THE WAY OUT
a personal story by the creator of the Fat Book, Rick S. of California
AFTER SIX long years of attending A.A. meetings, unable to stay sober for more than a month or two at a time, a drinker begins to know desperation. Not many things are worse for a drinker than a belly full of booze and an ear full of A.A. For me, it was the summer of 1990 and I finally received the “gift of desperation”. That is - to be desperate enough to hear the true message of sobriety. You see, I had known for a long time I had a drinking problem; my life was littered with the kinds of problems that come with alcohol abuse. However, it had never occurred to me that I was what the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous describes as a “Real Alcoholic.” Before I get into what happened on that day back in July of 1990, let me first describe how I arrived at that moment of desperation, finally ready to allow God to remove my alcoholism.
It was 1975 and the summer before I started junior high. A bunch of neighborhood kids met almost nightly in the field behind the elementary school that we all attended. One night, one of the older kids had a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 and I took my first drink. I was about 13 years old and I was off to the races! I loved the way it felt! It felt like the whole world made sense. I guess, in retrospect, I had the same feelings and fears as every other kid that age. It felt like a magic potion that removed all my unease. Being in my own skin felt good with a little booze poured in!
Thus began what would be my new belief system: “Booze and drugs are good; they take away discomfort with no negative consequences.” I became comfortable and at ease with myself and, over time, I came to believe that alcohol was the answer to life situations, not the problem. So give me MORE! Little did I know at the time that my reaction to alcohol was abnormal, that my desire for more (and more and more) was really a physical allergy to alcohol. Normal people never feel that desire or craving. For me, it was always there. So, naturally, I thought everyone around me was having the same experience and the same craving as me. I found out later that could not have been further from the truth.
As time moved on, drinking became more important to me as a social lubricant. In high school, my friends and I began to refer to our first six-pack on Friday night as “a couple of cans of courage,” and soon I was drinking all weekend and at house parties during the week. I began to lose control over the amount I drank and how I would behave while drunk. I also started to have blackouts. Man, did those scare me! But never enough to stop, only enough to try to control my consumption. “This time, I’ll manage better.” I started to show up everywhere drunk and always looking for trouble, and the blackouts became the rule rather than the exception.
I barely made it out of high school and was on the fast track to nowhere. Most of the friends I had were long gone and I was finding new friends in the bar scene. I was a big kid with a good fake I.D. I was a lone wolf and an alpha male; I didn’t need anyone and I could easily makenew friends every night in the local bars. Like the kind of friends you have today on social media — hundreds of people you barely know all searching for something they can’t really describe and never really find. I would often wake up in the morning shaking and shivering after a night of drinking. It felt like a morning flu. I now know it was the “bottle flu” or the D.T.’s.
Like many real alcoholics, I had tremendous natural talents and was a very good salesman. I had managed to get a good sales job when I was 19 and the industry I fell into was exploding. It was the 1980’s in Silicon Valley, the “Greed is Good” generation. By the time I was 21, I had my routine down. Shake it off in the morning with a little hair of the dog that bit me the night before, then two to four drinks at lunch with a customer, followed by a few afternoon sales calls, then happy hour. Every night, a different watering hole. Dollar drinks and free appetizers for dinner. This became my routine for several years.
I had also had several scraps with the law, starting when I was 15 years old and continuing until I was 27. During that 12-year period, I would achieve great success in business and great failure in managing my alcoholism. I was a real life Jekyll and Hyde. I had done so well in keeping my two lives separate but, eventually, they began to collide. I would show up at business functions drunk and the local newspaper seemed to love reporting about my escapades. In late 1985, I was in a car accident and ended up visiting a good doctor who told me that my liver showing up on the X-ray was not good. He said that only bones should appear on X-rays and a liver was soft tissue, not bone. He said that my body probably did not process the alcohol into simple sugar (as a normally functioning liver would) and, because of this, my body could not absorb the alcohol. I finally had the answer to my insane drinking pattern.
By this time, I had already been attending A.A. meetings. But I was there with the intention of learning to better control my drinking, not stop altogether. You know, just a little wine and beer, no hard stuff. But my problem with A.A. was all the spiritual junk they talked about. It made no sense to me. On the other hand, my doctor’s explanation did! My body is the problem…now I understand. I thought, with this new knowledge, I could manage myself better moving forward. When people asked me if I wanted a drink, I would simply say, “No, thank you. My body doesn’t process alcohol into simple sugar.” As easy as this sounded, it lasted about a month and I was drunk all over again.
This time, though, something was different. I realized for the first time that I was drinking against my own will. Someone would pass me a drink and I would instinctively drink it right down. Like a fish being put back into water, I would just swim away drink in hand. It had never dawned on me that I could not stop if and when I wanted to. When you realize you’re drinking against your own free will, life becomes incredibly dark and lonely.
This brings us to the summer of 1990, a few years after the car crash. It was DUI number four and, just one week later, number five. My lawyer suggested that, if I wanted to stay out of prison, I’d better put myself in a treatment center before we went to court. So for that reason only, I checked myself into a program. By now, I knew for sure that A.A. didn’t work so I figured maybe a treatment center would have the answers I was looking for.
I arrived at the CAMP in Scotts Valley, California and Chuck, the director of the program, lectured us daily. He had all these colorful ways of describing the problem and the God of the solution, and it actually made sense to me. I came to believe this guy just might know the way out of this insane maze. But just like A.A., he too began saying the answer was in the God of the 12 Steps. So there I was, full circle, back to the A.A. thing. “A power greater than myself” and “God as I understood him.” The problem was I didn’t believe in God and it made no sense to me that I could just make up my own god. I simply could not give my life over to what I was hearing in these A.A. meetings; things like god could be a door knob, or a group of drunks, or nature. I did not understand there was a distinction between the big “G” God and a small “g” god. What I needed was the big “G”; I just didn’t know how to find Him.
By this point, I was desperate. Chuck had convinced me of my condition and I had come to believe I was hopeless without God. But I simply could not fathom how I could plug into this “power” of the program. So in a desperate act, I did the unthinkable…I walked into Chuck’s office (leaving my pride at the door and I announced to him, “Chuck, I’ve been around A.A. for the last six years and, if there is a God in A.A., you better tell me who he is because I’m dying.”
Chuck looked up from his desk and smiled. Looking over the brim of his glasses, he said, “Sit down.” Then he simply said, “Rick, there is a God and He lives in heaven and He has already forgiven you for everything you have ever done and everything you ever will do. He made it possible for you to have a relationship with Him through His son, Jesus Christ. Would you like to know my God?” At that moment, with those words, I knew the answer for me was to surrender my life to a God that I did not yet know and could not comprehend. I said, “Yes!” And he said, “Let’s get on our knees and pray.”
As we prayed what I now know is the Sinner’s Prayer for Redemption, I felt a great presence of God in the room, something I’d never experienced before. But there was also a physical feeling for me. It was as if something was getting ripped out of me and something new was being shoved in. My body trembled and my mind raced as God’s Holy Spirit came. It was as if my brain was being rewired.
Right there and then in that moment, my burdens were left at the foot of the cross right where Jesus said they should be. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” I did, and He did; I was reborn. All that I had heard in all those meetings began to make sense. I knew I would stay sober this time, not by my action but by His grace. Something that had baffled me for years was suddenly so clear. I was on a new footing, and the desire for alcohol and the confusion it caused had been taken away. Right then and there.
I have spent the last 31 years living life to the fullest. I have had great personal success and I am blessed with a loving wife and three amazing children. I spend much of my spare time reading the Good Book and the Big Book to men at the local rescue mission. Over the years, I have shared with thousands of men about the true healing and restoration that was so freely shared with me. I have watched the lives of hundreds of men be restored. I have been truly blessed, healed, restored, and redeemed. My hope and prayer for you is the same. All you have to do is say yes to the God who loves you.