A Different New Years Eve

Dec 31, 2014

Lost in Alaska, 1984.  They loved it. I did not.

Mire (noun): wet, slimy soil of some depth or deep mud.

(Verb): mired, miring: to plunge and fix in mire; cause to stick fast in mire,to involve, entangle.

December 29th. I don’t know why this date stuck, because I never got a chip or token, but it did. I counted back the years. 1985; twenty nine years ago. My memory of that day begins with a hangover, the kind that feels like your brains are pushing your eyeballs out of your head and your knees feel like play-do. Two boys and their bicycles and a red pick up truck. It was cold in Wellfleet Massachusetts and it didn’t help that the parking lot ended at a steep sand dune, then the ocean, battle ship gray and angry, sending a wind across the pavement that went right to your marrow. I doubt I felt the cold as I watched the two little blond heads circling on their bikes, yelling to each other, one age five on his two-wheeler and the three year old on the Big Wheels, spinning out in the sand.

Camping 1989 with the church. Got my Jesus t-shirt on!

It’s hard to describe what happened that day, the day God interrupted my hangover and shook me by the shoulders. I think His voice came from inside but I was looking up, to the gray sky which seemed to drop into the ocean without definition, but still it seemed like the sky opened up like a window and God called out,

“Hey! You will be dead within the next year if you don’t stop drinking!”

It was just like that. I don’t think I even considered not drinking until that very moment even though I knew the last six months that I was dying inside, deep in my soul, like I was stuck in quicksand and it was slow, awfully slow but I couldn’t get free. Always priding myself in being strong and capable, I was now seeing the signs of a chronic alcoholic; an enlarged liver that could no longer handle the cheap vodka coursing through my blood, black outs, drinking alone at night while the two blond boys ran around the table playing “Bar’ with their mom. Somehow the tide had turned. I was tired, I was becoming what I thought I’d never be, my father, a drunk and like him, I was dying and I couldn’t stop it.

The window shut and the sky seemed dense and silent but the words echoed within my throbbing head. I studied the two little boys again as they spun around the empty lot. No more me, no more mom. They needed a mom. How selfish to take that from them.

God, help me live. It was a weak plea. I never thought once that I could stop on my own.

Twenty nine years ago my brother came to Wellfleet the same day. He was living in a rented room in Boston and had been sober for three months. My mother had gone after him, knelt next to his bed and pleaded with him to stop, said she didn’t want to lose another son. It was uncharacteristic of her to interfere with our self-destruction and it worked. I told him I wanted to quit too. He looked frail and uncertain about both of us, but he had something I never saw before that I knew I wanted. Peace. He told me to drink lots of Diet Coke and I wobbled across the finish line of 1985, having no idea how much I would have to celebrate someday.

I can’t explain how it happened but I did not drink again — or smoke pot or take any other drug into my poor ravaged body. I recovered and two years later I met Jesus Christ, who introduced me personally to the same God who graciously reached down into the thick deep mud of my life that cold winter day and pulled me out.

I thought about all this while I listened to the soft breathing of my two granddaughters as they slept beneath me on the floor in their new hot pink sleeping bags, their tummies filled with pizza and popcorn and raspberry ice cream. We had our Girl’s Sleepover tonight while my son and his wife got away for a date. There is no place I would rather be right now than beside their six and four year old bodies. And I can’t help but wonder about decisions, about the places God leads us to where we say Yes or No thanks, not now.

Not too long ago I had a twenty six year old patient I’ll call Daniel. He had overdosed on heroin. I was told he was brain-dead, his brain swelling and seizing inside the confines of his skull, snuffing out every impulse to live and now machines alone gave him breath, circulation and the pretense of life. His parents had been in the room all night, and were waiting for the sun to rise. Today they would let us remove support (there is no “plug”, although it’s not much more complicated than that) and they would watch death take its official place. An uncle, a brother and sister would be along shortly.

Daniel was a handsome young man and my heart was breaking for his parents, but when the other brother arrived, he told me Daniel’s story; two previous overdoses, jail time, many, many opportunities to turn the other direction. But he had said, No thanks, not now. It was a sad death, made more bleak by the unspoken relief on the family. What they knew was coming had finally arrived. I understand better than most the old adage, “There but by the grace of God go I”. My escape was narrow and I still don’t know why I said Yes 29 years ago, but as I listened to the beautiful rhythm of Brooklynn and Olive’s breath beneath me, I can only thank God, again, for disrupting my giant hangover, for His grace upon grace.

My brother, whom I love so much, is still sober too. And although he was more than wary of my “different way” I took when I met Jesus, he will tell people in AA today that if they don’t like the program, they can try being Born Again, because it worked for his sister. Yes it did. All I had to do was say Yes.

I reached down and pulled their sleeping bags up over them, made sure their pillows cradled their heads and touched their soft hair. In the dark I could make out each face that will never know the game “Bar” or the narrow escape from madness and death that their grandmother made 29 years ago this very day. The snare is broken and we are escaped, my ransom paid on the cross. As we welcome the next year, let my gratitude turn to praise, like it did 29 years ago, of the one that loved me, even then, my God, my Redeemer and Deliverer.

He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.…Psalm 40:2

Goodbye 2014!  Happy Happy New Year!