Lena became a student of alcoholism. She read books and magazine articles on the subject and gathered information by talking to senior members of the Royal Palm Room of Alcoholics Anonymous in Miami. She imparted much of her acquired information to me. Lena was a sleek, curvy, very attractive black woman of 40 years of age. A year earlier she was grossly overweight, but had faithfully attended Overeaters Anonymous meetings and it had paid off. Now that her ex-husband, Orvil, was safely in jail, she and I were enjoying a love affair.
While sitting in my Toyota Echo, just prior to a meeting in the Royal Palm Room, Lena said to me, "Richard, the strong desire we alcoholics have for sweets can lead to weight gain. Also, the relation between drug addiction and alcohol addiction can be damaging. When a person has engaged in considerable drinking, the probability of using drugs may increase, and taking drugs can increase the chance that one will drink alcoholic beverages. Some related complications are: Using marijuana can lead to the use of stronger and more dangerous drugs such as cocaine or heroine. And if one is initially a non-smoker, using these substances can make it more likely that the addict will begin smoking cigarettes. And if in the beginning the smoking is restricted to, say, several cigarettes a day, eventually the addiction can lead to using three or four packs a day. All of these dangerous substances are detrimental to the health of addicts and others. And I think all of these addictions are manifestations of risk taking behavior, as is gambling for money or promiscuous sex. Just as AA is considered to be a 12 step program of 'treatment' for alcoholism, there is also a 12 step program titled Sexaholics Anonymous, which is designed to serve sexual addicts or sexual offenders, and another alled Gamblers Anonymous, and so on. The philosophy underlying all of these 12 step programs is essentially the same."
I said, "Lena, you never fail to amaze me." When I told her about my drinking habits and how I had progressed from beer to scotch and soda to scotch on the rocks and felt I was losing control, Lena suggested that I become a member of the Royal Palm Room. She said I might like it and it might do me some good.
And so Lena took me to the AA meeting and held my hand as we entered the Royal Palm Room. I was nervous and didn't know what to expect. There was a "bar" on the right and a friendly woman tending it. In fact, all of the people there seemed friendly and ready to help. The assortment of drinks available at the bar was coffee, tea, coke, and other soft drinks. There were also a variety of sweets. Lena ordered two coffees for us and I took a powdered doughnut. There were people sitting in the many chairs along the periphery of the large room. Some were sitting at tables, and a man conducting the meeting was up front. He waved at Lena and gave me a big smile. On the wall was a list of the 12 steps and another of the 12 traditions. Carved into an attractive rectangle of burnt wood on the wall just behind the front desk was an equilateral triangle containing the words "Unity," "Service," and "Recovery" along the edges.
After the chair of the meeting spoke for 20 minutes, a microphone was passed around and each of the members had a chance to speak. When the mike came to Lena she said, "My name is Lena and I am an alcoholic." She went on to say some favorable things about the AA organization in general and the Royal Palm Room in particular, telling how the experience was helpful to her. Several of the members complimented her and then the mike was passed on to me.
I was nervous and simply said, "My name is Richard," and gave the mike to the next person. They all used first names only, being consistent with the word "Anonymous" in Alcoholics Anonymous.. To conclude the meeting, those present formed a large circle, holding hands, and recited the "Our Father" prayer. The entire meeting seemed to me very much like a religious ceremony, although there was a sprinkling of humor and much friendliness. In inspecting the 12 steps I noticed that the word "God" or the expressions "Higher Power" or "Spiritual" appeared in 7 of the 12 steps.
As we climbed into my Toyota Echo, Lena said, "Did you like that meeting?"
Being somewhat noncommittal, I said "I was impressed with the friendliness of the members. Three of them gave me their telephone numbers in the event that I would get completely out of control with my drinking. They also encouraged me to come to meetings early and to stay after the meetings so I can get to know the members."
I attended several meetings and then decided to become a member of The Royal Palm Room of Alcoholics Anonymous. I purchased a copy of "When and Where," which was designed to help newcomers, out-of-towners, and others find AA meetings in the greater Windham area, as well as the book Alcoholics Anonymous, commonly referred to as The Big Book, which is the basic text, or "the bible," for Alcoholics Anonymous. In reading the book, I detected that it was not written by professional writers, or, as one literary buff once said, "It is not exactly The Brothers Karamazov." Nevertheless, I took it seriously, as Lena told me that it had proved useful to many persons addicted toalcohol and other dangerous substances. Much of it was written by Bill W., one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.
After six months of faithful attendance at meetings, during which time Lena continued to maintain an attractive figure and was looking good to me, she again asked me, "Which features of the Royal Palm AA meetings do you like the best?"
I said, "I like the Sunday Serenity meetings, the Speakers Meetings, the Birthday Meetings, and the Barbeque Cookouts, and of course, I enjoy the monthly picnics to Key Biscayne. I looked Lena in the eyes and said, "I am enjoying your company, of course," and we kissed.
Lena said, "I like to be with you too," and she slid her warm hands inside of my shirt. The last Sunday of this month will be my third 'AA birthday,' and you will see me receive a medallion and tell the others ttending the meeting how I went another year without a drink. After all recipients have been given a medallion, we will have the birthday cake and ice cream."
"Use the sugar sparingly, my dear. You are looking fine." That evening Lena invited me to move into her apartment.
During the time period of my attendance, I was driving us to the AA meetings. We would often arrive early and I would continue to read her samples of poetry from major poets such as Dylan Thomas. Speaking of alcoholics, Lena and I were pikers compared to Dylan. He died of direct alcoholic poisoning of the brain at the age of 39.
Although Lena's formal education had ended in her junior year of Windham High School, she had a hunger for literature, especially poetry. It seemed to me that Lena had a quick mind and would profit from further education. During that period of time there weren't many Blacks attending our high school. I recalled Vernon, a short, fat, Black boy, who would sit at his desk while I would lean against the desk, moving my hips, simulating sexual intercourse.
Vernon, would say, "Don't f*ck around! I don't want any little deskettes."
And when I was bowling for The Blue Ribbon Juniors, I liked to watch "Nick the Stick" bowl. Nick was a tall, emaciated Black who, when he was off drugs, could roll a block of games of duck pins and maintain a 160 average. No one in Windham could touch him when he was right. Unfortunately, Nick's arms were peppered with track marks, as he was a heroine addict.
And who could forget Sally, a Black high school student who had a body like Marilyn Monroe. She would climb the outside metal stairs of the school building wearing no panties, and the boys liked to stand underneath, looking up her dress.
And then there was Steve, a tall, muscular Black three sport star at Windham High School, thought to be the best athlete in the history of the school. He played tight end in football, point guard in basketball, and first base in baseball.
I was amazed that no one seemed to be in charge at the Royal Palm Room of Alcoholics Anonymous. Of course someone would chair each meeting, a different person each time. I was also shocked when some of the veteran members would say "I'm glad I'm an alcoholic!"
I also found it humorous and yet lethal when a member stopped attending meetings and began to drink again and someone might say: "John went out to see if there are any Indians out there and he eventually returned with arrows in his back."
Another notion that disturbed me was that the members maintained that an alcoholic would always be an alcoholic, and that one was never cured, and one must continually attend AA meetings, read the Big Book, get a sponsor, and provide service to the organization. Once I was asked to tend the telephone, to answer calls from members who needed information or were in deep trouble---might even commit suicide-- but I declined, thinking I wouldn't know what to say or what to do.
I was impressed with The Serenity Prayer, which was said at every meeting. I wouldn't even say this to Lena, but I viewed it as being somewhat unrelated to religion but was instead a powerful philosophical statement.
It goes as follows: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
The AA speaker for the last Saturday night in July was Vince M., who once played third base in the minor leagues of baseball, hitting 450. He had made AAA ball and was hoping scouts would soon call him up to the major leagues.Unfortunately, he broke his leg in two places while sliding into home plate and that had ended his athletic career. He had turned to the field of Management Science in his college studies and was enjoying a successful career with IBM. Vince had a keen sense of humor and was an impressive public speaker. Sometimes two speakers shared the hour but Vince always was entertaining and informative so he was given the full hour.
The Royal Palm Room was filled on the evening Vince spoke. There was not a vacant seat. Vince took his cup of coffee from the bar and slowly walked to the front of the room. He sat down, looked around the room, made eye contact with many of the members, and said:
"I thank you for coming. It is good to see so many old friends. It has now been 11 years since I have partaken of alcoholic beverages and I can thank God, Alcoholics Anonymous, and you folks for this freedom. Back when I was playing baseball in theMinor Leagues things were going well for me and I was hoping to make the Majors My luck didn't hold out, however, for I experienced a devastating accident in a game in New York City which ended my career as a ball player. Before that happened I was what might be called a social drinker, whatever that is. I would typically have two or three drinks, in the course of an evening mainly beer. At that time drinking and socializing was pleasant to me and I was in control. But once I knew for sure my baseball career was over I became depressed and my drinking increased. Ordinary beer drinking was no longer enough for me. I needed something that would lift me out of my dark thoughts. One concoction I tried was a boilermaker, which some of you pros know is whiskey with a beer chaser. I also came to love Guiness Stout, which is a potent, distinctive, dark, creamy stout. Stout can refer to a person with big bones, like me. It also means a very dark, full-bodied ale with a distinctive malty flavor. I loved to experiment with alcoholic beverages and on occasion would drink some stout and follow it with a glass of Budweiser. A real potent drink is a shot of Wild Turkey chased with Guiness Stout."
Vince's best friend, Mole, said, "You missed your calling, Vince. You should have been a chemist."
[Those present were beginning to warm to Vince's presentation. Some tittering and an occasional guffaw swept the Royal Palm Tree Room.]
"Before long, only the hard stuff would do," continued Vince. "Although the first few drinks would appear to lift me out of my doldrums, later in the evening I would be plunged into a darker mood than the one present before the first drink. My best friends at work noted the aberrations in my behavior and could sometimes smell my breath. I started smoking weed in combination with my drinking and soon developed the shakes. It became necessary for me to have a drink soon after I left work, and so I would stop at a package store, gulp down a quick shot or two while in the parking lot, and then drive on home. I eventually got to the point where it became apparent that I was on the verge of losing my wife, my children, my job, and my drivers license. My decision-making was poor when behind the wheel. And I was lucky that I never had an automobile accident. One comment I must make about alcohol and illicit drugs: It is my opinion that these substances make you dislike yourself!!!"
Vince then said, "Mike, who is sitting in the back row and has been a friend of mine since high school, and Mole, who I met at the Windham Bowling Alley, both advised me to consider attending some AA meetings. And three of my close friends at International Business Machines urged me to see a psychiatrist. It turned out that I did both things."
"I made an appointment with Dr. Anna Frank, who is a licensed psychiatrist with a great deal of experience. She is a likable, mature woman and she put me at ease at our very first meeting. She too spoke highly of AA in general and the Royal Palm Room in particular. She made several telephone calls and finally arranged for my first meeting, saying that Bill Y. would pick me up at my apartment Monday at 7:30 in the evening, so that I would attend the eight o'clock meeting with him. Bill had sponsored many new members of AA over the years and had an impressive reputation. It was also said that he was a stickler for rules, being a retired military man. Doctor Anna Frank told me she wanted me to attend five AA meetings, Monday through Friday, and then to give her a call."
At Vince's first AA meeting he wanted to know who was in charge. He was accustomed to the hierarchical structure at IBM and he was seeking out the CEO. The members found this hilarious but tried not to show their mirth, for AA is self-governed. Vince looked for the CEO throughout the first week, and queried other members as to the CEO's office or location. All the members of the Royal Palm Room found this entertaining, although they all liked Vince. When Vince was given a copy of The Big Book he went to The Book and Record Store on Main Street in Windham seeking its Cliff Notes. Vince advocated efficiency in an industrial setting and he attempted to apply these ideas to the Royal Palm Room of Alcoholics Anonymous. He was looking for shortcuts!
When one friendly old-timer told Vince that he had been an active member of AA for 17 years, attending at least six meetings a week, Vince said, "I won't need to do that. I am in the five day program!"
The next day at the Barbeque following the Sunday Serenity meeting I introduced himself to Vince, telling him how much I enjoyed his talk at the Speaker's Meeting. After a while, I got up the nerve to ask Vince to be my sponsor and he agreed, giving me his calling card and telling me to feel free to call him at any time, day or night.
For a while things went pretty well for me, although I didn't really stop drinking altogether. But despite the strong support from Lena and Vince, I became bored with the meetings and became doubtful that Alcoholics Anonymous could do me any good. I cut down on the number of meetings I attended and then, after a while, stopped going altogether. I felt the meetings were too much like religious rituals, although several AA members, including Lena, assured me that the focus was on spirituality and not on religion. I continued to chaffeur Lena and she faithfully attended the meetings of both Alcoholics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous.
Late one afternoon I returned to our apartment to find Lena on the couch covered up, sobbing. "What is wrong, Lena?" I said.
My ex-husband, Orvil, has escaped from prison, and is thought to be somewhere in Miami."
[To Be Continued]