Day Seven of Sobriety

Early Phone Calls

It was in the mornings that Lydia had been most aware of her alcoholism. The brushing of her teeth often resulted in her dry heaving and coughing into her bathroom sick; her head aching and spinning. On more than one occasion, Lydia found herself splayed on the bathroom floor, dizzy and weak. It was disgusting and messy. The headaches and the lethargy had so long been a part of her life they seemed the normal, casual, expected.

 

By the end of her first week of sobriety, Lydia was shocked what mornings could feel like.

Lydia stood hunched over the granite countertop, the coffee cup warming her hands. She stared at the pristine, white ceramic cup against her aging hands. Those hands had held husbands and babies. They planted gardens and cooked meals, taken temperatures and mended clothes. They had calculated algebra problems and molded clay dioramas. But they had never had a job. A job, job. Not a church volunteer canned food drive or a book fair at the school, but an actual got paid money for services rendered job. She never thought she would need one. But then Henry left. When she was drinking, she would have moments of panic, but she tried to forget. For the past couple of days, though, it was all she could think about.

Lydia had been betrayed. He left her. He promised her fidelity and friendship forever. Lydia knew her drinking had been a problem, but she only drank because he was never there. If only he had come home for dinner. If only he realized how much she missed the children, how alone she felt. If only he had cared as much about her as he had his job, she wouldn’t have had to drink.

She wanted to call him and scream at him. And she wanted to tell him what she was sober and cry to him and let him hold her. She hated him and she loved him. He abandoned her, but he was still her best friend. She wanted to tell him she had been sober for seven days, that this time was different, but he had heard all the promises before. He wouldn’t believe her. And she couldn’t blame him.

She couldn’t call him. She could call a friend, but she didn’t have any friends. Not real ones. She had lunch friends and shopping friends and mom of her children’s friends. But as she clicked each one off in her brain, there was not a single person she trusted with AA.

And then she remembered the list. Lydia walked over to junk drawer beneath the phone and opened it. There, atop the stapler, pens, and forgotten bills laid the white envelope with names and numbers scrawled on one side. Lydia gingerly picked up the packet and returned to her place at the kitchen counter. She ran her fingers around the edges of the white envelope, looking at all the names of the women. She turned the contents out and looked at the pamphlets as they tumbled out onto the countertop. “This is AA” “Is AA for you?” “A Newcomer Asks.” The pamphlets were all titled as if they were CBS afterschool specials. Lydia smiled.

She picked up the envelope and her coffee and walked into the living room. She wedged herself in the corner of the sofa Indian style, as if she were a little girl, and pulled a throw pillow up close against her chest. She looked down at the phone and slowly dialed the first number on her list. After the third ring, a woman answered, “Hello?”

“Hello. Ummm… This is Lydia. You gave me your phone number at a meeting last week…”

The Spiritual Tools are Laid at my Feet. Now if I Just Picked Them up.

Spiritual ToolsHere’s how it went down: First we got in an argument. Not a real argument, a baby one. A spat. The kind of argument a couple has when they’ve been together for a while and one of them, namely him, thinks he is being funny and the other one, namely me, doesn’t. And so I walked away.

But then, shoot, I needed to remind him to do something, so I texted him. No response. So, I texted him again, nice this time, please and thank you. Still no response. I texted him a third time, a little huff in this text. Silence. Here is where most people would stop, thinking that maybe he just needed a little time to himself, but not I. I texted him again. Indignant and self-righteous. And again. Self-pity. As I look back over the texts, I can see the downward spiral of alcoholic thinking from sanity to anger to self-aggrandized woe is me.

Three hours later, his text messages started rolling in. “Hey. I haven’t heard from you all day and then a few minutes ago, I got a whole bunch of texts.” And “I’m sorry.” And the kicker… “I called the guy. I sent you an email telling you everything he said.” Turns out the cell phone system was down. He hadn’t receive any of my text messages over the course of the whole day.

“It is plain to see that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while… we began to see that the world and its people really dominated us. In that state, the wrong-doing of others, fancied or real, had power to actually kill,” (BB 66).

“The wrong-doings of others, fancied or real.”

I cannot even begin to tell you how vivid my imagination is. It will highjack my thoughts in an instant. To prove it, I spent the entire day obsessed at something that existed only in my mind. By the time I realized my mistake, I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I had, in fact, completely squandered my day.

An any given point in those eight hours, I could have written a quick gratitude list of all the things he does for me. I could have meditated. I could have done a spot check inventory. I could have simply given him the benefit of the doubt. If he needed space, I should have given it to him. If I was worried, I should have called him, like big people do, instead of continuing to text. If I didn’t want to call him, I could have called a friend or read the book. The friend would have told me I was being crazy. The book would have reinforced it.

AA has given me the tools to deal with life, but I have to be willing to pick them up and use them. The Big Book tells me, “The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it,” (83). I cannot find acceptance through osmosis. I cannot retain sanity through blind wishing. I have to work towards it.

Luckily, I did no lasting damage to my relationship. We mended fences quickly and moved on. But my crazy has left a lasting impression on me. It was a reminder, a little nudge, that I will never be so sane that I do not have to work this program. And thank goodness for that.

Day 1: Desire Chip

Desire CHip

There is a psychology to drinking. Everything has to be just so. Not at the end, though. The end is a fabrication, a lie we tell ourselves. We are not drunks. We are misunderstood. Put upon. Lied to. We are cultured, educated, not of this world. Outside is a cruel existence which tramples on our inner souls. So we push people away with both hands and a “Fuck You” to boot. We are lost, confused, scared. We live in continual fear of other people and of ourselves. We fear what we have done. We fear what we still need to do. The thoughts which lie inside our head, coupled with our erratic emotional state, make us feel like all of life is insurmountable. And then we want to die.

 

It was an oppressively bright, sunny day as Lydia drove to the meeting. It was hot. Too hot. Too bright. The kind of hot and bright that only comes in late August as everyone curses yet another cerulean day. Houstonians choked on smog as sweat came rolling down their foreheads and into their eyes. Lydia turned up the air conditioner another notch and dreamed of October.

Her brain was in a fog. It made it hard to think, but she figured that was probably a good thing. If she had stopped and seriously thought about what she was about to do, she knew she would not go. So instead, Lydia concentrated on trying to find the defunct place in the defunct mall that she knew none of her friends shopped at ever.

Lydia tentatively stepped into the club, one foot and then the other, as if the mere stepping into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting branded one for life. She looked to either side of her, and sighed a sigh of relief as she realized she was mostly alone in the room. She was scared someone would try to talk to her. She didn’t want to talk. She wouldn’t have been able to express herself anyways. Lydia tried to look like she belonged in this room, while simultaneously fearing she really did belong. Lydia suddenly thought of the Groucho Marx joke, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept people like me as a member.” She smiled to herself. Lately it seemed if all of life was some sort of cruel, inside joke that she could not understand.

She looked down at her watch. The meeting was supposed to start in ten minutes. Maybe she had the wrong time. There were a couple people smoking out front, two women at a table in the corner reading a book, and a man selling coffee. Lydia smirked; maybe the other members had decided to go out for a midafternoon cocktail.

Lydia looked around the club. It was bigger that she thought it would be. And comfortable. Was comfortable the word? Anyways, it was clean. Off to the side was a large room. Lydia figured it was the meeting room from the way the chairs were arranged. It was an inoffensive beige color. Along the walls were pithy sayings, “First things first” and “Think, think, think” and the infamous twelve steps. Lydia shook her head. This was her salvation? More like a farce. She should leave, she thought. But somewhere in the back of her head, Lydia could just not make the motion happen to walk out. Instead, she hung her head and silently began to cry. What was to become of her?

A minute later, laughter started migrating towards the room. Lydia quickly wiped her eyes. She took a seat in the back row and righted her shoulders. It’s going to be okay, she whispered unconvincingly to herself. The door of the room opened, and four middle-aged men entered the room. Several of them were involved in a conversation that Lydia could not seem to follow. It may have been about fishing. Or Women. Instantly, Lydia was transfixed. All four men seemed to be happy, arguing in a good-natured way. Lydia realized she had not seen anyone genuinely laugh in a very long time. Life had been so difficult. So sad.

Suddenly, Lydia caught the eye of one of the men. Although she quickly averted her gaze, she was not quick enough. The man walked over to her, and stuck out his hand. “I’m Paul.”

Instantly, Lydia realized she should use a fake name. What’s her name? Her name? Her name? Lydia rung her hands trying to think her way out of the name situation as Paul stood staring at her.

“Ummm… Don’t take this the wrong way ma’am, but you new here?”

Lydia stared at the kind man blankly, still unable to come up with a name, and burst into tears anew.

“Guys, we got a new one here.” By this time all four men stood staring at Lydia.

“I know they say don’t pass the Kleenex box, but man, I hate to see them cry,” said one of the men.

“Shit, she’s fine.”

“It’ll get better. I promise.” Paul turned to the man by the door, “Sammy, get one of them girls up in here.”

A minute later, Lydia looked up as Sammy returned with a young girl in her twenties. She was pretty in tight blue jeans and long blonde hair. She flashed Lydia a smile full of promise and confidence. Lydia looked into her face for a second before she lowered her head back down. But even in that moment, Lydia knew something was different about the stranger. The woman looked neither fearful nor anxious. There was a calm to her that seemed to fill the room. Two of the men took seats on the opposite side of the room against the wall, while Paul and Sammy sat in the two wing chairs at the front of the room. All four men continued to talk in lowered tones. The mood in the room at shifted subtly as people began filing in through the double doors.

The girl who returned with Sammy took the seat next to Lydia. She did not speak. She just very quietly took Lydia’s right hand and held it in her own. At first Lydia was startled by the singular act. Lydia had not felt the touch of sincerity in a long time. The woman’s hand was warm. As Lydia returned the grasp, she could feel a sense of peace work up her arm and enter her body.

A moment later, Sammy began to talk. “Welcome to the regular 3:15 meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.” Lydia tried her best to concentrate, to understand all the things that people were saying. Many people seemed to be talking about how and why they got sober. Some of the stories seemed to be funny because people were laughing. But as hard as she tried, Lydia could not seem to grasp what was happening around her. All she knew was that she could not stop crying, and that for the whole hour, Lydia’s hand was wrapped in a warm embrace of a complete stranger.

By the end of the meeting, Lydia was exhausted. She had cried herself dry and now all she wanted was a warm bed. Lydia felt pressure on her hand. She looked up and into the comforting eyes of the girl. “At the end of the meeting, Sammy will ask if anyone wants a Desire Chip. A Desire Chip is a personal commitment to stay sober for the next twenty-four hours. If you want one, you will have to walk up there by yourself and get it.” Lydia let this information sink it. Twenty-four hours without a drink. It seemed such a short time, one day, what was one day? And yet, the idea of not drinking was petrifying. Suddenly, Lydia realized that the room had become quiet, and everyone was looking at her. Apprehension and fear fill the air. Slowly, Lydia raised her body and walked to the front of the room. In Sammy’s outstretched hand, was a circular, silver coin that looked like a half dollar. Lydia took the coin and looked at it. Sammy moved to give Lydia a hug. It caught her off guard. And yet, as Lydia took the hug offered, she could almost feel her body absorb strength and compassion. Paul then stepped forward. He gave Lydia a hug that felt like forgiveness. It all happened too quickly, felt so foreign, and so beautiful. Lydia turned to walk back to her seat and for the first time realized that the entire room was clapping for her. She blushed crimson as she made her way back to her seat.

As she sat, from behind her, somebody slapped her on the back, “Its made from recycled beer cans. If you put it on your tongue and it melts, it means you can drink.” The man broke out in laughter at his own joke. The woman next to him giggled. Lydia looked down the coin they called a “Desire Chip.” It was made of a thin, light metal. On one side of the chip was a prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The other side of the Desire Chip had a triangle on it with the words, “Unity, Service, Recovery.” Along the top was the statement, “To thine own self be true.” Lydia turned the coin over and over in her hands as announcements were made. There was no way she was going to put that chip in her mouth.

Lydia looked up as everyone began to stand. The pretty girl once again helped Lydia. “We close the meeting by holding hands in a circle and saying the Lord’s Prayer.” Lydia could not helped but be surprised as her other hand was grabbed by a young man. He could not have been more than twenty. “Congratulations. Keep coming back.” Lydia just looked at him and nodded. She did not know what to say. This kid wasn’t even old enough to legally drink alcohol.

Then the meeting ended. Some people clapped. Some began talking. Some simply left. Lydia looked around, amazed at what she had just experienced. “Congratulations. I’m Aiyana.” Lydia turned around and saw a young Indian woman with beautiful, deep brown eyes. “We passed around a newcomer packet during the meeting. All the women’s phone numbers are on it. You can call any of us anytime you need to talk.”

Lydia took the outstretched envelope. On one side were about twenty different names and phone numbers. Lydia tried to imagine any scenario wherein she would call a complete stranger from off an envelope. “Thank you,” she stammered.

Lydia walked out of the club and into the scorching hot sun. Some people from the meeting, including the pretty girl who sat with her, were standing under a tree smoking.

As she began to pull away in her car, Lydia saw the young girl flag her down and run over. Lydia rolled down her driver’s side window. “Hey. My name’s Tessie. I hope you come back tomorrow. I’ll be here.”

“I’m Lydia,” Lydia said. “Thank you. I might.”

“Okay, Lydia. Just don’t drink, okay? Just for the rest of today. Then come back tomorrow. Twenty-four hours, remember?”

“Okay,” Lydia said as she looked down at the Desire Chip still encased in her palm. The girl began to walk back to the group under the shade tree. A few feet away, Tessie turned back around. “Hey, Lydia?” Lydia looked up. “Just so you know… You never have to feel this way again.”

 

Is AA a Cult?

Radio Cartoon

I had a casual conversation last week with a guy who had five days. The new man was questioning whether or not AA was a cult. This fear felt familiar and comforting and sad all at the same time. I have to admit, before I got sober, I too voiced this concern. I even went so far as to look up definitions of the word cult and apply them to areas of AA as evidence.

I think this fear from newly sober people is a legitimate one on some level. Looking back, I’ve come to the decision that the this problem stemmed from my self-awareness that I was not like everyone else. Even though I tried to act and look like everyone else, I felt like an outcast. I desperately wanted to fit in. I changed my personality and hobbies to reflect whoever I happened to be around at the time. But the harder I worked at being normal, the more different I felt. Normal people didn’t have to work so hard at being normal, they were just normal naturally.

As my behavior grew more self-destructive, the more isolated I became. Friends and family wanted me to change again, but this time I knew change was a euphemism for “Stop drinking.” I ended up in a place where I simultaneously wanted to desperately fit in and be wildly anti-social.

Hence, when I found AA, and when I heard the casual “Keep coming back” and “Welcome, glad you’re here,” I was immediately distrustful. I wanted to stop drinking, but I wasn’t sold on AA. Maybe I just wanted to taper off or cut back. And even though I no longer had any conception of who I was, I knew one thing; I wasn’t going to be who you thought I should be. And I surely wasn’t going to become some goody-goody religious fanatic, so you can forget that.

The Twelve and Twelve addresses this logic when it states, “Nothing is going to turn me into a nonentity, If I keep on turning my life and my will over to the care of Something or Somebody else, what will become of me?” (36). I think this was my great fear. I didn’t want to become sober only to become a robot. The Twelve and Twelve continues on to say that a paradox exists in the idea that the more we depend on AA or God, the more independent we actually become.

I have found this to be true. It is only through my recovery and the taking of inventory that I have been able to assess who I am as an individual. I remember having about nine months and driving down the freeway. I was listening to country music on the radio. I knew all the words to whatever song to was, and yet I remember thinking, “Wow! This is a terrible song.” And then I remember immediately thinking, “Wait, do I like country music? Of all the music out there, this is what I am choosing to listen to? Do I like this?” I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out if I really liked country music.

The truth of the matter is AA could care less what kind of music I listen to. AA is not interested in what church I go to or even if I go to church. AA doesn’t care what I look like, what color I am, or what I choose to wear. I can choose to put a dollar in the basket or not. I can choose to talk or not. Work the steps or not. And only I decide of I am going to stay or not.

With that said, I think I’ll keep coming back.