A BOTTLE of WINE or PATSY CLINE

by Dr. Thomas Shafer

John Lone Eagle is a Juvenile Probation Officer and also a Certified Alcohol Counselor who is working with a 16 year old named Jeremiah Boudreaux in a Juvenile Boot Camp program. Unable to deal with the death of his infant brother nearly two years before, Jeremiah tried to find a way out with alcohol and found himself being charged as an accessory in a pharmacy robbery instead.

As our story opens, Lone Eagle is doing introductory alcohol counseling with his young client, teaching him the steps. Jeremiah has just started to really face up to the fact that he is alcoholic but doesn't have the slightest idea what to do about it.

John Lone Eagle was sitting in his counseling office at the Boot Camp. Through the glass he saw Jeremiah Boudreaux march up to the door. In the proper military fashion, Jeremiah stopped and rapped on the door jam loudly one time.

In a military command voice, Lone Eagle called out, "Enter."

Jeremiah marched in, closing the door behind him. He stopped exactly three paces from Lone Eagle's desk, saluted and stood at attention. Then Lone Eagle said, "We don't have to do the military discipline here, son. We can just talk. Why don't you have a seat?"

Jeremiah sat down, stiffly at first. Then he tried to relax but he became restless and fidgety. Obviously something was on his mind. Knowing that silence is sometimes the best tool with adolescents, Lone Eagle simply remained quiet and looked at Jeremiah, not exactly staring but looking him over carefully.

Finally Jeremiah spoke, saying, "I've been thinking about it. I guess you're right. I guess I am an alcoholic."

"What leads you to that conclusion?" Lone Eagle asked.

Jeremiah said, "I got real thirsty last night. I had another dream about my little brother and I woke up. And I wanted a drink so bad that it was like it went to the bottom of my soul. Am I making any sense?"

"Perfectly," Lone Eagle said. "That's called a craving. And that word isn't strong enough at all, is it?"

Jeremiah shook his head, "no." He paused for a minute, then continued, "What am I going to do? I can't stay here forever and another one of those things you call a craving is going to come isn't it?"

Lone Eagle said a quiet, "Yes."

Jeremiah fidgeted some more. He really looked frightened this time. Lone Eagle realized the reality of his drinking was really starting to dawn on him. He continued speaking to Jeremiah, "You just took your first step."

"Step?" Jeremiah asked.

"Yes, the first of the 12 steps. I'm talking AA," Lone Eagle said. He opened his desk drawer, took out a printed copy of the AA 12 steps and handed it to Jeremiah.

"These are the steps and this is the program," he said. "We can work together on learning about the steps and the program and then you can transfer to a group to continue when you get out. I'll refer you to a group of people your age with good adult sponsors."

"So that's it? Just 12 steps?" Jeremiah asked.

"It's not that easy, Jeremiah." Lone Eagle said. "It's a long, involved process and nobody can do it by himself."

"So who do I do it with, the group?" Jeremiah asked.

Lone Eagle said, "Read the second step. There's your answer."

"So what's this Loving Higher Power. You're not trying to sell me on religion are you?" Jeremiah asked.

"If I were selling would you be buying? If that's what it takes to keep sober, that is?" Lone Eagle asked.

"I don't know about all that religion stuff. Sometimes it seems like it's a lot of confusion and bullshit. Er, excuse me, Sir." Jeremiah said.

"It's okay to speak frankly in here," Lone Eagle said. "You use the words you need to tell me what's on your mind."

"My father, Job, got pretty religious after he went to the VA hospital. He goes off every morning and prays at sunrise. And my mother's Jewish. I guess I got more religion in my house that anybody has a right to have. I get Jewish and Christian holidays and God and Jesus and Moses and all that stuff. But it just doesn't do anything for me. I'm sorry but you told me to be honest."

"Nothing to be sorry about," Lone Eagle said. "I don't want you to ever apologize to be for being honest."

Jeremiah shifted in his seat again the looked a bit less uncomfortable. He was reading the 12 step list one more time.

Lone Eagle let him read for a few moments and then said, "Do you see there where it says 'God of my understanding'? That's what it's all about, your understanding. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Jeremiah said, "Maybe, a little."

Lone Eagle continued, "What a lot of us have when we enter AA is what some of my Christian friends call a Sunday School God. They remember lessons from Sunday school and things they thought about God as a kid and that's all they have. That's pretty great stuff for a kid but it won't keep an adult sober, will it?"

"Sure won't," Jeremiah said. Then he looked at lone Eagle and asked, "You told me before you quit drinking. What kind of grown-up God did you find?"

Lone Eagle looked back said, "I can answer you but first we need to set some ground rules for when you leave here and get a regular group and a regular sponsor, okay? A sponsor is someone who helps you find your Higher Power and learn how to stay sober. I will be your temporary sponsor until you get out and find a home group, okay?"

Jeremiah shook his head yes. Then Lone Eagle continued, "I prefer to use the AA term Higher Power rather than the word 'God.' As you probably know already, my background is American Indian. I guess kind of like you I was caught between some Christian schooling and my Native American tradition. I kept trying to puzzle it out until one day a good sponsor suggested I simply find a quiet place and let my Higher Power answer the questions for me. In my case, I returned to a reservation area for a while and worked with some of the religious leaders of my tribe to learn the Native American tradition, what we call the 'old ways.'"

"So maybe I need to talk to the Rabbi about being Jewish?" Jeremiah asked.

"Maybe; maybe not. Maybe you need to talk to your Higher Power directly."

"I'm not even sure if I have a Higher Power," Jeremiah said. "It's hard to believe in a God when He lets your baby brother die. I've tried to talk to my mom and her Rabbi and Papa Job about it but nothing they say makes any sense to me."

"Maybe you're trying to take the easy way out. Lots of times, people try to find other folk's Higher Power rather than looking for their own."

"Now you have me really confused," Jeremiah said. "God's the same for everybody, right?"

"I'm not talking about God," Lone Eagle said. "I'm talking about your Higher Power."

Jeremiah was looking really mixed up. He asked, sounding almost frantic, "Then what's the difference? What is my Higher Power?"

"Your Higher Power is whoever or whatever keeps you sober the next time you get thirsty like you did last night. Your Higher Power can be anyone or anything, as long as it keeps you sober. There is an old saying in AA that, if you don't believe in God, you can let your Higher Power be that trash can over there as long as that trash can enables you to stop taking the next drink."

Jeremiah smiled a little at this. Then he said, "That's a nice trash can and all but I think I'll pass."

Lone Eagle chuckled.

Lone Eagle let the boy think for a few moments then said, "Are you starting to understand what I'm saying? Whatever Sunday School-like concept you have of your Higher Power isn't working. You have to look in another direction."

"Yes, I understand that. I'm just not sure where to look."

Lone Eagle let it sink in a bit more and said, "In the Program, we talk about praying and meditating. Meditating is just clearing your mind and letting your Higher Power lead. Can you do that for a moment? Can you just clear your mind and tell me what pops into your head? Maybe that will give us guidance toward finding the Higher Power you need right now."

Jeremiah relaxed and looked at Lone Eagle for a moment. Then he sort of passively stared at the trash can. He finally chuckled, looked back at Lone Eagle and said, "I don't know about all that meditating stuff."

"What was going through your mind as you stared at our Higher Power trash can then?" Lone Eagle asked.

"This is going to sound crazy," Jeremiah said.

"Try me," Lone Eagle said. He smiled broadly.

"Country music," Jeremiah said. "All the time I was looking at that trash can I heard George Jones singing about the whiskey not working anymore."

"So your Higher Power is George Jones?" Lone Eagle asked.

"Nope, country music," Jeremiah said.

Lone Eagle sat quietly for a moment and said, "I guess that's a start."

"My mom is a big fan," Jeremiah said. "She says there's a country song for every feeling a person could have."

"I have to admit I'm a fan myself," Lone Eagle said. I have some country classic CDs sitting over there to listen to when I do my charts today. I do that a lot."

"You have George Jones?" Jeremiah asked.

Lone Eagle fumbled through the stack for moment and selected a CD. He punched a couple buttons to get the right track and then George Jones started singing, "The whiskey, it ain't workin' anymore." They both laughed.

Jeremiah said, "I guess my mom was right. There sure is a song for that feeling. One for every feeling, that's what she says."

"Let me test your theory," Lone Eagle said. "What would George's wife be singing right about now?"

"That's easy," Jeremiah said "Tammy used to sing, 'Stand By Your Man.'"

Lone Eagle adopted a mock quiz show announcer voice and said, "And five points for our challenger. Now the next question. What would be your song right at the moment."

Jeremiah smiled and said, "Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues." Both laughed at that.

"I'm making this too easy," Lone Eagle said. Then he resumed his quiz announcer voice and said, "And now it is time to stump our contestant. For the grand prize, what would be the country song for a transsexual who was depressed because he couldn't raise enough money to have an operation to change into a woman?" He smiled at Jeremiah and said, "Gotchya."

Jeremiah knitted his brows deeply in thought. Then he laughed. Lone Eagle asked, "What's so funny."

"I got the song," Jeremiah said. "My Girl Bill." Both men laughed out loud.

Lone Eagle enjoyed the moment and waited for the laughter to die. Then he saw a more serious look on Jeremiah's face. He said, "And now for a serious question, Jeremiah. If country music is going to be your Higher Power of the moment, we need to find the song that's going to keep you sober. What's going to be the song you play in your head the next time you think of your little brother, the next time you wake up at night?"

Jeremiah stopped smiling. He was obviously thinking hard. Finally he said really quietly, "'Sweet Dreams of You,' by Patsy Cline."

Lone Eagle started fumbling with his CDs again and said, "I have it here. Should I play it?" Jeremiah hesitated for moment then nodded his head yes.

Patsy's beautiful voice started filling the room. Jeremiah sat stiffly listening to the music. He became tenser and said in a loud shout, "Turn it off. I have to find another song."

"Why?" Lone Eagle asked. "What are you afraid of?"

Jeremiah sat up and assumed a very defiant attitude and expression. He said almost angrily, "Not one damned thing. I'm not afraid of anything."

"But you're afraid of the song, aren't you?" Lone Eagle said.

"Nope, play it if you want to." Jeremiah said.

Lone Eagle punched some buttons to restart the song. Jeremiah sat looking angry and stiff. Suddenly his face dissolved and tears ran down his cheeks. Lone Eagle said in a quiet, soothing voice, "You don't have to be afraid of the song or those tears."

Jeremiah slowly shook his head in agreement. His tears continued to flow. Then as the song ended, Lone Eagle said, "It must have taken a lot of love for someone to write a song like that. And to sing it. It must have taken someone who loved somebody else as much as you loved your brother."

Jeremiah shook his head in agreement.

Then Lone Eagle said, "Jeremiah, looks like you found your Loving Higher Power."

Jeremiah simply said, "Yep."

10/19/99

Thomas G. Shafer, MD, received his medical degree from the University of Virginia and did three years Post Doctoral work in Psychiatry at Penn State University. His 20 year professional career has been equally divided between Psychiatry and General/Emergency Medicine. He has worked with childhood hyperactivity syndromes as both a professional and parent. Dr. Shafer currently works for the Veteran's Health Administration.

Thanks to the Internet and modern software, Dr. Shafer revived a long dormant writing career several years ago. He has published multiple professional and popular works in such venues as The Journal of the Academy of Regression Therapy, the Jewish Magazine and, of course, SelfhelpMagazine. He is the Fiction Editor of SelfhelpMagazine and Associate Editor of the ART Journal.

His novel about his clinical work with Vietnam veterans is The Double Rainbow, published by Picasso Publications of Ontario. His address is: 213 Creekside Drive, Florence, AL 35630. (205) 760-9912

 

Back