Just walked in the door, got the cats fed and sat down to write this.
Spoke at a meeting a zip code or two over from where I live. While I suppose it's a nice way to wrap up a three-day weekend -- which already had more than my usual dose of all things 12 Step -- I've been speaking a lot lately and feel a little burned out.
(Miss Bobbie B., a powerful presence in my first few years of sobriety, and a gal who spoke all over the country for a while, used to talk about feeling a little empty after speaking so much, but that it wasn't for her to judge the requests -- "baby, that's just my ego talking" -- she said it was for her to say yes when asked and turn the rest of it over. I still follow her counsel to this day, lo these many years since her passing.)
But although I said yes, as per Miss Bobbie's suggested commitment to AA, I can't say I was especially eager. An evening in was what I would have preferred.
The meeting was nice, held in what appeared to be a cozy private library in one wing of a sprawling, Mission Style church, complete with a tiled courtyard, several fountains, saintly statuary and plantings which seemed both random and cultivated. The format was a Big Book study. Read for five minutes from wherever they are in the book, then the speaker shares for 15 minutes. The church was really quite beautiful, the landscaping in bloom, and the fountains serenely gurgling away around the courtyard. Big french doors with thick, beveled glass framed the scene as I looked out from my chair at the front of the room. It was so picturesque I could easily imagine Mother Teresa or Jane Austen -- or, given the Mission flavor to the architecture, maybe Zorro -- strolling past the fountain beyond.
Before the meeting started I went to the restroom to both use it, splash a little water on my face and say a prayer before I spoke, as was my habit. Ablutions and supplications accomplished I exited the bathroom. A woman was waiting to use it next -- it was a one-at-a-time either-gender sort of bathroom.
"Is it safe to go in?" she asked.
"As safe as it will ever be, I suppose." I answered.
"Did you poop?"
I blinked hard for a moment, but that was my only Tell. "Nope."
"Are you the speaker?"
"Yep." I was getting a sense that this gal, who was somewhat older -- which means she was roughly my age, I suppose -- very colorfully dressed in prints that, if you squinted, sort of went together, and make-up that I will charitably suggest was hastily applied -- was one of the interesting "characters" you often find at any AA meeting, regardless of zip code. My personal goal is to resist the urge to do a low-grade shun with these folks and aim for a sincere respect or warmth when talking with them, rather than that one-foot-out-the-door surface courtesy they are (understandably) met with sometimes.
"Do you live near here?" Each question came quickly on the heels of whatever answer I offered.
"Fairly close by. But this is my first time at this meeting." I was willing to answer her questions, assuming that, since she had been waiting to use the restroom her bladder would wrap this up for me before I felt the need to excuse myself. But that didn't mean I would passively suffer being peppered with questions, either. "Do you live near here?" I returned her question to her.
"Oh..." she waved in a direction and named a street. "Over along there."
"That's nice." I said.
"Are you a hairdresser?" She asked me.
I blinked again, then gave her a smile. "No." I said.
"Oh. It's just that... your hair..."
Ladies and gentlemen out there in blog land, I should probably say here that my haircut is nothing special, nor am I sporting any unusual colors or accessories, no excess of product; neither a cutting edge style nor a bold new trend is in evidence. While I did come of age in the '80's, my Flock of Seagulls hair remains far in the past, when the Gulls themselves were actually on the charts, which made her question all the more comical to me. I let her try and find her way back from this interrogational cul de sac she raced down. Wacky or not, she dug the hole, I wasn't going to help. But I was going to take some mild enjoyment watching her try and figure a way out. Her strategy was to try a new tack. "What do you do?"
This had never been a conversation. Enough was enough, I thought. "So many questions, one right after the other! You should be a reporter! Are you a reporter?"
"I think I'm going to go in to the meeting. See you in there!" and off I went, thinking that while she had the usual boundary issues many of our more kooky members display, she at least was blessed with a cast iron bladder.
The meeting was very nice. A monied crowd, so their problems were, while real problems, of the slightly more self indulgent bent of people who don't have to worry about making ends meet. When the share starts with, "So I was sitting in my hot tub, thinking about buying cocaine..." it's generally at a meeting where the survival issues are strictly related to addiction, and not to things like rent and bills. Financial struggle -- while more common than ever -- is not ennobling; nor does having money mean your struggles with addiction are any less deadly. In fact sometimes money makes it harder to get or stay sober. Addiction, like any other disease, is no respecter of class or cash. If you die of an overdose it really and truly doesn't matter if your corpse lies there cooling on dirty linoleum or Italian marble.
I spoke. It was what it was. The sharing was nice, if brief. The format was that everyone got to share for one minute. I feel like I've been to a lot of those meetings lately. No doubt some enterprising, recovering speed addict will come up with a meeting where the shares are 45 seconds, which will engender some kind of temporal arms race, until we finally arrive at a format in which we all go around the room and select one word which reflects our experience strength and hope for the night. The Five Second Share. Coming soon to a meeting near you.
It was early enough, and nice enough out, that I decided to walk home. I knew from looking at the Mapquest when figuring out how to get there (thanks, Uber!) that it was just a hair under two miles, and monied AA crowds tend to have their meetings in monied municipalities, so I knew the walk would be through city gardens which at one point would include actual rose bushes to stop and smell.
I was perhaps three short blocks and one gentle hill from my front door when I heard my name called from the shadows across the street.
"Mr. SponsorPants!" it was said (obviously my name, and not my monicker) with such a hiss that at first I thought it was someone's lawn sprinklers turning on.
Then again: "Mr SponsorPants! It's me!"
I know a lot of people. "Me" doesn't really narrow it down much.
They stepped into the light.
"Oh," I thought. "It's you." Forgive me, my friends. It's been a long weekend. I suppressed a sigh. "Hey there. Are you...?"
They stepped further into the light and I decide "Are you okay?" was a pointless question.
"I'm so glad I ran into you!"
What followed was the circular thinking and rapid emotional flickering of someone on Crystal Methamphetamine. Tears. Laughter. Voices. A deceptive moment which appeared to be rational, then back to Tears, etc. He spent a good amount of time complaining about the kind of help people were offering him. I did not waste my breath to point out how fucked up that is. Tears Laughter Voices a flicker of rationality and then back to Tears.
All I ever do when I deal with someone high or drunk or just generally out of their mind (my life is exciting!) is to pick one suggestion and then broken record it. It's only a fifty/fifty chance it will penetrate, or that if it does they will act on it, but at least it saves me from pointlessly trying to engage with someone who is unable to engage back.
"I think you should probably go home." "It's a good idea for you to go home." "You'll be safer if you go home." "Go home and get off the street." And this, the one that hurt: "Do you want me to walk you home?" Say no. Say no. Please say no, I thought with weary guilt.
"Do you think I should go home?"
"Yes. I think you should go home."
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going home. I think you should go home."
Tears laughter insanity for another ten minutes.
"Okay. I'm going to go home."
"Good idea. Are you okay to...?"
"Thank God I ran into you. I was always jealous of you, you know. When you got that little job at that restaurant. Why don't I get a little job like that I thought? Why not give up [insert glamorous career here] and just have a simple, small life like that?"
I nodded. None of this phased me. Whatever I feel or fear about my path in life, I sure as hell wouldn't trade it with him for his. I was low on patience, that's true, but not on compassion, I think. I felt nothing but sadness for his exhausting relapse cycle.
"You should go home." I said.
"I'm going home." he said.
"Here. Which way are you going? I'll get you started..." I knew generally the direction and started walking, hoping to sort of get him moving in my wake.
"Hey," he said. "Did you get a haircut?"
He started to follow along a step behind me, and I chuckled all the way to his front door. And then felt nothing but weary gratitude for my life and my sobriety all the way home to mine.
There are more essays like this one in "Mr. SponsorPants: Adventures in Sobriety and The 12 Steps for AA's and Others." Available as an eBook via Amazon.