The other day, I took my 6-month "chip" at AA, marking half a year of sobriety. Yes, it is an accomplishment. One I was unsure I could achieve when I set out to find a new way in life. I'd mentioned my special date just quietly during sharing at a meeting, resulting in a few head snaps and startled looks. "What? Are you sure?" Um, I was sure. One would know such things. There began a quiet chattering, discouraged except in cross-talk meetings, and this was not one. We spoke of a man in our home meeting who tells us when he achieves 4 months and 3 days, 1 week and 57 hours. He was there. We weren't talking about him without his knowledge. He tells us about each of his milestones and we cheer for him - he lets us know that is what he needs, and we give it happily. Our highest goal in AA is to help other alcoholics. But it is different for me. I am task- and goal-oriented. I want to take stuff on and finish it and move on to whatever next intrigues me. I could easily land on 6 months or 6 years and have my alcoholic brain decide, "Well, I completed that and don't have to do it any more." Wrong. Alcoholism doesn't go away. Our program has to get us through our lifetime. In the literal sense, ours is a journey without a defined destination. The more frequently I fill balloons with helium and obtain party noise-makers, the more opportunities I have to say, "There - done!" Not good. But I will continue to announce every year, perhaps every half year, because accolades are an excellent fillip to complacency.
I came out of my second meeting of the day (I'd had a challenging day) and gathered with the other AAs in the patio. "The patio" is a great watering hole - oops, bad choice of words! For here, "the meeting" continues, without restriction or rules. Here is where alliances are formed, peace and serenity expanded. For elemental to AA is that one drunk's story may hold the answers for another drunk. When one is new to the culture, hanging in the patio is excruciating. One doesn't even want people driving by in the streets to see them in that patio, much less hang out there yacking. It's different for me now. I belong there, even though it's a funny kind of place for me. On a huge club campus where sometimes hundreds of people mill about, there seems to be only one non-smoker. Literally. Me. So I remain on foot and gauge which way the wind is blowing. I can bunny-hop 360-degrees around a patio table and never lose the thread of the conversation. "Sit down, Les!" "No can do. Keep talking. I'm right there with you." I still reek of smoke when I get home, but that's the price for admission to the theatre where I need to watch the play.
"Want to pop over to the library?" I asked. She said she did, so we bought Starbucks again and headed out on the 3-block journey. My friend likes her Venti Java Chip Frap. I grin to watch her consume it. I'd do as well to just plaster the containers of that good stuff to my butt, so I sip at my freshly ground, freshly brewed Pike Place. Our reading tastes are somewhat similar, so we often point out good choices to one another, but there is also the lovely freedom of making our own way among the rows of books, knowing there is not someone toe-tapping as if one is wasting his time. (Read this: "a husband", folks. Sorry, guys!) When we encountered our first fellow AA member, we smiled. Stumbling upon the second, we grinned like loons. Number three elicited a guffaw. By the time six of us had gathered, the noise level rose and the library staff shot us evil glances. It was good to see where so many of us ran after our meeting!
An impromptu meeting began in the library grounds, numerous lightings of cigarettes and me looking for a flag to show the direction of the wind. Everyone chattered, asking questions about what everyone else took from the library. I got high marks and raised eyebrows for borrowing 11 books at one time. "Oh, she'll go right through them," said my friend. "We'll be back here in a matter of days." "So what is Bukowski?" a man asked. Oh, I was ready for that! For you see, I have a little Bukowski experience, having once located and bought for a friend a 40-year-old out-of-print-edition with colored illustrations and I'm able to recite at least a decent rendition of some of the man's works with appropriate inflection. I did just that. The drunks surrounding me get Love is a Dog From Hell. "Can I see the book after you, Les?" "Sure, homes, but I'd suggest you start with some of the volumes that are still in the library." I'd never before seen the volume now resting in my arms. Copyrighted 2009, it is called The Continual Condition and is touted as "a never-before-collected poems from America's most imitated and influential poet". I've now flipped through it several times and read a few of the poems closely. I have an opinion about these poems individually and collectively, but I will keep those to myself in case the reader is moved to examine the book.
The next day had become difficult by lunch time. I was painfully reminded of two apparently disparate things. The first is that I cannot safely and sanely juggle as many balls as I could once. I suffered a (professional) disappointment that was going off in my face like a string of firecrackers, one explosion after another. The second is that too much isolation is too much for me. I couldn't get the attention of anyone else affected by this series of explosions and I felt my back and shoulders starting to buckle in my solitary misery. I have at least the intellectual wherewithal to know instant relief is not always at hand and I needed to help myself for at least awhile. Said quite humbly: I tried everything ever recommended. I didn't pull myself too far out of the panic bucket. When I picked up my sponsor for AA, I said, "Well, I'm as close as I've come so far to thinking that a few drinks might be the answer." She was startled. "No, I'm not going to stop at the liquor store on the way home. It's more that when I looked at an array of possibilities for self-soothing, drinking was in the mix. I decided against it. I surely need this meeting." My sponsor was scheduled to lead the meeting and it got a little quiet at times, no one volunteering to share. When that happens, which is rare, the leader sometimes calls on AAs to speak. I'm usually pretty reliable for jump-starting discussion, but I shot her a look that said, "Uh-uh. Not today."
My grinning surprises came after the meeting. First, a woman who only attends our group occasionally accosted me. I suspect the perfect human metabolism in life would be the midpoint between hers and my own, as I am barely alive and she is maximum voltage. "Hey! Did you get lots of chips?" Unsure if she was speaking to me, and making no connection with her words, I looked over my shoulder. No one else was in the room. "You mentioned you were coming up on 6 months and I came back the next night, but you weren't here. I wanted to give you my 6 month chip." (The giving and sharing of chips, tokens, books and more is a generous part of the AA culture. I carry a sobriety key ring David gave me after carrying it for more than a decade.) She dug in a purse as big as a steamer truck, pulling out (I'm not making this up for comedic value) condoms, a diaper, full make-up kit, a vintage cell phone, Walkman, half a sandwich and a can of Monster. Finally, she landed on that blue 6-month chip, pressed it into my hand, yanked me into a bone-crushing embrace, and bellowed, "God love you, honey, I knew you were a keeper the first time I saw you." Well! OK. I stepped outside, bemused, and showed the chip to my sponsor who grinned.
There weren't many of us in the patio and there was no wind to speak of. I sat on a bench and half listened to a man talking to another man. The first man is a Las Vegas taxi driver and he has some tales to tell - no wonder he is an alcoholic. We are not his home group, but he comes to ours about once a week, which may have something to do with work schedule. He is well-spoken and deeply reflective. I like to hear what he has to say. When my sponsor finished her cigarette, I groaned my way up from the low bench and stood to walk away. I was immediately attacked from the rear! Oh, not in a threatening way. More like a Labrador puppy landing on a Pomeranian. The taxi driver was the Lab. "You didn't talk today. I love to hear you talk. When you share, I think 'Yes, that's how it was for me' and 'We should all be paying attention to this woman'." Oh? I know I blushed. "Well, um, thank you. The line of those who come to hear me speak is short, so you won't have long to wait for the next occurrence." We grinned at each other.
I really gave no thought of stopping on the way home, even though I passed right by Lee's Discount Liquor. When I arrived an e-mail awaited me that assured me I was not the solitary target in the professional shit-fight I've mentioned. This morning will be the difficult meeting where I can choose to be a bitch and say, "I told you so," or I can be as humble as I need to be and say, "These are the things I was concerned about and mentioned to you early on. Let's make an alternative plan now." I got over a rough patch by using new things I've learned. I didn't cry and I didn't drink. What do you know!
Something that charmed me: In the winter, they're called "Christmas Cactus", a politically incorrect appellation in my opinion, but OK. I buy them because they are a splash of color in a dark time of year. Now, Mother's Day approaches and they are called "Spring Cactus". OK, I don't care, even though I know they are exactly the same species of plant. They also cost just about twice as much in the spring as they do in the winter. Huh? I got one anyway. No crying over spilled garden soil here.