39 years later, I realize that Dr. Keating gave me a perfect nugget of information. His compact homily told me everything I needed to know and everything I needed to do to get sober.
I’m grateful to Dr. Keating, and all the other clinical staff wo worked with me over the next six weeks. It wasn’t easy to get through to me. I was obstinate, but they were patient. I was argumentative, but they were kind. I was doubtful, but they were hopeful. Ultimately, their goodness began to seep in. And for that, I’m very grateful.
When I came home from treatment and started attending various meetings of recovering people, I was amazed at their openness. They were frank about what they had faced and how far down their illness had taken them. Even though they had overcome great odds to recover, they didn’t brag about it. Quite the opposite. They had a quiet sense of humility and credited others (and a power greater than themselves) for their success. They offered to help me, too, and never asked for anything in return. I’ll be forever grateful to the many people who accompanied me through those early days, months and years.
In my experience, God works through people. I can’t begin to list all the folks who have been instruments His healing touch. It’s customary for people to say “congratulations” on a sober anniversary, but the congratulations really have to go to the long list of people who took the time to help save a life. You did for me what I could not do for myself.