Some AA members like to say that if you can't remember your last drunk, you haven't had it!
True or not, the saying has meaning to me. It reminds me of a night's drinking that I can't remember--yet it is printed indelibly in my memory.
It was early in 1950, and very close to the time when I finally landed in a state hospital for a seven-week stay and started what has proved to be continuous sobriety.
I was terribly hung over on the morning I arrived at the front door of the Fifth Street Tavern in my hometown in northeast Nebraska. But I had taken only a few steps into the room when Eddie, the bartender, rushed from behind the bar and blocked me.
He was furious, and for a moment I almost thought that this stocky, well-muscled man was going to hit me. As he vented his rage, I learned that I'd been in there the night before, causing a terrible disturbance. What made it worse was that the bar had been filled that evening with a number of prominent people and a party that included the U.S. Congressman representing our district. Eddie told me angrily never to return.
I left the bar and slunk off down the street, shamed and humiliated. I must have also heard about the incident from my mother and stepfather, who were Eddie's family friends. And I'm sure I brooded about the incident for days before embarking on the final drinking episodes that landed me in the state hospital, which was on a hill overlooking our town.
Now here's the kicker: to this day, I have no memory of being in the Fifth Street Tavern that night or of anything I did or said. Like many other things in my drinking years, it dropped down the memory hole and has stayed there ever since.
But if I can't remember that shameful night, I have never forgotten that it occurred. And several things have served as useful triggers.
One memory trigger is the Fifth Street bar itself. It is still there on the same corner in my hometown and still has the same name. And following Eddie's angry orders, I haven't set foot in it for more than forty-eight years. I moved to Michigan that September, but I returned home many times to visit my mother. And I couldn't drive past that bar without remembering the night I couldn't remember!
Another memory trigger is a sign on Interstate Highway 80 in western Iowa indicating that Minden, Iowa, is only a few miles south. Why Minden, Iowa? Well, Eddie moved there a short time after kicking me out of his bar and then died a few years later of a sudden heart attack. My stepfather even went there to help bring his body home. Seeing the Minden sign reminds me again of Eddie and also gives me a slight feeling of regret that I never saw him in sobriety to sort of square things up.
And two other memory triggers involve the name of the congressman who was in the bar that night. His grave, marked by an imposing monument, is in the cemetery where our family plot is located. When I pass the monument, I think of that night of shame. The local airport is also named for him, and flying into the airport or driving past it also serve as reminders.
My wife is sometimes amused when these triggers bring back a memory of something most people would like to forget. I'm seventy-three now, and there are a lot of things that don't come quickly to mind. Perhaps I should also be glad that this particular night of shame has always been hidden from view. But I do think it's very important to remember that it happened--and that AA has kept me from repeat episodes along the same line.
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