John Clark taking everyone back to October 16, 1980. I didn’t wake up that morning, I came to and finally realized that I couldn’t bullshit myself any longer. My life was a train wreck, when I looked at the future, all I saw was a thick, forbidding wall of fog that I knew hid nothing but horrible creatures and events. Beth was pregnant and looking extremely unhappy that day. Even though I wasn’t able to remember much about the night before, I couldn’t blame her. I didn’t know it yet, but she’d been driven temporarily insane by being married to an extremely unpredictable and unreliable man—Me.

My mother had been struggling with her own recovery from alcoholism for over two years at that point. When she finally listened to her counselor at Choice Skyward in Owls Head, who had been telling her that living with an active alcoholic (my father) and trying to get/stay sober, was pretty much impossible, she told Dad to leave and got a divorce.

My head and gut used to feel like this all the time

My head and gut used to feel like this all the time

Even though I was really paranoid by that point (Mom later told me she’d thought I’d stopped drinking several years before), I realized that something miraculous was happening in her life. On the evening of 10/16/1980, it was my turn to suck it up and find the miracle. Just out of curiosity, I looked up events that happened on that day. Only two of note happened: “Brigadoon” opened at the Majestic Theater NYC for 133 performances and China performed a nuclear test at Lop Nor, PRC. I certainly felt like someone had detonated a weapon of mass destruction in my gut when I drove from Chelsea to the St. Paul’s Center in Augusta that evening where I knew from reading the local newspaper there was an AA meeting.

After walking into the building, I immediately went into ‘guy’ mode and did not ask the lady at the desk where the meeting was. Instead, I followed a crowd downstairs and took a seat in a long crowded room. The more I looked around, the bigger the knot in my stomach got. There was this little hunchback with an oxygen tank who kept giggling and laughing. Behind him sat three elderly women with enough bling and make-up to keep the entire Dallas Cowboy’s Cheering Squad happy and opposite them was this great big guy wearing a ton of turquoise whose face looked like someone had used it as an ATV race course. (All of them became my trusted AA friends not long after) In all it was a very scary crew and it didn’t take me long to realize that this sure wasn’t the AA meeting. Even so, I was desperate enough to sit and listen. By doing so, I discovered I’d ended up at the annual feedback meeting of the Kennebec-Somerset Council on Alcohol Prevention and Treatment. When it was over, I hurried out and went home.

Happy that those creepy feelings are mostly in the past.

Happy that those creepy feelings are mostly in the past.

However, as I’ve heard time and time again at meetings, when you’re ready, nothing can stop you from going to meetings and if you’re not, then nothing anyone can say or do will keep you coming back. A week later, I hadn’t had anything to drink and I went back to St. Paul’s. This time, the first person I saw was a woman I knew well and trusted. She gave me a hug, told me she was glad to see me and ushered me into a beginner’s meeting in a small back room. I don’t remember what was said, but I do know who sat on either side of me and when it was time for the chip club, they told me to get up and go pick up a white chip. I did so, and the miracle began.

It continues to this day, 35 years later. Next Tuesday, I celebrate at the Canaan Bog Group, my new home group since the meeting here in Hartland folded. I did a bit of research in preparation for my celebration. More than 2,825,445,385 have been born since I got sober. In 2012, 3.3 million deaths were attributable to alcohol consumption on our planet and every day in America, another 28 people die as a result of drunk driving crashes. We’ve buried three family members, two of whom died in part because of this disease. Mom celebrated 28 years of sobriety and died sober. One reason her death hit me harder than any other was because we had the extra bond of recovery and I still miss being able to drop in at Sennebec Hill Farm and have a mini-meeting with her. During the time we were both going to meetings, we chaired each others’ anniversaries and one of the best things that happened to me occurred at her first one. It was in Belfast in March and she was so pumped that she forgot to tell me that I was going to be one of the three speakers. I was 5 months sober at the time and when they announced me as a speaker, I was scared witless. I looked around and there were a hundred people there including two of my high school teachers, the family plumber and his wife, Beth and my younger sister, Sara. I didn’t have time to do anything but be honest. When I spilled my guts and nobody got upset or disgusted, I realized that what I’d been hearing at meeting after meeting was true. People who were serious about sobriety, identify with what happened to you, they don’t compare.

Getting and staying sober isn’t easy and I sure as hell haven’t done everything right. I still have resentments and character defects, I can still feel sorry for myself and hate admitting when I’m wrong, but I consider myself really lucky because over the years, I’ve seen more people fail than succeed at getting and staying sober. Mystery writer Lawrence Block has some great recovery bits in his book Eight Million Ways To Die. His protagonist, Matt Scudder is struggling to get sober after a relapse and is at a meeting. One person starts speaking and says, “I came into this program to save my ass. Who knew my soul was attached to it.” A little bit later, an old woman speaks up while looking at Scudder. “Getting sober is easy. All you have to do is don’t drink, go to meetings and change your whole F&%$ing life.” Block and James Lee Burke write recovery better than anyone else I’ve read, for very good reasons.

Perhaps the greatest gift I’ve received is that neither of my daughters have ever seen me drunk…Crazy, for sure, but never under the influence. Now I have the best birthday present ever in Piper, my granddaughter and I hope years from now I can still say the same is true for her.

No comment needed

No comment needed

In the beginning, I heard much made about the word TIME. I was told among other things that it stood for This I Must Endure or This I Must Earn. Now it has different meanings including Today Is Much Easier and This I May Enjoy. Thirty-five years…Whoda thunk it?

If you know someone who is struggling with addiction, please share this with them. No one needs to suffer if they’re willing to change.


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11 Responses to 10/16/1980

  1. Wow. Truly inspirational. I know a few non-drinkers – and a few politicians – who could benefit from this process too! Blessings!

  2. Brian says:

    Great story of your journey. Congratulations on 35 years.

  3. Paula Keeney says:

    Thanks, John.
    I’m sure there are many of us who could write similar stories. But, you’ve done it so well.
    I’ll be thinking of you next Tuesday at your celebration.
    Paula Keeney
    Mainely Murders Bookstore

  4. MCWriTers says:

    Thank you for sharing, John. Alcoholism is something that affects so many families … most of us have had experiences with it in some way. Congratulations on your sobriety … and your honesty! Onward into your new life of retirement, with new aspirations, new goals … and proff positive you can makes changes in your life work. Bravo! Lea Wait

  5. Bruce Coffin says:

    Thank you for sharing, John. Congratulations on your upcoming milestone.

  6. Amber Foxx says:

    Heavy drinkers and alcoholics need to know that life is this good without alcohol. Thanks for sharing this story, and telling it so well.

  7. Pat T. says:

    Thanks so much for being honest; I’m sober now for 11 years, and wish I’d faced my demons as long ago as you did. Congrats. on 35 years!

    • Sennebec says:

      Congratulations on 11 years. I think we all wish we’d gotten the program earlier, but better than never, or losing it and being unable to get back to meetings.

  8. Tina Swift says:

    Congratulations! Keep up the good fight.

  9. Susan Blaisdell says:

    What an inspirational story. Congratulations on 35 years, John. You are a true “winner”.

  10. Lawrence Block says:

    Congratulations, John. And thanks for the kind words.

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