by Niall Doherty

Third day of Random Acts of Courage, Part Deux. As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve abandoned the mindless, attention-grabbing challenges I had on my list and resolved instead to do what feels right and meaningful. As such, this is how I spent my day…

  1. Donating blood
  2. Attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting

“You might feel a small prick”

I’d never donated blood before. Just never bothered with it, even though it sounded real easy to do and I have no issue with zee big needles.

I went on this new thing called the Internet and found that I could donate blood today at St. Finbarr’s Hospital, a convenient ten minute stroll from my house in Cork. So off I went.

I had to fill out a form when I got there. No, I haven’t had sex with anyone infected with AIDS in the past twelve months. No, my mother is not from Central or South America. No, I haven’t handled any monkeys of late. No, I haven’t had any surgery in the UK since the turn of the cen… oh, actually, wait, there was that one time. Little awkward explaining that whole dealio to the nurse who checked the form with me a few minutes later. She probably would have been less surprised to hear I’d spent my morning screwing an AIDS-infected Costa Rican spider monkey.

Once we got all that cleared up I was given the green light to donate and taken around to a big room with a bunch of hospital beds. There were twice as many nurses there as donors, except I was to later discover that they’re not actually nurses and don’t much care to be called such. Donation assistant was the preferred nomenclature… or something. When these working ladies weren’t taking turns attending to myself and my compadres, they were staring at the news on the big TV on the wall, entranced by tales of murder and rape and nuclear meltdown.

I decided to look right at the point of impact while they jabbed me, and felt fine taking it all in. Then I lay there for about ten minutes squeezing a rubber ball, until they’d drained a pint of the red stuff from my arm and sent me back out front for a fizzy drink and some biscuits.

And that was that. I’m not supposed to donate again for at least ninety days. If you’re interested in sharing some of your own funky blood, get to it via giveblood.ie.

Courage beyond a pint glass

 

The most courageous person I know is a good friend of mine who hit rock bottom with drink and drugs a few years back, but came through it all and is now six years sober. I’m pretty sure I’ve never experienced anything close to the mental anguish that he had to endure during his darkest days. I wouldn’t wish that hardship on anyone.

Alcoholics Anonymous has been a massive help to my friend, and I’ve long wanted to go to a meeting myself, for two reasons. First, I suspected I’d find more courageous people like my buddy at such meetings, and me likes finding such people. And second, I’ve had my own mini battle with alcohol over the past few years, and I figured a trip to AA might help me gain a little more perspective on that.

So off I went to an open meeting this eve, also conveniently located less than a ten minute walk from my house, in a big parish hall. I had no idea where to go when I walked in the front door. There were no signs, so I followed the sounds of people and soon found myself in the middle of a dance class with thirty-odd pensioners. Twas kind of the opposite of what I was looking for, so I backed out of there slowly. A minute later I found myself in the appropriate part of the building, being greeted by a nervous young lad not named Chris.

There were four rows of chairs put out, and I took my seat in the second, near the middle. Other folks came in and took their seats, sticking to the last two rows and the edges. I wasn’t sure whether to feel brave or silly, sitting out there in the center on my own.

Chris was one of three guys there to speak about their experience with alcohol and AA. They all had similar stories, but the most powerful for me was that told by the eldest of the three, a chap not named Mark. Mark had attended his first AA meeting 22 years and one day ago, and had been sober for almost six years now. Over the years, his alcoholism had cost him several jobs, relationships, and almost his life.

He told of the torturous two hours he once spent walking back and forth between an off license and a nearby sweet shop, trying not to give into his alcohol craving, wanting instead to spend what little money he had on sweets for his girlfriend’s kids. In the end the craving got the better of him and he bought a bottle of whiskey.

Mark also told of the time he went on holiday to Lanzarote. He started drinking while waiting for his flight to leave, and next thing he knew he was waking up in a hotel in the tropics. He found he was something of a celebrity there. Apparently he’d been the life and soul of the party the night before, making himself a bunch of new friends, but he could remember none of it.

Mark gives all credit to AA for his last six years of sobriety, by far the longest he’s gone without a drink since he was a teenager (he’s in his forties now). He sounded like a man who had been through a brutal war, and he still goes to battle every day, knowing from experience that he can never let his guard down or he’ll slip back into the darkness. That said, he considers himself truly blessed. He shared how he was much better off financially six years ago, but he was a much happier man today, finding himself in possession of a peace of mind that money could never buy.

Alcohol and me

As mentioned, I’ve had my own battle with alcohol over the years, but I’ve been lucky enough to avoid the real scary depths, the likes of which I heard at that meeting tonight. I have had many of my own, albeit tamer, Lanzarote moments, but I’ve never felt out of control for a prolonged period of time, never felt like alcohol was ruining my life.

That said, I did feel it had become an unnecessary crutch for me, one that I believed was holding me back, and so I vowed to abstain for the whole of 2011 (I explained more about that decision here). As of this writing, I’ve been sober for more than four months, the longest I’ve gone without a drink since I took my first sip almost a dozen years ago. And I can’t say I’ve missed it one bit. My main concern giving it up was that I wouldn’t be as comfortable in social situations, but that hasn’t been an issue at all. Turns out I can be the happy chatty dude in the pub without the aid of a drink or two, and I can be that guy as soon as I get there, no waiting for the liquid courage to kick in.

But this isn’t an attack on alcohol. I’m just finding that I’m better off without it, at least at this time in my life. Other folks seem to enjoy it with no ill effects. More power to them.

Seems AA isn’t interested in condemning alcohol either, which came as a surprise to me. I half-expected them to be organizing regular picket lines outside the Guinness factory and conspiring for a boycott of the Heineken Cup. I learned tonight that they prefer to focus on personal responsibility. Circle of influence and all that. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear that AA is, in their own words, “not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution.” Yes, there is God talk, but they’re pretty clear that this God character can be whoever or whatever you want him, her, or it to be, a higher power of your own understanding.

After the meeting I shook hands with all three, courageous speakers and wandered on home, glad that there’s an organization like AA in the world, and grateful that I’ve never had need for it.

P.S. I’m relaunching A Course In Courage on Monday. Click through to see what all the fuss is about. Thank you kindly, nice reader person.