more of Grrr's recovery tales

Saving face

She woke up thickly, as she usually did. It was still dark. The digits on the alarm clock looked dim, but she didn't give it a thought as she trudged to the bathroom. When she snapped on the light, though, she stopped dead.


Everything. The mirror looked green. The light bulb was definitely on, but it looked extremely grass emerald kelly green. She checked the fixture. Nope.... In the living room, she checked the floor lamps and the light on the ceiling fan. This was not some kind of elaborate setup. Out the kitchen window, the lightening sky was a half-dozen pastel shades. All green.

This is too weird, she thought. No one's ever gonna believe this.

Eventually, she got ready for work. The eye drops didn't do any good. She peered at her green eyeballs in the mirror, wondering if they really were green now or just - well, green to her. Her coffee mug, her bra, the driveway, the speed limit signs. Shana's tan car. All tinted green. Nothing was white.

Maybe I'm dreaming all this... but the idea wasn't cheering. Plants and the bottom lights of the traffic signals were varying shades of black. What could be wrong with my eyes?

In the office, she was reluctant to take off her sunglasses... but nobody reacted strangely when they looked at her. So it's just my vision, she though with relief and fear. All of the reports were green... but she picked one up and got busy. Thoughts of her optometrist occurred now and then, but whenever she imagined telling someone, out loud, what was... happening...

A splitting headache, from reading all that green-on-green. She gratefully let Shana drive to lunch. The usual chicken salad turned into an alien thing, ignorant, defective. She started when a mouthful of romaine turned out to be spinach, and she grimaced; when Shana asked her what was wrong, she almost told her. Almost.

The uneasiness drove her into her work with a passion. Four-thirty arrived before she was ready to head out into the rush-hour traffic. She thought, yet again, about calling Val... This would sound bizarre even to her mom, much less her new sponsor. She'd sound like a complete head case.

The freeway was treacherous. Brake lights looked different - a rusty old station wagon just about creamed her at the S-curve. Her hands were shaking badly as she unlocked the door, and collapsed on the sofa in an anxious heap.

A couple of greenish sitcoms, and she changed clothes (knowing, despite what her eyes told her, that her top was definitely magenta, and her jeans a faded blue) and went to her home group. It wasn't a terrific meeting, as far as she was concerned. She was preoccupied, the headache was back, everyone looked sickly and she'd declined to read the Traditions 'cause the print was so hard to make out against the lime-"colored" paper. She wasn't about to volunteer to talk. Not tonight. They'd laugh me out of the room. Besides, the topic was honesty. She didn't see any need to... embarrass herself. Manuel was droning on and on...

"...that supposed to mean? Like, who doesn't have secrets? But I finally figured it out - I'm only as sick as my secrets, not 'cause the secrets are sick. When I'm dead set against sayin' something, the reasons are what can, like, keep me spun. It's too heavy - I can't walk around that way anymore. If it's eatin' at me, that's a good enough reason to let somebody else share the load. I'm lying when I pretend everything's okey-doke inside, when it's not. Sometimes it's a lie to say nuthin' at all..."

Yeah. Sure, she thought. Six months' clean time talkin'. When this meeting finally ended, she could go the the drugstore and see if there was something that might help... maybe rinsing her eyes for a long time. She sat there, knowing how busy the eye doctor's office was, wondering if the emergency room people would write her off as a 5150. Why me?

This sucks. She tried to relax, figuring out what to do... tuning out the people speaking. Wishing she were in her apartment, away from here. Alone.


Hold yer horses

"Perseverance," wrote this guy named Walt Elliott, "is not a long race; it is many short races, one after another."

One of the most immediate payoffs of being a sponsor is the constant reminders that you're definitely not unique. I wish I had one less shortcoming for every time I've heard myself say, "That's real familiar turf" or "You're in good company" or even "Welcome to the club, bud."

The more days I get between me and that last miserable fix, the more I need to hear you. When I listen hard, it's my story all over again; maybe not the dates and places, but all the inside stuff clicks. Made to fit. So I close the book, or squeeze the hands I hold at the end of the closing prayer - remembering that it really does work, or that I'm still not bulletproof... or that reality will keep on refusing to bend itself to my whim, simply because I didn't use today.

All this to say... some "traits" are liars. Treacherous, even if they're so common in our experience that we hardly notice 'em. Instead of wondering what's wrong with your program, consider my version of a "natural law":

I have never met a naturally patient addict.

And I hear the yowls already. Okay... if you can look us straight in the eye and say it evenly, you're one up on the rest of us. We gotta learn persistence, endurance, tolerance, diligence and resolve, inch by inch.

Show up with your gear on and your tool belt hanging. Practice your principles. And you know I'm not talking about "willpower". Staying clean on guts alone is hellacious... if you can do it. This isn't just arm-wrestling, here. You try to overpower your addiction and the outcome is certain. Only a matter of time; your disease is bigger than you, and it'll wait for the right moment to strike until lawyers work for free.

Forget about complacency, too. When God just pulls something without any footwork on my part and against reasonable odds, I myself am inclined to call it a "miracle". I don't try to live on 'em anymore. Action always, always turns the key... not on my schedule, but I can expect to get what I need when I do the work in front of my nose.

So start today over if you need to. Blow off "I should be better than this by now!" and similar lies from your internal committee. Like I heard across the table once: "Sure, tying your shoes is no big deal - unless you're doing it while you're climbing out of hell."

          - The closing quote is Raleigh's, from one fine Tuesday night in Berkley... If you're out there, dude, e-mail me

Wish You Were Here

My brothers are 25 and 26. They've played in bar bands since high school. They've racked up daughters, divorces and DUI's; both have skill, adoring fans, "the look", the rep to maintain. Religion didn't take, and counseling didn't either. They're using every day now, sounding like they want to stop but unable to. They "don't have a problem" yet.

During any given year of meetings, there's people you'll see only once and never again. A hundred of 'em. More. Some of 'em you start to get to know, listen and watch and try to encourage 'em if you can... and then they're gone, some to other meetings and programs, to treatment centers, other towns. Some, but not all.

And you may run across the straight arrows - full-blown citizens from the crib on up. I still can't figure out those well-adjusted types. Stable as the sun, apparently, inside and out. In between are the handful that spound and act like addicts but know when to lay off (or, curiously, don't use at all).

As I cut my way out of the jungle of past wreckage and present shortcomings, these flawed humans never stop reminding me that I never cornered the market on self-centeredness, insecurity, denial... even insanity. Man, I wish some of 'em would find their way into a fellowship! It's like a reflection of myself in an old, dirty mirror.

Not that I'm any paragon of virtue. Guess what I'm trying to tell ya is that I'd like to see everybody growing into the kind of recovery we all hope to gain. There's nobody I'd like to see in the kind of condition I know all too well. God, through each addict and every printed page, never stops showing me where I was and where I can go, if I let Him lead. So it is for any and all comers... not my way, necessarily, but real momentum in the forward direction. "Whoever is not against me, is for me."

Sure, I know people in the program and outside of it who "really need to get on with it." Doubtless, most of them are thinkin' the same about me.

September 1989


These days, my top reason for going to the ocean is... the water. That whole tide/sand/salt thing. Not the only reason, or the best reason, and sometimes it's not the first reason that occurred to me. There can private reasons and weak reasons and additional reasons cropping up on the way there.

You can see where this is going, can't you?

I used to wince inside when somebody says the main reason they go to meetings is to stay clean. I had this smug idea that I knew my way around the English language, a trap I still fall into from time to time (though I've gotten much better at disguising my ignorance quickly). I can forget that a sentence can often have more than one meaning. Lots of times a disagreement faded straight away when me and the other party figure out what the other is saying, not just what we think they're saying. This is one of those times; when the dust settles, I go to meetings to help myself stay clean . "In order to". It helps me, but this is a result, a side effect, a benefit. The effect, not the cause.

My reason for attending a meeting is personal; our reason for having a meeting is bigger still: we want to spread the word to those who haven't zeroed in on what we've found. That's why we print up schedules and invite everybody (to open meetings) or all who think they might belong (to closed meetings): our main reason for regularly scheduled meetings with the same skeletal meeting format is to get the word to those who need it. We've found a way out from the slow death. That is the message.

Getting that message heard is the justification for most service committees, most of the literature and nearly all of the 7th tradition income. Since our common welfare comes first, there will be times when the good of the "our" will take precedence over my needs or wants; if this were not the case, we wouldn't need a 1st tradition at all. So I don't go the meeting just to take, nor do I get to become a professional/facilitator-type member and show up just to give.

You've put up with me when I dragged myself into the rooms primarily to dump, or to rescue you, or to look good. I continue to learn how to bear with you and return the favor. Let's continue, the best we can, to get our needs met without ever losing sight of the messenger job we do - chosen, uniquely qualified, interdependent for life. Many other benefits, and even more good reasons. When we're deliberately gathering as a group, I hope we continuously keep in mind the A-number-one motive. H.P. will take care of the rest.

July 1991

Us  &  Them

Get them away from us! Nothing they got to say that we wanna hear. We got
Take what you can use and leave the rest. We all gotta hang together, or we're
ours - let 'em get their own. They're not like us, they don't get it.
all gonna hang separately. Addiction knows no social boundaries. What's good
So clueless... we have nothing in common. Wouldn't want to be seen
for the individual member is usually good for the group. We are standing on
with the likes of them. No chance they're ever gonna catch on no matter
the shoulders of those who arrived in N.A. before we did. Be kind to the newcomer -
how long they hang around. We know how it is. It's different now.
s/he may be your sponsor someday. Stand for something, or you'll fall for anything.
It's a selfish program. Guess they're just not done yet. Why don't they get a grip?
Question the prevailing opinions. Way down inside, we're all looking for the same things.

March 1993

Notes on Recovery

" I'm just layin' there, starin' at the top of her head and I got no idea what her face looks like. Jonesin' real bad, and here's this total stranger." He squints out the window for a long second, shakes his head and comes back to "now".

"What year was this?," I ask him.

Everybody calls him Tow. As in truck. Way back before the Oasis burned down, he snorted up a whole lotta cover charges playin' bass for a white-hot local band. We met doin' session work on an album that sank like a rock. My comeback, his downhill slide...

Tow moved like a new bouncer, back then. Sloppy fingering, timing all but shot. The talk went around, as it always does - Tow's in the bag, keeled over during that gig at Spanky's, it's a damn shame 'cause he used to be good.

But he sits here with a couple years clean, no cheats. Incredible. We're supposed to be writing today but it's just been hooks and one decent bridge, and a lot of talkin'.

"So what happened to your other sponsor?," and so on. Words ambling back and forth, a little retuning, and we mess with a possible intro he just flashed on. Right then he sits up straight, eyes clear, head cocked just so. He tries some harmonics, I wander off into a bluegrass thing, and he gets up and hunts for some matches. Inevitably, a blues progression, which leads to talk about amends we're not looking forward to making... my wife, and this great ninth step story of hers. Women in general. The torturous outfits we've seen, right under our noses, and which clubs' crowds were the most, uh, distracting.

I refill the coffee mugs; Tow's describing his new lady friend approvingly, as he digs through his wallet. He has the number of a harmonica player I've been after; I give him the voice mail for a good sound guy. We talk about a drummer who just got clean, and a keyboard player... There's a lot of musicians in the program nowadays - it floors us how many, when we compare notes...

And the sun's givin' us looks through the curtains. The neighbor kid's Big Wheel is clattering by.

We look at our guitars, and at the remnants of the afternoon scattered around us.

Tow grins, tossing his pick up in the air and catching it neatly. His hands don't have that old tremor, his skin isn't the color of old concrete. He's not living at 78 rpm today. "Ain't gettin' a whole lot done today, are we?"

I remember. Him back then, me before that. So we don't have a couple songs in the can. It's been a real good afternoon.

I try a chord or two."Aaaaahh, I wouldn't say that."

August 1990

Don't you point that finger at me

Thank you, H.P., for those who know it all
and make me wince at my own arrogance.

Thank you, H.P., for those who crave control
and cause me to yield it, again, to you

Thank you, H.P., for the suavely uninvolved
that renew my desire to make it happen.

Thank you, H.P., for the cliché-mongers
who highlight the members quietly walking their talk.

Thank you, H.P., for the endlessly unappeasable
and for gratitude unsought and undeserved.

Thank you, H.P., for recycling me
from the dung heap for your purpose and delight.

May 1991

You must have regrets

Closer now. Much nearer.

Lie still. - Okay, for now. Whew.

There's gotta be something that'll call 'em off. Gotta be good... some "remorsement" that'll satisfy 'em.

Bad craziness.

We expected the backlash sooner or later. Most of us did, anyway. I'd thought it would be more subtle, myself. It all happened so fast that there wasn't time for anything... gradual. The world faltered, paused... and the masses reached for chemical relief. The wealthy countries really went to hell in a hurry. Snowballed, flatlined out, multiplied again. All ages and classes and colors and areas.

The irony was just too much. We stayed off to the side, keeping our mouths shut. Wary. The outcasts, the rejects. Filthy dope fiends, keeping our heads down. We knew the paranoia would be bad. It still shocked us; it's one thing to see your friends succumb, but the straights - all of 'em - gibbering and snarling.

Saying it like it's a cussword. Clean freaks. It definitely isn't hip anymore. All of a sudden...

We were - some of us were - rigid about it. They called it "puritanical", or conclued we had a big secret agenda. Holier-than-yow. They viewed us as eccentrics, then nuisances. The annoyances, troublemakers... intolerable threats.

Do it down, they urged. Getting more and more insistent. Use or lose. And many have.

I have no idea how I've held out. This kind of strength... isn't mine. There are old-timers, some far more humble than I'll ever be, and red-light cocky pups, back in the pack now.

The blue line, once my personal sworn enemy, has never been thinner. Kept us safe for a couple months - while the system swayed precariously, crumbled, full anarchy just the throwing of a few more stones away.

So we've been sneaking around for a while. Quick meetings that roam. Raggedy white books and worn Basic Texts. The street-sense comes back, always comes back. It was easy to keep ahead of those who never had a need for our brand of cunning. Some were forced to talk, though - human nature. The technology is hard to outrun...

The last lure, just before they clamped down hard, was the "yets". Playing on those things we didn't do, or didn't do often enough, when we were still in the bag. Working 'em, like a loose tooth... Juicy bait, all the best loaded times, the bulletproof nights. Rip and run, all peak and rush, no downside. Nineteen again, with the know-how of forty.

They won't fix us up. Not sadistic enough... catch us, work on us until the works are in our own hands. Sweaty hands that still remember. I've heard it myself, first-hand. Isolate, find the custom chink in the armor and get the wedge started. Do it, on the house. Join us.

What scares me, is how strong that pull is. Did I ever really get rid of those reservations, if they pack this kind of a punch? There's no more kidding around. Freedom is everything; there's a different kind of program on the inside...

These "yets", they've got to be dealt with, once and for all. Before the fellowship's out of my reach. While there's still time.


We tried to carry

They want to lock up the meeting room. You head for the parking lot, fishing for a smoke. There are loud little clumps of addicts scattered around the parking lot, in no hurry to head out (one by one, usually).

R___ walks by, with L___ hangin' on him as always. Now, you - you can't just let 'em slip away without one more attempt to get him to at least crack a smile. So they stop, and you do the usual back-and-forth.

R___ battles with himself for a few seconds. A question is coming, one that matters. How obvious - oh. Anger.

So, uh, what do ya do with anger, so it doesn't build up into a dope run? "So what do ya do when..."

His face says more than he'd want it to. Or maybe not. Lookin' hard at him, you see a scrawnier you. Different parking lot, another city. Pulling your hair back out of your eyes (yeah, real calm and collected, Slick) and waiting for the biker's answer. Hungry for it. R___'s question was your question too, spoken by your own voice.

Back to the now - you remind 'em we're all like this, get more details. Maybe suggest a chapter in the book that helped ya. You're surprised, again, at the vaguely warm feeling you have - gratitude? Purpose?

What you want to pass along is... a little more hope. Enough for the night. What was that "inside stuff" you took away from the first meeting you can remember?

Can you put a finger on the raw emotions, stripped of all the big words? Somebody thought you were worth listenin' to, it was safe to talk to 'em, the turf you've chowed up is real familiar to someone else. Maybe you can make it. You.

Right about then, R___'s let go of his load. He and L___ are losing that fine steel-edgy tightness that some of us were propelled by for so long, like new highwire-walkers. You slip in a last encouragement as you all leave - hesitantly, but dogs and kids are waitin'. He says he'll call ya tomorrow night.

For now, you feel lighter; the hamster-wheel is chocked. You get to keep what you have. Better than being left to your own ideas - which is a short hop away from dead, if you remember correctly.

Straight up. This "passing it on" bit, it ain't optional.

August 1989

Odds and ends

from other ramblings

What the hell is "good recovery"? If all clean days are successful ones, the phrase is redundant - you know, dark black, very unique, quite dead? Either you're recovering, or you're not - no matter how you define recovery. Uh... right? On/off, life/death, existent/nonexistent, growth or "growthlessness" (which, by the bye, some think is an illusion anyway). No butte, no mesa - just a pointy summit that's an unknown number of miles away.

I can almost buy the phrase "shaky recovery", but in my experience and those I get to watch closely, it's real tricky to get an accurate bead on one's own growth. Big failures (survived without drugs) fertilize big successes.

For that matter, what's a "good program"? Since no one follows the suggestions one hundred point zero zero percent of the time, what's the magic number that separates a good program from one not so good? Ninety percent? Eighty? Do you know anyone who's followed the program, as it appears in Chapter Four, even three-quarters of the time? (And how would you go about measuring something like that?)

What's wrong with this picture? Could be me. Look at the class of people I hang out with...

Basic Text, 5th Ed., Our Symbol, page ix:

"Probably the last to be lost to freedom will the the stigma of being an addict."
Are we talkin' here about the external "markings", or what goes on inside our heads? What are the other undesirables we'll lose by this time? There's an idea for a newsletter theme: is the shame gone? Dwindling, but still there?

Five different seasoned members will have five different views about what the [area newsletter] should or should not contain, whether it's article topics or controversial terminology. The best we can do, quite literally, is a group conscience. There is time for everybody's beliefs to be discussed. But you've got to communicate them, or we'll never ever know what they are...

Is the newsletter a reflection of members' views - accurate views, or erroneous views? Or does it help shape those beliefs? What are the real threats to our unity, and what exactly are the solutions? ...

Check yourself:

If you answered "yes" to two or more of these questions, it doesn't mean anything at all. Nyaah.

Things to say at WCNA-20 [Portland]

1989 - 1993

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version 1.04     04feb1999