Acceptance Is Easy When You Don't Have a Choice
Dan M, Walworth, NY
I grew up in an alcoholic environment, the youngest of five boys, with two younger sisters. My self-esteem was zero when I was growing up, I always felt different. I always felt less than my friends and classmates. At an age barely tall enough to look over the kitchen table, I saw my family playing cards, drinking, and laughing, and I decided I wanted to be just like that. Everybody seemed to be having a good time.
I watched all of my brothers go into the service, one at a time, and I watched them all come home, except for the one closest to me. He came home in a coffin, not because of the war, but because of an accident in his barracks with a friend's M- 16. This happened on his nineteenth birthday; he died two days later.
A sad story — but what an excuse it was for drinking! My next oldest brother and I were off and running. He became my drinking buddy, teacher, pool-hustling partner, and a major part of my story. My brother's drinking was so bad that I finally had to detach from him. But looking at him, I could always justify my drinking, saying to myself, I'm not that bad.
The day after high school I got a job at a major corporation. Shortly after that, I did the right thing by marrying my pregnant girlfriend. I was eighteen years old and she was sixteen. I didn't know what to do with all these grown-up responsibilities. But I had an answer for every problem and that was to drink. I was becoming a very definite alcoholic. I went through two quick marriages.
Alcoholism became my way of life. My drinking controlled my communications with anybody I dealt with, it determined the places I went, and it made me do things that I never intended to do. This wasn't the real me.
After years of watching my brother be charged many times with driving while intoxicated, I had my first major vehicular accident while driving a motorcycle. I was going ninety miles an hour, racing a friend through a radar trap, and had a head-on collision with a station wagon. I'm lucky to be alive. There was an ambulance nearby which had been at a school football game waiting in case anybody got hurt. I don't think I would have made it if I hadn't gotten immediate medical attention.
The police didn't think I was going to live through the night, so they didn't issue me a DWI. So I got away with it. I have a different view of DWI's today, and wonder if they're not a blessing in disguise.
After the accident, I was in a body cast for a year. I promised my family that I wouldn't drink anymore, but as soon as I was offered a beer — with everyone watching me — I took it. My family accepted this and I was off and running again.
I'd been back at work for a short time when, in March 1979, I had a phone call that my father had passed away in his sleep. This was devastating news, because my dad was my best friend and confidant, the only person I could come close to sharing my feelings with. I loved him very much.
I did a lot of drinking as I grieved over his death. One day my brothers and I were reminiscing over family matters — and drinking, of course. We decided to go to the cemetery and pour beer over Dad's grave. This was about eleven o'clock at night. My oldest brother was driving. We took a curve - and didn't make it.
We hit a telephone pole on my side of the car and the car flipped over several times the car battery came through the dash and broke. I was trapped inside. The battery acid dripped onto my face and burned it, and fell into my eyes. It took over an hour for the emergency team to free me; meanwhile, the acid was doing its damage.
It was a longer recovery this time. I spent two months in the hospital, Both my legs were broken and in traction, and I couldn't see. I was truly powerless. I lay there, wishing I could be doing some of the things I used to complain about. I wasn't in too much physical pain because I was heavily medicated, but the mental and emotional pain were overwhelming.
I came home from the hospital blind, and in a wheelchair.
The loneliness truly started at this point. I didn't want to admit that alcohol had done this to me. My world was falling apart, and I didn't want to look at it. I went back to drinking and could justify it by saying I wasn't driving now after all. I figured the only thing I had left for support was my beer. But everyone wanted me to quit, even my brothers, who were now in AA, It was getting difficult to maintain my supply, when the people I depended on didn't want to buy alcohol for me any more. I was full of self-pity, remorse, and loneliness. I drank to escape, went to bed to escape, and woke up in the morning with the horror that I was blind.
My oldest brother was trying to get me to go to an AA meeting and all I would say is no. Finally I went just to shut him up.
I sat at my first AA meeting and couldn't believe the honesty that these people had. I was shocked. But I felt a small spark of hope. This brought me back to my second meeting. I kept coming back - and I fell in love with AA.
I had a number of operations on my eyes and each ended unsuccessfully. There was just too much damage. But I always had hope that eventually I'd be able to see again . Then one day I had some problems with my eyes — pain from high pressure and since my own doctor was on vacation, I consulted another doctor. During his examination, he told me bluntly that I was never going to see again - that I was going to be blind for the rest of my life. This hit me like a ton of bricks. I didn't expect it and I didn't know what to do with it.
I went home and called my sponsor and he picked me up for a meeting. I was feeling many things. I remembered back to a time when I was fully sighted, watching a blind man and thinking to myself that I could never live like that. But on the way to the meeting a phrase came to me: acceptance is easy when you don't have a choice.
At the meeting, my sponsor suggested I bring up a topic. I chose acceptance. After talking, I got lots of love and support from my friends.
My life changed that day. I have found that some of my problems have come from the choices I've made. My thinking is alcoholic and I need guidance from my Higher Power.
I've been in AA ten years now, and even though my physical sight has been taken away, I've gained spiritual eyes that I never had before. I feel so much better about myself now than when I was drinking. I am back to work in a blind workshop, I've been successful at what I do, and I've learned so much about myself. I've learned how to live.
I know I'm lucky to be blind in this day and age. I've recently acquired a computer with a screen reader, a scanner to read printed mail, and a word processor. This is how I'm writing this article. This in itself is a miracle. In fact, I think I read and write more now than I did when I was sighted.
From what I've learned in AA, my recovery has been in three phases: surrender, acceptance, and gratitude. I have had more than one kind of blindness in my life, but the blindfold of denial was taken off so I could have the ability to surrender. Acceptance, in turn, has opened many, many doors in my life. And I'm so grateful for where I am today.
All this was only possible with the grace of God. What he brought me through and blessed me with is not my doing. In fact, I was resistant a lot of the way. But I know I have choices and I'm going in the right direction.
Daniel M., Walworth, N.Y.
© AA Grapevine Inc., March 1994