About a year earlier the owners of a new office complex in the suburbs had agreed to make one of their conference rooms available for a meeting every night. This was excellent news since the conference room was large and brightly lit and always clean, and the folding chairs were padded in both the seats and backs, which was a bonus. The meeting on this Friday night was, as usual, almost full with about fifty members. They formed a generally prosperous-looking group and seemed healthy and clean in a place where smoking was forbidden not only inside but everywhere on the grounds of the complex.
The unvarying procedures to open the meeting were taking place. At a table in front, the chairperson read from the charter that people rarely failed if they followed the prescribed path, and that those who had failed were generally incapable of being honest with themselves. The chairperson urged everyone to be fearless and get rid of old ideas or the results would be nil. Their opponent, after all, was alcohol, and it had seduced, battered, and degraded every one of them.
Those with less than thirty days sobriety were invited to say so, and about a dozen complied. Then the chairperson introduced a man who said: “Good evening. My name’s Bob, and I’m an alcoholic.”
“Hi Bob,” everyone said.
“I’m very happy to be here with eight-years-three-months-and-two days of sobriety, and I thank God for every minute of that. Without Him, I guarantee you I’d be dead. I don’t know how I lived long enough to get involved in this program. I drank for more than twenty years, started in college. And it was great. There’s no point in my saying — especially to you new members — that it wasn’t fun. It was the best time I’d ever had. And that’s the way you start out. You have fun. Then you have fun and problems. Then all you have left are problems.
“I should’ve known that problems began for me right away. The hangovers were terrible, and I missed a lot of classes and flunked a lot of courses. My poor parents lectured me and threatened to cut off my support, but they never stopped sending those checks the seven years it took to graduate. Of course, I worked, too. But I worked in a pizza place and drank more beer than most of the customers. Drank it right out of the pitcher, like a big mug. I think they would’ve fired me if I hadn’t been so funny. Lots of people told me I should be a comedian. My girlfriend thought so, too. She didn’t understand the danger any more than I did. She didn’t start worrying much until we’d been married a few years. We had two kids, and I was never home. But I was a hell of a real estate salesman, and I could sell just as well after I’d been drinking. That is, I could until I started taking people to the wrong houses.
“Fortunately — or maybe I should say unfortunately — I was a broker by then, and six agents were working for me. I really didn’t have to do much, especially after my wife came in to run the office. My workday ended at lunchtime. I thought they were working lunches. God, what denial. I’d have three double screwdrivers before the food arrived. And after lunch, I kept drinking. I always tried to have lunch with guys who drank like I did. The guys who wouldn’t drink much at lunch, they bored me. Problem is, I was boring everyone else. Even the other drunks. I tried drinking more, but that didn’t work. Neither did drinking faster. I guess my drinker was broke. I might not have admitted it if my wife hadn’t jumped all over me when I got back to work one afternoon about five o’clock.
“‘What the hell happened to your car?’ she screamed.
“‘The damn car’s fine.’
“‘Come here, you idiot. Look. The hood’s sticking up in front of your cracked windshield. Let me tell you, either stop this or I’m going to take the kids and leave.’
“The next day at lunchtime I went to a meeting, and I went to a meeting every workday at lunch for a couple of years. Now coming every Friday night is fine. Thank God for this program. Thank God for all of you.”
“Thank you, Bob,” said the chairperson.
“Can I say something?” said a stocky young man.
“What’s your name?”
“Oh, I’m Billy. I’m Billy, and I’m an alcoholic.”
“Hi Billy,” everyone said.
“I need to know how Bob got sober right away after he started coming to meetings.”
“Bob, please get with Billy after the meeting. And, Billy, talk to us.”
“I lost my girlfriend and my job as a carpenter almost a year ago and I’ve been comin to three or four meetings a day, but after the late meetings I’ve been goin out and drinkin and usin. Last month I woke up with my nose broken and both eyes swollen shut. I’ve gotta get at least thirty days sober. I can do that, can’t I?”
His eyes were still a little discolored.
“Billy, make sure to talk to me after the meeting,” said an attractive blond woman. “I’m Leticia, and I’m an alcoholic.”
“Hi Leticia,” everyone said.
“I think my story’s a lot more like Billy’s than Bob’s. My first husband left me after I ended up standing nude in the lobby of a beautiful old hotel at the beach. I begged him to forgive me. I swore I hadn’t slept with anyone. He said I couldn’t have known. Anyway, I started coming to several meetings a week, and it took me two years to get my first thirty days of sobriety. And it took five years in this fellowship, reading my twelve steps every day, until I was able to live one year sober. By then, I’d lost several good accounting jobs, had two more husbands, and slept with dozens of guys. And this was when we were all learning about HIV. I never asked anyone to use condoms. I couldn’t remember the names of most of the men I was waking up next to. That bothered me, but not as much as they couldn’t remember my name, either. I always wanted them to get out of my place — if that’s where we were — or I wanted to get out of theirs. I hated the drives home. My head hurt so bad I thought I was going to die and my mouth tasted like hell and I felt dirty inside.
“Coming to these meetings, and finding people like myself, helped me get back my self-respect. I’ve got more than four years of sobriety, and I couldn’t have imagined that until I discovered a power greater than myself.”
“Thanks for sharing, Leticia,” said the chairperson.
“Hi, I’m Tim, and I’m an alcoholic.”
“Hi Tim,” everyone said.
“I’m proud I have almost two years sobriety, but I’ve got to tell you — it’s been a dry-drunk. I’m still carrying so much anger and bitterness, and I can’t help it. I’m a dentist. I mean I used to be. At meetings I used to tell how I’d come in to work every morning and still be under the influence. I joked that people in the chair wouldn’t have been sitting so easy if they’d known. Then, one night I saw a man who was a patient. Remember, I trusted everyone not to say anything outside this room. But I think he must have. Pretty soon several of my patients were complaining to authorities. One guy claimed I pulled the wrong tooth. And a lady said I filled some teeth that didn’t have cavities.”
“You’re right, Tim. You do have a lot of anger,” said the chairperson.
“Thank you for helping me accept reality. That’s what I try to do every day. I know the X-rays backed up that man and that lady, though the evidence wasn’t absolutely unequivocal. It was clear enough. I’m not denying it anymore. I just think I should’ve been given a warning. Well, maybe in my field, my old field, it’s too late when it’s time for a warning. I’m doing all right, though. I got a job selling cars from the guy who used to sell me a Mercedes every two years. I’m thankful to be sober, and I’m doing everything I can to get my license back.”
“Thank you, Tim,” said the chairperson, who then pointed and said: “And this gentleman, in the brown shirt. Sir, I see you here all the time, but you never say anything. Would you like to share?”
“No, I wouldn’t.”
“What’s your name?” said the chairperson.
“None of your damn business, but I’ll tell you anyway. I’m Steven and I’m not an alcoholic.”
“Then why are you here?” said the chairperson.
“You know why I’m here. To get that absurd paper signed after every meeting.”
“I hadn’t noticed. This is the first time I’ve been chairperson since you’ve been coming. But don’t worry, Steven, all of us have had similar experiences. I had three DUI’s. We help each other by sharing our experiences.”
“You’re a bunch of sheep who love climbing into each other’s pants.”
“We have a special meeting here, Steven. There’s at least a hundred others in this city every night. Find one.”
“Harass me and I’ll harass you.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“Characterize it as you like.”
“I’m Joe and I’m an alcoholic and I’m also a tough goddamn police officer. Whatever trouble you’re in, Steven, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.”
“Down, Mr. Gestapo. Next time, I’ll share.”
Shortly, everyone in the room formed a big circle and joined hands and began to recite this prayer – God give me the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference – and then everyone in the circle tightened hands and shook them as they cheered, “Keep coming back, it works.”
After the meeting the chairperson signed Steven’s court paper and, when Steven left, motioned for Joe to come over. “They’ve ordered him to attend seven nights a week for a year.”
“He’s messed up. But chickenshit when you call him on it.”
By next Friday most of the regulars were back, and a different chairperson read from the charter that people rarely failed if they followed the prescribed path, and that those who had failed were generally incapable of being honest with themselves. The chairperson urged everyone to be fearless and get rid of old ideas or the results would be nil. Their opponent, after all, was alcohol, and it had seduced, battered, and degraded every one of them.
After those with less than thirty days of sobriety were invited to say so, the chairperson introduced a man who said: “Hi. I’m Joe, and I’m an alcoholic.”
“Hi Joe,” everyone said.
“Very few of you know my last name,” Joe said, “but many of you are aware I’m a cop. Some people outside our fellowship are surprised to hear lots of cops have drinking problems. Ten, fifteen percent. Just like in any other job. Some of you here tonight have undoubtedly drunk on the job. I never did that, but the only reason I didn’t lose my job was because both times I got pulled over drunk, they let me go. I think my wife would’ve called the police the times I slapped her, and there were several, but she was either too embarrassed or not sure what my fellow officers would’ve done. The only time I punched her, she did call. And they had me handcuffed and ready to go until she screamed, ‘Let him go. It doesn’t matter. I’m getting away from this animal.’ That was it. She packed and left, and she should have. The man she’d been living with was hateful, and I hated the sonuva bitch more than anyone. I’m positive I would’ve killed myself if I hadn’t started coming to these meetings. I wasn’t able to totally eliminate alcohol right away, but I didn’t drink and drive anymore, and there was no one at home to hit, so I kept coming to meetings, and praying, and eventually realized I didn’t crave alcohol anymore. I’ve got almost three years sober, and I thank God for that.”
“Thank you, Joe,” said the chairperson.
The meeting proceeded with considerable geniality, and lots of regulars — like Bob, Leticia, and Tim — were witty and insightful, and anxious to help newcomers, including Billy.
“Steven,” said the chairperson. “It’s Steven, isn’t it? Would you like to share.”
“Yes, I would, you pathetic moron.” Steven rose and took a pistol out of his coat and fired a shot into the ceiling. Most people froze but several jumped up. “Sit your asses down. All of you. Anyone who stands dies. Same for anyone with a cell phone. Behave, and you won’t get shot. You aren’t armed, are you, Joe? Don’t be a hero.”
Four men armed with pistols — two in front and two in back — had entered and sealed off the doors. Steven strode over and ripped the phone cord out of the wall.
“Get the stuff in here, now.”
One man in the front and one in back went outside and started bringing in boxes that resounded with clattering glass. They put the boxes on the floor next to the chairperson’s table. Steven stood in front of the group while one man guarded the front door and one stood poised in back. The carriers began to take bottles out of the boxes and put them on the chairperson’s table. Then the men took stacks of plastic cups out of the boxes and started filling them with a clear liquid.
“What the hell are you doing?” Joe demanded.
Steven slashed over and hit Joe with the pistol, and Joe put both hands over his bloody face and leaned onto the table.
“I’m gonna kill the next asshole who talks,” Steven said.
One of the two men pouring drinks began passing them out to members, who received them with retreating hands.
“Don’t drink anything yet,” Steven said.
The man still pouring was going so fast he spilled a little out of most cups before quickly handing them to his partner, the server, and before long every member was holding a cup almost full of the liquid.
“All right,” said Steven, “you’ve got fifteen minutes to drink one cup.”
“I’d rather be dead than drink again,” said a tall man.
Steven shot him in the head, and the man rocked back over his chair.
“I said get to it.”
Most people started sipping as if from cups on fire. Some simply looked with disbelief at Steven until he aimed his gun and forced them to begin. The process of drinking so nauseated several people they couldn’t continue, and Steven shot them. Everyone else was motivated to keep drinking and that old feeling was coming back fast. There was a lot of gagging and coughing and moaning, but the surviving members kept drinking and finished, some of them chugging the last part to beat the deadline.
Steven swung his right arm toward the back door, then the front, and the five intruders ran out. Almost immediately, their brazen crime triggered a manhunt of unprecedented intensity, and two days later Steven and his men were surrounded at a remote ranch. Rather than answer to the people, the cowards took cyanide. Journalists from around the world had rushed in to cover the story, and the forty-one surviving fellowship members, as a group, became quite well known, and a couple of telegenic individuals were transformed into celebrities. Steven’s criminal record was examined, but it probably would not have enabled anyone to forecast his behavior. He had only one arrest, for drinking a highly toxic amount of alcohol and dashing through a mall in his underwear as he screamed he was the special and only one. More distressing, in home videos Steven was revealed to be handsome and charismatic, and a number of women said they would like to have had his baby. One year after the tragedy, the local newspaper ran a box score of how everyone was doing. More than two-thirds of the survivors still regularly went to meetings, and almost a quarter said they’d been sober since that appalling night. Joe, the cop, with but a broken nose, and Bob, the real estate broker, were among the fortunate group. Leticia, the blond accountant, went on several binges with Tim, the ex-dentist, but they both sobered up after Tim was arrested for driving under the influence and Leticia was taken in for screaming the policeman was persecuting them. Billy, the unemployed carpenter, said he still didn’t have thirty days sobriety but had recently started going to meetings again and praying for a higher power to help him.