Nobody Knows A Damn Thing.

A funny story to help remember this truth.

holly, a math nerd.
6 min readFeb 18, 2020

I think of this story almost every day. It helps me remember that I don’t know a single, solitary, effing thing, and neither does anyone else.

This story was told to me by someone whose honesty I have complete trust in, but it was also told to me second-hand at some distance, so it’s possible and perhaps likely that accuracy in details have gotten lost.

A middle-aged man — let’s call him John — was a faithful member of Alcoholics Anonymous. John had been fortunate to get sober when he was young, so despite his relative youth, he had been sober for a long time. Long enough that he had worked his way up fairly high in the AA service structure. John was the vice-representative of a large area — large enough that the person for whom he was the vice-rep had some level of responsibility for over 100 AA groups.

He was also on the AA office call list. In a pre-internet era, when people reached out to AA, they usually just wanted to know when and where to find local meetings, but sometimes they called because they wanted to stop drinking. The AA office kept a list of members who had volunteered to go talk to these people. This was known as a “12th step call,” in accordance with the 12th step, “to carry the message.”

One night, as midnight approached, John was just about to go to bed. At 8:00 the next morning, he had the presentation of his career. It would determine whether or not he got promoted. It would determine whether decades of work paid off in the way he most hoped.

The phone rang.

It was the AA volunteer answering central office phones that night. Someone had called in tears, saying he desperately wanted to stop drinking but didn’t know how. Here was the address. He was waiting.

John wrote the address down and sank onto the bed. He desperately needed sleep. And yet, where would he be if AA members had put themselves ahead of him when he needed them most? Would he even have a career to worry about?

AA protocol indicated that John should not go alone, and John sponsored six or seven younger men. He should call one and pick him up on the way. In the interest of time, desperately hoping to salvage some sleep, he broke this rule and went alone.

The address was in a very bad neighborhood — bad enough that John’s anxiety over lost sleep and his soon-coming presentation was soon eclipsed by anxiety over getting home alive and unrobbed. He looked and looked, eventually parking his car and walking up and down a dark street. There, he found it: an above-garage apartment with the number written in handwriting on a cardboard sign. He sighed.

“Couldn’t they have mentioned this, for heaven’s sake?”

Something about the lack of consideration in not mentioning how hard the address would be to find angered John. He returned to his car and fetched a copy of the AA Big Book and the pamphlet with the meeting schedule. He was exhausted and, now, irritated.

He climbed the stairs to the above-garage apartment noisily. He knocked.

No answer.

He knocked louder.

Still, no answer.

In fury, he used his fist and beat on the door.

The door opened from the force of his blows, but there was no call of “Come in!”

Slowly, John stepped inside.

There he found a filthy mess — beer cans and trash everywhere, and two parallel couches, with a drunken man passed out on each one.

Passed. Out.

All that he had gone through, the fact that he’d be lucky to get even two or three hours of sleep at this point before the most important presentation of his life, and they were passed out.

In a rage, he started shouting. These drunks had called for the AA message and they were by god going to get it. He ranted and raved, yelling about the filthy, sub-human condition they were living in, the disease of alcoholism and how they were going to die like animals if they didn’t drag their sorry, inconsiderate, worthless asses to AA and get sober!

Then he threw the book and meeting schedule onto the coffee table, where it displaced several beer cans.

John left, stumbled through his presentation the next morning, and never thought about those men again.

Three years later, John had moved up from vice-rep to rep. Now he had direct responsibility for over 100 groups. Each Tuesday and Saturday night, he took one of the men he sponsored to visit a different group. In this way, he would visit each group in his area at least once.

He and his sponsoree showed up at a new group for a Saturday night speaker meeting. Speaker meetings, in contrast to discussion meetings, featured one person telling their whole story from start to finish, and often happened on celebrations of sobriety “birthdays.”

A young woman was the speaker that night. She told of her childhood and college years, her descent into alcoholism, and some of the trouble she got herself into. Then she told of her last drink.

“I was very depressed, drinking alone in a totally dive bar. I did something I’m not proud of — went home with the first guy who asked me to and seemed likely to make me feel important for awhile. So we got back to his place and, well….”

She looked to the side and laughed.

“People bring their kids to Birthday Night, so I’ll put it this way. He had a roommate, and he thought his roommate would be invited to, ah, participate. I had sunk low, but not that low. But they were both pretty drunk and I was afraid that firmly saying NO would cause….would cause one or the other of them to use force.”

The crowd quieted, afraid of where this was going. Just how much had sobriety cost this young lady?

“I locked myself in the bathroom and started praying. I told God that if he got me out of this without….without anything too terrible happening to me, I’d clean up my life. I didn’t know how. I told God I’d need help for that part. But I was willing. I was truly willing.”

She took a couple of deep breaths.

“They knocked on the door and called for me to come out several times, but I kept stalling them. They were both so drunk that I thought if I could just hang in there long enough, they’d pass out and I could escape. Finally, I thought they had.”

She took another long, slow breath. The room was perfectly silent, each person following her attempt to keep her composure, hanging on for the next word.

“It had been totally quiet for about ten minutes, so I thought they were passed out and I started to head out of the bathroom. Got a few steps out of the door when I heard this pounding. I panicked, wondering if they had a THIRD roommate? Was I still in danger? I dove under a table with my teeth chattering and begged God to protect me, to help me, to show me the way.”

The crowd seemed to be barely breathing.

“The next thing I knew, this absolute maniac burst through the door. He was like a demon straight from hell, all fury and righteousness indignation. He started screaming about alcoholism, living like an animal, how this disease would kill us all if we didn’t drag our, um, backsides to AA and get sober. He ranted and screamed and I bit my tongue until it bled trying not to make a sound. I was afraid he’d throw me in a trunk and take me somewhere to sober me up, like it or not! Just when I thought I couldn’t be any more afraid, he threw a book onto the table and left.”

The crowd stirred. What in the world?

“I crawled out from under the table and looked at the book.”

She picked a book up from the podium.

“He had left a copy of the AA big book and inside was a meeting schedule. I’ve never been sure if he was a real person or an angel or the demon he looked like, but I went to my first meeting a few hours later and I haven’t had a drink since.”

John broke the stunned silence in the room, laughing until he cried.

And that, dear friends, is the story I like the most about how none of us knows a damn thing.

In that spirit, go about your day with happiness and do the right thing as best you can. The unintended and unknown consequences are not up to us.

They never were.

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