I drank and used drugs everyday for a really, really REALLY long time. Therefore, my thought in 2009, and I think it was a good one and yet it was probably someone else’s thought, was I should do something everyday to help me not drink or do drugs. One of those things is going to 12 step meetings. Look, every bad TV movie of the week with Markie Post or the mom from Family Ties has very dramatic scenes of folks tearfully sitting in meetings and admitting they have a problem. And after a few commercial breaks, this person has their shit together. A billion movies, a billion more books and endless other forms of media have covered the idea of meetings and how they help addicts so many times that even non-addicts have a somewhat solid idea of how 12-step programs work. So I sort of don’t talk about meetings all that much. I figure that people who need them go to them and the ones who don’t, can watch it on TV. Nothing I say will make people go to a meeting. There’s not, like, Yelp reviews for this kind of thing. Like, “great meeting but I wish the coffee was French roast–3 stars.”
Also, meetings and the literature you find in them, have been effective and around for a long, long time and there’s nothing I can add that would be fresh. However, I feel sort of compelled to write about them today because a.) they have saved my life (although it took a tad longer than a commercial break) and b.) because sometimes they’re really, really hilarious. Without breaking anonymity of others or giving out addresses or specifics, I can say the very idea of a room full of emotional disasters ripe with varying degrees and flavors of mental illness is inherently hilarious. And today’s meeting was the perfect example of that. The chairperson at today’s meeting ignored the format, cross-talked like she was on Meet the Press and got lost several times. She went rogue and off book much to the chagrin of old-timers in the meeting. The attendees murmured to themselves and shared entirely too long. The whole thing went off the rails and started to get surreal. And after 45 minutes of all things crazy, your’s truly couldn’t stop giggling. I blame the girl next to me. She started it. Her shoulders moved up and down and she laughed to herself and I joined in. When things get awkward or weird or just random, I think it’s really hilarious. It’s so human and goofy and I have to laugh.
Once upon a time, this kind of wackadoodle meeting might have ticked me off or made me leave early. In the early days, I looked to meetings to lift me up and tell me how to live without getting wasted. And when things got weird or real back then I couldn’t deal. But not today. Today, I had to laugh because these are my muthafucking people. I laughed because I get it. I get them. These folks have what I have. These folks are showing up in the middle of a Tuesday to save their own lives. And for all their faults and hilarity, these folks are my heroes and I’m honored to be in their company.
“Acceptance,” he said “seems like a great topic for today.” Insert the inner eye rolling and deep annoyed sighing from your’s truly. My response is primarily due to the fact the every freaking meeting I go to lately someone wants to talk about acceptance. I’m not sure why. I mean I couldn’t accept life so I drank to make it more acceptable. Moving on! And yet everybody has a list of things they have trouble accepting and they of course want to share about them. In short, I’m having a hard time accepting acceptance.
Listen, I can accept a lot of things. I can accept that I’m an alcoholic and addict in recovery. I can accept that I won’t ever be a 6’2 olive-skinned matinée idol. I can accept a political system that I don’t agree with. I can accept that I am HIV+. I can (begrudgingly) accept that I am 40-years-old. I can accept that everything that’s happened up to this point has had a purpose and has played a part in shaping my life today. But other people? Well that’s when my ninja-like acceptance powers falter. In the serenity prayer, we pray for to accept the things we cannot change. Most of the time, I take the ‘things’ in question to mean the assholes who won’t do exactly what I want them to. They’d be so much happier if they just lived their lives in like I think they should. People,right ahead of volcanic rocks and our collective obsession with redneck reality television shows, are certainly things I cannot change. I was told not long ago that Sagittarius is the most controlling sign on the planet and considered to be bossy and unreasonable in the worse case scenarios. I wish I could say “That’s a boldface lie!” but judging by myself and my crazy controlling ass, its pretty much true. From the way you mash potatoes to the people you date, I can almost guarantee that you are doing it all wrong and that I have a better way. Obviously this is not a pretty quality in a person so naturally this topic of acceptance keeps surfacing for a reason.
Accepting and loving people for who they are instead of beating the crap out of them for who they can never be is the real secret ninja power here. Being married helps me get better at it though. Working as a playwright in a world where dialogue gets tossed out, scenes get rewritten and actors vanish also helps me improve my acceptance skills. Editors who cut my best jokes, a cat who pukes on my steps, buses that show up late and even meetings where they talk about topics I’m sick of, are all great opportunities to practice this acceptance stuff. I find accepting the things and people and vomiting cats I cannot change gets easier when I love and accept myself too. When I stop and feel grateful for the life I have all the other stuff that isn’t going my way doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. But seriously. Can we talk about something else for a change?
I remember the first real meeting I went to. For those of you just joining us, by “meeting” I mean for the things alcoholics and drug addicts go to, not a meeting like the high-powered thing CEOs go to with catered lunches and glass top conference room tables. This not-as-glamorous but equally as powerful meeting took place on the 4 floor of a dilapidated senior living complex in downtown Los Angeles. My recovery plan was simple. I figured I’d sail in there, shed some crocodile tears and legions of good-looking and helpful people would rally around me and fix my life. I would then leave a brand new person, never to return. This rinky-dink library was filled with vintage page-turners by Nelson DeMille and Jackie Collins and probably didn’t see a lot of reading going on. I suspected it was more of an alternative napping place for the residents. (That’s how I plan on spending my golden years, by the way: finding new and kind of inappropriate places to fall asleep.) It figures that my first meeting would be in a library. I’ve spent the better part of my life hiding in libraries and stumbling on life changing information and this encounter was no different.
On my way to sit down, a really, really happy smiling older man in a flannel shirt and tan pants accosted me with a small square of paper. After getting my name, he explained the paper was to ask anonymous questions about getting sober. “Can you please shoot me?” or “What the hell am I doing here?” didn’t seem like the kind of inquires they were looking for so I kept the paper blank. As the meeting started, I surveyed the room looking for the three categories of I normally look for upon entering a new situation: ” Fashionable people I want to talk to”, “Guys I Want to Sleep With” and People I Can’t Wait to Judge. It was a Tuesday afternoon so it was slim pickings for all three. Having grown up with a dad who got sober I was familiar with the slogans and prayers and pomp and circumstance to be found at an AA meeting. Within in moments, like clockwork all of it was there. But just as fast, I realized I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. Also, these people were really fucked up. I mean seriously. Relapses, depression, suicide attempts, jail time and that was all from people who’d been sober awhile! Where was the hugging and smiling and instant life-fixing? It sure the fuck wasn’t next to the Mary Higgins Clark books and burnt coffee in the senior center library. Still, I was desperate enough to stay and listen. I listened as a tough looking Latino guy (who would have comfortably fit into Category number 2 if times were rough and trust me, they were) read the questions and other alcoholics answered them. I listened to a hipster dude talk about how his world had improved. I listened to a girl cry who said drinking had made her life a mess. But mainly, I listened to people who kept coming to meetings. For years. And years. Older men, the smiling variety who didn’t fit into any of my categories, shared about how they kept coming to meetings and never drank, no matter what. Hearing this I started to cry. Suddenly my life flashed before my eyes. An eternity spent in dank smelly libraries listening to drunk people who tried to kill themselves. Somehow I don’t think I put this scenario on my vision board.
At the end of the meeting, my friend the smiling guy gave me a chip, he hugged me and told me to keep coming back. “Like Hell I will!”, I thought to myself. But I did come back. Because even though this seemed like the end of the world and the last fucking thing I wanted to do, my life was just beginning. Mainly, I came back because I wasn’t fixed yet and maybe it wouldn’t happen in one sitting but at least these people were laughing and weren’t drinking. No, I wouldn’t have imagined a new start happening in a shitty senior center in downtown LA but honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I don’t believe in experts. In fact, I sort of detest them. Now people who are knowledgeable in things I have no idea about, I can respect. But self-appointed chuckleheads who know more about everything than you do make me nuts. As usual, it’s because my own know-it-all tendencies drive me bananas. If you give me just a glimmer that you need me to tell you what to listen to or how to dress or what to think, I’ll take it and run with it like some sort of soul-sucking makeover show from Hell. There’s an extremely controlling part of me that wants to pull the puppet strings behind everything and everyone and God help us if it all doesn’t go my way. So it’s a good practice for me when, like today, someone actually asks for my advice.
More than experts, I hate unsolicited advice. So it’s a unique sort of hell that I’ve found myself smack dab in the middle of the never-ending fountain of unwanted advice coming from the mouths of all-knowing experts: a 12 step program. Everyone in meetings has some idea how you should stay sober, how long everyone’s share is supposed to be, where the chairs should be placed but my ideas about those things are just naturally better. I kid and over time I’ve learned how to take advice, how to listen to other’s valuable experience and how/when to simply nod, smile and scream-pray in my mind for the grace to listen to some whackadoodle’s opinion about how I should look for a job. Seriously, people in the rooms have saved my life so I try to be open for suggestions.
But back to today’s stint as Dear Abby. So a friend from the program asked me for advice about how to deal with a soul-sucking person who demanded too much of her attention. How she thought I know anything about that topic, I have noooo idea but I “dug deep” and drew upon my own experiences as soul-sucker who demands too much attention. We had a great chat, a few laughs and I felt inspired when we left. I have no idea if I helped her but I felt better just spending time with someone who needed somebody to talk to. I was able to tell her stand up for herself and not to worry about it too much because this crazy person probably thrives on drama and conflict (again I have no idea about what that’s like whatsoever) so by not engaging the problem would take care of itself. What was remarkable about this whole exchange was I cared about what she was growing through and it wasn’t just me spouting off controlling advice that she didn’t ask for. I realize non-soul-suckers without addiction and alcoholism are probably capable of giving heartfelt heeded advice all the time. What can I say? I’m just special.
So let’s hear from you what the best advice you’ve gotten in recovery or in life? I’ve already shared one here and now it’s your turn!