In the beginning it was me, as usual, and plenty of meetings. And lots of dots to be connected. Even though the message was in plain English, I needed time to decode the strange concepts they introduced me to. Keep It Simple? Me?
I came up short in the ‘willingness to go to any length’ department when I got sober, too. Character defects were blossoming and I couldn’t ignore the unwanted returns. I was the rotating poster child for ‘some are sicker than others’, and the longer I stayed off the booze, the more it showed.
Improvements were at a standstill. All my detours led to dead ends and I couldn’t disown the ebb and flow of quiet desperation. It wasn’t getting better yet. Regardless whether pain makes you smarter or surrender renders insight, I determined a great deal about me had to change. But how?
A simple answer was found in an old riddle– How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? The answer– Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change. I could relate to the light bulb, but would rather be the psychiatrist.
Despite my treatment center schooling, I missed some crucial information they tried to instill in me. In a nutshell, it was one word, two letters– We. I couldn’t do it by myself. This new way of life was damned uncomfortable but my old ideas were useless.
The Happy, Joyous and Free crowd reached out, but I stepped back. I wasn’t sure what they wanted from me and was afraid to ask. It was hard to fathom why it was so vital that they give me what they had, but I couldn’t see the ‘me’ they saw. They were certain I couldn’t grasp that I was in critical condition. I was a badly-wounded egomaniac who hoped to rise high above his ashes again without another round of destruction. That was unlikely to happen, so they slowly built a safety net around me for if I tried and failed.
Scratching the Surface.
Finally, an old guy and his wife persuaded me to go to the meeting after the meeting. They were friendly enough, and it was time to try something different. However, I couldn’t imagine the solution was eating pie and sucking down more coffee. Would I really uncover the desired effect there?
They claimed sticking with the winners was important, but the only thing sticky about NutJob Bob was his handshake. If his story was in print, it would be titled “Alcoholic, Junkie, Geezer”, a classic tale with some underlying spookiness. He was still scratching the surface of sanity after being clean and sober for several years.
Bob always joked, in almost any company, “I wish I had your veins”. The old-timers beseeched him to use his inside voice. He was acutely aware of cardiovascular systems and marveled at their wiring. His was shot, like an old house after night-scrappers dashed away with their haul.
After that revelation, I took his inventory and began wearing long sleeves almost exclusively. I even debated whether to wear my cargo shorts. Some are sicker than others until you got to him, and that was the end of the line. I doubted if he would object to another squeeze through the wringer.
However, he leaned on me long enough to get me to step into God’s Country, which looked like a greasy spoon and smelled like a coffee shop. It wasn’t an easy task. He was one of the implausible souls who saved my life, and helped me believe in something that was hard for me to believe in– I could recover, and wouldn’t have to do it alone.
There certainly were some quirky and colorful characters in this strange new world,and where my head was at, I fit right in.
Just Another Night.
After my intro to the meeting after the meeting, I was hooked. It felt good, like I used to feel in the old days when I floated to the checkout counter with a case of beer—well, okay, a twelve pack—but things were looking up. Sometimes I felt better than James Brown, and you remember how he felt.
Convinced that good habits are easy to break, I went to the coffeeshop every night. I often stayed three or four hours, chain smoking and drinking mass quantities of coffee and philosophizing with Nervous Irv, Bitter Bill, Rockin’ Robbie and HalftheMan Dan.
Nervous Irv was a wrinkled-up, crotchety seventy-some-year-old with a full head of chestnut brown hair by Lady Clairol, better-suited for a much younger man. He had an unstoppable love for helping the suffering alcoholic. His humor and crackpot wisdom endeared him to all of us, and his free-lance New Age philosophy was abundant and free. He was a keeper.
Bitter Bill, on the other hand, was a project. Our mission was to persuade him that bitter wasn’t better, but he just groaned and continued his growth at a snail’s pace. We smiled, knowing speed wasn’t essential and we’d ultimately get to him.
Rockin’ Robbie’s head bobbed up and down without the aid of music we could hear. He only paused when a cute waitress zipped by, filling our cups to the rim. He’d wink, “Keep coming back– mine’s always half-empty!” And she did. Then there was HalftheMan Dan, we were in treatment together.
Dan was a really big guy– none of us were half the man Dan was. When he settled in a booth with me, I was pinned to the wall. Quite the chatterbox, he had an answer for everything, so we quit saying anything that even resembled a question. But he had a knack for talking with authority about topics we had no interest in and knew zilch about, and was an artist at making our collective brains and faces fade into screensaver mode. His sermons still rambled into eternity.
He really wasn’t that bright. He said each morning and night he got down on his hands and knees to pray. I asked him, “You do push-ups while you’re praying?” He looked at me sideways and then something clicked. Now he just gets down on his knees. (I’m pretty sure he prayed for me.)
Some nights 50ShadesOf Jay would saunter in and try to sell me dance tickets to a group’s anniversary. After my purchase he reminded me, no relationships for the first year, and then wandered off to sell more. Certain it wouldn’t be much fun watching him dance with all the ladies while I sat in the ‘No Relationship Zone’, I wrote it off as a donation. Nevertheless, I’m sure he saved me from a bad relationship or two– I still wasn’t good dating or dancing material.
The Coffeeshop Gang helped me remember all the stuff I kept forgetting. We talked deep into the night about drinking and jails and God and sponsors and pigeons and lawyers, and bits and pieces of blackouts. Some was just hearsay. Steps, slogans and suggestions were rehashed, and spirituality when the jitters kicked in from large doses of caffeine. It paralleled the feeling you get when playing with a Ouija board, only in a positive way and with all the lights on.
When we captured a newcomer, it was non-stop testimonials until their eyes rolled back in their heads. That’s when our brainwashing downloaded to their hard drive and commenced to screwing up their drinking. We knew that was King Alcohol’s job, but it wasn’t so messy if we did it instead of the King.
Sandbags and the Thought Parade.
Eventually, Crazy Paul or KindaScary Mary would drop in, wanting to spread the love around. Paul was a little nutty, but did tell a fine joke. Mary was a little off her rocker, too, and they made an amusing pair. When they wiggled in next to us, the level of the conversation swirled down to the shallow end, which was still profound to them. But they were making progress too. You should see them now.
When they arrived, it didn’t take long to call it a night. I had to work in the morning.
When I got home, I couldn’t get to sleep, of course. I tossed back and forth in bed, trying to get comfortable. Just when I was about to drift off, a slight breeze would tickle a hair on my arm, a nose hair would flutter, or maybe the threat of a cramp in my foot would keep me awake. I’d recall something profound my sponsor said. Then my pillow turned into a sandbag.
A faraway train would drone its passing one step away from dreamland, and the thought parade would begin. It was never a short one. There was always the massive Resentment Float, with its wildly waving perpetrators, and the marching Fear Band with its clumsy majorettes. On a bad night, a This Too Shall Pass clown reminded me what wasn’t passing. The committee was in full force. Then I’d have to get up and use the bathroom. There were many sleepless nights in those early days.
I started to suspect the coffee.
There was a lot to learn. But hey, I was still sober. With friends like these, who needs booze?