There came a day when I realized I might not survive to see another day. The peril was tangible, real, plausible. I sat in those hot woods, thirty-two years old and drunk on my backside, in the company of strangers, with a half a bottle of beer in my hand. I’d already had plenty. It was a hundred degrees in the shade in those woods. The humidity in the air made a guy’s body sweat like a cold glass of liquid sweats in that kind of weather.
Unexpectedly, I heard a voice inside of me that said, “You take one more swig off that beer, George, and you’re a dead man.” I was not afraid. I knew I had a choice. That was the deciding moment of my whole lifetime. I might be dead at any minute. What would you do? I sat there and had a conversation with my Higher Power inside myself. This was novel.
For one thing, I’d been suicidal for my whole adult life, and here was my golden opportunity to find out what death would be like. God would take care of the whole thing for me. I wouldn’t even have to bother hurting my own body anymore. Take one more swig, and God would simply take care of everything for me. It would be real convenient.
I was curious, I told God. Since I seemed to be rather healthy and young enough to last awhile, ordinarily, how would He go about it? God said, “I am God, and I answer to no one. I do as I please.” Sounded like I was venturing on onto some dangerous ground there. I still hadn’t had that swig He was talking about. I had not made my choice yet.
I sat there fascinated. Here I was, in the presence of the Higher Power they talk about in the program, the God they talk about in church. He was giving me a chance to check out. He would take care of all of it for me. I just wish I could account for how close I came to just simply giving in to it. Taking another swig off that sweating bottle and dying, right then and there. It would have been easy enough to do at that point, except for one thing.
I’ve been taught about the concept of the two deaths. The death of the body, and the death of the spirit. Not everyone goes thru the death of the spirit, and it’s not an attractive concept to me. It’s called God destroying a person. Going to Hell. The permanent absence of God, to say the least.
The Bible is very clear on the idea that “if any man destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” I’ve been taught that there is a Hell, and the consistency of it is the absolute absence of God. I’ve studied the Bible all my life. I had it for my bedtime stories, read to me by my mother and my grandmother when I was little. I went to Bible college for awhile. I’ve had some serious spiritual training under my belt.
And here God Himself was talking to me. So, I asked Him where he was going to put me after I died. I wanted to know ahead of time. He made no response. I had to think about that for a minute. Did that mean I would go to His perpetual absence? Was He threatening to destroy me? He wasn’t answering those questions.
So I said, “What happens if I never take that next swig?”
“Well, that do present mind-boggling possibilities.” He said right away, just like ole Clint Eastwood. I put that half bottle of beer down and walked away. I decided my life was worth saving.
But it wasn’t going to be that simple. Not for an old drunk like me. The man who’d brought the beer in the first place took hold of my forearm when I tried to walk by, and told me to finish my beer. I just stood there looking at him. I already knew what the result of doing that would be, and all of a sudden I was just not interested anymore. My days of honestly wanting to destroy myself were over, at least for the time being. I knew I didn’t have to finish that beer.
With all of the experience of a practicing drug addict and alcoholic, I had never walked away from a beer before in my lifetime. What I did at that moment was what men of courage have always done. I prayed. I didn’t say a word, or make any sound or gesture. For all that man who had his hand on me knew, I just stood there looking at him.
“If there’s a God in Heaven, get this man to let go of my arm.” I prayed. It was an internal act. A silent prayer. In this day and time, my critics will have a field day with me. I was a chronic schizophrenic with alcohol on my brain. I’m hearing voices. OK, tell that to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob they’re only hearing voices. Tell that to Isaiah and Jeremiah, the prophets, that they’re only hearing voices. I don’t care what the atheists say. I care what God says.
Let them all have their say when I’m done. That man let go of me, and I walked away into the steaming, oppressive sunlight of a mid-August afternoon, from inside those hot woods at suppertime. I got right out in the middle of a parking lot, and had the most irrational thought I can imagine. I should go back to apologize to those guys for breaking up the party. But I thought I should pray about what I should do, and prayed another time.
“No,” God said.
Some of the most noble warriors of all time prayed when they had to do battle. George Washington prayed before crossing the Delaware. Eisenhower prayed before D-Day. It’s an act of cowardice to sit down and die, when you have any alternative to exercise whatsoever. I knew enough to seek out my alternatives in that situation.
I unsteadily walked down the hill to my long term ward in the state hospital, from up on that hill in those hot woods, out in the direct sunlight. I knew I was drunk, but all of a sudden all the fun had gone out of it. Being drunk just felt like I had made myself sick. Like I had the flu. It wasn’t that my stomach was upset. I was just not feeling well. I wondered why I ever liked the stuff.
About that time, I heard something else in my heart.
“It’s now or never, George.”
I replied right out loud in my temporary solitude, and mumbled, “Well, it’s now, then.”
I was almost late for supper, which could have cost me my ground parole, just like having beer on my breath should have cost me my ground parole. But I skated right on past the lenient man with the key who let me onto Red Brick Cottage Four, my home at the time. I was a chronic mental patient with two doctor’s certificates against my sanity, living on a long term ward in a state hospital. I think it was the only reason I could survive the whole rigamarole I was going thru. I had the support of that institution.
I wasn’t worried about not being able to go to the big canteen to get a cup of coffee at that point. Instead, I was worried about whether I’d get to go my meeting of the program that night. My Higher Power smiled on me in that way, too. It turned out that I was a free man to go to the evening meeting, and was off to a good start with my new life that evening, instead of being just plain dead in those woods on the grounds of that state hospital, in the middle of the oppressive August weather.
All my psychological games were on their last legs, right then and there. I recognized my own, personal miracle when it came to me. I’m grateful that I paid attention to it the way I did. I could have just as easily tossed it off. The challenge, I mean. And the beer. But I was a man thoroughly schooled in the Bible, for one thing. I was also a man who wanted desperately to be helped by the Highest Power of all. The night before it happened, I had prayed. The morning after, I prayed, too. I wanted to find out what kind of mind boggling possibilities He was talking about. I was enthralled.