Gunny C.Part Four

BlogGraphicTuesday04.26.2016“I realize I have a drinking problem and I am asking for help to stay sober today.”

With these words, or words very much like them, Gunny C stepped forward and received a white plastic disk about the size of a poker chip. Gunny C accepted his first “surrender chip.” Chips of other colors were available to support the recovery, as well as document the man’s progress. Every AA meeting, in the United States has chips, though there is not a standard set by AA.

A marine identified as having a problem with alcohol in Jacksonville, North Carolina was sent to a twenty-eight day inpatient treatment and if he successfully completed the inpatient course, counselors at the unit level supported his treatment for the next eleven months. He was strongly encouraged to attend one AA meeting a day for one year, 365 consecutive meetings. Most did not even attempt such an undertaking. When such a milestone was achieved, the ARD presented that man with a disk made not from plastic, but from metal, and it was painted with scarlet and gold lacquer. Scarlet and gold are the official colors of the Marine Corps. On the front side, in raised letters the coin read Alcohol Rehabilitation Department, Camp Lejeune, NC. On the reverse also in raised, but smaller, letters was the Serenity Prayer,

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I asked the senior counselor, who had been assigned to the ARD for five years, how many of the one year tokens he had given out. He replied, “None.”

When Gunny C reported to treatment, like many others, he resented being there, I told him, like I told many others that, “I cannot make you sober. I don’t have the ability to keep you from drinking, and I don’t have any medicine that will treat drunkenness. If you live a life of sobriety and recovery, it will be because you did the work and you faced your demons. All I can do is walk beside you. I’m like a pair of training wheels on a bicycle. I don’t pedal, I don’t push, and I don’t decide which direction you go. All I can do is help keep you from falling, just like training wheels did when you learned to ride a bike.”

I said, “You didn’t use training wheels very long, most kids don’t. The same happens here. Either you will learn to balance your recovery, your bike, into your life, or you will wreck your recovery so bad the Marine Corps will discharge you and send you home. Either way, you won’t need your training wheels.”

Twenty-eight days, is not enough time to address all the mental, emotional, and spiritual sludge that had built up in Gunny C over the years, and I didn’t try. Every day, with every discussion, every group, every assignment I gave him, I told him he was valuable and he was worth the effort. Knowing he would be there for less than a month, I preached, demanded, and begged him to attend his meetings. I reminded him the only one hurting him today was himself and he had to find an AA sponsor who came from a worse home life than he did.

I sounded like a broken record, “You’re not alone in this, get help, go to a meeting.”

When a patient’s third weekend arrived, it was common to let them go home for the weekend. Of course, they had conditions, but very few men turned down the opportunity to leave the treatment center for an overnight pass. Gunny C did. He told me he wasn’t ready and he was afraid he would spend the weekend in his garage. I refused to let him stay. I forced him to leave the treatment center, visit with his wife and sons, and go to a meeting. As a good training wheel does, I reminded him he could always come back early, but he had to take his pass.

He did not come back early, and Monday morning he talked of nothing but his weekend. On Wednesday of his fourth week, he told me he was ready to leave. I agreed with him and he relaxed and enjoyed his last two days.

His final group session was tearful, but there was no fear. Everyone, most importantly C felt he would succeed. I actually became a little concerned he would think he could coast on his recovery bike, which cannot be done. Every day, the pedals have to be turned, I reminded him, and the only time he didn’t have to do the pumping was when he was in a meeting.

I didn’t see him when he left. I never met his wife nor was I introduced to his sons. They came for the commencement, but while the graduates were drinking coffee and eating cookies, I was conducting first week interviews with my new class.

That was the job, every Friday, men I had grown to care about left and I faced new men, who even if they didn’t say it as loud as Gunny C, felt they didn’t belong there.

Several weeks later, the Director of the ARD, who happened to be a Medical Doctor and recovering alcoholic, invited me to attend Friday evening’s AA meeting we held at the treatment center. As a rule, we wanted our patients to get familiar with the meetings in town, as that is where they would be attending most of the time. On Fridays, we had a meeting in the center because of the first “weekers” who had only been in the program a few hours. I told him sure. I’d be there.

Disks and chips are handed out at the end of the meeting. I don’t remember who was leading the meeting that night, but as the last act of the night, he turned the meeting over to the Director.

Doc stepped to the podium, and tears started flowing before he spoke a single word. Finally, he wiped his eyes, cleared his throat, and invited Gunny C to the front. All of us watched as Doc presented the Gunny with the one year coin; 365 meetings in one year.

Gunny C wept as he talked about the meetings. He talked about going to a meeting on Christmas, on Easter, on birthdays and on his anniversary. He shared how the “stinkin’thinkin’ would get in his way and the little voice said,

“You can miss this one.”

“No one does a meeting a day for an entire year.”

“You didn’t need to be there in the first place.”

He went anyway.

At the end of his speech, he held up the coin for all to see, and then he put it in his pocket, bent over to reach to the table and he picked up a white chip, and said, “My name is Gunny C, and I’m an alcoholic, by surrendering to my illness, I am sober today.”

It was the 365th surrender token he had picked up.

After a prayer that closed the meeting, Gunny bounded across the room, wrapped me in his big bear arms, and lifted me from the floor. He danced in a circle as he held me.

He told me he not only attended his son’s games, he was an assistant coach for their soccer team. He shared how he and his wife had started taking dancing lessons.

“No more weekends in the garage,” I asked.

He smiled and said, “I threw all that crap away. Well, except for the television, I gave it to my boys, for their room.”

I invited him to return to the ARD and asked him if he would be willing to talk to the present group of inpatients and share his story. He promised he would, but never did.

Once the training wheels are removed, they just don’t go back on.

P.S. Gunny C was the major inspiration in the development of Sam Moses.

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