DJ’s was the sober oasis disguised as a coffee shop that NutJob Bob introduced me to early in my recovery. It was Holy Ground. He and a motley group of brain-damaged followers would stroll in after their daily spiritual make-over, lifted from the meeting and ready for more coffee, cigarettes and fellowship, along with a little unhealthy food. Some of us wanted a lot of it. I liked the pie. Some of the local wise guys said I got sober on pie, but that was inaccurate. I added it to my program, but I could have stayed sober without it.
My first sober Christmas preceded my one-year token by a few months. It wasn’t a jolly season for me. I felt divorced and lonely, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. But at that phase of my development, I wasn’t very good relationship material. Even I knew that. It might as well be lit up and blinking on my forehead, with tinsel dangling and bells a-ringing.
After attending the evening meeting on Christmas Eve, I sped over to DJ’s, wandering in just after 9:30. The place was nearly empty; everyone at the meeting went home where they belonged, leaving a few of us loners to work on our Gratitude Lists. The program was working in their lives– they were racking up the promises like it was a cosmic pinball game. I hadn’t racked up anything yet.
Feeling a little overlooked by God, I deposited myself in a booth near the front door. It was distant from the only people in the restaurant, an elderly couple who sat, quietly sampling the last of the broasted chicken dinner special of the day.
I had the whole joint pretty much to myself. My coffee and pie was delivered by the only waitress on the clock; she was moderately disgruntled. I knew I wasn’t the target—I was just the closest one. I tried to say thanks before she scurried back to her phone call, but she was too quick. I gazed deeply into my pie and started to think. It wasn’t a good combination.
It disturbed me that the empty space that accompanied me everywhere was still there after all these months. No one could see it, but half of me was missing. It was a psychic manifestation of the divorce phenomenon, or some other dysfunction that wouldn’t sound as compelling.
Nevertheless, I knew I needed to be in a relationship soon, either good or bad, and the only place I could think of to find a future date was at the local hot spot in town. I went there sober once, about six months earlier, and felt like an alien. It was obvious the whole bar knew I wasn’t supposed to be in there—they were all looking at me like I had two divorced heads, not to mention low self-esteem due to an alcohol deficiency. Of course, no one there knew me or my circumstances. It was my brain doing all the work again.
I hunched in that lonely booth and plotted. ‘This time, if I go, I’ll have to have one drink so I can fit in, and it’ll have to last the whole time I’m there. That’s it. No more than that. Then I’m outta there.’
That was the plan. Forget about spiritually fit. And forget about the fact I get thirsty when I drink. The thought scared me, but after it spins around in my brain for a bit, an insane thought doesn’t seem so insane. Maybe my last drinking episode was an anomaly—or just the end of a lengthy stretch of misfortune? I wondered if I could do it, and what would happen if I couldn’t.
It ignited an emergency discussion meeting in my head that I thought I’d better listen to. The first thought came from my Detox experience– ‘We’re not slow learners—we’re fast forgetters’. It was a little cliché, but the next one spoke the truth. ‘The obsession of the mind is a liar, telling me one little drink won’t hurt’. I stopped right there.
Suddenly it all came together– I have a liar and a forgetter in my head, and the liar’s waiting for the forgetter to forget what the liar wants to lie to him about. Even though it made sense to this alcoholic, it didn’t make me feel any better. So much for reason.
I studied my coffee as I forked my pie. I was in trouble. Was I really going to go through with it? My new friends warned me long ago, ‘Don’t think’, but I’m not a non-thinker. What was I supposed to do, cut my head off? My Train of Thought rarely stopped, and when it did, nobody got off—they were all there for the long haul. My fingers tapped on the phony wood table, running interference. It was going to be a long night.
Before I travelled too far into that dark wonderland, a dinged-up Camaro careened into the snow-crusted parking lot, with a poor driver and a pair of nervous passengers woo-hooing at the frozen stars. It swished to a halt as it shuddered off the frosty curb. Three figures spilled out into the dark, frigid night and shuffled awkwardly toward the door. A scruffy, boisterous man and two anxious women who were gorgeous a few hours ago entered, looked around, pointed “There!” and chose the booth right behind me. A gaudy Chinese fire drill that was too close for comfort ensued.
‘Oh great– some bum with two good-looking ladies,’ I thought. ‘Why do they want to sit by me and my pie? I didn’t sign up for this.’ I wasn’t in a real cozy space as far as humanity went.
I knew they must be partiers, and was certain I looked like some funky superhero named SoberGuy, who had forgotten his anonymity cape. I wouldn’t have sat down anywhere near me a year ago, before I was sober. I used to think the kind of squares that I had become were non-laughers and deadbeats. Losers. They didn’t have a life. And besides, squares always made me look bad. Why sit by me?
In short order, I got a little uncomfortable—paranoia feels different when you’re sober. A little more cutting edge. ‘What was going on?’ I wondered. Why a small, lively group like them would be in a Ma and Pa’s joint that didn’t serve booze was beyond me. ‘What were they doing in here? These were prime drinking hours…’ Of course, aren’t they all?
When they lurched into the booth, I knew something was amiss. He was increasingly obnoxious, and their vain attempts to keep him quiet were almost as annoying. It was a carbon copy of me on those nights I would drink way past drunk. And when he cussed and made a scene, it was just like the devil did when he borrowed my clothes. More unflattering memories of some of my ugly benders were dredged up.
His speech was heavily slurred, and his eyes darted madly about like a nervous fly waiting to get whacked. Noticeable traces that somebody had been sick clung to his clothes, reminding me of the faint odors that haunted my ties and dress shoes, worn to numerous weddings and New Year’s Eve bashes. Thank God for Hai Karate, and its many-splendored descendants.
After a couple of tense cups of coffee that lasted the longest thirty minutes ever, the women raised harried eyebrows and nodded to each other, whispering firmly “Let’s get out of here!” They lured him out with a promise of more booze and maybe a little something extra on the side. His leer melted into a smirk. It didn’t take long for them to realize a coffee shop was a bad idea. As abruptly as they arrived, from out of nowhere, they were caroming off my booth, and gone.
I watched the rust-bucket Camaro fishtail toward the exit, and then rumble down the icy street, tail lights dancing. I looked at the pie that earlier told me a few lies, and took a big sip of my coffee. Whew!
I knew if I picked up a drink, that would be me in a few hours, or a few days… weeks at the most. I got it. I bowed my head, honoring this moment of grace. ‘Thank you, God’, I thought, ‘I don’t want to do that to me today.’
Who could have imagined a drunk, louder than my pie, would be the perfect messenger in a nearly abandoned coffee shop on Christmas Eve? It was just the right person in just the wrong place at just the right time. I knew that flyby by three drunks was a godsend.
I asked my Higher Power that morning, as always, to ‘Please keep me clean and sober today’. I guess He thought I needed a picture that night. And the soundtrack nailed it.