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But for the grace of God

The phone rings at 10 p.m. My wife and I are already asleep. It is David and Stephanie. “We need your help on a 12-step call,” they tell me. Without asking who or where, I tell them, “Okay.” As I quietly crawl out of bed and begin getting dressed, my wife wakes up. I kiss her on the cheek and say, “12-step call.” She merely tells me to be careful as she turns over and pulls the sheets over her head. This is the third time in two weeks that I have gone out on a rescue mission of sorts. For those who are active in the recovery community, this is relatively routine but never boring. Sometimes, it is pretty dangerous. Twice, I have been greeted by severely inebriated individuals bearing loaded weapons. We rarely go alone.

The month of April is designated as Alcohol Abuse Awareness Month. Of course, the problem is that far too many people are already very aware of alcohol, especially among our youth. Fewer are aware of just how toxic alcohol can become. Harmful to individuals, families, and communities in many instances, alcohol is widely portrayed as a miracle elixir. Society leads us to believe that as long as we don’t drink and drive, we can drink freely and live in a constant state of euphoria. Maybe this is a slight exaggeration, but to an individual prone to alcoholism, this very well might be what they feel to be the case.

Of course, the purpose of Alcohol Awareness Month is to increase awareness of the dangers of alcoholism and inform the public of the options available for recovery. As a recovering alcoholic myself, I feel I must expose some of the downsides associated with alcohol. Like most alcoholics, I began my drinking career innocently enough. It slowly morphed into a lifestyle and admittedly was fun for many years. The problem came when my drinking began taking me away from my responsibilities, and I was encouraged to stop. Stopping was easy. Staying stopped proved to be the hardest thing that I ever attempted until I found help through a program of recovery.

Fifteen minutes after the call from David and Stephanie, we met at a local business, where the two of them proceeded to fill me in on the details of this night’s mission. We all loaded into one car and headed out to our destination. Our only game plan was to see what developed and go with what we had. One thing that we did was immediately start placing phone calls in hopes of finding a bed in some recovery facility. Our options were limited—not for the lack of facilities, but due to the lack of empty beds available. That is just how bad the problem is in our community. There are never enough beds to go around.

We had dealt with this lady in the past. She had been sober for months and was doing well, then something happened. She found a reason to get mad at someone or something and used her anger as an excuse to stop working a program of recovery. Not long after ceasing to attend her meetings, she drank. She had gotten a taste of sobriety and became convinced that she was cured. Thinking that she could now drink like an average person, that she just needed one to take the edge off. She took that first drink. It wasn’t enough, so she had another, and the cycle resumed right where it had left off when she’d quit. Three weeks later, when we reached her, she was near death and certainly homeless because of that one drink she took to relieve her stress. She had no idea how she had gone this far down so quickly. We knew, though. Alcoholism is progressive.

That first drink triggers something in the mind of an alcoholic. The same is true for a drug addict with his drug of choice. There is no difference between the two, except that alcohol is more deadly than most other drugs. Some say that addiction is a disease. I don’t get caught up in semantics but only know that addicts share certain tendencies that can lead to real trouble if left unchecked. To an alcoholic or addict, one is too many, and a thousand is never enough. The only solution is complete abstinence. You can’t have that second drink if you don’t take the first one.

On this night, we have no trouble finding our alcoholic. She is standing in a friend’s front yard, clutching onto a lonely fence post, crying and cursing intermittently. The first thing she asks us for is a bottle of liquor. You would think that would be the last thing that we’d promise her. However, someone who has been drinking for several days straight is subject to going into delirium tremens (DTs), and a bottle is usually needed to prevent this. In this case, a drink is undoubtedly helpful in convincing our subject to get in the car with us. I promise her that the first thing that we will do is get her a bottle. Of course, she wants the biggest bottle available, and I buy her the smallest. The point is to keep her out of danger from DTs, not to continue the party. In all truth, the party has ended long ago for most addicts/alcoholics. While they once used/drank for pleasure, the fun has long been replaced by the necessity to drink/use to feel normal, though they probably don’t even realize it.

The average reader at this point is probably wondering what would entice someone to awaken in the middle of the night to deal with a belligerent drunk. We do it because we know that nobody can help an alcoholic better than another alcoholic in recovery. We also know that the key to staying sober ourselves is to help others to recover. “You can’t keep it without giving it away” is something that most recovering alcoholics hear often.

There are many groups in our area that help alcoholics, addicts, and their families. Many of these groups are anonymous due to the stigma that the uninformed public places on addiction. No one should have to fear that someone will reveal their problem. There is a large and loving group of recovery-minded people in our community, and they come from all walks of life. From millionaires to paupers, people do recover from alcoholism and addiction right here in our community.

The anonymous 12=step programs are not the only option in our area for recovery. There are various other treatment centers and recovery locations available. Swainsboro even boasts two halfway houses, one for men and one for women. Lives are being turned around, and families reunited. Employees are returning to the workplace. Those who were once considered hopeless are finding their biggest shortcoming has become their greatest asset. No one can better help an alcoholic recover than a fellow alcoholic who has recovered and found a better way of living. Each recovered alcoholic becomes a soldier in the war against alcoholism. A war that isn’t won by fighting but by surrendering. It is a concept that takes getting used to, to surrender to win. The first step in recovery is to admit to yourself that you may have a problem.

Unfortunately, David, Stephanie, and I on this particular night were unable to convince our subject to get the help for which she had begged. We spent several hours reasoning and even pleading with her to accept the help she needed. All of this was in vain. She refused entrance to the facility after we spent hours convincing them to accept her. Although she was homeless and had begged for help, the call of that next drink was too strong. She turned up in jail a few weeks later. It is not unusual for us to hear much worse. I have attended too many funerals for those who refused the help offered to them. But for the Grace of God, there go I. It is ironic that so many slowly kill themselves with chemicals searching for happiness when contentment is genuinely found in the spiritual life of sobriety.

We had lost the battle, but not the war. A week later, we got another call for help from still another lost soul, and just as before, we didn’t hesitate to respond. Honestly, there have been so many since then that I can not say for sure if this one accepted our help or not. Some have, though, and even if we save one, we have made progress. Although we strive for perfection, we accept that we are winning as long as we are making progress. Even one soul rescued from the prison of addiction is progress for us all as a community. There are only three possibilities for a suffering addict/alcoholic: locked up, covered up, or sobered up. Once sobered up, there are countless possibilities. If you think you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, you probably do. Join the recovery community. You will be amazed before you are halfway through.

Michael “Mike” Braswell is a graduate of Swainsboro High School and Swainsboro Technical College. He returned to Swainsboro after many years of living on the coast with his family. He loves fishing and hunting as well as traveling. Braswell is now retired and, when not partaking in one of the three before-mentioned activities, he spends much of his time with his three children and four grandchildren.

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