"Ugh," I grunted.
Too sick to move, my head ached like a thumb hit by a hammer.
As I tried to piece together the night before, and the day or two before that, the thought haunted me that the blackouts, which for the last few months had progressed from occasional to inevitable, were a symptom of - not alcoholism, no, never that - insanity.
"That's it," I said to myself out loud, "I'm nuts." How else could I explain it all? I never considered alcoholism. After all, I wasn't a skid row bum.
The power of the realization - that despite countless promises to myself I was utterly unable to control my drinking - overwhelmed me.
Please Help Me!Soaked with sweat, I glanced from my bed through the window at the sky. It was an annoyingly beautiful spring day. Birds chirped loudly, several sat on my windowsill as if mocking me.
Suddenly I mumbled out loud, "If there is a God, please help me." I had absolutely no expectation that anything would come of that request. And I'm not sure where it came from -- it just bubbled up from within me.
Without exaggeration, less than a minute later there was a loud knock on my door.
I did what I usually do when confronted by something unpleasant: I ignored it. Too sick to move I assumed silence would send whoever was at my door a message: Bill's not here.
A louder, more insistent, knock soon followed.
I winced. In my condition I could hear my eyelids move. Moments later another, even louder, knock. A voice said, "I know you're in there." Then the voice started pounding on the door.
Landlady at the DoorI struggled to my feet and shuffled toward the voice. By the time I reached the door I knew it belonged to my landlady, Norma. I inched open the door and could see that she was angry.
Although I couldn't fathom why she'd be angry, Norma quickly explained that she had awakened to find her ceiling caving in - I lived directly above Norma's apartment. A hazy memory came to mind as Norma described the water streaming down her walls. I recalled the night before I had opened a bottle of wine, lit a few candles, and run a bath. A relaxing evening -chilled wine, warm bath, scented candles.
But I promptly became distracted by something else, perhaps a TV program, or finishing off the second bottle of wine, and passed out. I vaguely recall coming-to later that night to find bath water soaking my hall carpet. This accounted for the overflow seeping down into Norma's ceiling, which now hung ominously low like a threatening thundercloud. Consequently, Norma was now at my door.
You Are an Alky-holic"I've been watching you, boy," Norma said in a thick West Texas drawl as she stepped closer, poking her finger in my chest. "You are an alky-holic" she said with a deepening frown. "I know, I been watching you." She narrowed her gaze as if she were watching a bug crawl across my face. "My son's an alky-holic; so are you."
My coming and going - more accurately, my stumbling and slurred speech -had become routine. Once reserved for weekends and after-work carousing, since I'd lost my last job as a till-dipping bartender, my drinking had been constant.
"My boy don't drink no more," Norma said. "He goes to Alky-holics Anonymous." I glanced down the hall to see if any neighbors could hear this conversation. "He goes to Alky-holics Anonymous, and he don't drink," Norma repeated as if I hadn't heard her the first time. Then she looked at me as if I had told her water was wet and said, "You need to go to Alky-holics Anonymous, boy."
No Way I Was GoingI protested with a contrived excuse about family illness causing my excessive drinking. In any event, she's deluded, I thought. There was simply no way that I was going to some Salvation Army soup kitchen.
"You'd better go to one of them meetings, today," she said. "Or I'm evicting you first thing come morning." She paused. "And I want proof you went. Bring me one of them Big Books."
I wondered how big this book might be, and whether I'd need anyone to help me carry it.
After Norma had her say, she focused one of her most piecing stares at me, turned and walked away. I stood in my doorway relieved she had left, and shuddered. "Yeah, right." I closed the door as Norma disappeared down the hall.
By this time of day Dallas convenience stores were selling beer and wine -no hard liquor on Sunday. But I knew if I had one beer there'd be an eviction for sure, because my next move would be more beer -- as always.
He Described How I FeltI put on my cleanest clothes, checked the phone book for the nearest AA address, and promised myself I'd poke my head in the door so I could tell Norma what I saw and ask about one of those Big Books she demanded.
I don't remember much about my first AA meeting. I do recall being handed a Big Book by a guy named Cecil, someone I couldn't imagine would have anything in common with me. Me: a slick transplant from New York City. Cecil: a TV repairman from a rural Texas burg.
But I couldn't help staring at Cecil as he spoke. It was as if he'd been reading my mail. He described what happened to him when he drank, how he felt, the way he thought. It was me. Cecil told my story.
There Are No CoincidencesI'd like to tell you I've been sober since that first AA meeting years ago, but I wasn't ready to stay sober. Yet Cecil made an impression that kept me coming back until I eventually got it. Or at least began to enjoy the freedom that millions of alcoholics have come to know.
I've heard it said that God works through people. And that there are no coincidences, only "God-incidences." I think there may be something to that. In fact, I suspect God just might have a bit of a west Texas drawl.