I'd been here before, but they'd lost my file, and I had to redo a bunch of paperwork. "Okay," I said, "sorry I didn't have my little id number thing with me."
My appointment had been for 5:30pm.
I got to see someone at 6:30, and then was asked to wait for the blood work stuff to be done. Another full hour later I was still sitting there.
I had pulled out my new Kindle, which, if you are unfamiliar, is like an electronic book, and I had been reading on it for a while. One of the other people waiting asked me about it. I showed it to him, and we chatted. In the back of my mind I thought he looked nervous -- it was the kind of waiting room in which people might have good reason to be nervous -- so I cracked wise a little while I was showing it to him -- actually got a good laugh out of him. To do that, to even think of doing that, is purely a function of my time in Alcoholics Anonymous. I was raised to be a nice person of course, good manners, all my please-and-thank-you's in place; but to consider a stranger's feelings in that way? I am the man A.A. made me, and that's part of the deal. I like that about AA, and I like that about me. Perhaps I gave him a moment's respite from whatever he was worried about, sitting, waiting, sitting, waiting, as we all were. I hope so. Thinking of doing that for him spared me from thinking in circles about me, and that, of course, is the point.
A sudden flurry of activity among the staff -- the computers were down! While I wouldn't say panic ensued, everyone's afternoon got a lot more stressful.
I sat, pretended to read, said the 3rd Step prayer over and over in my mind for a bit.
Some of the people who worked there had little to do till the computer issue was resolved -- they had noticed my Kindle as well (no, this is not a product endorsement) and came over to see it, so I chatted them up, and drew the Worried Guy back into the conversation -- 6000+ meetings under my belt, I can smell when someone is falling down the hole inside, things getting darker and darker as the light recedes. In my experience, get 'em talking -- it was as natural as could be to loop him into Kindle Talk 2. One of the workers who'd come over was the young girl who had handled some of my paperwork. She'd been so earnest, took her job so seriously; I complimented her on it. She seemed pleased and surprised that someone would notice, or say something. At least, that's how it looked to me.
The appointments progressed, the office limping along on a strictly paper system.
Now picture one of those clever editing tricks with time lapse photography -- the room slowly emptied, until it was only three of us left. One rough looking kid at the far end of the waiting area, who appeared, to my eye, like he was furiously debating with himself whether he should stay or go, and a fellow who'd been sitting across from me almost the whole time, working through the stacks of magazines with rapid turns of the page, looking at the pictures in the ads, not reading anything.
I was tired of reading myself -- a rare enough occurrence -- and just sat, staring into space.
"You're so patient." Magazine Guy said.
Startled, I focused on him. "I am?"
"Yes. I've been watching you -- I know you, right? You go to..." he named an AA meeting I go to fairly often, though it's not one on my never-miss list.
"Oh, yeah." I didn't recognize him at all. If you'd asked me who, in the waiting room, might also go to meetings I'd have picked either Rough Kid at the far end of the room or my Paperwork Girl.
"You're waiting so patiently."
I shrugged. What do you say across an empty waiting room to that? My shrug was all the comment I had, really: How does it help anything if I melt down? The computers aren't working, the staff is doing their best, I would prefer things to move more quickly but ... I said all that in my shrug.
"You're waiting patiently too." I said to Magazine Guy.
"No, inside I'm... seething. Seething!"
"Good word." I smiled.
"Yeah, I don't go to that meeting anymore really."
Ah, I thought, here it comes.
"I got a job and now, you know, my schedule ... I don't go as often as I should."
I nodded and smiled. "I understand." I said. "It can be hard."
Twenty-something years ago he'd have gotten my cheerleader: "But AA's great!"
Fifteen or so years ago he'd have gotten my cop: "You're asking for trouble, kid!"
Ten years ago he'd have gotten my snobby guru: "Many people drift, but that is no surprise, alcoholics are inherently selfish people."
Five years ago he'd have gotten my counselor: "What's behind that, do you think?"
Today he gets ... what, my grandpa? <sigh> Today (if I don't sponsor you) you get: "That's nice, dear."
(Now I trust God to orchestrate who encounters whom in the grand 12th Step dance. If you need a cheerleader, or a cop, or whatever, you'll probably trip over one. Then, doing something with what they offer is up to you.)
"You go a lot." Magazine guy said. Neutral, no accusation, no condescension. Once I might have searched his tone for either, whether it was there or not.
"Yes." I said. Another shrug. "It keeps me even." (You know my next line, don't you. Sometimes they're so obvious I have to laugh at the Universe's heavy, heavy hand. But I'm not supposed to judge the lines, I'm just supposed to say 'em when they come up.) "It keeps me from" I smiled, to take any sting out of it "seething inside."
He nodded. They called his name. He went in. The receptionist looked at me. I looked back at her, evenly. She smiled and said, "You have a nice way about you."
Not every story has a miracle, but this one does. You know what I said?
I didn't deny it, or joke it away, or minimize it, or any of a hundred other deflections I would have used along the way, when I was the cheerleader or the cop or (God forgive me) the guru. Just, "Thank you."
That's a miracle.
Think of this as an epilogue.
There is no miracle in this part. Just a mirror.
When I walked out the door I reflected on how I move through the world today, and felt that same sense of gratitude and harmony I always do when I realize, "Huh, who is that guy? Oh, wow, yeah, it's me."
After I left I thought I deserved a treat for ... oh, it doesn't matter, I always think I deserve a treat. My treat button has been deftly re-wired by some Divine Electrician, though, and what would have once been some kind of unhealthy, self-destructive sugar binge (being "bad" as "reward") is very different today -- a true state of Grace -- and I enjoyed a beautiful night's walk to the grocery store to get what a whole lotta people would not have labeled as "treat" but fit me just fine.
And there, in line to buy my treat, I saw myself in the mirror:
She was imperious.
She was greatly displeased to have her desires unmet.
She was about sixteen months old.
The checker in her line had, with the mother's assent, taken the product the child was holding, sitting in the kiddie seat part of the shopping cart, to scan. The bar code wasn't scanning easily -- perhaps nibbled upon by sixteen month old nibbling apparatus, who's to say -- but the scan snafu was making the ring-up process take a few extra minutes for this item.
"Bah!" Said the child, gesturing with the kind of regal bearing that is the provenance of toddlers and Roman Emperors. (Clearly "bah" was sixteen month old for: "I command you to give me that thing which I want.")
Swipe scan swipe scan. The register made the sad beep, not the happy chirp. Swipe scan swipe. Beep beep beep.
"BAH!" Now the face began to color. Two red spots appeared, and the eyes narrowed. Thunderclouds gathered.
"BAH!!!" And the tantrum began. I'll give her credit, there was tremendous focus. She was not screaming wildly, she knew what she wanted and was utterly convinced, in that primal way, if she made a forceful enough demand, her will would make it so, and she could have what she wanted.
All I could think the whole time was how, far into adulthood, she was me. I was an example of profound arrested development. Alcoholism (as has been observed by many far sharper than I) had frozen my maturation --my operating strategy, my coping mechanisms, my ability to face reality, my sense of scale ... were all working at about that little girl's level. She was absolutely a mirror for who I was. Under "the lash of alcoholism" (as the Big Book puts it) I aged chronologically, but I failed to mature emotionally -- I hid it behind a flurry of words and a veritable kabuki theater of passive/aggressive behavior, but I was, functionally, exactly like that little child in Gimme Mode.
Yet, as I saw so clearly not minutes ago, in the waiting room, that's not who I am today.
And that's not a function of time. Nor is it a function solely of time without alcohol or drugs -- dry time doesn't create that kind of change. That's a function of working the 12 Steps to create a spiritual transformation, or, as the Big Book puts it, "a vital spiritual experience." I like who and how I am today. I appreciate and enjoy who and how I am today. That is a direct result of Alcoholics Anonymous -- I make that statement solely as an acknowledgment to myself, not to convince anyone else.
(And if you're a regular Mr. SponsorPants reader you know my next line here, too).
And it's available to anyone who wants it -- anyone at all who comes to Alcoholics Anonymous -- if they're willing to do the work.