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New Year Promise

As we move in to a new year, many of us will be making resolutions. Research shows that 80% of the resolutions made for the new year involve health.

My friend John made a resolution last year. This is his story.

“I had disappointed my family one more Christmas. I arrived late for Christmas Eve dinner at my mother- in- law’s house. I had been drinking at the office Holiday Party. I had every intention of having a drink with my co-workers and leaving the party at 2 p.m. Suddenly it was 6 p.m. and my co-workers were talking me in to calling a taxi to take me to my mother-in-laws house.”

John tells of the argument that ensued between him and his wife, Sue when he arrived half way through the meal and very intoxicated. The children were upset. Their parents had argued many times before but it never got easier for them to accept and this was the first time they were arguing somewhere other than at home. Sue’s parents were upset. This one night John drinking had negatively impacted five people and yet he always claimed his drinking didn’t affect anyone but himself.

“I thought Sue should praise me for the decision to take a cab. Her focus on the fact that I was late was shaming. I needed a drink to calm that feeling.”

John insisted on having another drink with dinner and several more as gifts were being exchanged. He got louder and more and more inappropriate. Sue’s parents tried to stay neutral focusing on the children, trying to bring some holiday cheer in to their evening.

“I don’t remember when we left or how we got home. I woke up on the sofa in the den at 5 a.m. Christmas morning. I was shaking. I knew I was in trouble. I needed a drink and I needed to get it before Sue woke up”.

Sue and his children seemed to ignore him as they celebrated Christmas morning. When the gifts were opened, he sat down at the table with them for breakfast but he couldn’t bear the thought of eating. He would have liked another drink but knew it would be impossible to get one without Sue knowing.

John came up with a plan.

“I realize I am drinking too much and the drinking is affecting all of you,” he told them. “I am sorry about last night and promise it will not happen again. I am going to have one drink now and I promise I will never drink again.”

John meant the promise as strongly as he had every promise he had made before and Sue and the children believed the promise with the same desperation they always believed the promise.

If John were a problem drinker or even a heavy drinker, he could have followed through with that promise. Although he meant the promise with every fiber in his body, John is alcoholic. He has lost the power to choose. He has a relationship with alcohol, when he’s not drinking, that says he will drink again and again and again.

John stayed sober for almost a week. During that week he was anxious, quick to anger, and nothing seemed to hold any joy for him. A sober John was almost as disruptive to the family as a drinking John.

“On New Year’s Eve, when everyone was celebrating and laughing, I felt as bad as I had ever felt. I was not a part of the celebration. The feeling of isolation and loneliness was strong although there were almost 50 people in the room. I knew if I had just one drink with my family and friends, I would feel a part of the festivities.” And John took a drink giving no thought to his promise, the Christmas Eve or the other countless occasions that had been ruined by his drinking. In short order, John was drunk and Sue’s heart was broken one more time.

“The next day, January 1, I accessed God’s grace but I didn’t know it had happened. I woke up that morning on the same sofa I had been on Christmas Day but it wasn’t 5 a.m. I looked at the clock. It was almost 9 a.m. I had not slept that late in a long time. Sue and the kids were in the living room watching the parade on TV. I was shaking and felt the same as I had on Christmas Day but this day I didn’t get up and find a drink. I went out to talk to Sue and the kids. I told them I couldn’t promise not to drink forever but I would promise not to drink that day. I didn’t know where those words came from.”

John was so sick he spent most of the morning in bed. In the early afternoon he remembered an advertisement he had seen about Alcoholics Anonymous. It was a holiday but he thought he would call and leave a message. Maybe someone would call him back and tell him how to be sober without being angry, anxious and disinterested in life. He was surprised when a woman answered the phone. He told her a little of his story and asked a few questions. She asked if she could have a man call him. He agreed and within half an hour, his phone rang and he was talking to a man who identified himself as a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

After listening to this man’s story, John realized that he may have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and he may need some help although he was a little uncomfortable about the number of times the man used the word “God” while telling John his story. Maybe there was a way around that. The man asked John if he could pick him up and take him to a meeting.

“Oh, I don’t know. I need to check with my wife to see what her plans are for this evening.”

Sue was thrilled by the idea of John going to Alcoholics Anonymous. John and the man made arrangements for him to pick John up that evening. They went to Alcoholics Anonymous.

For the alcoholic whose dual relationship with alcohol (the one he has when he is drinking and the one he has when he is not drinking) has found him in a position of hopelessness, Alcoholics Anonymous provides a spiritual solution. “Spirituality” meaning connection. One alcoholic talking to another is the beginning of the connection required to obtain and maintain sobriety, a way of life filled with purpose.

“No one in AA asked me ‘why did you do it again?’ No one asked me ‘what’s wrong with you?’ they already seemed to know. Because they knew, for the time I was with them, I wasn’t ashamed and I didn’t feel guilty. I felt comfortable and I felt safe.”

John quickly realized in that first meeting that he was alcoholic. He could not drink safely and he couldn’t not drink for a substantial period of time. He believed the people in AA were telling the truth when they told him their stories. He made a decision to do what they said they had done. He had nothing to lose if it didn’t work.

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