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Atwater:

Nobody thought “Don” would ever change.

He was stubborn, self-righteous and, all evidence to the contrary, a “happy drunk.”

His family had been wringing their hands for years, hoping he would change his ways. They knew he drank too much and hoped he would quit, but they weren’t hopeful that not drinking would solve what they considered the bigger problem: Don was a jerk.

He had embarrassed them at every turn, insulting waitresses, acting like a big shot and know-it-all and alienating in-laws, neighbors and friends. He then proceeded to describe himself as the nicest guy around and try and convince those close to him that if others didn’t act the way they did, he wouldn’t have to take such a “hard stance.” "Somebody,” he would say, “has to stand up for what they believe.”

Being sarcastic in social settings was “just my way of having fun,” he would explain, even though the recipients of the sarcasm didn’t seem to be having much fun. Passing out drunk at 8 p.m. in the chair was just “a hard-working man needing his rest and relaxation.” Loud arguments and temper tantrums complete with threats of divorce were regular events, largely taking place in blackouts. “Don” was certain his wife and daughters were conspiring against him and making up these events to “try to change me.”

Nobody was taking bets on “Don” getting sober much less changing his ways. “Don,” however, unbeknownst to family and friends, had been trying to quit drinking. He had been secretly and in his heart been feeling lonely and scared. He knew, despite the bluster, that changes were needed. He knew he loved his family and really didn’t want to act the way he did.

His efforts to quit were eventually and catastrophically unsuccessful, and “Don” was advised by his brother-in-law, who had been sober 17 years and never mentioned it to “Don,” that he might try Alcoholics Anonymous. Swallowing (and choking) on his pride, “Don” decided to give it a try. He never intended to stay, but he had just enough willingness to try and that was all it took.

Through a series of “random” events, other people’s love and tolerance and patience, “Don” started to develop a little of his own. By staying sober, he found the “jerk problem” was slowly improving. The more he was willing to try, the more willing he became. Little by little, “Don” absorbed the principles of a better life.

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