In 2015 I was discharged from the hospital with a very puny and sick liver and a considerably fat folder filled with recovery options and programs. It was overwhelming, terrifying, and embarrassing all at once. I didn’t want help, which made it even more unappealing but I also knew that my BEST thinking and resources had landed me in the hospital in the first place so I figured maybe I should give it a shot. Some call this the gift of desperation and that’s a whole other post all on it’s own.
A friend of mine who has over twenty years sobriety under her belt offered me some rookie advice. “Don’t walk into any recovery program and try to identify only with the others that appear to be like you. Listen to everyone. Look for the similarities, don’t latch on to the differences.”
So naturally, I thought that was bullshit but started reluctantly going to meetings. It was then that her advice made sense. It’s easy to sit across from someone and nitpick every single detail about their experience, especially if it’s not in any way similar to yours. You can smugly think well, that’s NOT me, I would never do something like that when they talk about drinking straight bourbon in the morning. You can sympathize with someone who is going through a divorce because of their drinking problem, but you think, again, poor thing, thank god I have the support of my family.
You can play this deceptive little game for hours and sometimes it may make you feel superior in some fashion, or maybe like a little less of a drunk, perhaps. If you look around the room you’re going to find quite an assortment of folks, I assure you. I’ve mentioned before that alcoholism doesn’t discriminate. There’s an annoying but truthful saying you hear around the Sanka* counter and that’s “alcohol doesn’t care if you’re from Penn State or the State Penn” and that’s the damn truth, Ruth.
I don’t remember when I stopped hearing and started listening.
I won’t say the clouds opened up and I heard angels blasting trumpets or anything, but it was just like they say in the movies, the proverbial lightbulb went on and it stayed the fuck on whether I wanted to listen or not. They spoke the truth and the truth is exactly what I needed to find in myself and that my friends, can be a challenge. You know why? Because you don’t want to know. Not really. I sure didn’t. Like Gloria Steinem famously remarked, the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.
Suddenly I found myself nodding my head in almost every meeting . . . a lot.
I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
I can’t recall what my first epiphany was but over the last two years I have them more often than I don’t. I can’t tell you how comforting it was to find my people, even if they were a bunch of drunks. Well, then again, it’s because they’re a bunch of drunks, isn’t it? I remember listening to a woman divulge that she had such terrible social anxiety that she sometimes practices her laugh. I heard many newcomers confess they wondered if they’d EVER HAVE FUN AGAIN and I was terrified of that as well. I can remember one meeting specifically where someone opened a can of diet coke halfway through and we ALL froze like we’d been tased because EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US heard a beer can opening instead. We laughed like ninnies instantly at our shared reaction.
Of course, there are similarities that aren’t quite as light hearted. I found that I’d earned my seat among the masses that had been to jail and been convicted of a DUI. Most had embarrassed themselves in public and I think 99% of us had experienced blackouts on a regular basis, and that’s not funny at all.
The shame binds us but the humor unites us and that’s what helps you start to heal. It’s simple, but it’s certainly not easy.
I’ll try to help if I can.
* Remember this shit? And I do mean shit. First of all, who drinks caffeine free coffee?!? That’s like a non-alcoholic beer. WHY THE FUCK BOTHER?!? Then again I never drank coffee or booze for the taste. I remember a crappy jar like this in our pantry cupboards in the 1970’s but I guarantee my Mom wasn’t drinking that nonsense. Her coffee is black, her mary’s are bloodied and straight whiskey isn’t a problem.