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April 8, 2012 / Ronald Chapman

Demons and God

Just before eight o’clock Kevin arrived at St. John’s Church for the Saturday Night Live meeting. Nearly two hundred members of Alcoholics Anonymous milled about socializing. If you were a recovering alcoholic, this was the place to be. He spied his sponsor, Clint, standing in a corner and swung by to shake hands, offering a quick greeting before excusing himself to head toward the podium in the front of the meeting hall. He caught a glimpse of Maria Elena and Darlene sitting on the outskirts of the crowd and waved as he gave an exaggerated wink.

The chairman rapped the gavel and a few minutes later he was introduced.

“Hey,” he began, “My name is Kevin and I’m an alcoholic.”

“Hi Kevin,” boomed their response.

“My sobriety date is October 1, 1990. That’s a long time, but my goal tonight is to be as honest as my dishonesty will allow me to be.” He paused for the punch line, “Except for the things the statute of limitations has not yet run out on.”

The group laughed as one, just as he knew they would. Some lines in AA guaranteed laughs.

With that he launched into his tale. After the straight-forward and humorous pieces the group had loosened up, so he hit them with the uglier parts. Certain parts always made him squirm: viciously slapping a girlfriend despite his vow to never hit a woman, physically intimidating a friend and fellow reporter to the point of driving him to leave the newspaper at which they were both employed, and awakening in beds soaked in his own urine. Each painted a degrading picture that brought forth healthy but uncomfortable shame. While he could never speak of the murder, it lurked like a shadow behind everything he said. With that exception, he held back little before his segue to the miracle.

“That’s my truth. That’s where alcohol takes me. And it’s not a pretty place. No matter how I try to gussy it up, I’m not a nice man when I drink or drug. Years later I still suffer from nightmares over some of it. But I guess that’s a small price to pay for this gift of sobriety.”

Pitcairn took a deep breath and rubbed his forehead with his fingers.

“Let me tell you how I got sober. It’s pretty amazing. But let me begin by telling you I don’t believe in God. Sure I pray and meditate like I’m told because it seems to work. That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a God. I know that’s not a popular thing to say here. But if I can’t tell the truth I’m in deep, deep trouble. So I remain an agnostic. I have no knowledge of a God.”

“That said, let me tell you when I stopped believing in God. I was twelve years old and my dog was run down by a speeding car. If ever there was a well-intended prayer, it came out of the heart of that little kid that day. I knew God could do miracles, and I knew he could bring my dog back. I cried and cried. I prayed and prayed. But that son-of-a-bitch didn’t bring my dog back.”

He made no effort to conceal the tears that welled in his eyes. “I stopped believing in God that day. And I didn’t cry again until two years into sobriety. That’s a long, long time, and a whole bunch of hurt.”

Pitcairn steadied himself as he leaned toward them.

“I fled here from the Midwest in 1988. I got a job with a local paper. In October 1990 I had this assignment to interview the Dalai Lama on his visit to New Mexico. It was a plum of a job.” He swallowed the lump in his throat.

“Just before going in to do the interview, I pulled a bottle of vodka out from underneath the seat. It was a warm, sunny day and the booze was hot. I remember it burned my lips and caused my eyes to water. But by then, it had little effect on me. I was beyond copping a buzz.  I drank to stay away from the DTs and the demons.”

“The interview went pretty well. For some strange reason, my work never suffered much from my drinking.”

“Anyway, at the end of the interview the Dalai Lama took my hand and just looked right into me. It was the most loving thing I have ever felt in my life. And then he smiled at me … the kindest smile in the world. He wished me well and thanked me.”

Stunned by his own account of a generosity he did not understand, Pitcairn felt the urge to flee. He gripped the lectern as his knuckles whitened.

“That day, the desire to drink left me.”

A deep silence filled the hall as he sensed his voice beginning to quaver.

“I don’t know where it went. I don’t know how it happened. All I know is it’s gone and it’s been gone ever since.”

He took a final deep breath and plunged onward to the conclusion.

“Now just so you people don’t think I’m a flake. I did some research and discovered that what happened to me has happened to others who encounter special people. There was a case with a drunk and the woman who founded Christian Science. It also happened with a woman who had an encounter with some Native American holy man.”

“The desire just slipped away. But I had to go into a rehab for detox. The DT’s were nasty … rats and spiders … retching and trembling. Then I followed their advice and stumbled into AA. I’ve been here ever since.”

“I wouldn’t trade this thing for anything. Sure, I’m still troubled. Just ask my girlfriend!”  A gratifying laugh welled up from the group. “But I don’t have to be able to explain it. I just have to know there is something that works for troubled people like me. I’ve got a place to go and people who understand.”

“Let me close by quoting your friend and mine, old Jim P. ‘I’m the luckiest son-of-a-bitch alive.’ Thanks for letting me tell my story.”

Applause followed. A few shrill whistles. Pitcairn was aware of his hands shaking as he returned to his seat for the final business to be conducted. After the closing prayer a flurry of people swept by him to say thanks.  Then Clint stood in front of him and gave him a bear hug.

“That’s the goddamnedest story, Pitcairn. For an old Baptist boy like me, no matter how often I hear it, I just can’t figure out how you don’t see no God in that.” Clint shook his head to add emphasis. “But what the hell do I know. It works, don’t it? I guess God couldn’t give a damn whether we believe in him or not.  Must be above our opinions of Him.”

Pitcairn laughed. “Clint, I believe that you believe. Good enough?”

“Good enough, Pitcairn. Good enough.”

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