The first Thanksgiving of my recovery, I was only one month out of treatment and living in a half-way house in East Nashville, back when that side of town was more avoided than desired. The house charged $85 per week for rent, an amount I struggled to come up with earning minimum wage flipping burgers at The Nashville Zoo. My mother and father would have given me money had I asked, and often they did. But I knew that I had burdened them financially by asking them to pay for my treatment twice in two years, so I learned how to make do with the bare minimum, realizing that things I viewed as necessities were actually luxuries. For the first time in my life, when I laid my head down on a pillow in a soft, warm bed, I felt a true sense of gratitude for what so many people on this planet dream of having. When they allowed me to make myself a cheeseburger at work, I received the food as a gift and understood for the first time why my mother always insisted we pray before we ate our dinner each night. And when I attended my recovery meetings, I understood what they meant when they said things like, “Show me a grateful alcoholic and I’ll show you a sober alcoholic.”
So on Thanksgiving of the year 2000, I woke up in the half-way house with no food, no money, and less than a quarter tank of gas in my car. My parents had invited me to drive up to Kentucky to spend the holiday with them, but with no money for gas, I thought the trip would be impossible. I remember I kept going out to my car trying determine how many gallons of fuel I likely had left, and whether or not it was enough to make it the 120 miles to my parents house. The best I could figure, I might be able to make it to the Kentucky border, but not much further. As I decided on whether or not to make the trip, I pondered how many stupid risks I’d taken in my addiction without any concern for myself or others. And I thought about this new-found faith I had been cultivating in recovery, how I was promised that if I tried to do the next right thing, a Power greater than myself would take care of me. Not that this Power was a superhero that would protect me from the world, but that I would be able to deal with reality without living in fear, and without resorting to alcohol and drugs to calm my volatile emotions.
So I made the decision that spending Thanksgiving with my parents was worth the risk of being stranded on the side of the road. The worst thing that might happen would be that I’d have to call my dad to come get me once the car finally ran out of gas, or I’d have to hitchhike the rest of the way. In true Homer Simpson fashion, I took a piece of paper and taped it to the dashboard over the fuel gauge so I wouldn’t obsess about the needle dropping lower and lower as I drove. I told my parents I was on my way and began the drive, trying to guess just where in Kentucky the car would likely stall. I don’t remember much of the drive, but I do remember that the closer I got to my parents house, the more shocked I was that I hadn’t yet run out of gas. And when I coasted into my parents driveway two hours later, the car literally running on fumes, I had the deepest sense of gratitude I had ever experienced, especially when I removed the piece of paper from the dashboard and found the needle buried deeper on ‘E’ than I thought was even possible.
To this day I have no idea how I made that trip without running out of gas. I know that it shouldn’t have been possible. Sometimes it seems ridiculous to think that a supreme being could be concerned with a First World Problem like running out of gas on the way to overeat and watch football. But I believe what the mystics say, that God is in all things, even in the minutia of day to day living, even in a son’s desire to spend Thanksgiving with his mother and father.