Communion Wine and Mud

By Galen T. 

When I came into AA I was not sure I was an alcoholic in full-standing.  Unlike most of the other members I heard speak, I had not drunk every day and had never drunk myself into a blackout. Plus. I was a man of the cloth with extensive religious and spiritual training. 

The Lutheran church at which I was minister was built in 1870.  The ground floor was a crude basement, but the second floor where the congregation worshipped was a lovely, commodious nave with dark wooden pews set off by a frayed red carpet. Upon entering the church at the front, opposite end from the altar, the arriving worshipper stepped into the narrow narthex that ran the width of the building but was only eight feet deep between the outer door and the wood paneled wall separating it from the worship area. This narrow space was where the cross bearer, acolytes and choir jammed together before we all processed into the church to the opening hymn —  the crucifer led the way with me bringing up the rear at the tail end of the choir.

During this, my eighth year as pastor of the congregation, I had a frequent pre-worship routine. At seven minutes to 11:00 I trudged up the spiral staircase connecting the basement with the church proper and entered the narthex. I threaded my way through the assembled bustle and chatter, greeting choir members adjusting their robes, but focused on getting to the small pentangle room at the other side. I entered the claustrophobic enclosure for the ostensible purpose of giving myself several moments of private prayer before leading worship. But I was really after the communion wine, stored in the bottom of an elegant pine cabinet opposite the door, a door which lamentably lacked a lock.

By this time, I was already soused. I had taken two hearty gulps of vodka three hours earlier before leaving the church owned parsonage for the 8:15 service. Between the two services we held Sunday School and I taught the 7th and 8th grade confirmation class in the finished basement of the parsonage.  Before beginning class I visited the bathroom upstairs and took more gulps from the pint bottle I stored in my office file cabinet. After class, as the kids walked the couple hundred yards back to the church, I took another couple swigs, leaving a third of the pint in the bottle. But despite this early morning drinking I often felt insufficiently buzzed for the second service of the day and with several minutes to show time headed for the room off the narthex.

When I closed the door on the pentagonal room I anchored my left foot at the bottom of the door to prevent intrusions and stretched across to the cabinet. In a flurry of hurried moves I opened the cabinet door, grabbed the god-awful Manischewitz Concord Grape wine, took two huge swigs, twisted the cap back on and shoved the bottle back in place. I then straightened myself, tossed two or three certs into my mouth followed by a piece of peppermint gum, straightened my ministerial regalia, and reentered the narthex properly prepared to lead my congregation in worship.

It did not occur to me that there was anything strange or spiritually askew about this behavior. Nor did I seriously consider that my left foot was a meagre defense against discovery and humiliation.

After I had been in AA several months I shared the doubts I had about my alcoholic credentials with another member. I told him that I never drank seven days a week, maybe five at the end, and that seldom drank more than a pint of vodka in a single day. No DWIs, no blackouts, no vomiting, no illicit drugs. This man knew my story and looked at me quizzically. “Just think about what you did when you were drinking. That might help you out.” It did, and shortly after this exchange I wrote down examples of what I did, of how I behaved, of how estranged I was from reality and a healthy sense of self-preservation. My raids on the communion wine came vividly to mind, as did a muddy night during the same period.

I was out late making pastoral calls on parishioners. Between each visit I swilled away at the vodka bottle I kept in the glove compartment. When I emerged from my last visit after 10:30 I was weary from booze and a long work day and headed for home. As I headed down the hill toward the parsonage in which my wife and two children were sleeping, I impetuously turned into the driveway of my current girlfriend.  I knew her husband was gone and that her own two young children were long asleep.  It had been a stormy day and the rain was still coming down in gusts.  I eased my Corolla carefully down the slope of Sandy’s muddy dirt driveway.

When I reached the house I made out the outlines of a car I did not recognize and decided I should reconnoiter the grounds before knocking on the door. I lumbered awkwardly out of my car into the deluge. Although dressed in my black clerical suit with its virginal white collar, I left my umbrella behind.  After several steps I was drenched and my wingtip shoes were slathered in mud. But I persevered and maneuvered my way, cautiously around to the rear of the house where a large picture window looked into the living room. The back of the family couch rested against the inside window sill, and looking in I saw two heads, close together, facing away from the window. One was my paramour and the other was my best friend in the congregation and, like me, married. The two of them snuggling, it was obvious.

I was seized by a combination of rage and moral indignation and my vodka saturated mind moved immediately to options for retribution. Gazing around the small back yard that merged into a wooded area I spotted an appealing looking rock near the trees.  I squished my way over and picked it up.  Fifteen pounds, I guessed, hefty enough to make quick work of a picture window.

I lugged the rock over to within 10 or 12 feet of the window.  The rock was too heavy to throw like a baseball and I never liked heaving round objects from between my legs, never mind the slippery conditions created by the rain.  So I lifted the rock over my head and took a “running” start toward the house.

I had not thought this through properly and on my fourth step forward my left foot slipped on the wet grass, sending me toppling backwards.  Before hitting the ground I released the rock, but still sustained a hard thump when the back of my head hit the ground. I lay there for several minutes, spread-eagled and dazed with the image of Christ on the cross dancing through my mind.

I decided to call it a night.  I cautiously rose to my feet, slipping and falling again twice, but noting that the snugglers were oblivious to the drama unfolding a few yards behind them. I gingerly made my way around the side of the house to my car.  As I backed up the driveway with my suit dripping and covered in mud, my nostrils alerted me to the dog shit that was also smeared over the back of my coat.

I drove the short distance to my house, still angry. I didn’t reflect, either then or later, on my hypocrisy, never mind my own departure from the ministerial vows I had taken eight years ago. And typically, no risk assessment. After all, I was untouchable.


 About the Author, Galen T.

Galen spent most of his career in the ministry, and in mental health and career counseling. He has published numerous articles as a career consultant. He is now an independent writer focusing on the application of personal narrative to addiction recovery and life generally. He has been sober since 1995 and is active in several of his local AA groups.

Artwork

by Jan A.

Audio

The audio version of this story was recorded by Len R. from Jasper, Georgia. Len is interested in starting a secular AA meeting in his area. If you would like to join him, please send an email to lenr.secularsobriety@gmail.com

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Len R
Len R

Galen, thanks for humility of your honest share of your storied path to recovery.  Your experience, strength, and hope are of immense help to thousands of us in recovery or seeking it, today.

Gerald
Gerald

I needed to start my day off with a meeting and a good laugh, and being self-deceived & delusional just happens to be the topic on my mind right now. So, thanks! a perfect fit.

Gerald

Doris A

Great story, great storytelling.  It’s nice to know I am not the only one with such tales.  Mine include crawling out of a window one night to go fetch more alcohol, and I am still not sure why I didn’t use the front door.  And then there where those mystery bruises I would find on my body after a night of drinking, and the wonderful memory of falling off a bar stool while having a drink with a former boyfriend who I was hoping to get back with.  Well, that’s enough sharing for now.  Thanks again for the humorous and… Read more »

Diane I
Diane I

Oh my goodness!!  What a great story – thanks for sharing!  I can so identify with so much in your story.  I too was not a daily drinker (well almost) and functioned (not always well) as a nurse so I struggled with the first step.  But then I realized that the step didn’t ask me if I had a DUI or had been in jail etc.  It was simple – was I powerless over alcohol and was my life unmanageable as a result?  When I got honest I knew the answer was yes!

Diane I
Diane I

Oh my goodness!!  What a great store – thanks for sharing!  I can so identify with so much in your story.  I too was not a daily drinker (well almost) and functioned (not always well) as a nurse so I struggled with the first step.  But then I realized that the step didn’t ask me if I had a DUI or had been in jail etc.  It was simple – was I powerless over alcohol and was my life unmanageable as a result?  When I got honest I knew the answer was yes!