Lydia: Thirty Days and a Thousand Nights

Thirty Days and 1000 KnightsLydia sat in the Starbucks at Echo Lane, sipping her green tea latte, and people watching through the windows. Over the last couple of weeks, Lydia had grown to like her little window seat on the world. It had become part of her new daily ritual along with the 3:15 meeting and the thought, if not the actual practice, of doing yoga.

So, on the day of her thirtieth chip, Lydia sat in her corner and looked upon the world. Echo Lane, Lydia had decided, was an fascinating cross-section of society. Students of Memorial High School, laden down with books and aspirations, filtered through the Starbucks and Baskin Robbin in the free spirit special to youth. It had reminded Lydia how happy she had been before Tuck died. She once had dreams and interests that mattered. She wanted to fly to Paris and sketch where the great artist sketched. She wanted to read the great works of literature, not because it would make her sound more interesting at dinner parties, but because all people should. The students of Echo Lane reminded her that life at one time seem mysterious and adventurous, something to revel in and enjoyed.

The other half of Echo Lane was comprised of the parents of the students. Most were like her, trying their best just to make it through the day. The dog had to go to the groomer. Sally needed a new tutu for dance. The parking lot was a juggernaut of SUVs with Cheerio-ed back seats and varsity club stickers. All those things, she thought, once seemed so important. In the microcosm of Memorial, so much rode on the perception of imperfect perfection, of unaffected beauty. There need to be a certain ease of life that was anything but easy to attain. But they all tried. Lydia had tried.

So, it was in this place that Lydia most often came to reflect on what should have been, what was, and what might be. She looked down upon her notebook where she had been casually tracing over the date. It was her thirtieth day of sobriety. She wondered how such an important day could go completely and utterly unrecognized by the entirety of her world, but that was the case. She had yet to tell any of her friends, nor her children, not even Henry about her sobriety. There was a part of her, she figured, that felt if she told them, it would make it real. One would think admitting one’s faults to oneself would be the hard part, but no… it was the telling to people who already knew, that you knew too. She couldn’t figure out how that could be, but such was life.

Lydia couldn’t help but think about her thirty days. Thirty days. She wanted not to think about it actually. She wanted somehow to be better that that. “Oh, thirty days. Yes, no big deal. Just called my sponsor and read the Big Book, yes, yes.” But it wasn’t like that. It was hard. She was embarrassed that only a couple of days ago the desire to drink came over her in such a torrent that she tore through her house, and had she found anything, she surely would have drank it. The thirty days felt a bit fraudulent. She felt she had failed.

Lydia did not know how long she had been lying on the floor of her kitchen that day, but it was long enough for the ceramic tile to slowly warm to body temperature; the bottle of vanilla extract resting in her palm.

Slowly, she ran her empty hand down her side to her jean pocket. With a nudge of her finger she edged her phone out of her pocket.

Lydia brought the phone up to the same level as the bottle and disengaged her stare from the first object to the second. She ran her fingers over the screen to unlock it. Henry was speed dial one. Her thumb hovered over the screen. She had not talked to him since she picked up her desire chip. She desperately wanted to. She wanted to call him and tell him everything her heart so achingly wanted to say, that she was sober and she loved him and missed him and wouldn’t he please come home. She would tell him that she needed him. He would come. He always came. But she didn’t. Instead she pressed speed dial seven.

As the phone rang in her ear, Lydia pressed her hand against the tile and lifted her frame off the floor. She walked over to the sink and as the voice on the other end said, “Hello,” Lydia had poured the vanilla down the drain. “Hi, Tracy. I think I finally understand what you mean by powerless.”

Twenty minutes later, Lydia and Tracy had met under the shade tree in the parking lot of the mall to reconstruct what had triggered her. Talking took the power out of it. And then she kept going; Lydia told Tracy about Tuck, the accident, the hospital, Henry. She spoke and spoke and spoke until her throat became raw and the sky started turning the shade of twilight. But it had worked. The demons that had haunted her day had diminished my nightfall. Lydia went to a meeting, then another, then drove home and went to bed. And as she laid her bed on the pillow, she remembered what Tracy had told her, “Any day I don’t drink is a successful day.”

Lydia picked up her latte and walked out to her car. There was something to subtly awkward about not drinking, she thought. It shouldn’t be a big deal, and yet it was. It shouldn’t be so hard, and yet, well, she had made it. That’s all that mattered, she supposed. As she opened her car door to get in, Lydia looked out one last time over the parking lot, she looked at the ladies with their grocery bags and strollers. Quietly, to herself she whispered, “Thirty days and a thousand nights.”

Lydia: Day 27

An Alcoholics Last Resort

Lydia did not know how it had happened. Well, she knew how it had happened, and yet she did not know how it happened. She knew the steps, knew the exact actions that led to her lying in a crumpled mass on the kitchen floor. What she did not know was how a seemingly innocent day could turn so quickly into a nightmare…

As part of her general dissatisfaction with her life, Lydia had started to methodically clean out the large house in Memorial. It had begun innocently enough on a lazy, Sunday afternoon. She had spent the morning reading and sipping tea, but then she turned a little restless, walking from room to room.

She eventually found herself standing in the doorway of her master closet. Once a room of pride, a space that spoke of indulgence and luxury, Lydia now looked upon the space as a choke around her neck. The designer clothes, the pristinely laid Choos and Louboutins, the large purses displayed as works of art, seemed not a reflection of affluence and ease, but a mausoleum dedicated to a former life of indulgence and superficiality. The sight disturbed her. Many of the clothes no longer even fit on her recently acquired fuller body frame, and yet there they hung.

Slowly, and with a feeling of grateful remorse to a past life, she carefully folded and packed away shirts after pants after skirts after cocktail dresses after ball gowns of clothes, once lovingly purchased and adored.

When Lydia finished her room, she moved on to her son’s and then her daughter’s. With each macramé school project and participation trophy, with each seashelled vacation souvenir and mother’s day card, a fond memory was ignited, appreciated, and then quietly closed. The items she did not feel were worthy of keeping, she threw away with no regret. With each passing garbage bag, she felt lighter, freer. The nicer items, the things she thought the kids might honestly want, Lydia set aside in one of two piles. If they wanted them, they would have to come get them. But her and Henry’s house, her house, would no longer be the exoskeleton of a time past. Lydia was living day by day, step by step, and all she wanted was for her surroundings to reflect her new founded simplicity.

So, it was with some confusion that it was a simple sweatshirt that had paralyzed Lydia that Sunday evening. A sweatshirt. Any other day, she might have simply folded it and placed it in his dresser drawer. Old, frayed around the edges, but perfectly worn in. When she and Henry first started dating, Lydia had confiscated the sweatshirt as a form of territorial display. She would wear it up to the hospital and kiss him in full view of the nurse’s station. Not usually a woman prone to jealousy, she knew from her own stay in the hospital that Henry was often sought out and flirted with. Lydia was not going to let him fall through her fingers. She was determined to fight for him, fight for him in the best way she knew how, in his Colombia sweatshirt and a tight pair of jeans.

But it was in that moment, in the moment when she raised the sweatshirt up to her nose to inhale his scent that she realized she had not fought for him. She had given him away, pushed him aside as she reached for another bottle. She blamed him. She accused him of desertion, but really, she the one that deserted him. She may have physically been there, but her mind was always fighting and struggling somewhere else. In her heart, in that moment, she could not blame him for leaving.

She looked up and straight into the sideboard mirror. The reflection startled her, for the woman who stared back was not the woman she had expected to see. She had looked in mirrors; she had to have. Always a woman properly put together, Lydia had spent hours applying make-up and coifing her perfectly styled hair. So, she must have look. But had she really looked? Lydia moved closer to the mirror, placed her hand against the cool glass. There, staring back at her was not the dignified and beautiful woman she envisioned, but an aged woman, worn and creased. Her hair, thought by her to be golden and lustrous, was a dried and brittled bleach. Her face was puffy and yet somehow simultaneously drawn. There were circles under her eyes. Her skin had a yellowed hue, the color of prolonged sickness and self-tanner. Instead of cathartic recovery gravitating through her arterial system, a wave of bile, anger, self-loathing, disgust, and hated swelled up from her stomach.

Without warning alcoholic desire screamed at her. It knocked her body backwards with a physicality that forced her to break eye contact with the mirror. Suddenly clinging at the neck of her t-shirt, she couldn’t breathe. She doubled over, trying to catch her breath. After a few seconds, Lydia looked up and ran from the room, the sweatshirt lying on the ground.

She sprinted down the sweeping spiral staircase to the living room. When she got there, she looked wildly around. Think, think. The bar wouldn’t have anything. She had cleaned it out. Think, think. The cabinet above the refrigerator! Lydia pulled over a counter stool and stood on it to reach one of her most favorite hiding places. None. The pool house! Lydia ran to the guest quarters and pulled open the refrigerator, once stocked for parties, only to find it barren. The outdoor kitchen. No.

Panic overcame her as she ran back to the house and furiously started pulling out drawers and looking in behind furniture. She couldn’t have gotten it all. She must have forgotten something, overlooked something, anything. Lydia ran to the kitchen. Sherry, cooking wine, something. Lydia spotted the bottle of vanilla extract. She grabbed it off the shelf. She held it tight in her palm and looked down at it. 35% alcohol. It would work. It would quiet the thoughts until she could get to the store. And then it clicked. In a moment of realization, Lydia realized she was of the variety of alcoholic that would drink vanilla extract. She closed her fingers around the bottle and sank to the kitchen floor.

Lydia: Day 14

Lydia 14

Over the past couple of weeks, as the alcohol slowly left her system, she had been overcome with emotions. Feelings of anger gave way to self-pity, which quickly became elation. The day before, having gotten off the phone with her daughter, Lydia found herself in the awkward place of simultaneously crying and laughing. There was such a pall of depression and despair that clung to her life. And yet, for the first time in a very long time, there was also hope.

She had heard in the meetings that sobriety could only be reached when the pain of today exceeded the fear of tomorrow. That seemed to sum up so much for Lydia. She was worried about her impending divorce, about being poor and alone. The sensation was so acute, it made her body her body ache with the desire to drink. If she thought long enough about it, her palms would start to itch and sweat would break out on her upper lip. But it was also this gut wrenching, physical need to escape that had managed to keep her dry for the past two weeks. Lydia didn’t know much, but she knew anything that powerful, that existed inside of her, calling for her own self-destruction, was not good. She knew, in these moments, that if she gave in, she was likely to kill herself. And that terrified her.

The AA club had very quickly become a bastion of security for Lydia. As soon as she pulled into the parking lot, a wave of warmth and security began to replace her fear and insecurity. The club, though not especially lush, had a certain feel of comfort. Three overstuffed couches huddled in the far corner of the main room, next to a flat screen TV. Two tables sat in the middle. It was not uncommon for Lydia to see groups of twos or threes eating lunch, doing schoolwork, or playing a game.

But the people who attracted Lydia’s attention the most were the ones huddled over the hard covered, blue book. It was not very difficult to ascertain who was the sponsor and who was the sponsee. Lydia sat near them sometimes, sipping on her tea, trying at decode the meaning of their conversations.

Sometimes it would appear as if the sponsor and the sponsee were reading together. They would occasionally stop and point to certain lines of the Big Book and have a soft discussion followed by much head nodding.

Sometimes, the women looked like they were having fun. The conversation would revolve around a cup of coffee and a laugh. There seemed to be a comradery about these women and a genuine sense of care and affection. Lydia wondered to herself if she had ever had a relationship such as these women seemed to have. Certainly, she never had it with her own mother and she didn’t have any sisters.

But sometimes the conversations seemed earnest and serious. The two huddled together conspiratorially as the sponsee read from some sort of list or another. Sometimes there was crying. Sometimes a pat on the back. Once Lydia saw both women get on their knees and pray right there in the room. No one else took much notice, as if this sort of thing happened everywhere. But to Lydia, who was never much of a pray-er, this had a profound effect. Like her first meeting and her first sober phone call, Lydia wondered if she would ever get to a point where she would feel comfortable praying. It was right then and there, though, that she decided that if prayer would keep her sober, she would do it.

A few minutes later, as Lydia sat in the meeting, she decided it was time to take the step and ask a woman to be her sponsor. She knew the woman she wanted to ask: Tracy, the college professor. Lydia didn’t know what it would feel like to be beholden to another woman or what it might feel like to confide one’s deepest darkest secrets. A part of her recoiled at the idea, tempted to run away. But another part of her was curious. There was only one way to find out. And besides, the pain of today was greater than the fear of tomorrow.

 

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…”

Third Day of Sobriety

Obsession

Usually, even the worst of us can stay off the drink for a day or two if we are seriously motivated by the adequate amount of force and calamity. The real trouble often begins around day three when the brain starts to convince one that maybe they have made too big a deal over whatever currently has them in a knot. I can stop. It ain’t no thing. I bet I could have one beer or two. Everything will be okay.

********************************************************************************************************************************

Lydia was conscience of being awake long before any move was made to get up out of bed. Instead, she laid there in the semi darkness of the curtained bedroom and tried to assess her physical and mental state of being.

The rhythmic beating of her heart seemed to pulsate throughout her body. She sensed she could feel the blood running through her arteries and back again. Next Lydia moved on to her stomach. She had eaten too much last night. In the mood to ride the wave of hunger, Lydia gorged on junk food and ice cream. It had made her feel better in the moment, but as the laid down to sleep, her stomach, unused to such sustenance, surged and gurgled. But by morning, everything seemed to be quiet again. With her eyes still closed, Lydia promised to take it easy with the food today.

As to her mental state, Lydia did not want to get out of bed. She had an odd sense of energy running through her, and yet simultaneously, she was so exhausted, she thought she could easy melt back into sleep. She had only fallen asleep a few short hours ago after hours of trying. Stress, fear, questions, had raced in her mind for an unendurable length of time. Having awoken to a sense of calm, Lydia was unwilling to let go even as her body was aching for movement and a shower. Lydia opened one eye, then the other, as the realization slowly started coming into focus. She couldn’t quite think through the thought. It was still fuzzy and out of focus. And yet there it was.

Her body seemed to be resisting the choices her mind was making. Was her whole life an ongoing battle between the desires of her mind and the reality of her body? How could that be? Weren’t they the same thing? Doesn’t the body support the mind? Wasn’t the mind the superior entity?

With a shake of her head, Lydia dislodged the thought and moved off towards the shower.

 

As she pulled into the mall parking lot, Lydia realized going to the meeting was a little easier than the day before and a lot earlier than the day before that. She was starting to get a feel for the layout of the club. She was starting to recognize some of the faces. If it wasn’t home exactly, at least it wasn’t terrifying.

Lydia ordered a hot tea and made for the meeting room. She was a few minutes early, and the room was empty. Lydia had realized over the last couple of days that people tended to walk through the door just as the meeting was starting. Lydia walked over to the large poster on the wall labeled, “The Twelve Steps.”

“Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol- that our lives had become unmanageable.”

“Powerless over alcohol.” Lydia knew from endless TV shows and movie, from culture, that admission of the problem was the first step. But it looked different in this format. Powerless. It sounded so much more ominous and permanent and old fashioned than a simple, “Admitted we occasionally drank too much” or “Admitted we sometimes got a little out of control.” Lydia wasn’t even sure if she knew what that word mean. Powerless. Lydia kept rolling the word around in her mouth, tasting it on the tip of her tongue. Lydia was conscious to pick a seat for the meeting that had a full view of the steps. She took a sip of her hot tea. Powerless.

Day Two of Sobriety

Alcoholic Hobo

As the second morning of her sobriety turned into her second afternoon of sobriety, Lydia found herself increasingly restless. She had tried to watch TV, but TV had made her want a glass of wine. She had tried to clean, but cleaning made her want a glass of Vodka. Lydia didn’t want to go shopping or call up a friend, two additional activities that usually ended with cocktails. The country club seemed an equally bad idea, and also there might have been an incident the last time she was there. Sigh. There was, Lydia realized, little she did that didn’t involve drinking. By two o’clock Lydia found herself walking in circles from her living room to her kitchen to the dining room to the foyer and back to the living room.

With a sigh, Lydia grabbed her keys and purse and walked out the backdoor.

As she entered the club, Lydia saw it was a little busier than the day before. Several men were watching television and throwing cards and a small group of women sat around a table talking. She ordered a hot tea from the coffee bar and was about to go sit in the meeting room when she heard her name. One of the girls at the table was waving. It was Aiyana from the day before, the girl who had collected the phone numbers for her. “Hey. Hey Lydia. Over here.”

As she moved towards the table, Lydia suddenly as if she was an awkward teenager on the first day of school and the cool girls had just invited her over to their lunch table.

“How are you?”

Lydia had every intention of answering in her customarily dismissive way, but to her surprise the simple, “I don’t know,” came out. All three of the women paused momentarily and then began to subtly nod in acknowledgment and understanding.

The two women with Aiyana were around the same age as Lydia. The one introduced as Tracy was an English professor at the University of Houston. June was a stay at home mom. Lydia was a bit surprised how normal the women seemed. They inquired as to how she was feeling and if they could do anything for her. For a few minutes, Lydia could have easily convinced herself that she was out to lunch with some of her closest girlfriends; well, only if girlfriends had been candid and kind.

After a few minutes, the group moved towards the meeting room. Lydia noticed some of the same people as the day before. Paul was there. Sammy was too. Tessie came in a little late and waved as she took her seat. Lydia tried to follow the readings, but she had trouble keeping up. It seemed like a lot of information. She watched as some of the people smiled knowingly and still others settled themselves in for the meeting, sipping coffee. Once again, Lydia was somehow surprised at how normal they all looked. She didn’t realize it yesterday, but as she looked over the faces, there seemed to be a general cross section of age and race and gender. Lydia realized she thought alcoholics were mostly hobos with scraggly beards and mended tops hats with flowers sticking out of the top. But these people looked like students and housewives and executives and mechanics, like people.

The meeting went by quickly. The topic was about fear. Lydia couldn’t figure out what fear had to do with alcohol. After the meeting, she thought about asking Aiyana, but changed her mind. It was getting late and she once again felt overwhelmed and exhausted. And hungry. As she walked to her car, Lydia looked up at the late afternoon sky and smiled. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been hungry.

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. We are sensitive. Outside is a cruel existence which tramples on our inner souls, so we push people away with both arms and a “Fuck You” to boot. We are lost, confused, scared. We live in continual fear of other people and of ourselves, what we should have done, and 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.

No alcoholic really wants to sober up. We want to stop hurting, feeling, thinking. We want to stop the pain. But we don’t really want to sober up. Sobering up only comes as a last a last resort.

 

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 everywhere 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.

If she had stopped for a single moment, she might have contemplated what was about to happen. But she didn’t want to contemplate. She just wanted to go. To do… to do what? She didn’t know what she was doing. She just knew she couldn’t do this anymore. So, instead, Lydia concentrated on trying to find this defunct place in the defunct mall that she knew none of her friends had ever shopped at ever.

Lydia walked into the room. It was bigger than she thought it would be. And cozy. Was cozy the word? Anyways, it was clean. Lydia’s brain was in a fog. It made it hard to think, which was probably a good thing. She tentatively stepped into the room, 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 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, wanted to feel confident and in control, but simultaneously Lydia was scared she really did belong here and hoped against hope she was wrong. 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, hideous, joke.

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 people out front, and a man selling coffee. Maybe the other members all decided to step out for a midafternoon cocktail.

Lydia looked around the room. 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 lures. 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 are you new here?”

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

“Guys, I think 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, do 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 lap. 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. Lydia blushed crimson as she sat down.

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 herself, 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. She ran over as 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.”