My alcoholism brought with it very few material consequences. I was never picked up for DUI, nor was my health seriously impaired. I was never fired from a job, nor confronted by an intervention, except for an occasional comment by my family or a friend that I’d had too much to drink. No, I had become very good at pretending, clever at keeping up appearances and protecting my secrets.
As a clergyman, I had a lot to hide. Periodically disposing of numerous empty scotch bottles that accumulated in my closet required the ingenuity of a 007. My ploy was to use a suitcase and under cloak of darkness find a discretely placed dumpster. To mask the signs of a hangover long cool showers, Listerine, Excedrin and copious eye drops seemed to work. Yes, I was the great pretender looking good on the outside but crumbling within.
The effect of my alcoholism was subtle, insidious and devastating. Alcohol was killing my soul. I pretended so much I began to lose a sense of who I was. Not only that, friendships lost their meaning because no one knew the real Jim. I couldn’t face my God anymore, I knew that He knew and I felt too ashamed to pray. I felt too ashamed period. I not only avoided God but I avoided everyone because if anyone got close they might uncover my secret and then what?
The fear of discovery led me more and more to isolate with my feel good friend, Johnny Walker whiskey. At the same time intimacy in my life began to evaporate as I distanced from family and friends. I felt as though my soul riddled with fear was drying up and beginning to die. Yet, in light of my dependence on alcohol, a life of total abstinence was equally terrifying. The temptation of suicide became an appealing alternative to me.
With the support of a caring friend, I was able to take that first scary step of attending my first Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and began to identify with the struggle of others in the AA fellowship. Now friendships were forged as the honesty of others became contagious and allowed me to feel safe in revealing my own secrets. Intimacy began to once again blossom in the desert of my heart. In my twenty enriching years in the AA fellowship, I have come to realize that sobriety is not loss but gain and that Twelve Step Spirituality is simply the art of cultivating that precious gift of intimacy. Gratitude prompts me to coach and share that gift with others like me, taking those first few scary steps toward sobriety at The Beachcomber treatment center in Delray Beach, Florida.