Yesterday I celebrated 35 years clean and sober. It was on the 20th of June 1983 that I drove my 1966 Chrysler New Yorker (with whiskey dents) up to the door of the Napa County Detox facility on Old Sonoma Road in Napa, Ca. I had the better half of a bottle of whiskey in me, it was about 10 or 11 in the morning. I had been on my way out of town to go back to San Francisco, for no good purpose except that I had nowhere to turn or go. I had failed yet again.
Not too sure of timeline; but about six months prior to that I had been living in a half-way house at #80 9th Street in S.F., between Mission and Market. As part of the program there I was doing a job search and using the wall pay-phone in hallway, had called about a management position at a well known Golf Course/Resort in Napa, I managed to arrange for an interview, and an old friend and his wife who had found me at that half-way house, after contacting my mother back East; drove me out for that interview. I got another interview. I got the job. Manager of the main restaurant and in charge of central bar.
I arrived there, same friend drove me there, with a suitcase of clothes from Salvation Army and my last GA (General Assistance) check from S.F. of $124 in my pocket. I was given a condo to live in with daily maid service and everyone called me Mr. Schatz. From half-way house to Napa resort condo; and I though everything was as it should be. Maybe, two months later I was fired. It didn’t take long to revert. I drank up the money I saved and was again homeless and headed back to SF, to die. I didn’t care anymore. Things were bleak.
A year or more before that, I had asked for help while living in a drunken stupor on streets of S.F. and it came by the truckload, but I was unable to accept it because I couldn’t see it for what it was. My mind was clouded and it rained every day.
As I was driving down Hwy. 29 to head to the City, something made me pull off the road into a small shopping center, park in front of a Sew/Vac shop and go in and ask the lady there if I could use her phone book. She said yes. I looked under “Alcohol” in Yellow Pages and saw address for County detox facility. I asked lady where that address was and she gave me directions. I got there and parked right out front. I had to leave engine running because I had hard time staring car that morning. I went in and was greeted by Jack Malin, who ran the program at that time. We sat in his office talking and smoking, you could still do that back then, and he did the intake procedure on me.
Over the years many things have clarified, among them were the awareness of discreet moments, tiny increments, where some little cog-wheel in my heart clicked over a notch in the right direction. Several clicks happened that day. One, of course was the lady at the Sew/Vac store, several more came in the next hour or so.
After listening to my false self-aggrandizing story of how I got there; Jack said, “Well it sounds like a hell of a life, but you had some short periods of time where you were trying to stay sober but couldn’t. It’s very important that you don’t see those attempts as failure. They were actually a success.” Blam, tick, click. “You can stay here, we are a social-model facility and our only requirements is that you go to one AA meeting every day and daily meetings and counseling sessions that we schedule.” I said, “I can’t go to a meeting every day but I’ll go to two or three a week.” He said, “You don’t understand. If you want to stay here you have to go to a meeting every day.” Blam, tick, click.. I said, “Oh, O.K.” Blam, tick, click.
Then, he said, “You can go out and turn off your car. You are safe here.” BLAM! TICK! CLICK!
That I nigh I lay in a special room with the usual thick plastic covers on beds in drunk tanks and such, curled up, facing a wall, an open knife in my hand, just in case ( I had lived a very fearful life for many years but didn’t know it yet), and the next morning it was the 21st of June 1983 and I haven’t had drink or drug since then.
About three weeks later, I declared myself a Buddhist, I had just read Three Pillars of Zen and realized that I would lead a revolution in not only Zen but the Twelve Step world by syncretizing those two in a way that would be completely Helmuthian. It took a couple of years for that attractive delusion to wither of itself, and then the hard work took hold. Dealing with what was in front of me.
For some time I couldn’t really see what was in front of me because I was always, or so it seemed, in the way. Now I know that I just hadn’t sufficiently seen through me. To see what actually is in front of me. That clarity comes and goes, but never completely, away.
It turns out, this second half is no different than the first half. There is always a before and there is an after. I experience the after and often misremember the before; and, I am here.
Grateful. Thankful. Fairly sane.
I take Refuge in the Buddha. I take Refuge in the Dharma. I take Refuge in the Sangha.