Tag Archives: AA fellowship

Hurting Out Loud

Nine months ago I published “Prescribed Relapse,” a post on how doctors sabotage our sobriety and threaten our lives as alcoholic addicts by prescribing us vast supplies of opiates.  Telling us to “take them as directed” is about as good as recommending we “stop at the second drink” – as if we had any power to drink or drug “like a gentleman.”  We don’t!  If it cops us a buzz, we default to MORE.

In that post I quoted friend’s Facebook message.  This was Rob, whose doctor turned him on to opioids years ago, hatching a fresh addiction that promptly took over his life:

Yah know, if I’d of known what I would become after a few Vicodin, I’d a shoved them up my doctor’s ass!!  I was never into opiates as a kid. But eight years into sobriety I hurt myself really really bad, and I guess I needed them. But in hindsight, if I had a choice between acute pain and becoming a heroin addict, I would have probably chose the pain. But whatever.  It’s done.  It’s over, right?” 

Last week Rob was coming up on a year clean when he died from accidental overdose.  My friend is gone.  He was 44.  I miss him terribly.  About 20 of us gathered at his sponsor’s house the other day, wrote him a shoe box full of notes, and circled the bonfire where we burned them to share our memories and weep.  I have dialed his voicemail just to hear his voice and bawled my guts out, remembering how I could call any time, how he’d offer me that sweet mix of empathy and “whaddaya gonna do?” acceptance of life’s pains.  He was one I leaned on to help me through my horrific break up, because he’d suffered one, too.

Rob

The more recent break up that triggered this fatal relapse was much less of a big deal.  He missed, not so much his ex-girlfriend as her son – a little boy he’d played dad to for about a year.  Building cushion forts, taking the Big Wheel out for a spin, tickling on the grass – we all saw the happy Facebook photos.

I wish to god he’d told me.  When we talked about missing the boy, he said a lot of “whatever” and “I’m fine.”  Maybe he really thought he was.  Or maybe he was just loath to admit that all his old wounds were re-opened, his heart re-cracked, his loneliness bleeding, a despair darkening his skies, that he’d never have a little family of his own.  Instead, he asked me for help setting up a Tinder dating profile.  That conversation was goofy – lots of “shit -wait a sec, k?” – because we were both on our phones working on phone apps.  It was the last we’d ever have.

Telling others we hurt, and how bad we hurt, is one of the hardest things to do.  We’re afraid of looking weak, looking naive or over-dramatic, or maybe even deserving of the blows dealt us.  For me, with decades of sobriety in AA, the biggest obstacle is pride: I should be more spiritual.  I should see through the dust of my collapsed dreams to recognize my part, take responsibility for my delusions, own my self-centered blindness, and, most of all, have faith that all is as it should be.

But when shit hits the fan, when the bottom falls out of your sky-castle and you’re plummeting, all you feel is WAH!  NO!  I DON’T WANT THIS!  I’m sad!  I’m mad!  I’m hurting!  You want to bawl like a toddler, throw a kicking, floor-pounding fit at god and fucking life and those fuckers who hurt you.  It’s not exactly the most flattering spiritual pose.

But it’s truth.  We have a disease that wants to kill us, and it’s favorite subterfuge is pride.  The most powerful trust we can have is to go to a meeting with our spiritual pants around our ankles for all to see – trusting that we’ll be caught by love.  When I learned my boyfriend had been screwing a girl from work for two and a half years, I went to my homegroup and cried to fifty people: “My boyfriend has been screwing a girl from work for two and a half years!”  How many of them thought, Tch!  How self-deluding that woman must be!   My disease tells me half the room, but god tells me, in the moment of my deepest vulnerability, no one.  Not even that guy in the corner pissed about his DUI.  Every person in that room beamed me human compassion.

My message to you is that, though your fan Shitfanmay whirl so shit-free at the moment that dramatic squalor seems far from hitting you, pain will find you.  And when it does, you’ll need trust in god just to feel it.  Trust in god to forgive yourself for fucking up.  Trust in god to own pain as part of your journey.  But most of all, you’ll need trust in god to reach out and ask for help.  Not just once.  Not just stopping when you think it might be getting old for others.  As alcoholics, what we cover up festers, becomes an emotional abscess fed by our disease, swelling with resentment and self-pity until eventually it bursts as the emotional nihilism of fuck it.  Fuck sobriety.  Fuck trying for a good life.  I tried, and look what it got me: misery.

Sure, it’s self-centered to keep bending people’s ears about your troubles if you’re not also doing the work to heal yourself.  Sure, there are assholes who’ll hear you wrongly, who will twist what you’ve shared against you.  But the deeper truth is this: trust is a form of love, and love is what heals us.

If Rob had loved himself enough, maybe he’d have given himself permission to feel  a degree of pain that, rationally, made no sense to him.  And maybe he’d have tapped into the trust to call somebody, maybe me, maybe another of those loving friends gathered in tears around our pyre of goodbye notes,  and say, “I can’t do this.  I can’t do life.  It hurts too much.”

Maybe he could have given us, instead of heroin, a chance to love him.

 

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Filed under AA, Addiction, Alcoholism, Pain Medication, Recovery, Sobriety, Spirituality

Six Reasons I “still go to those meetings”

Sometimes if I share that I’m 21 years sober, people unfamiliar with AA will ask: “You don’t still go to those meetings, do you?”

The answer is, hell yes!  Yes, yes, YES!!!  And I hope I always get to!

The fact is, I’m talking about something completely different than they are.  They’re thinking of whatever bullshit AA they’ve seen on TV and in movies.  Yuck!  The actors always use this solemn, self-deprecating tone of confession, or else they blurt out horrific embarrassments that cue mindless laughter.  I’m always angered when I see these depictions.  They have nothing to do with the AA I adore.

Here’s a photo of my most recent AA meeting (that preserves anonymity):

Tiger AA

We’re all former loners and shy people who’ve hiked to the top of 3,000′ Tiger Mountain for a meeting that happens there every Sunday morning in all kinds of weather.  Coffee’s in the middle – people bring big thermoses – and treats of every description, from lemon bars to fresh baked calzones, circulate in plastic containers.  Why hold an AA meeting up in the mountains?  Because it’s fun!  Because friendship, exercise, nature, and recovery are all great things!

Last week before my old homegroup, a friend and I met downtown for coffee, which was tremendous fun.  The two of us differ drastically (he’s half my age, Korean-born, and hip), but because of our shared disease and the way of life that cures it, “there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful” (17).

When this friend, back from relapse with about a year sober, chaired the meeting of 150-200 recovering drunks, he called on a young woman who raised an interesting question.  She said, “I don’t understand why, even though I have 11 years sober and I’m a yoga instructor with my own spiritual practice and I read spiritual books and meditate and pray, I still get crazy if I go too long without a meeting.  Why is that?”

Answer: Because she’s still an alcoholic.

Six Reasons I’ll Always Go to Meetings

  1. Treating fear and ego: Alcoholism is a dis-ease of maladjustment to life, a suffering in selfhood and social interaction that we tried to alleviate with a dopamine-boosting neurotoxin – until that strategy began to kill us.  But even after we’ve stopped drinking and worked the steps, whenever that maladjustment crops up – whether as anxiety, resentment, or self-loathing – ego volunteers (“pick me! pick me!”) to fix it.  Ego puffs us up as “special,” turning us away from god and love, which brings on all the old feelings.  In meetings, as we connect via others’ shares, we remember the common humanity our stepwork revealed.  Hearing others lay out their inner experience, a privilege we find nowhere else in our culture, reopens our hearts.
  2. Reminders of what it’s like out there: Only in meetings do I witness this story in a way I can’t doubt: “I was doing well so I tapered my meetings.  I decided I had my act more together now so I could drink normally, and I did great for a couple weeks: I’d have a drink or two and stop.  But then it took off, worse than ever, and I had no brakes…”  The person isn’t just saying this.  You can see it.  You can hear it.  My friend Carl came back a near skeleton.  Others end up in the psyche ward.  And some just plain old wanna die.
  3. Chances to help others, to be of use:  Meetings give an opportunity for service work, whether by making the coffee or reaching out to someone who’s new or hurting.  It’s a spiritual axiom that when I give, I get.
  4. Learning from others: At almost every meeting, myrolodex internal Rolodex of AA wisdom gets updated with cool stuff – like this Rolodex metaphor!  Last spring I learned of Drop the Rock, a great book on Steps 6 and 7.  A month ago I heard the excellent term “awfulizer” for that part of my mind that jumps to worst case scenario.
  5. Laughter: Succinctly stated truths of experience we’d thought to be ours alone are what drive all great stand-up comedy.  My fellows are fuckin’ hilarious.  And laughter heals.
  6. Love, love, love:  At that big meeting, another friend responded to the young woman’s question about why we need meetings:  “It’s the love. This room is full of it.  We know each other, we love each other.  We’re family. We’re like a good mafia.”  He pointed out people here and there, naming memories that connected them.  To my friend, the chair, he said, “We saw you when you were out there, man, and it hurt my heart.  You were ridin’ your bike, you had this big ole abscess on your arm and your eyes were dim and you’re all like, ‘It’s cool!’  But we knew it wasn’t.  I’m so glad you made it back, man!”

Threads connected me, too, to so many in that room.  Over there was the young woman with multiple sclerosis I called from a parking lot in a panic at my cancer diagnosis, who comforted me and has miraculously cured her own symptoms.  Here was that wise-ass guy I thought would never make it, whom I just saw at Starbucks reading the Big Book to a teenage junkie – also present.  That suicidal girl I sat down with on those steps twelve years ago, who now has a beautiful marriage and toddler and sometimes cuts my hair – I sent her a smile.

rainbow_heart

As for the “good mafia” part – it’s true we take care of each other.  I’ve edited cover letters, resumes, and financial aid requests that helped people move ahead in life.  Alcoholics have built my deck, given me (amazing) facials, fixed my car, rewired my home, split my firewood, built my website, changed my locks, fixed my sink, and more – much of it for free.  And what’s more, all borrowed when I stood atop the 14,380′ summit of Mount Rainier the first time were my ice axe, crampons, helmet, harness, gaters, shell pants, and goggles – from alcoholic climbers.  Who else does that?

We’re not drunk.

We’re not dead or wishing we were, as we did for years.

Because the truth is, alcoholism made only one mistake: it’s the same for all of us (Rolodex item #557).  By meeting and sharing our stories, we call out this disease on its cunning, insidious lies and take steps toward a higher power that kicks its hoary ass.

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Filed under AA, Addiction, Alcoholism, Meetings, Recovery, Sobriety