This week, “Here’s To Your Health” is a continuation of Keith L’s story:
At Ernie, the attorney’s treatment house, they sent us to A.A. meetings and early on, one of the old men said to me, “Do you relate to these speakers?” I said, “No, they’re all a lot older than me.” He said, “That’s too bad because if you can’t relate to them you’re probably going to die!”
In D.C. they had two speakers each hour and even though they were older than me, I listened with new vigor and related to them better. I went to their meetings and said to myself, “Relate to them or die.” A woman behind the podium said, “I was born”…and I said to myself, “Me too!” Then she went on to say where she was born and I was confused again. Another guy said to me, “You’re defiant and delusional.” I was offended, so I went to my friend Jack (now deceased), and said, “Jack, what’s this delusion stuff about?” Jack said, “Kid, delusion isn’t about things you don’t know, it’s knowing things that ain’t so!”
In A.A. we call that “old ideas.” The old guys in A.A. were wonderful; they taught us with kindness and humor. My first sponsor was named Dan, a wonderful man who celebrated 35 years of sobriety last year. I was so messed up at that point in my life that I attended 10 A.A. meetings a week for two years.
One time I was headed for work and forgot where I worked because I was so confused. Dan had given me his business card and taped a dime to it in case I was broke and needed to call him. I stopped the car at a pay phone and used that dime to call him. I didn’t want to tell him that I couldn’t remember where I worked because I was afraid he wouldn’t sponsor somebody that messed up? Dan said, “How’s it going?” I said, “Fine, I was just wondering how you’re doing?” He said, “I’m OK, what’s that noise in the background?” I said, “I’m calling from a phone booth.” He said, “Did your car break down?” I said, “No, my car is fine. I was just wondering how you’re doing?” He said, “What’s the problem Keith?” He had me cornered, so I said, “I can’t remember where I work.” He told me where and then I remembered what I did there. Then he said to me, “If you ever have this problem again try and remember to look at the front bumper on your car because you have a university parking permit on it. I said to myself, “Where do these people learn this stuff, they make life sound so easy.”
After I was sober about three months I received a letter from a French physician named Jerome Léger who was a French genetic scientist. As a matter of fact when he died he was an alternate physician for Pope John Paul II. Dr. Léger was an incredibly brilliant man who first developed the banding technique used for modern genetic research. The letter from Dr. Léger was an invitation for me to come to Paris and work with him in his research laboratory. At that time, it seemed to me an A.A. sponsor was somebody who found what you wanted to do and then said you couldn’t. I didn’t want to tell Dan what I wanted to do because I was afraid he’d say no, so one day while we had lunch, I showed him the letter. He just beamed and said to me, “This is wonderful!” I said, “Does this mean I can go?” He said “Keith, this is not about you, it’s about Alcoholics Anonymous and you owe it to A.A. to go.” Dan said, “Look at me!” My mother always said that to me when she meant business so I looked at him. He said, “Keith, anything is possible in A.A. if you prepare for it and we have four months to get you ready for Paris. We found the name of a man in France named Don who had taken A.A. there and we contacted him.
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