I remember back in 2007 when my younger sister Madeleine was dying from cancer. I got down on my knees and I prayed as hard as I’ve ever prayed before to God. I asked God to please spare my sister. I asked Him to not let her die of this dreadful disease that was ravishing her body.
I remember praying and crying as hard as I ever had in my entire life. I remember being on the floor of my bathroom in almost a fetal position. I cried uncontrollably for what seemed like hours. I cried and I prayed. It was one of the most vulnerable times that I ever experienced.
I begged God for His mercy.
While I was praying, I came up with the idea of making a deal with God. The deal was that I would write the largest check I had ever written as a donation to the American Cancer Society if He would only let her live. I thought to myself that if I made this large monetary offering to an organization that was doing so much good for so many suffering people, that I might receive a special blessing from Him in the form of this simple request to save her life.
Madeleine died shortly there after, on June 24, 2007.
I remember exactly what I was doing on the night the call came in. I was having dinner at the Stamford Yacht Club with my friends, Danial and his wife Adrienne. I remember boasting to them, after a few double vodka martinis, that if I wanted to put in the word in the various subcommittees, that I could very easily become the commodore of the Club, even though I had never once served as a subcommittee chairman or, for that matter, never even served in any of the subcommittees.
The call came in during dinner from my Mom on my Blackberry mobile phone. Mom said to fly home in the morning.
When I hung up, I said with a straight face and calm voice that my little sister, Madeleine, had just died. Danny and Adrienne both looked at me in complete shock. I just tried as hard as I could to maintain my composure, and take a gulp of my martini. I calmly told them that she had bravely fought a valiant seven year battle and that we expected her to lose, and that I would not allow myself to be upset, as a tribute to Madeleine’s effort.
I don’t actually remember going to the airport the next morning, but I do remember my best friend, Bill, picking me up at the airport in New Orleans. I remember Bill telling me that I had to pull myself together because Madeleine had already planned her entire funeral, in advance, and I was to be speaking in front of everyone in Holy Name of Jesus Church. The funeral was a complete blur to me.
A few months earlier, I remembered asking Madeline if there was anything I could do for her to make her feel better and more comfortable. She looked me straight in the face and said “Jeff, I would be very happy if you would quit drinking.”
With an incredulous tone in my voice I asked “Why would I do something like that?”
She replied “Because I’m asking you to.”
I responded, “Ok, I’ll think about.”
After Madeleine died, I went into an emotional tailspin that lasted for months. It continued until I finally met a women named Lynn, who wanted to see one of my rental apartments in Greenwich. Lynn was absolutely beautiful. Even though she didn’t become a tenant, we immediately became fast friends. We laughed and laughed, and thoroughly enjoyed spending time together. We quickly learned to love each other’s children, as well.
Lynn was sober.
My drinking eventually became a problem for her. She finally said she could no longer be my friend if I didn’t deal with my drinking. I just laughed and pretty much let her walk away. Eventually, I grew to miss her. Lynn had become a very close friend, a real friend, a real friend who truly cared for me and my children. Lynn was indeed a blessing from God. I missed Lynn and I started to think about my drinking. I started to think about Madeleine, and her only request of me - that I quit drinking.
I very much believed in God. I believe that my understanding of
God is defined by two basic principles: that my God is all loving, of everyone, good and bad, and that my God allows me to use my own inner moral compass, which I call my conscience, to make good decisions, as well as bad decisions.
My God allows me to make bad decisions in order to understand that my bad decisions have tremendous consequences. And those consequences might last for years. And those consequences include tremendous guilt.
My God has always been with me, throughout my entire life, but as a child in Catholic school, the nuns made me feel that a relationship with God involved fear and retribution if I misbehaved. The nuns were wrong. They were absolutely wrong and I knew it, even as young as second grade, when I was only seven years old. I openly questioned the nuns and suffered tremendously at the hands of the nuns. Almost daily, they would hit me with a wooden rule on my knuckles, and beat me on my behind with a wooden pointer. Even though it hurt, and I cried often as the other kids snickered, I remained defiant. I truly believed that my God was all loving and good. I still do.
I decided to attend my first AA meeting a couple of towns over, in Darien, so maybe I wouldn’t be recognized. My plan was absolutely ridiculous because I had lived in the small town of Darien, in a private neighborhood park called Tokeneke, just two years earlier, and I knew many, many of my neighbors.
I walked into my first meeting at St. Thomas More and immediately recognized a number of people, including a former friend. I sat down next to her as if I was in a bar and was about to order both of us a drink. I said “hey, what are you doing here!” She replied “the same thing you are.” While she knew of my flirty reputation, she was kind but basically gave me the bum’s rush. I sat quietly and listened when the meeting started. I noticed immediately when the person leading the meeting started to pass the basket for everyone to chip in a dollar, I quickly announced to everyone that I would be more than happy to pay for everyone of the twenty five or so people in the room. My friend sitting next to me looked embarrassingly at me and whispered “that’s not exactly how it works.” A man sitting on the other side of me, some older dude in a well worn suit, whispered “just sit quietly, watch and listen to the others, and you and I can talk after the meeting is over.” I replied “okay, thanks!” and acted as if I was totally cool, while completely maintaining my relevant composure. Afterwards, he said “if you decide that you want what we have, heres my phone number” and then he simply turned and walked away.
Another fellow, who I recognized from my old Tokeneke neighborhood, came up to me and and said “welcome to AA. I take it this is your first meeting?” I replied “yes, how did you know?” He laughed and said “it’s pretty frickin obvious!” He also offered his phone number and suggested I call him if I wanted to know more about how it all worked. And he gave me a booklet with other meetings. I never called either of them.
The truth is, just about a week later, I was leaving on a 10-day, all expenses paid junket for my Beer, Wine & Spirits Industry Newsletter to Europe to visit a bunch of breweries in Germany, Belgium and England, and I knew I would have to sample and somehow report on dozens of products. There was no way I was going to miss the trip, but I actually thought I might be able to control my consumption.
Nonetheless, I decided to go to one more AA meeting, a couple of days after the first, but this time in Greenwich. I felt completely confident that I was ready to learn more about controlling my drinking, especially in preparation for my trip.
When I arrived at the Greenwich meeting, I looked across the room of about 75 people and spotted Lynn. I rushed over to her and said “hey, I’ve decided to give up drinking!” Lynn smiled and her eyes sparkled. She threw her arms around my neck gave me a wonderful and meaningful kiss on the cheek. She said “I’m so proud of you!” It was like I was on a cloud to hear her say that. I felt wonderful. And I didn’t want to lose that feeling so I intentionally withheld the fact that I was leaving in a matter of days to go on my beer tasting junket. The meeting was about to start so Lynn asked me sit next to her. I remember thinking to myself that this was a great start to getting Lynn to maybe come back into my life. About ten minutes into the meeting I notice they were passing around a green booklet and a pen, and the men were writing down their first names and phone numbers on it. When it got to me, Lynn leaned over and said “that’s for you and it’s a list of men you can call if you want to know about more meetings and just to talk about how they got sober.”
In the other direction came a pink booklet and a pen, full of phone numbers as well. When it finally came to me, Lynn leaned over and said “that’s the phone number of all the women in the room.” I quickly realized what I had in my hands, and I placed it inside my suit coat pocket. With wide eyes, Lynn leaned over and asked “what are you doing?” and I smiled at her and replied “drunk chicks and their phone numbers!” Lynn laughed, took the booklet from and passed it on. Then then leaned over and said “Jeff, you’re a mess. Those numbers are for a new women, new just like you.” I realized to myself “oh, there’s a system to this whole AA thing.”
That was my last meeting until I left for my trip to Europe.
When I arrived at JFK Airport, I immediately went to the appointed area where our group was meeting. We were flying over to our first stop in Munich. There was a pretty blonde guide holding up a sign at the airport with our tour name, and other journalists had already arrived. I immediately check out the women journalists, as well as my male competition. There were four very attractive blondes and six overweight white guys, three with bad facial hair. I quickly realized I had the absolute advantage. I was stoked!
Little did any of them know that I wasn’t actually a journalist, but rather I owned my trade newsletter, and was the “editor” in title only. My newsletter was a neatly formatted and faxed Word document of dozens of prewritten press releases from public relation firms. None of the editorial was actually written by me, but that didn’t stop me from accepting a free 10-day trip to drink beer and carouse with a bunch of blondes in Europe.
At first everything went pretty well. I quickly charmed the ladies and made sure the males knew I meant business. My host quickly realized my ploy and pulled me aside to remind me that I was a guest journalist on his nickel and he expected me to behave as professionally as the other journalists. Needless to say, this reprimand threw my game off a little. To make a long story short, I pretty much was ignored by the group and stayed by myself for the entire trip. I did indeed drink. And I drank too much. My host was not happy and threatened to make me pay for my portion of the trip, but I assured him I would promote as many stories as he could supply press releases. To keep from being sued, I kept my word.
Upon my return home, I called Lynn to see if she would meet me for dinner, but she never returned my calls.
I was pretty much at the end of my rope. I still owned my apartments and was collecting my rent, but my world was collapsing around me. I was morally bankrupt and my children’s mother wanted me arrested and completely out of her new life.
I found myself with no one to turn to but God. Yes. God.
I started praying hard. Really hard. I needed help. Real help. I was ready to completely surrender and I didn’t know what to do. I actually thought of suicide, but I didn’t want to abandon my children anymore than I felt I already had. I truly didn’t want them to think that I was some type of coward. I remember another father in Pipes’ class who had hung himself in a hotel instead of facing a pending bankruptcy. I still had some money, but I felt broke and broken in every other department.
I began to pray. I pray a lot. I actually prayed so much that I somehow concluded that I want to pour all of the liquor in my house right down the kitchen sink. And I did.
I kept one beautiful crystal bottle of really fine brandy that I had been given as a gift from the president of Domecq Importers. I knew there was no way I was going to ever drink brandy, no matter how hard up I became. Later that night, I drank half the bottle. I remember waking up the next with my head pounding like a vice grip was being tighten more and more. I vomited violently over and over again. There’s nothing worse than brandy and stomach acid shooting through your nose.
And I prayed. And I prayed more. I asked God to please help me. And he did.
I went to my real first meeting on April 1, 2008. That’s my sobriety date. It’s become one of the most important days in my life. Pretty much like my new birth date. And it’s truly been a gift from God. A gift that continues to give.
I am so blessed.
I’m blessed because I came to realize that God has always been with me and I always knew it. I just didn’t have a close relationship with Him because I didn’t know how to truly have a relationship with God until I came into the rooms of AA. The fact is I truly didn’t know how to have a relationship with anyone at all, including my parents, my siblings, my friends, my co-workers, much less a wife or my children. I just didn’t know how to relate like a normal person. But that all changed.
It changed the very day when I finally admitted defeat. When I finally and truly surrendered to myself. And God helped me do that.
With the help, and the patience and the guidance of my AA sponsor, a kind hearted but very strict and sometimes grumpy old dude named Blair.
I met Blair at my first meeting on April 1, and I asked him to be my sponsor. He looked at me and said “kid, you’ll never make it” and then he turned around and walked. I remember thinking to myself “what the fuck, old man! You’re supposed to help me!”
I went home and I cried, and I prayed and then I prayed some more because I was talking myself into not going back to another meeting where I might run into that old bastard.
The next morning I went to 6:00AM mass at St. Michael’s in Greenwich.
I prayed. And then I went to the 7:00AM meeting at a conference hall. There was Blair, that fucker.
I don’t know what came over me, but after the meeting I walked up to Blair and I asked him again “will you be my sponsor.”
Blair looked at me, up and down, and then said in an incredulous voice “kid, you’re never going to make it.” And then once again he turned around and walked away. I’m pretty sure I had a tear running down my cheek, because a little old lady came up to me, and put her arm around me, and said “it’s okay, just keep coming back.”
Later that evening, after dinner, I went to a 7 PM meeting at another church, and that old bastard Blair was there again. I didn’t even look at him because I didn’t want him to know much he had hurt me.
The next morning I went to 6 AM mass at Saint Michaels. After mass I went over to the 7 o’clock meeting and Blair was there again. After the meeting was over, I saw Blair talking with some other old men. As he was about to leave through the door, I’m not sure what possessed me to do this, but I stood in the door and I got chest to chest with him.I looked Blair straight in the eyes and I said “Blair, I really, really need your help. Would you please, please consider being my sponsor?” I could feel my eyes swelling and my throat cracking. He looked back at me, strait in my eyes, and he said “I’ll agree to be your temporary sponsor, but only if you do exactly what I tell you to do! I will make no suggestions whatsoever. You will do exactly what I tell you to do or I’ll walk away from you.” I remember thinking to myself “this man is such a prick” but then I said yes.
He said “now, get out of my way” and I stepped aside so he could walk through the door. As he walked out of the building, I heard him say “meet me at the diner in Cos Cob at 6:00 AM for breakfast.” I wanted to tell him that I went to church at 6:00 AM, but something made me say “OK, I see you there!” God works in mysterious ways. It’s not just a cliche. I’m convinced that He really does.
Blair was exactly what I needed. He was a hardass with a soft heart. I am convinced God put us together.
At breakfast the next morning, Blair told me how important it was to let him lead and that I should follow his directions if I wanted to be successful in AA. He also told me what I now consider to be one of the most important pieces of advice - that I should not talk at all, not a single word, in any AA meeting for one year. At first I didn’t understand exactly what he was saying but then he said, “take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth.” He also told me that there was a rule of doing 90 meetings in 90 days but he was quick to point out that if I really wanted AA to be a part of my life that I would go to two or three and sometimes four meetings in one day. While I thought that was a little obsessive, I ended up doing 211 meetings in my first 90 days. I had to give up going to 6:00AM mass each morning, but I think God was okay with that, especially during my first ninety.
It wasn’t until sometime in my third year of AA when I realized that my life was beginning to change, especially my way of thinking. It actually took that long for me to fully grasp the concept that I had to completely let go of my ego and my need to control every relationship and situation.
Not all but many alcoholics can be described as egomaniacs with insecurity issues. I came into AA just three months after my 49th birthday, and after over 35 years of almost daily drinking. I totally believed in God as my Higher Power, but it wasn’t until my third year of AA that I finally was clear thinking enough to allow my relationship with God to fully flourish.
My greatest gift from God is that he offered me the opportunity to find my sobriety, followed closely by the opportunity to come back to New Orleans to spend time with my parents and dear friends. This has been a true blessing, especially the gift of time with my Dad during the last years of his life. I often prayed to ask that I be with my Father when he took his last breath. I am convinced that my God allowed me to be there, as a special gift for trying to improve myself, to hold my Father’s hand and rub my fingers through his hair as a way to calm him in preparation for his journey.
God also gave me the beautiful gift the night before my Dad died, when I was able to tell my Dad that it was okay for him to let go, and that I would stay to make sure Mom was safe and sound, until it was her time to join him. My Father was totally conscious and lucent, and he told me how much he loved me, something my Dad rarely said. Yet another beautiful gift. Thank you, Lord.
My relationship with God is based on love and understanding. The nuns were indeed wrong. My God truly loves us all. A relationship that is unconditional.
© 2021 Jeffrey Pipes Guice