I’m not sure why you’re reading this book right now. Maybe someone who loves you and is concerned for you gave you this book. Maybe you picked it up because you’re worried about yourself. Maybe you’re already searching through 12-Step communities but feel like your needs aren’t being addressed. Maybe you’ve been in a 12-Step program but don’t like any of the literature. Whatever it may be, my goal is to help you move past your problems into the next phase of your life.
What I’m going to assume is that you don’t fit in well with others. Maybe this is true; maybe it’s how you feel about yourself. Regardless of the truth of the matter, you’re not comfortable with the status quo. You’re wary of being one of the herd. If everyone goes in one door, you want to go out the window. If everyone jumps off a cliff, you jump off a bridge. What I’m saying is, you may not be making the right decisions, but at least you’re not making the same wrong decisions that everyone else is making. From this perspective,12-Step programs are a scary place.
At the beginning, everyone mumbles out the same prayer from memory. That’s an auspicious start to any group meeting. ou don’t like prayers, you don’t like group chantings. Everyone’s sharing a brain, you think. This is the Borg. Is it some kind of weird cult? Then it gets worse.
Somebody says a name. Everyone, in unison, greets that person with the same greeting. T hat person talks, and tells some horrible story, during which the rest of the group laughs. What the fuck? What is so fucking funny? Then it gets worse.
How much coffee can these people drink? Halfway through this meeting, a good portion of the room got up to go outside and smoke, and they were smoking right before it started; isn’t that an addiction too? Then it gets worse.
The guy who drives my shuttle bus every day just told the room that he’s a horrible crack addict. He has six months clean . . . that means he was all cracked out driving me to work every day for years. Over there is the cranky guy from the corner deli. Is that my ex sitting in the front row? Dude, there are at least three bartenders in here right now.
All of this inner dialogue is normal. 12 Step is a little freaky at first. You’ll see all kinds of people from your life, both dear friends and people you recognize from the neighborhood but don’t really know. What you’re going to have to get over isyour preconception that these people have nothing to offer you, that they have nothing in common with you.
I’ve been around many different subcultures since the ’80s. Punks, skinheads, Goths, skaters, rockabillies, Wiccans, vegans, slam poets, comedians, break-dancers, bikers, hip-hop thugs, gangstas both real and self-imagined. Inside each of these subcultures are even smaller subcultures: anarchists, animal rights activists, tech geeks, graffiti artists. I’ve been close by many of these groups but never felt like I was like I was fully a part of any of them. When it comes down to it,
I’m a loner. Lonerism is a self-inflicted
lifestyle. I isolate from others. If I find out that I’m fitting into a group, I find reasons that I don’t fit so I can feel left out. I use my skepticism and cynicism to distance myself from the group mentality. It’s saved me from joining gangs, mobs, and groups that would not be good for me; it has also kept me from developing the close relationships that I needed to grow as a person. No matter whether the group accepts me or not, I don’t accept that I’m a part of it.
People who can readily accept being part of a group will take to 12-Step recovery much faster. Those who don’t question the immediate help and friendship offered by the group will embrace the overwhelmingly positive parts of the program. It’s a secure feeling to them that there are rooms full of people willing to help in nearly every capacity. But for you, You-Who-Do-Not-Fit-In, it’s going to take some work. This book is for you.
Three Types of People
For our purposes, there are three types of people out there: Normies, Addicts, and Recovering Addicts. Normies are the normal people, who drink now and then and maybe tried drugs, but for some reason, they don’t get addicted or overindulge. Addicts are people for whom drug and alcohol use supersede personal will. Recovering Addicts are addicts who no longer use and work to remove the obsession to use. This book is written for all three types, but mainly for someone who wants to move from the second group into the third.
Nature Versus Nurture
Why do some people get addicted and others don’t? Is it genetic? Or is it a product of one’s immediate culture? Are you born an addict or made into one? From a purely observational point of view, I think it’s a combination of both. The only reason it matters is so that you see you shouldn’t take an extended break from using or try to cut back. You have a lifetime of stimuli and a physiology that makes drinking and drug use entirely dangerous.
My point of view is this: You may start a Normie, but once you become an Addict, you can’t go back to being a Normie, and once you become a Recovering Addict, you can’t go back to being an Addict. People will fight me on the last part of this when they read it, but stay with me, I’ll explain. This movement across definitions is an evolution of character. Once you make the successful transformation, you don’t go back.
I started a Normie. I didn’t touch a thing until I was seventeen. I didn’t drink, smoke pot, or even smoke cigarettes until then. I drank when I had easy access to it and when it would not jeopardize my situation. I didn’t go out of my way to find it, nor did I use it if I thought it wasn’t prudent at the time. But when I did drink, I drank to get as fucked up as possible. That was a bad habit that led me to being an addict.
I come from a line of alcoholics, like many alcoholics do. On the nature side of things, I know that there was a history in my family. On the nurture side of things, while my father never drank, he was raised by a drunk, and therefore acted like one all the time, what we call a “dry drunk.” It’s the way he learned how to deal with other people.
There were always a lot of people in my house. I have two sisters. There were usually cousins or a student of my
father’s living with us. During the summers, my mother’s sister would come with her kids and stay with us. There were various members of my dad’s church who came for indeterminate amounts of time. I bring this up because of our food situation and my lack of control around consumption.
There was always enough food for us, but never too much. If we had a box of cereal, the most I could get at was a bowl and a half. At dinner, there might be seconds of one dish or another, but not much more than that. If there was pie at dessert, we each got a tiny piece and then it was gone. I never went hungry as a child, but I never had to learn when to say no to food either. There were a couple of instances when this didn’t happen, and they stick out in my mind.
Occasionally, my sisters would go off to church camp, and I’d be left alone like an only child, which seemed the grandest luxury in the world. Not only did I have my choice of television shows, but my choice of seat while watching the show. I could have friends over without us being terrorized by my older sisters and their friends. Best of all, I got to choose the restaurant we went to for lunch after church.
One such weekend, my sisters were gone, my dad was out of town, and there were no other people in tow. It was just my mother and I. She told me we could go wherever we wanted to go. It was either Bonanza or Sizzler, I don’t remember which, but I remember the meal well. I got the steak with the all-you can-eat shrimp. I ate the steak, and started in on the shrimp. I finished the shrimp and asked for more. The waitress brought me more and made some remark about that should do me. I was going to show her. I finished that plate and asked her for thirds. She made a big deal about me being able to eat a lot, which was probably an insult in her mind, but I thought it was great.
My mom was of the generation where a kid who eats a lot is healthy and growing. Besides that, anything that wasn’t expressly candy or dessert was good for you, whether it was battered, fried, or whatever cut of meat—it didn’t matter. Whatever Bisquick casserole she made I ate with reckless abandon. I routinely had eggs, bacon (what we called “fatback”), and pancakes for breakfast. Lunch was sandwiches grilled in butter, o hot dogs. Dinner was more ordinary Good Housekeeping kind of fare, but the side dishes were carb heavy and often a colored gooey Cool Whip mess she called Ambrosia. I think the only thing that saved me from a junior high heart attack was that a lot of the meat I ate at dinner was very lean wild game that my father killed in the fall and that we ate from the deep freeze all year-round. My point is that my mom was the last lady in the town who was going to tell me not to have thirds, or fourths, even, although she’d be strict with dessert.
I’m not sure how much I had, but finally I was coaxed into leaving. I remember the heat coming through the window of the station wagon warming my neck. It reminded me of the time at the county fair when I was convinced to get on the Tilt-A-Whirl. Oh no, I thought, I’m going to barf.
Barf I did. All that batter-fried shrimp was returned to the sea from which it came. I had never been sick from eating before. The good news is I got to stay home from school on Monday.
This was the only time I didn’t go back to what made me ill, but there were many other instances of excess. As I got older and the house emptied out of people, I’d eat a box of cereal after school, from ripping open the lining to the golden powder pouring in the bowl. After two bowls, my gums were torn up and hurting, but I wouldn’t stop until the bowl was empty. After it was gone, I’d try to eat dinner a few hours later with my gums
cut and my tongue rubbed raw. The next week the same brand of cereal would be there, and I’d do it again. The only thing that stopped me when I started eating was running out.
I drank exactly the same way from the time I started. I never left a beer or a cocktail unfinished. I’d buy half-pints of vodka or whiskey in my younger days and drink the whole thing. That seemed to be enough for me until I started buying pints; then a pint of whiskey was what I had to drink before I passed out. The fifth bottle proved my nemesis for many years, as I would drink most of it before passing out. But soon enough, I found myself finishing those over three or four hours while watching TV. Somewhere around that time I’d find my way back to the liquor store completely wasted, but still wanting more. There were nights when I couldn’t stand up, but as I lay on the floor looking at the empty whiskey bottle on the coffee table, I’d think about how I wished I had another bottle.
So is it a matter of my nature that I couldn’t control my eating as a child, and therefore couldn’t control my drinking as an adult? Or is it a matter of nurture that I was allowed to eat as much as I did, and was never taught self-control? Is self-control something that can be taught to another individual, or is it something we learn through trial and error? If we learn it ourselves, are there those of us who are incapable of learning it? I don’t know the answers to these questions. But what I do know is clear: I have self-control issues when it comes to physical things that give me pleasure.
Often people will offer me a bite of ice cream or a bit of their chocolate whatever. I usually decline. They usually force it on me. If I have one bite, when we part ways, I’m at the corner store buying a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and thinking about what pint I will buy the next day. I’m obsessive about ingesting food. The bad side is, this food is bad for my health. The good side is, if I eat a pint of ice cream, I don’t call my ex-girlfriends at 2 a.m.
When I drank whiskey this way, I combined a self- control problem with a substance that is physically addictive and lowers inhibition. There is no set of circumstances in which this turns out well. There are no tools left to fight the compulsion to drink more. The only things that would stop me at this point are the liquor store closing, running out of money, or getting thrown out of the bar after last call.
Where Everybody Doesn’t Know Your Name
On 16th Street in San Francisco there’s a bar called The Kilowatt. This is where I drank on Sunday mornings with The Boys. We watched football and drank like men. Andy, the bartender, made me bourbon and Cokes in pint glasses. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. we watched the brutal ballet that is the National Football League. Outside, Rob grilled the meat, and we were all bonding.
Many were the Sunday afternoons when I’d bid farewell to The Boys and stagger off to the BART station to make my way home, to catch HBO’s Sunday night lineup with a nightcap of bourbon. All in all, a good day indeed, spent drinking well over a quart of whiskey.
I thought that if I quit drinking I’d let everyone down. They’d miss me. The bar wouldn’t be the same without One of the Boys, would it? I was the literary one of the bar. I imagined myself to be the Frasier of the 16th Street Cheers. I was the hard-drinking, underappreciated-in-his-own-time writer, whose published book had unfortunately been ahead of its time.
There was no way I could let them see me in the bar during football without a drink. It would be much like seeing Barry Bonds limp after a pop fly in his later years, or watching a boxer past his prime step into the ring, or listening to the Aerosmith album they did right after they quit doing cocaine. It wouldn’t be right. Luckily for me, I got sober in February, as the Super Bowl was wrapping up the NFL postseason.
I approached the bartender, Andy.
“I’m thinking about getting sober,” I admitted.
“That’s a great idea,” he said without hesitation. When your bartender really wants you to quit, it’s time.
Further than that, if you don’t know who the worst drunk is in your favorite bar, it’s you. When you quit, someone else becomes the worst drunk in the bar. They’ve all been comparing themselves to you, saying, “At least I’m not that guy. ”Quitting is threatening to them. Your drinking validates their drinking. You may know a lot of people who drink as much as you do; you also know a lot of other alcoholics.
For you drug types out there, if you don’t know someone who hasn’t tried cocaine, you’re an addict. You’ve surrounded yourself with a social circle that thinks it’s normal to do cocaine, even if it’s a now-and-then situation. Most people in this country will never try cocaine or heroin. Most of them will never even have the opportunity. You’ve created this world for yourself with a reality to which you shouldn’t compare yourself.
Drinking during the day, drinking whiskey in the morning didn’t seem odd to me, since I knew plenty of other people who did it. Most people I knew did it, because I had created a world of problem drinkers around me. The people I knew drank every single day after work in the same bars.
That fall, I returned to The Kilowatt with about half a year sober. Andy poured me a root beer, and I handed him some poems I’d written since he’d seen me last.
“What are you reading,” one of The Boys asked.
“Some of Bucky’s new shit,” Andy told him.
“This guy,” Andy said.
He looked right at me. No recognition whatsoever.
“Nice to meet you,” he said.
It hit me. He didn’t know me. I looked around the bar at the rest of The Boys. There was Panama Hat, Guy Who Drinks Corona With Lime, Redskins Fan With Ponytail . . . I didn’t know these guys. They didn’t know me. They weren’t my friends at all. They were random jerks at the bar. And I was a more random jerk from off the street.
So Life You in the Nads
First off, apologies for the decidedly male metaphor here. Gut Punch would work as well, but it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. The days of the Gut Punch are long over, anyway; few people have been randomly socked in the midsection, but guys all around the world still know what a good racking will do.
Anyone who has partaken in playground violence understands the equalizer that is the Kick in the Nads. No matter how tough that bully is, anyone else can take him down with one well-placed Buster Brown.
In adult life, there are events that are unforeseen and shattering to the psyche. Usually it’s the death of a loved one or a child, but it can also be financial disaster or any number of things. The event is so traumatic that it renders the eventee helpless and incapable of dealing with the rest of life. This is when a lot of people cross the line from having had a drink or a drug to becoming full-blown addicts.
Many addicts grew their dependence over a lifetime of poor emotional and social choices. The Nad Kick takes people who were otherwise successful in life and reduces them quickly. The Kickee’s social group enables the bad behavior, since he or she seems to deserve to get drunk or high. No one blames him for a bender or prolonged depression. But the danger with dealing with a Nad Kick by using drugs and alcohol is that the depression sometimes sticks.
Ever have someone tell you, “Don’t make a face like that, it might stay that way?” Or were you told that if someone slapped you on the back while you made a nasty face it would stick? Consider your depression the nasty face and a drug bender that slap on the back.
The physical part of your addiction will make an alliance with your misery; as long as it’s okay for you to drink when you’re miserable, then the part of you that wants the vice will keep you miserable so you keep self-medicating. Before
too long, your physical addiction will be strongly tied into a dark emotional state.
It’s hard for the Kickees in 12 Step. Most of the Steppers can’t point to a specific incident to relate to why they started drinking. The Kickee can. The easy thing to feel is an addict’s superiority complex. The others don’t seem to have areal reason to be drinking; they seem to have been born addicts. The only bad things that ever happened to them were of their own design. Life for the Kickee was going great until The Event.
Clean and Sober Versus Straight Edge
When I first found the punk scene in the ’80s, I felt like I was home. I had come out of a crazy religious upbringing that was either extreme fundamentalism or a mind-controlling cult. Neither part of my childhood appealed to me anymore. When I got around punks for the first time, I was relieved to find that there was a group of people who also hated society and couldn’t accept what it had done to us.
I believed the government and organized religion were oppressing us. They worked hand in hand to deny us of our right to make our own moral choices about gay rights, abortion, and snorting coke. While cigarettes and alcohol were perfectly legal, marijuana wasn’t, and you can make pants and paper out of marijuana. To show my protest against such abusive powers, I drank as much hard liquor as I could get my underage hands on.
But no party is complete without its poopers, and for me, those were the Straight Edge kids. The Straight Edge
scene started as a response to Minor Threat songs, in which Ian MacKaye sang about not getting high, drunk, or screwing. I loved Minor Threat, but there was no way I was abstaining from drugs or alcohol. I was abstaining from sex, but that wasn’t my choice—that was the cruel choice of awkward teenage pubescence. I was trying really hard not to abstain from that one. The Straight Edgers were obnoxious fucks who looked like skinheads and acted like militant Mormons.
Straight Edgers were notorious for ruining the good times of others. The classic move was when they’d knock the beer out of someone’s hand at a show. Other more subtle moves would be when they’d ask for a hit off your contraband vodka half-pint, and then drop it on the floor on purpose. The most obnoxious move was the SE Cockblock. When you were getting up to talk to the unbearably cute punk girl, and were passing her your drink, they’d stand around and scowl. They were hard to fight, since they traveled in packs and they were completely sober.
Out of all the multitude of factions of the punk scene, there were those who drank and those who did not. The ones who drank were clearly the ones having the most fun. I went to parties in Oakland with all strata of punks and got entirely wasted. There was one legendary party for me in which my friend K___ got a 5-foot tank of nitrous oxide and her whole house sat around with the huge balloons, getting ripped all night. The kids who didn’t drink or get high? I didn’t know where they were that night, but they definitely were missing out.
But when I was sober, I never felt like I fit in. Looking back on it now, I’m sure that was the addict in me knowing I would drink or use anything as long as everyone else was doing it, and it would make me feel like one of the group. The
East Bay Punx have their own styles of living, talking, and dressing. They have their own music, stories, and recreation. I never felt like I knew enough of them, no matter how many of them I met. I always felt like the new guy, even after more than ten years on the scene. There was a small circle of them who had broken down my wall, and I was afraid I wouldn’t have them in my life if I wasn’t drinking with them.
I didn’t want to get sober and have to hang out with the Straight Edgers. Although by the time I was thirty-one, I didn’t know many SEs anymore. Many of them didn’t stay militant SE for their whole lives; they either started drinking at twenty-one or stopped giving everyone else a hard time about it. What I didn’t realize is that there were plenty of Clean and Sober and Never Drank punks out there.
I had no idea that everyone at every party I went to wasn’t getting as wasted as I was. I really believed that everyone else pounded back shots and beer to get to blackout heaven, and did drugs like cocaine to help them drink longer. There were people around me the entire time who either had never had a drink or had quit for good.
Even now, I sometimes have people come up to me and tell me how wasted I was at a party the weekend before. I have to tell them, no, I haven’t had a drink since 2002.They swear to me that I was doing all kinds of shit, drunk off my ass. Either they have the wrong person, or they were projecting their own inebriation just like I used to do.
It took me more than a month after quitting drinking to get into a 12-Step meeting. A former bartender, who used to give me rides home from the bar because she didn’t trust me
to get home in a cab, called me up and offered me a ride. I had no idea she wasn’t a drinker. I thought I’d go to a meeting to humor her, and then tell her it wasn’t for me. But when I got there, I liked it. I enjoyed the story the speaker told. I thought it would be easy to go and sit in the back of these things and drink coffee.
But after a few meetings, it was really getting to me. I was still less than broke, and though I wasn’t drinking, I wasn’t having any fun either. I looked around at everyone, and they seemed different. One guy talked about living in his car during his bottom; I thought he was pretty lucky to have a car. Another man talked about hiding his drinking from his wife and children; a man with a family who would stand with him through all this was truly fortunate. I was the outsider again, until I ran into an old friend of mine who was a few weeks sober.
“F___,” I said, “what are you doing here?”
“Hey,” he told me, “I got sober a couple of weeks ago. How are you doing?”
“I’m okay, but these people are driving me nuts.”
“You gotta come with me to BNO.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s a men’s meeting on Valencia on Tuesdays. You’ll like it.”
I looked up the meeting on my schedule. Boys’ Night Out. Sounded like a scout meeting or a bunch of gay men going shopping. But I trusted F___, and gave it a shot.
Outside the meeting, it looked like bands were about to play. There were punks, skins, and rockabilly guys of all sizes, shapes, and colors. They were all chain-smoking and hitting each other.
Running the meeting was a celebrity musician guy. He was in one of the bands that had broken through to the mainstream
and had been played extensively on MTV. I didn’t know what to think. Didn’t he have his shit together? Why was he going to meetings? I read in SPIN or some shit that the whole band had gotten sober in the ’90s. I figured he must have relapsed or something. Later I found out he had eight or nine years, which seemed like forever to me. I had no idea why anyone who had more than a year sober would go to a meeting.
When the meeting started, all hell broke loose. They opened with “a moment of violence followed by the Serenity Prayer,” in which they all turned to a neighboring stooge and punched the crap out of his arm. They relentlessly heckled the guys who read the steps and traditions. They made Yo Momma jokes during peoples’ shares. This is what F___ had in mind? These scumbags were going to save my life? They couldn’t even shoot dope right, according to their own stories. How were they going to help me? Depression overwhelmed me.
Who are these happy arm-punching motherfuckers? What’s so funny? I am trying to get sober, and they’re cutting up and acting like they’re in some dumbass locker room. If they had towels, they’d be snapping each others’ asses by now. How the hell am I supposed to get sober? At least they’re not the weird meditation and God people from the other meetings, I thought.
As an alcoholic, I didn’t spend precious money paying cover charges for bands. I stayed home and drank whiskey with the money. The drinks in the clubs and bars were way overpriced. I often got way too wasted at the clubs anyway, and had to spend more money on cabs to get home.
As a freshly sober guy trying to remember what he did for fun, I started going to clubs again to watch bands. It was like going back to my old hometown: I remembered the way
but couldn’t remember the name of streets. I got to the club and paid my way in on instinct. It had been a long time.
Not getting a whiskey right away was unnatural. Was everyone staring at me? Could they all tell I was stone-cold sober? Would the bartenders be mad if I didn’t drink? Out of place, out of sync, out of step. Once again, I didn’t fit in, and the whiskey urged me to make it go away.
Off to the side of the regular crowd stood a handful of guys from BNO.I had never been so happy to see anyone from a meeting. I walked up to them. They stared blankly at me, sizing me up.
“I was at BNO on Tuesday,” I yelled into a guy’s ear.
“How much time you got?” he yelled back.
“First six months are the hardest,” he said. “Keep coming back.”
Somewhere in all that mess of fast music and BO I figured it out. These weren’t Straight Edgers; these were Clean and Sober Punx. I’d jumped myself into a gang by abusing drugs and alcohol for fifteen years. I gave up my Loner colors and let myself stand with others.
Get the Fuck Up
We’ve been there and come back. When you fall in the pit, people are supposed to help you up. But you have to get up on your own. We’ll take your arms, but you’ll have to get your legs underneath you and stand again.
My advice to you is simple: Get up.
My advice to you You’re not going to get any better lying is simple: Get up. there like that. I know, it hurts, but you have to get up and walk it off. Get up. No is going to help you. Get up. You have a whole life to live. Right now, you’re stuck in the quicksand of self-pity, and you’re asking for a rope of acknowledgment. I know it’s my metaphor, but that rope isn’t going to hold. That self-pity is going to destroy any chance you have at happiness, and it will eventually spiral out and destroy your relationships and your social life.
Finding a Sponsor
This may be your most difficult task if you are an atheist in a12-Step program. Many sponsors won’t put up with your atheist lifestyle; they’ll likely read you a part of the Big Book, which, on the surface, seems to condemn atheism. If you read it more closely, it suggests that the road to recovery for an atheist will be more difficult.
Really, though, get a sponsor. Remember that your sponsor is only there to help you work the steps. He or she is not your best friend, your coach, your employment agent, or your therapist. Your sponsor is an equal to you. But your sponsor should be someone who’s seen the program work a lot of different ways and has been through all the steps a number of times. The steps are trickier than they look initially; in fact ,they’re pretty vague.
Your sponsor shouldn’t worry about your version of the Higher Power concept. He’s not there to debate the cosmic structure with you or tell you to go to church. If your sponsor decides that he’s going to give you advice about anything other than working the steps, maybe you should get another one. But be nice about it. He’s only trying to help. Conversely, don’t expect too much from your sponsor. Your sponsor is there for you ,but it’s you who has to do the actual work. This is like the rest of your recovery, as you have to take responsibility for your own actions. It’s up to you to get your step work done.
Creating a Community
The 12-Step community relies upon stories for the core of its communication. They may call them “shares,” but it’s the same thing. The have a beginning, middle, and end, usually with a message. Sometimes it’s a long meandering methadone ramble, but usually there’s a point.
Feasibly, you can work steps on your own. It’s good to have the initiative to do things at your own pace. But to gain the recovery that 12 Step offers, you really need to participate in a community. This is why I strongly discourage people who want to quit using without getting involved in a program. Users usually carry a lot of pain and misery that they don’t need. Isolation makes the heart grow somber. Misery loves company, especially company more miserable than itself.
The Big Book Is Just a Rule Book
Monopoly and Risk were the two best ways to spend a preteen Friday night before Nintendo invented Tecmo Bowl and killed the board game industry. There were video games before that, but the best the Atari 2600 and the Intellivision had to offer couldn’t compete with the geniuses at Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley. Families everywhere had board games. But while all the games inspired long readings from the rule books as to the exact interpretations of said rules, Monopoly’s rules were meant to be broken, amended, and ignored.
No two families played Monopoly the same way. According to the rule book, the Free Parking space gets you no money, when a property is landed on but not purchased it goes up for auction, and when you run out of the toy houses or hotels, that’s it, you’re not allowed to substitute anything for them. But these three rules seem foreign even to veteran players. The rule book seemed like vague guidelines for play.
That’s the way I see recovery meetings. All of them are a little different, but they’re all using the same book. Some allow no drug talk, others do. There are speaker meetings, speaker/discussion meetings, Big Book readings, and step studies. There are different types of people in each one, varying in gender, ethnicity, social class, and age. Emphasis on Higher Powers vary from meeting to meeting. If there’s something that irritates you about one meeting, try another.
There are as many different types of meetings as there are bars. Just as there are many bars you would never ever go to, there are likely meetings that you will never like either. But just like your favorite bars, if you look long enough, you will find a meeting that feels like home. Once you feel that community of the meetings, you won’t miss the bars so much.
My favorite part of the poetry readings I went to back in the ’90s were what happened afterward. It was the best place to look if I was looking for trouble to get into later. I loved rolling into some bar with a bunch of crazy poets and tearing the place up. As morose and defeatist as many of them were in their writing, they were lots of fun when they had a few drinks in them. Getting wasted and talking about writing, bad readings we’d had, and gossiping about other writers was a blast.
The meetings have a similar dynamic. Now I get the same feeling as before when a dozen of us all meet up at some restaurant. It’s great to walk into a place, say that we have twelve coming, then count them as the motorcycles pull up on the sidewalk and cars pull up with a number of riders spilling out clown-like from the seats.
What Do You Want, a Cookie?
Little victories are the ones you’ll celebrate in your first few months of sobriety. You’ll pay your phone bill on time. You won’t have $300 ATM withdrawals that you don’t remember. You’ll get to work every day. But no one in the rest of the world will care. You can tell them, “Hey! I’ve gone a whole week without blacking out!” and they will not understand what a big deal that is. Perhaps someone will say, “What do you want, a cookie?”
In 12 Step, we often have cookies for you, in the back near the coffee. I know that’s a cheap metaphor, but it works here. You can stick up your hand and share any of your successes and get legitimate applause. You can also tell other people that you are thirty-three years old and don’t know how to
work a washing machine, and no one will really question it. They’ll help you.
The stories told in the meetings are going to do you more good than any other passive activity in 12 Step. All you have to do is sit and listen. The steps require action, but the stories require your presence and attention. At many meetings, you will be able to sit there with a cup of coffee and a handful of cookies. How much better do you want your life? You haven’t been treated this well since kindergarten. Cookies, coffee, and the story of The Little Junkie That Could. The only thing better would be if it came with a nap.
We’re here for dumb questions and the victories too dumb to share with the rest of the world. If you can turn a tape recorder into a tattoo gun, but don’t know how to use a checkbook, you’re in the right place. If you can broker a coke deal between two parties, neither of whom speaks the same language you do, but you don’t know how to go on a job interview, you’re in the right place. If you know how to steal cable, but don’t know how to get it legitimately, you’re in the right place. Just ask. We’ll help. We may laugh a little, but only because we’ve been there.