Have you ever heard this saying around the rooms of AA, “Alone is a dangerous place”? I got another lesson last night in how true this is.
As someone coming up on 28 years sober, I’m usually in pretty good place. Those demons of shame, not-enoughness, loneliness, self-pity, envy, awkwardness, self-loathing, and many others that fueled my drinking and nearly killed me — they still live in my head, but their megaphone batteries are weak, and I’ve made friends with most. When they show up, I try to A) view them as familiar characters and B) invite them to tea, as Buddha invites the demon Mara in the brilliant Buddhist story. In other words, I acknowledge I’ll never be rid of them, but each is a voice from my psyche trying to help me, though their methods are flawed. The difference between befriending and believing these voices — that’s the key to emotional sobriety.
But last night, no such serenity! I tripped over all their wires, bought all their Brooklyn Bridges, and was, in effect, sucker punched.
What happened? Over Christmas, Alex, who normally makes coffee and sets up the meeting space for my AA homegroup, Salmon Bay, was visiting family on the east coast. I volunteered to cover for him, in addition to my normal “cake person” duties. Maybe 8 years ago I’d been coffee maker here, and in 28 years I’ve made a lotta coffee for a lotta groups, so I was sure I’d be fine. Alex handed me his key to the church.
Last night, I got there 45 minutes early, had little trouble unlocking, grabbed the big storage tub from the closet, and fretted a bit about how much coffee to put in. As an avid tea drinker, I had to Google the matter, but everything was “per cup” with nothing about 2.2 liter airpots, and I felt somehow too flustered to do the math. So… I dumped what looked like a good amount into the filter, placed it in the brewing basket with the airpot below, and hit BREW LEFT.
A light was flashing at the top of the machine: READY TO BREW. Under that was an ON/OFF switch. I pushed both of these and BREW LEFT for short and long periods. Maybe I should try BREW RIGHT. I moved everything over and repeated the process. Nothing. I searched the kitchen walls for instructions, checked the power, whether it was connected to water. The tea spigot water was warm, but not hot.
Meanwhile, time was ticking away: no coffee, no room set up, just an increasingly freaked out alcoholic.
I called Alex in Virginia where it was past 10:00 PM. He didn’t answer. I sent an email to the entire homegroup with the subject line, HELP! Then I put a large tea kettle on to boil, said f*ck this, and went out to set up the meeting space.
Something was wrong here, too. We normally have several big round tables off to the left and a U-shape of rectangular plastic tables in front of the secretary/chair table. But the room was filled with 7 round tables, two of them plastic. Why couldn’t I remember those plastic ones? Where did they go?
I was dragging the wood ones to the left when I smelled smoke. I ran to the kitchen where a dirty burner or drip pan was billowing clouds of smoke that filled the kitchen. I turned on the fan and propped open the church door, but it was bad. While I was in there, just for fun I spent another minute pushing all the goddam buttons on that bratty piece of shit coffee machine. Nothing.
At this point, I reached a FML peak of frustration. In my 10 years at Salmon Bay, except at the pandemic’s height, there had always been coffee, decaf, and tea at this meeting. Always. Now, for the first time ever, there’d be none. That and the round tables looked all wrong, too crowded. I hadn’t even begun to set up the U-shape.
WHY couldn’t I DO this??? WHAT the goddam hell was WRONG with me?! What a ridiculous embarrassment, to be such an incompetent idiot! What would everyone think, especially that person who always seems to not like me?
I heard the door. Phil, our outgoing secretary, came in. He’s still recovering from a near-fatal episode of a kink in his intestines, so quite fragile, but I don’t think I said hi or asked how he was feeling, never mind remembering he had 10 years sober this month. “I can’t figure out the f*cking coffee maker!” — that was my hello. “What’s with the smoke?” was his answer.
Phil went in the kitchen. He said a bunch of things, pushed a bunch of buttons, and then delivered this Earth-shattering pronouncement: “It’s broken.”
I showed Phil the round plastic tables. “They don’t belong here,” he said. “We can fold them up and put them aside.”
The smoke had mostly cleared out by the time people started to show up. Many tried the coffee machine and shrugged. Someone poured the smoke-producing but boiling kettle water into an airpot, I set out the tea things, and we alcoholics had ourselves a wonderful meeting — complete with birthday cake.
When I got called on, I told the tale above. “I was going crazy until Phil got here, and then all of a sudden, nothing was a big deal anymore. To me, this just shows how much we need each other. Alone, I can catastrophize anything. It just takes one person facing the same predicament to make it okay.”
Maybe when Alex gets back, he can show me how to slap up that bitch machine to make it work. Til then, I’m happy with the magic of AA, shared community, and friendships. I’m even grateful for those 30 tormented minutes, because they reminded me how my whole effing life used to feel before the steps showed me what was broken, what useless buttons I kept pushing in life. Those demons and I, not only did we have tea, but we were joined by every tea-sipping member of my homegroup.
Happy New Year, Alcoholics!
PS: It WAS broken!! We could tell because the following week it was A) spotless B) devoid of the filters normally on top.