So my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous was Mother’s Day, 1997. There was a guy there who had 3 days sober. He slept on the picnic table beside the building, or on the deck behind it. When called on in meetings, he would say 5 things: “My name is Jesse. I’m an alcoholic. I haven’t had a drink today. I have a sponsor. He says I should listen.” Big Book Frank was his sponsor. Jesse was like my sponsor.
When Jesse got 30 days sober — and picked up one o’ them purty silver chips — I was so damn proud I thought I’d bust! 30 Days! Damn!
3 days later I picked up my 30 day chip, but he wasn’t at the meeting. I asked someone where he was. “He’s out back on the porch. But don’t wake him up. He’s drunk as hell!” I thought he was joking. I didn’t know you could drink once you came into Alcoholics Anonymous. I really didn’t. It broke my heart.
He stayed drunk for the next 6 or 8 months. He just lived on the back porch, drinking. In time Pierre came back to town and stayed there, too. Then old man Pat. The 3 of them, drunk as lords every night and all day.
Every now and then someone in the group would get all riled up and want to throw them out, bar them, trespass them. Luckily, we had some Elder Statesmen in the group who would remind us: “This is Alcoholics Anonymous! Now, we don’t know how they do it up in Carrollwood or down in South Tampa, but here at Sobrenity we ALWAYS keep a couple of drunks out back, case someone wants to stay sober theyself, and needs someone to work with!”
Somewhere along the way someone bought Jesse a dog. A pitbull. I always figured it was to keep Jesse from looking so crazy. This way, when he was drunk as hell and talking to himself people would just think he was talking to the dog. These days, you could have just got him a Bluetooth earpiece.
He named the dog General. That is one good damn dog!
I saw him pick up another 30 day chip in January of ”98. Someone shouted out: “How many and how’d you do it?” and someone else yelled out: “He was in jail for 28 days!” (which was true). I had no faith that he would put together any significant time. He was in pretty bad shape.
In time I got drunk myself. I got a year sober (picked up a red chip), got off probation a week later, and went to a computer conference in Orlando for 3 or 4 days. I bought a 12 pack, and the plan was to have 3 or 4 beers every night. That would prove I’m not an alcoholic, and I could go back to my regularly scheduled life.
Cracked the first beer about 5 o’clock, and somehow that damn 12 pack disappeared in about 2 hours. Then I was down in the bar ’till 2 in the morning. Wasn’t worth a shit the next day.
The end of the month rolled around and I wasn’t even eligible to pick up a medallion. I stayed away from AA for the next 15 months, getting drunk once or twice a month. The night I came back, Jesse was chairing the meeting. He had been sober for better than a year and a half. He 12th stepped me that night after the meeting, and I haven’t had a drink since. That was in August of 1999.
I talked to him a lot about what it took for him to get sober; he was the most extreme alcoholic I’ve ever known personally. This is what he told me:
Now, you know Jim, that it was God who got me sober. No one thing anyone said got me sober, But there WAS one thing that stuck in my mind. Bud C. (known as ‘Dead Bud’, not to be confused with ‘Real Dead Bud’) once said: “Jesse, you keep coming back! Even if you’re drunk, you keep coming back! One of 2 things is going to happen: You’re either gonna get sober or you’re gonna die. And either way, we get to watch. And either way, we’re gonna learn something.” That kinda bothered me, ’cause I knew it wasn’t a game.
He told me something that night that saved my life 5 years later. He told me that when he was newly sober — and of course still homeless — that the people around him hadn’t changed. He told me that there were times they’d be drinking and smoking crack right next to him, and he didn’t pick up. Years later — when I was homeless myself (in sobriety) and living in a hobo camp — I was in the same position. I remembered what he said and knew that it was possible to not use. I can never thank him enough for that simple story and the example that he set.
Now, real alcoholics know that it’s not necessarily the bad times that get you. Some of us are so damn beat down when we get here that you can throw just about anything at us, and it’ll bounce off. Except “Good Fortune”. That can knock our dick in the dirt. I’ve seen 2 reactions to good fortune: 1) “I don’t deserve this” (driven by low self-esteem) and 2) “I deserve even more than this“ (driven by ego). Generally speaking, neither one has a very good outcome.
He wasn’t sober very long when he hit the Lotto for $20k. That’s usually enough to undo anybody in early sobriety. He made some dumb moves, but they were “smarter” dumb moves than I would have made. The first thing he did was go out and buy a Harley. He’d always wanted one and — after all — he had arrived! Didn’t take him too long to figure out he wasn’t “Then Came Bronson” or Dennis Hopper. He sold the bike and bought a little pickup truck. Nothing flashy or powerful, just sturdy and dependable.
His next questionable decision — which worked out quite well for him — was driving to Alaska. Why in the hell a boy born and raised in Florida wanted to do that I’ll never understand, but he HAD to do it. He went by himself — another dangerous decision — but he came back safe and sound and sober.
He had met his demons and destroyed them. Now he was free to go anywhere and do anything with impunity, so long as he kept in fit spiritual condition. Alcohol had consigned him to a life of panhandling in parking lots and sleeping outdoors for years. He was determined not to be a slave in his sobriety.
When he came back from Alaska he had a huge walking stick. I’m not talking about a cane or a swagger stick; I mean a motherfucking Shillelagh every bit of 5 feet tall and better than an inch in diameter. It had some real symbolism for him. He always had that stick with him. I think he might have traded it in for something smaller (in the picture). Or maybe I just remember it as bigger.
Jesse went away for a week once, and needed someone to watch General. We took him, and what a pleasure it was. That is a good damn dog! Never barked once. He listened to conversations like he understood everything that was being said and was ready to join in at any time.
He loved to chase a tennis ball! The whole family’s out front and I threw the ball just as far as I could and he’d take off like a shot! He chased it like it had the secret of life, like it had the Antidote! After about 10 or 15 minutes my arm was getting tired, and I guess he could tell; he brought the ball back to my wife. She threw it for 5 or 10 minutes, and about the time she was getting worn out he brought it to my 8 year old son. And then my 6 year old daughter. Then my 5 year old daughter. Finally he brought it to my 4 year old daughter and General was pretty winded, too. He just sat about 2 feet in front of her. She’d throw it right at him and he’d catch it and just lay it in front of her. This went on for another 5 minutes without either one of them moving their feet.
A few months later, for Halloween, my 6 year old daughter told us she wanted to dress up as a General. I’m thinking Epaulettes and shoulder boards and a sash… She finally made it clear that she wanted to dress up as the DOG General. He made a big impact. He’s a good damn dog!
At a few years sober, Jesse moved out west. He got a job at a rehab and I guess he’s been there for a dozen years. I know he’s helped thousands of people. Big Book Frank still talks to him all the time, and he comes back this way every couple of years. He’s never really left, though. He’s part of “The Legend of Sobrenity” now. He’s mentioned every month or so — never by name — they tell stories about “The Man with a Dog” or even “The Man with a Stick“. His story gives hope and inspiration to the newcomer and the chronic relapser. And this is the man they wanted to run out of Sobrenity: 2000 miles away and he’s still getting people sober in Florida!
I’m the only one with the nerve to call him by name, and even post his picture! But I do it because I’m proud to know him. I doubt that I would be writing a Sober Blog if I did not know Jesse. I would probably be drunk as a lord, living in the parking lot of Sobrenity, spinning tales of fantasy in my head.
Jesse always said: “I never look down on a drunk, unless it’s to help him up“. In time Pierre, and finally old man Pat, got sober, too. It was a beautiful thing to see. I remember the three of them every time someone talks about a “Hopeless Drunk” who “can’t get sober“. Believe me when I tell you that they CAN get sober, and you will never see anything as beautiful.
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“And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone, even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normally, and we will find that this has happened automatically. We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality; safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition.”
10th step promises
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