I’m going to go to my AA “Home Group” this morning. This is what I probably will not “share” with the meeting:
Hi, I’m Paul and I’m an alcoholic.
I feel compelled to say something today that’s going to sound like AA heresy. But I feel like I have to speak my truth here even if it means becoming the first person to ever be excommunicated from AA…
I don’t really know but one or two of you here, so most of you have know way of knowing what a tough time I’ve been having over the past year. My wife decided last – well, it’s been almost a year now – that she needs to live in Portland Oregon, where her two adult sons and her now one-and-a-half year old granddaughter live. And as you can see, I am not in Portland, Oregon. I have been to Portland at least a dozen times since ‘the kids’ moved there in the early ‘aughts, but I’ve never felt like I’ve wanted to live there. After more than two decades, I’m rooted here.
Welcome to Portland!
And as a recovering alcoholic myself, it’s hard to fathom how I am going to live in a city that greets you getting off the plane with a huge sign that says “Give In To Beer.”
Thursday night, I learned that a dear friend had died this week, most likely from complications of alcoholism. He was only a year older than I am. I think that news kinda put me over the edge…
Which brings me to yesterday. Yesterday was a day off from a new job that I got last summer which has absolutely been my salvation over the past 6 months. I like the work, it truly takes me out of myself and makes me a better person than I am when when I’m by myself. But sometimes the days off are challenging because, well, there’s nobody to talk to.
Yesterday, I felt knots in my stomach, that spinning wheel of loneliness and sadness, fear and despair. As I said later to my sponsor, I was having a tough day…
In the middle of the day, I made some calls and sent out some texts, to see if there was somebody in my orbit who could meet me for lunch or coffee. All those overtures came up empty. People are busy.
At one point, I was driving around town and started thinking, “maybe what I need is a meeting…” I had no idea where there was one in the middle of the day on a Friday. I was in town, driving around, and thought about going over to ‘202,’ but… I just couldn’t quite convince myself to do that, either. It wasn’t until later in the day that I fully realized why.
I didn’t go to 202 for the same reason that I don’t go to more AA meetings like this one: because I really dislike the whole format and structure of these gatherings.
A couple of years ago I ran across a TED talk by a Scandinavian counselor named Johann Hari that talked about the antidote to addiction being not just abstinence but connection.
Connection. That is what I was longing for yesterday. And sadly it is not what I get at these meetings. I don’t really get a meaningful level of connection and engagement from sitting through an hour of extemporaneous 3 minute monologues. And I really don’t like the unstated pressure to be witty and profound if and when I take my own turn to ‘“share.”
So mostly I come to these meetings, sit in silence, and hope I get to hold a girl’s hand when when we all stand up to recite the Lord’s Prayer (which I usually don’t actually recite. It’s a Jesus prayer and I’m a Jew.).
I know that the whole “no cross talk” structure of these meetings is essential to their decorum. But jeezus, sometimes what you really need is to actually talk to somebody. The absence of dialog defeats my whole purpose of being here. It actually makes me feel more isolated when what I need is something… not superficial. When I need the give and take of an actual conversation.
In the realm of recovery, I know that I’m one of the very lucky ones. The compulsion to drink or smoke or sniff (my primary drug of choice for nearly 20 years was pot; thank god I never got in to heroin or crack…) completely left me after, I dunno, somewhere between 30 and 60 days. That was back in 1987 – 29+ years ago – so I don’t really remember. I just know that there are a lot of recovering alcoholic types who struggle with the compulsion every day. That’s why the program insists that recovery is “One Day At A Time.” So I know that I am among the most fortunate of recovering ‘polyholics.’
What I’m trying to say here is: when I’m feeling isolated and alone – the very conditions that might spark a round of drinking if my sobriety was not as strong as it is – the last thing I need in the world is to sit in a hard chair feeling like a lame loser because I’m not to going to be as entertaining as the guy who “shared” before me or the woman who will share after me. But that’s the structure. And I sometimes I just fucking hate it.
I come to these meetings because they give me the opportunity to at least experience and be grateful for – if not actually “share” – my sobriety, and the fact that I because I quit sipping, sniffing and puffing nearly 30 years ago, I am still living – even it that presently means struggling with some of the most difficult choices I have ever had to face.
I have an “altar” of sorts in my home on which rest photographs of my ancestors, and also the photographs of several friends whose lives were cut short by their addictions. I have another photo to add to that collection now.
But jeezus, sometimes you just want to talk to somebody. Sometimes you just need a hug.
Don’t get me wrong. I know damn well that I would not be alive today had I not started going to AA meetings back in 1987. And I come to meetings so that I don’t take that gift of sobriety for granted.
But yesterday, I needed something else.
OK, I guess my three minutes are up.
Thanks for listening.