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Something to Live For
Chester R., San Antonio, TX


I got sober on Valentine's Day, 1964. That's a lot of years ago. I'm not bragging; it's just a fact. I didn't get sober by choice. Even though I was dying inside, I wanted to drink. I guess you could say that I got sober in spite of myself.

I had a lot of good reasons to drink. To start with, I had a tremendous amount of unresolved grief. During W.W.II I spent several years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Shortly after coming home from the war, my wife took her own life. Then my only daughter was institutionalized for a serious emotional disorder.

My pain was unbearable. I medicated it with alcohol. Had someone told me that my drinking would kill me, I would have welcomed the news and increased my consumption in order to speed up the process. I had nothing to lose. I had a job, a house, and a car but didn't care anything about any of it. I just went to work and came home and drank. I got up the next day, went to work, and came home and drank. I drank until I passed out every night.

One Friday evening I decided to drive out to a nearby lake. I remember getting there, getting out of my car, and sitting on the hood with a half-empty bottle of bourbon. My next recollection is waking up in the county jail. I had been charged with public intoxication and resisting arrest. I was arrested again 40 days later for driving while intoxicated. My blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. I was arrested the third time 48 hours after being released from the second arrest. Again, my blood alcohol level more than doubled the limit.

I was lucky. I appeared before a county judge who knew something about alcoholism. He committed me to a state hospital that had a strong alcoholism treatment program. I stayed in that program for seven months, and while I was there, I unexpectedly found a reason to live. That reason was other people.

At first, I felt nothing for anyone. Indeed, I felt nothing, period. Then my feelings began to awaken, and I got angry. I hated everything and everyone. Then one day a surprising thing happened. I felt a twinge of compassion for another person--someone who was in more pain than I was. The feeling was weak, but I could not deny that it was there.

As time passed, my compassion grew. My heart opened. I learned to care. I saw that the state hospital housed lots and lots of men and women who were worse off than I was. There were men who drank twice as much as me. There were heroin addicts whose arms, hands, legs, and feet were disfigured from so many needle marks. There were people who had tried to take their own lives. Some had tried several times. I felt for them.

While at the hospital, I attended in-house AA meetings every day. When I left the hospital, I became a member of AA in the community. I attended lots of meetings. I participated. I worked my way through the 12 Steps, and eventually I started making 12-Step calls. Again, I found people in tremendous pain. My heart went out to them. It was easy for me to relate to their pain, and I shared my story with them. I told them about how I had come to have nothing to live for until I found the miracle of recovery. I told them about how my heart, which was once so empty and cold, had opened up and learned to love.

Sharing my experience with other alcoholics helped me understand my own recovery on deeper levels. And every once in a while, it helped others, too. Every once in a while, the person I was sharing with was able to hear what I was saying, and he came into recovery. I can't say how many people I've watched get sober over the course of 35 years in AA, but I know this: It's been a lot. I feel grateful for every single one of them.

It's funny. I think back on how miserable I was before I got sober, and I can no longer remember exactly how it felt. I know it felt horrible, but I just can't remember the feeling.

I'm almost 80 years old now. I don't get around as good as I used to, and I have my share of old people's aches and pains. But I really don't mind. The truth is, I can hardly believe that I've lived this long. Had I not had the great fortune to go before a judge who understood that alcoholics are sick people rather than bad people, I know I would have passed on many years ago. As it happened, though, I lived to experience joy and love, and I humbly believe that I have been of help to other people.

I think I must be the luckiest man alive.




  Richard Boggs, YCQ

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