Last Call by Hawkeye Pete Egan B.
Looking for Signs of Life
I started going back to AA meetings after my stoned revelation reading the Big Book that night, but nothing I was hearing there sounded like what I’d read in the book.
The book had talked about recovery from alcoholism. It made it sound like they actually got well, the ones who wrote the book. It had a lot to do with finding God, or as they put it, a “higher power” that could remove what they called a “spiritual malady”. That’s what I wanted! I wanted to get well!
The people at the meetings I went to were talking about going to meetings, and were spouting a lot of therapeutic sounding stuff. I didn’t want therapeutic crap, I wanted to get well. Even though I hadn’t been drinking for a couple years, at that point, I knew I still wasn’t well. I was maintaining, but in my own opinion, doing a pretty piss-poor job of that.
Lately, things were beginning to unravel and get crazy again, and I was quite concerned. I didn’t want things to go back to the way they were when they were really bad. I wanted out.
So, I kept going to meetings, different meetings all over Bucks County and Philadelphia, figuring sooner or later I’ll find one where they had what that book had talked about.
I talked to a guy at the 12 Keys AA clubhouse, back by the coffee pot, about what I was looking for. He told me, “What you need to do is get a sponser and take the 12 steps”. I’d never really heard that before. I’d been to a lot of meetings. Maybe I just wasn’t ready to hear it.
I started keeping my eyes and ears open for a sponsor. I wasn’t sure how one decided to pick one of them. I wanted whatever it was that those guys in that book had talked about. I wanted to get well like they did.
At one of the meetings at the clubouse, a speaker meeting, a young guy told his story, and he made a few veiled references to the use of substances other than alcohol, in addition to his drinking. This really piqued my interest. Nobody in AA ever talked about that other stuff. It was strictly about alcohol. there. All you ever wanted to know about booze and its effects. Most people I knew did more than just drink, but AA limited itself to working strictly with Alcoholics.
After the meeting I went up to talk to Steve, and told him about my smoking dope, and some of the other things I’d been doing, and was just beginning to realize that they might be a problem, too. He laughed and said, “Well, it sounds like you should be going to N.A.” What’s N.A.? I’d never heard of that. “Narcotics Anonymous. There’s a meeting over in Hulmeville on Saturday, if you want to check it out.” Oh, I explained, I never did any serious narcotics, just mainly weed, some opium, a little coke. I used to do a lot of speed and downers years ago in the Navy, as well as acid, mescaline, meth and hash. He just laughed again and said it was for any and all of that, and I should just go check them out and see for myself.
This was pretty exciting news for me. I’d been perplexed by the whole pot thing ever since I got out of the V.A. hospital. Nobody in A.A. ever talked about things like that, and as long as I wasn’t drinking, that seemed to be cool there. But that book had talked about recovery, and having a spiritual awakening, and that just really resonated with me. I started thinking that maybe all that pot was keeping me from having a spiritual experience. I also wondered about the lithium, if maybe that wasn’t standing in my way of this spiritual thing the book talked about.
Where I Belonged
The N.A. meeting was totally different. The energy there was brilliant. At the AA meetings I was always one of the young people, and all these older alcoholics would say how great it was that I was getting into the program at my age, in a manner not quite, but bordering on condescension. This meeting was a bunch of kids, aged mostly 16 to 22. I felt like an old man there, at 25. But, I could tell I was more at their level, emotionally. I felt very much like a teenager, inside.
The energy just knocked me out. I immediately felt like I belonged. During a break in the meeting, I talked to George, who seemed to be one of the stronger ones in the meeting — he just had a look about him like he was the guy who knew what was going on here. Turns out he was just turned 20, but had been “clean” for 3 years already. I talked to him about how I’d been sober for a couple years, but still smoked dope and sometimes got into some other stuff. He just laughed and said, “Being clean includes all that stuff. You’re not ‘clean’ unless you’re not smoking pot or any of that’”. So, that was that. Here, I wasn’t a couple years sober, I was about 5 days clean. Cool — now, I just need to find a sponser. I kept my eyes open.
Much as I liked the energy there, a lot of the kids were just out of a local rehab, and had picked up all kinds of therapeutic mumbo-jumbo there. But, besides that, I loved their youthful energy. I felt like I fit right in, and they all seemed to accept me as one of them. I decided I was going to give N.A. a shot. I felt some kind of a connection.
I figured I’ll find a meeting where someone has found recovery, get a sponsor, and recover. They used the AA literature, and just substituted the word addict for alcoholic, and drugs for alcohol. There weren’t many meetings around. I had to drive all over eastern Pennsylvania to find meetings. For a couple weeks, Steve took me to meetings way out in West Chester, and down in Delaware. There were only 16 in the whole eastern Pennsylvania area. I bought into the “clean” idea. I was going whole hog, now. I wanted to get well. I was ready to find recovery.
Not As Easy as That!
I would find it wasn’t all that easy. After going to the N.A. meetings for a few weeks, and spending a lot of time with my new N.A. friends, I drove up to Connecticut to see my old friends up there, Peg and Dave and the rest of the crew, with whom I had been through so much. They were more than even family at that point in my life. But, I quickly realized that all those meetings I’d attended didn’t stop me from doing what came naturally when I was with those guys.
I seemed to have no defense whatsoever from getting high when I was up there. I needed to get serious about finding recovery. A poem I wrote at the time:
Friends of the Past/Dawn of Today
There is a time for everything,
A time for love, a time for friends,
Comes a time when the past must end,
A time for today to finally begin…
Things that I have held on to,
Old friends who have pulled me through
the hardest of times
And always were there when I would be down,
Friends who always stood by me…
I never thought the time would come,
When I’d have to say farewell
to those very special ones;
But, today the time has arrived
To part from you and to carry on
To live in today, let the past be gone…
With a tear of sorrow, I face the dawn…
No Matter What
I came back down to Pennsylvania determined to do whatever it took to get and stay clean. I was ready to throw myself into N.A., and to join what they called the No Matter What club.
It was St. Patrick’s Day, 1980, Jimmy Carter was still president, and we had hostages in Iran. That would be the last time I ever got high. I still had a long, crazy journey ahead before I would find recovery, and sanity, though. I took a most difficult road to get there.
Originally published at cowbird.com.