On a very cold, wintry, January night of 1981 a 34-year-old man entered the parking lot of the Episcopal church in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. The lot was empty of vehicles as it was a Thursday night and the man, although early for his appointed meeting, sat for a few minutes in his vehicle contemplating the events of the past few weeks and what he anticipated to happen that evening. Not normally timid or shy, he was shaking, not from the weather but from anxiety over his decision to take a life-changing direction that would be so vastly different from any other of his life’s experiences. It was an extremely difficult choice to make but, he knew he had come to a dead-end. More often than he cared to admit, suicide had become an increasingly favorable option and he was absolutely terrified of where his mind had been taking him.
Psychoanalysis had helped, counseling had helped, well-meaning family members had tried to help but, the feelings of despair, self-loathing, and worthlessness continued to haunt him. In the darkness of that church parking lot he battled the urge to run, to wage the struggle alone just as he had faced so many other hurdles in life, or to maybe, finally, find the courage to end it all.
Why were no other people here? Was he too early or was the meeting cancelled? Did they not know how desperate be had become? He already believed he was not worthy of anyone’s concern and now it was being proven to him. Nobody was showing up for his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Yeah, the world really sucked and he was the world’s biggest fool for believing anyone cared.
It was 7:30 o’clock, time for the meeting to start and the church was dark, the parking lot was still empty. From his car he could see just one doorway to the social hall where they were supposed to meet. A light hanging over the doorway barely illuminated the walkway up to the door. It was cold, dark and desolate. Shivering, he shifted into gear and decided to leave, maybe stop for a beer at a nearby pub. It was a stupid idea anyway. How could a bunch of whining ex-drunks sitting around a table commiserating over not being able to drink anymore…how could they help him?
Ready to pull back onto the street, he looked back one more time to the lighted doorway. Standing there under the light, shoulders huddled, pouring an icy mist from his nostrils was a man beckoning him to return.
“Lord, where did he come from? He wasn’t there just a second ago.”
“Hey, my name is Tom,” the voice said as the angel walked toward my car. “I think you’re probably at the right place. The meeting’s at 8:00 o’clock. C’mon in, I’ve got the key.”
January 22nd of 2017 is my 36th sobriety anniversary. I can see Tom standing in that doorway and I remember the details of my first meeting, the people who were there, and most of all, the immediate realization that, just as Tom had said, I was at the right place, and indeed he and AA had the key to personal liberation and a life victorious over the demon alcohol.
My name is Larry and I am an alcoholic. On that cold night nearly 36 years ago I had two doors before me. In one door stood my angel beckoning me to be bold and courageous in pursuit of recovery from alcoholism. The other door questioned by whose power did I believe a drunken wretch like me could survive even one day without alcohol. The darkness in that door told me I was unworthy of anything other than the hell of addiction.
Do I believe in God’s amazing grace? You betcha.