Same difference

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.

Maya Angelou

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.


Smile, you’re a Misogynist!

Have I told y’all about my friend Lenny?  Lenny is 81 years old.  He’s been in recovery for  almost 20 years, so if you do that math that means he sobered up in his 60’s.  That’s a pretty good run for those of us in the program.  Plenty of folks don’t make it that long.  I certainly never would have.

Lenny is a crusty old guy who says what’s on his mind and refuses to suffer fools for long.  Lenny was present for my very first meeting and was the person to present me with my first year sobriety chip.  He’s retired so he goes to a lot of meetings.  I mean, A LOT.  It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he goes to more than one a day.  My guess is that Lenny’s sobriety isn’t tenuous, it’s just become his social circle, you know?  He’s well respected and well liked amongst drunks and civilians alike.

I attended a morning meeting last week and Lenny sauntered in with his usual pomp and circumstance.  He bee-lined to the seat next to me and naturally I was delighted.  As we made our morning greetings a woman I didn’t recognize sat next to Lenny.  She was well dressed and attractive, probably in her early 30’s.   She sat tone faced and stared straight ahead as we waited for the meeting to begin.

As Lenny took notice of her, I knew he would offer a greeting.  “Hello!  Smile, honey, it’s only gonna get better!” he chirped.   She looked directly at him and coldly replied “It is inappropriate to tell a woman to smile”.

Oh for fuck’s sake.  Thank God Lenny is hard of hearing.  He tried to read her lips but looked at me brightly to translate.  I looked directly at her and warmly addressed Lenny.  “She says good morning!”  He grinned back and her and nodded his head.  She looked cooly at me and I smiled back.  What I hoped my silent smile conveyed was this:  REALLY!?!?   This is your moment to make a point?   You’re gonna see to it that this old drunk is WOKE to your agenda?   I was furious at her for what I saw as an attack on my old friend, albeit unbeknownst to him.

And then I realized I was judging her as harshly as she was judging Lenny.  Maybe she was struggling with her sobriety.  Maybe she hates dirty old men of which Lenny could certainly qualify.  Maybe she’s tired of fighting the Patriarchy at every level.  Maybe she’s just a stone cold bitch.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that she wasn’t going to change Lenny by alerting him to current political correctness.  Just like she wasn’t going to win  over this liberal nasty woman with her astute assessment of Lenny’s morning greeting.

After the meeting I looked for her.  I’m not sure what I was going to say, really.   Maybe I wanted her to know that I get it, I do…that I’m on HER side but sometimes you just gotta pick your battles, sister.  She was long gone though, reminding me that ultimately we’re all on our own journey.

I helped Lenny out to his truck and smiled bemusedly as he called me “sugar”.  Sure, I’m a feminist, but more importantly, I’m a human being and sometimes being kind beats being right.