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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  1. Len R June 5, 2017 at 2:25 am - Reply

    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.

  2. Gerald June 4, 2017 at 3:17 pm - Reply

    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

  3. Doris A June 4, 2017 at 12:37 pm - Reply

    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 helpful tale.

  4. Diane I June 4, 2017 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    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!

  5. Diane I June 4, 2017 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    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!

  6. life-j June 4, 2017 at 11:38 am - Reply

    Galen, thanks. Sometimes we need a good dose of how crazy our lives used to be, in order to keep appreciating where we are now. It’s too easy to forget once it it’s in the far away past. This fit the bill. Now I’m just curious how you got out of the whole church thing. Maybe you have already written about it somewhere, and I have read it with great interest and forgotten it. Ah, the joys of getting old. Even if it looks like I may be spared the joy of getting old enough to forget to unzip before I pee. Also just read Bobby B’s piece. Between the two of you I’m feeling rowdy enough to where I may go buy myself a cookie, only one, though, I can have just one.

  7. Chris C June 4, 2017 at 10:22 am - Reply

    “When I came into AA I was not sure I was an alcoholic in full-standing.”

    Thank you for sharing this part of your story. I can relate to the statement quoted above wholeheartedly. I was in the right place from the moment I walked in the door at my first AA meeting. I just didn’t accept it for several months. The craziness of my behavior under the influence of alcohol wasn’t readily apparent to me until I’d been sober long enough to reflect on it soberly. I’m glad I don’t have to live like that anymore.

  8. Diana R. June 4, 2017 at 10:02 am - Reply

    Thank-you for sharing your story with us. You are able to communicate your beginning acceptance of the problem with such clarity and a wonderful sense of humor!

  9. John L. June 4, 2017 at 9:11 am - Reply

    Vivid story.  Now I want to know more.  Anyway, it’s good you slipped in the mud and didn’t throw the rock.

  10. Joe C. June 4, 2017 at 8:58 am - Reply

    Just an aside, wasn’t or isn’t, Clancey I (Pacific Group) a Norwigian Lutherin? I’m as likely to be wrong as right about that although I’ve heard his talks many times over the years.

    I forget that “Am I or am I not a real alcoholic” struggle I went through with my mind still stinking of habitual rationalization that every addict knows. I was sharing with few dozen treatment center in-patient yesterday and I was trying to relate my own early recovery ambivalence.  It’s easy to identify and also compare and spin my tires in the the “my case is different” mud (just to borrow from the mood and setting of your story, Galen).

    The chaos of addiction, your story with the matter-of-fact infidelity and risky behaviour at work, I identify and a lot of my process addiction, boundary issues and emotional immaturity continued or developed in long-term recovery from booze and drugs. I remain, like all of us, a work in progress and, still, sometimes I am not at ease with peace and quiet in my own life.

    Thanks for sharing such a graphic and personal account. It was riveting.

     

     

  11. Bill D June 4, 2017 at 8:18 am - Reply

    “I decided to call it a night”………Indeed. Thanks Galen.

  12. Pat N. June 4, 2017 at 7:56 am - Reply

    The church’s loss is the world’s gain. Glad you made it. When I was in a similar state, I was sure I was crazy, evil, or incredibly weak. It took AA to teach me I’m no crazier, evil, or weak than average AS LONG AS I DON’T DRINK.

    Many thanks.

  13. Thomas B. June 4, 2017 at 7:39 am - Reply

    Such a marvelously crafted and sad accounting of the self-deluded efforts we alcohol addicts go to to rationalize away our denial despite the ludicrous events which result from our drinking. Thank you, Galen . . .

    • Thomas B. June 4, 2017 at 7:40 am Reply

      Oh yes, and thanks Jan for the captivating artwork . . .

  14. John S June 4, 2017 at 7:32 am - Reply

    Thanks Galen for his honest account of a chapter of your life long past. I also arrived in the rooms with doubts as to whether I fit the description of “alcoholic,” and stories like this remind me that I am indeed in the right place. I can relate so well to the frame of mind.

    This is excellent writing. Thanks also to Jan for the artwork and to Len for the marvelous audio recording.

  15. bob k June 4, 2017 at 7:23 am - Reply

    A remarkable and brilliantly crafted tale!!

    Very generous of you to share it here – I think the Catholics would have paid good money for this 😉

  16. Bill P. June 4, 2017 at 6:18 am - Reply

    Galen:

    A sad and moving story. You were ill. Thankfully you have recovered. Every good wish.

     

    Bill P

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