Her name was Dawn H., I was seven months sober when I met her. She was not in AA. We met through the personal ads in the Wichita Eagle. I was 31, and she was 38, an older MILF with a smoking-hot stripper body. She spent an hour working out in the gym before she went off to teach at a nearby elementary school and another two hours in the evening after class.
She wanted to know what it was like to be with a nice guy. As such, she decided to slum it with me.
I treated Dawn well, as well as any seven-months-sober alcoholic could. I felt privileged to be with her. She was beautiful. I made sure she knew this every day, both in and out of the bedroom.
We had a wild train-wreck of a love affair. She told me to move in with her. I did as I was told.
Then, one day, she decided to alter her routine during her two-hour gym session. The first hour was to be spent doing cardio and lifting weights. The second hour was to be spent in a nearby hotel room, having sex with Ryan, a bodybuilder she knew at the gym.
She had dated Ryan in the past. She had told me about him. She said he was an arrogant, entitled jerk.
Nonetheless, she met Ryan in this hotel room on multiple occasions.
Then she felt guilty. She told me all about seeing Ryan on the sly. I was devastated.
Dawn insisted that she still “loved” me and wanted to “work through this.” But I was broken, wrecked.
I told her I was done with her.
The next day, she sent flowers to me at my place of work as an apology. She included a note promising me the "best sex of my life" if I would give her another chance.
I decided that I wasn’t done with her after all.
Hey, I was easily manipulated back then. As I say, I wasn’t even a year sober.
Dawn never discussed Ryan after that. But the hotel room meetings continued. I knew this because after our night of “best sex” (which wasn’t all that earth-shattering, to be quite honest), she suddenly lost interest in any kind of intimacy with me.
A week later, she told me that she needed me to move out.
She said she wanted to be with Ryan. Only Ryan.
I felt myself double over in a toe-curling gut-kick. I pleaded with Dawn. I begged on my knees. I wept. I said, “You told me Ryan was a jerk. How can want to be with him?”
That was when Dawn uttered the words that changed my life forever:
“He is strong. I need a strong man. Not a weak man like you.”
After Dawn spoke those words, I felt every last c.c. of strength being sucked from my marrow. I began to believe that I actually was weak. I believed sobriety had taken away all of my strength. In fact, I believed God had taken away my strength. I resented my Higher Power. I hated him/her/it. I hated being sober.
Heather was living in the woman’s shelter in my town because she was hiding from an abusive husband. She came to AA meetings to get sober. She and I became friends. We never considered being anything more than friends, but I liked her, and she liked me, and we liked talking to each other.
She told me about her husband. She told me how he liked to hit her, how sometimes the smallest things set him off. He liked to belittle her about her weight. He often told her she was pathetic and would never amount to anything. Sometimes, he would get so frustrated with her that his hand would sort of flinch and then she would feel it hard upon her face, knocking her back against a counter or a wall.
One night at an AA meeting, there was this newcomer in the room, a creepy guy sitting in the corner. I was sitting at the table near the door.
Just then, Heather walked into the room. I looked up at her and smiled, but she was not looking at me. Her face went pale. She stumbled into an adjoining room. Two of her female friends went to see what was wrong. Seconds later, one of those girls came back into the meeting room, crouched next to me, and whispered in my ear that I was needed.
I went into the adjoining room. Heather was in there, sitting on one of the group's secondhand sofas, weeping. “My husband,” she said. “He's in the meeting. He's the guy sitting in the corner.” She cried. I held her while she cried. We talked. We figured things out.
Clearly, the son of a bitch knew AA was the only place he could get to Heather. After all, the shelter was off-limits. Few people knew of its location anyway. Those that did know were mostly women. As such, Heather’s husband had no way to find her there.
But AA … well, that was a place open to the public. A place where Heather went every day. A place outside the shelter where she felt safe.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked Heather. “Say the word. I’ll take you out of here and we'll find someone who can get you back to the shelter.”
Heather wiped her face, shook her head and said, “No, I’m not letting the bastard win.”
And then something amazing happened. She took my hand. She looked in my eyes. And then she said:
“As long as you’re sitting beside me, I know that I’ll be safe.”
I almost start weeping myself whenever I tell this story. Prior to that moment, I had spent weeks feeling powerless, just because Dawn, a wannabe stripper going through a midlife crisis, had told me that I was weak.
But Heather, a real woman going through a real crisis and needing a real man to protect her, told me that I was strong.
In fact, I was strong. I am strong. Heather saw that strength. She saw that my strength was enough to make her feel safe from the worst monster in her life.
That was when I realized something.
One of the steps in AA has to do with admitting that we are powerless. When I first crawled into those rooms, I assumed that this meant I was to become weak. The fact that Dawn had called me weak only reinforced this assumption
But on that day, when an abused housewife named Heather asked me to protect her, I realized that powerlessness has nothing to do with weakness. By admitting to God that I am powerless, it does not mean that God is going to take away my power. Rather, God is going to teach me about my power.
I shared an ancient story about strength in a previous blog entry. I’d like to share it again now:
After I embraced the idea of powerless, I realized that I am Kung Yi-tsu. I may be powerless over people, places, and situations, but that does not mean I am without strength.
In fact, I have quite a bit of strength. The only difference is ... now I know how to use it.