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"We're going to shoot pool tonight, and you're coming."

That was the first phone call from Demi, way back in 1996, and I remember groaning audibly.

"Are you going to sit in your apartment and feel sorry for yourself?  Besides, there will be girls there.  Pick you up at 7."

I was a day removed from a hospital stay for alcohol poisoning.  I'd been sober six months prior to that, one of those months in rehab.  I was in a state of shock that I'd drank again despite the years of pain it had brought me. Making matters worse, I'd shown up drunk at work, knocked a printer off a file cabinet, and then been sent to my parents' home in a car service (my employer was familiar with my problem). Since my parents weren't home, I raided their liquor cabinet. They came home to find me sprawled unconcious on the kitchen floor (in a rather nice suit).  It would be my last drink for 11 years.

I met Demi at the first meeting I attended after leaving the hospital.  His real name was Demetrius. I shared in a quivering voice what had happened and that I was really serious this time.  Truth was, I was already planning my next drink-- I'd gone to the meeting to get my parents off my back.  I knew I was in trouble, but dealing with that trouble was incomprehensible.  I needed to be drunk.  Whatever happened after that, so be it.

Demi approached me after the meeting with his number.  And he asked for mine, which I thought was a bit aggressive.

"You won't call me," he said.

"Sure I will," I lied.

"Give me your number."

And so I did, and it was that evening that Demi called with the invitation to shoot pool.

The night turned out to be pretty bad. I hated pool.  I didn't know anyone.  I was still feeling the effects of my last binge.  But something significant did happen: I did not drink as planned.  And then, I didn't drink the next day.  The invitations to "hang out" came almost daily.  Demi gave AA a face and a personality. A humanness. We played sober softball, went to meetings, and hung out at diners.   Suddenly, people in AA seemed quite normal and likable to me.  And while there was no discussion of recovery or steps or spiritual awakenings, I kept not drinking.

Months turned into years, and Demi and I drifted apart when I moved a half hour away.  He came to my wedding, and my mother later told me that my father had pulled Demi aside and said, "thank you for saving my son."

I understand enough about alcoholism now to know that we are beyond human aid, but it's hard to overstate the importance Demi played in helping me get through the physical craving for alcohol and how he showed me the power of fellowship, of people with a common problem finding strength together.

I heard through the grapevine that Demi eventually returned to drinking and drugs.  He got married and moved, and we lost touch.  I, too, began to slowly cut back on meetings, but stayed abstinent until my own relapse in 2007.  But that's not the point of this post.

I believe that if Demi had not been present at that first meeting I would have gotten drunk again immediately. I don't know how the rest of my life would have looked after that, but I think it's safe to assume that it would not have been pretty.  I'm increasingly aware that my recovery has come in stages, each important in their own right, and it was Demi who helped me gain footing in that first stage.  Of course, it would be nice to say that we both stayed sober and lived happily ever after, but that's simply not the nature of untreated alcoholism.  But at least I stopped digging for 11 years.

I ran into Demi about 5 years ago at an airport.  He was picking someone up, I was returning from a business trip.  We hugged and talked briefly, but did not discuss our sobriety.  I don't think either of us wanted to bring it up.  I thanked him again, told him I loved him, and he said the same.   I took his phone number and tried to reach out a month or so later, but the call was not returned.  I don't know if the story ends here; my job is to remain available.  But in those moments when I'm getting sanctimonious about the steps and recovery, the memory of Demi reminds me that it was a night of shooting pool with other alcoholics-- a fellowship of people finding strength together-- that propelled me into an 11 year period of sobriety.

Cross posted at Thump.


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