Dad’s honesty inspired another
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference." This well-known Serenity Prayer is shared at every Alcoholics Anonymous meeting around the world.
I first heard this prayer at age of 6 when Dad took my family and me to an "open" AA meeting way back on June 29, 1951. I remember well hearing several testimonies by attendees about their struggle with addiction to alcohol or drugs and how they desired help.
At the end of each meeting, attendees are asked if any would like to take a white chip, signifying they wanted to stop drinking and would try to stay "dry" for the next 30 days. Not unusual were some already in the AA program who stood up and admitted "falling off the wagon," meaning they had caved in to their addiction and desired to take another white chip, recommitting to go without a drink for the next 30 days. If successful at staying dry for one month, they would receive a red chip, and then a blue chip if they stayed dry for two successive months. There are other chips representing longer dry periods as well.
In 2001, Dad received a gold chip signifying 50 years of sobriety. In his humble acceptance speech, he shared how he never takes his sobriety for granted and that he takes it one day at a time. He refused to accept this chip at a meeting that was but one day shy of 50 years.
This year Dad was to receive a 56th-year chip. His anniversary date fell two days after the weekly meeting, and he refused to take the chip until the following week. My nephew Tom, also an AA member thanks in part to Dad's encouragement and mentoring, was to give the "Chip Talk" -- a tribute to Dad for his many years of sobriety and how he's inspired so many, especially those new to the program.
As Dad came forward to receive his chip, he said that he could NOT accept his 56th chip because he had "fallen off the wagon." He shared that recently he nearly overdosed taking a series of medications prescribed for ailments including depression caused in part by my Mom's Alzheimer's, which required her to be committed to a nursing home and separated from Dad after 65 years of marriage.
After many tears Dad asked for and received a white chip, signifying he was starting over and the string of 56 years of staying "dry" were gone forever. Many tried to convince him this was a unique situation and shouldn't affect his "alcohol abstinence" record. However, Dad refused to change his decision.
After Dad told me this story during our weekly phone call, he said there was something else about that special night. After Dad admitted his "fall," another man stood up and shared that because of the honesty and integrity he had just witnessed, he too needed to be honest. He admitted he had been drinking for some time but had been lying and hiding it from others. He then asked for and received a white chip.
One of Dad's favorite scriptures is Romans Chapter 8, Verse 28: "And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose." Looking back over these 56 years, I know Dad has been called for many special purposes, and the night of July 11, 2007, was no exception.
John Toillion is a civilian employee of the U.S. Department of Defense at Schofield Barracks and a member of Mililani Presbyterian Church.