still more of Grrr's recovery tales

Lookin' clean

"Who are you dressing up for?," he mumbles.
"Well, who are you dressing down for?"
It's not an exaggeration to say she's glaring at him. Yep, that's a glare. He half-closes his eyes and sets his bootheels, ready for severe weather. An honest, open cold front... "I've always dressed like this," he says.
"Well, usually when people get clean they look a little... different than before."
"Where does it say that?"
She starts to roll her eyes and catches herself. "Please."
He stares at her. "No, now, let's see. You used to get all tricked out to hit the yuppie bars, and you still like to dress to the nines. I look the same as I did ten years ago, but you're okay and I'm not."
"I didn't say you weren't okay."
"Not in so many words."
Now she does roll her eyes, turning away. "I don't know why I bother."
"C'mon, now. You dress like you used to."
"Not all the time."
"I can have a good time without dressing up."
"I know. What does that have to do with anything?"
"The point I was trying to make is, other people judge you by your appearance."
Through clenched teeth: "What does that have t--"
"I meant that generally. Not just about you."
"Are you trying to drive me crazy?"
"Look, that's the way it is. It'd be nice if people didn't judge you 'cause you look like a slob, but they do."
He looks down himself. "I do not look like a slob."
She studies him. "Well, not so much right now..."
"Besides, the subject was, why do you need to impress ot--"
"I don't need to impress anybody."
"Okay. So. Why do you want to im--"
"You just don't get it, do you? The way I present myself to the world is looked upon as better than the way you look. Society thinks - unfair, I know - that lawyers are worth more than ex-cons. I didn't say it was fair."
His mouth works silently. Then: "If you say 'page 449' I'm... I'm goin' to... to take off my shirt and sit on the front steps."
A few seconds of silence.
"Uh... Buck, when was the last time you went to a meeting?"



Higher personality

No matter how I say this, I'll be accused of dissing some peoples' higher powers. Sorry, but that ain't what I'm out to do. This has been bugging me for a long time, though.

Consider, if you will, the word "care" (n., to have charge of or be responsible for, look after, attend to; to provide for; to protect against trouble, want, etc.) It appears in one of the Steps (c'mon, now), and let's assume for a sec it's the correct word, hokay?

Hokay. What I don't understand is how people use a word like "care" about higher powers that aren't sentient. My friends care about me, my pets in their little pet-like way, the state guv'mint (entirely too much). But an ashtray? A doorknob, a book, a tree? Probably I'm just missing something obvious, but how does one hand over their will and life to a thing? Does one get so attached to the ashtray serving as higher power that they sense concern, interest, compassion coming from it... or is the object standing in for something else?

How about someone else? See, there's gotta be a someone. A higher power without a personality presents the same problems as our friend the doorknob. If we turn stuff over to the "care of" our higher power, we're placing that stuff in H.P.'s care. The life-force, or Gaia, or the stars cannot care for our needs the way our friends do. See, if I mail a letter "in care of" you, then you (and only you) have the right to open it. Possession is tranferred from you to me.

I keep trying to come around the back side of this, and keep concluding that "care" requires a personality to do the caring. Anybody care to take this on?




He comes to a full stop, turns his head and looks at me. Under other circumstances I like to cause this kind of reaction, but not this time. "Oh yeah? Anything?"

Whups. "Well... nobody interrupts, usually. Right?" He nods slowly. "I don't jump on what they say, they don't jump on me. Uhhh. Everybody gets to say their piece." I get a very small nod. No "Yup," though. I'm about to get Sponsorized, and I walked right into it, so I keep going to buy some time. "If there ain't any musts except 'no drugs or works to be on ya', and nobody gets to sit up there and tell everyone if what they shared is __.A. gospel or not, then whatever I've got to say is okay."

And he just stares another half-second. Then: "You don't really want me to respond to that, do ya?"

Oooo, another trick question. No... but, yeah. If he sees it differently I better find out why that's so. "Sure."

"A word like 'can' has more than one meaning." I blink a couple times - "Okay. You can say anything you want in a meeting - as in, you won't be 86'ed for saying something forbidden. You can also lay under the back wheels of my truck -"

"That's not the same thing."

"Nope. And that's the point. 'Can', and 'could' and 'may' are all like that. Let's back it up a sec. That 'no musts' bit isn't strictly accurate, 'cause the Basic Text has the word 'must' all over the place. But let's say it did apply to the meetings - the fellowship, rather than the program. And we have no grand poobah, no director or moderator judging whether what's said is OK or not OK. True. So far, so good?"

"Is there a 'But' coming, here? You're agreeing with me so far."

"Heh heh heh. Okay, no censor, no bouncers. No buzzers, at least not in this town. No big ol' list of forbidden words, up on the wall. No applause meters. Right?" I nod at him. He actually rubs his hands together. "So we got all these addicts in the same room, all of us with a disease whose spiritual part is self-centeredness - and no boss. Take it to its conclusion, if everybody's talking about everything." He pauses. I can't tell where this is going yet.

So he plows on. "Is it called Anything Anonymous?"

"Oh, okay. You just want to tell people what they can and can't say."

"Nope. Not at all. I just figure, if people go to the trouble of deliberately going to, say, an N.A. meeting, they probably wanna recover from narcotics or something, huh? We have a freedom here, to speak freely. With freedom always comes responsibility, and this time it's to speak freely toward a goal. The main goal is the Fifth Tradition."

"I know."

"If that doesn't come first, then what makes the meeting any different than group therapy?"

I snort at him. "What, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few -"

"Get real. It's all the same need. I just don't feel like I can use group time for any ol' thing that's drifting through my head at the time. Newcomers don't come to meeting to hear me. They come to hear the message. The messenger and the message aren't the same thing."

"Oh, here we go again. So, what if my butt's fallin' off?"

"I've said it before, ace, and I'll say it again. 'Dump' at meeting level if you must. Better, though, to grab me or one of your close friends and dump on us. The meeting is for you, but it's primarily there for other people who come to hear the message. Every little thing that happens in your recovering life is not 'the message' -"

"So I've been told."

"And if you think this is any kinda excuse to be less than completely honest, I'm gonna thump ya. Honesty is not the opposite of unconditional love."

"That's... Unnh. My brain hurts."

"Oy. Alright. In a nutshell, the meetings are for 'we' first, then for 'you'. Some of the 'we' are real new, maybe even loaded - so you and I can use our freedom to tell these new folks about the What and How and Why, nice and clear. The universal stuff... we all have in common."

"Okay. Enough. I get it." Which isn't strictly true, but I figure if I go home and think it ov-

And he grins, real slowly. "Not yet. But you will."

"Don't do that! Creepin' me out. You're fired."

"Whew. Finally. Now maybe I can get some sleep," he says, stepping just out of reach, the jerk.


October 1998

Apples and... apples

So I get the door open, only to see the back of a shaggy blonde head on my new throw pillow. Now turning, to set his father's half-lidded eyes on me.

"Gotta cigarette?"

Yes, it's an unexpected visit from Nineteen Hours of Unbelievable Labor and Then a Caesarean Anyway. "Hi, Ma," I say sarcastically. "How are you? Can I get you anything?" He just blinks - huh? I sigh and pull off my shoes very gratefully. "Like you don't know where they are."

"Yeah. But I thought I better ask."

"Oh really? What did you say your name was, again?" And anyway I can't be old enough to have a twenty-year-old son, a chipper off the old maternal blockhead. Impossible.

"Haw haw."

I watch him fetch and then plop back down, light up hungrily. So much like his dad, on the outside. "So what's up?"


"Try again."

A pause. "Uh. C___ and I broke up."

Alright! But I don't let it sho-

"I saw that. Go ahead, say 'I told ya so,' get it outa the way -"

"I didn't - hey, I wasn't going to say it. Seriously."

"Well, you were right - for once - and I don't want to go into the details, right now."


Another pause. I can wait him out, but... "What are you thinking about?" And his eyes widen a little, caught red-handed or something.

He considers his answer, then gives it up. "A sixteenth, for starts." And I nod. My flesh and blood.

"That'd show her."


"Then you'd have less time than - oh. Oh ho. Then she'd be the one with three months more than you -"


Ah, yes. Nothing new under the sun. "Yeah, I tried that. Not on purpose, but it worked out that way." I study a chip in one of my nails.

Eventually: "And?"

"It was a lot harder to come down, each time. Maybe that's just me, I don't know, or just how relapses go. You especially want to go through that first week again?" Not that I can ever forget him, way too skinny, snapping at everyone... and the guilt working me over, this-is-my-fault-no-it-isn't ...

A few more seconds - a little tense, will he or won't he - and he sighs. "Naw. I just wanna be with her, y'know? It's like so different now, these two years have been like, I dunno, two hundred. Used to hate it when you'd talk about how much different some things looked, as you went along. And she just doesn't get it."

"Not yet. She will. She's in tight with her sponsor, right?" A nod. "Catch-up. But the other way, if you went out - just for her sake, of course," - and he rolls his eyes, a good sign - "you'd still have two years' of experience with the steps. Probably screw up your whole 'oooooo-take-care-of-me' thing."

"Durn." This is probably teasing. He gets another smoke.

"Say that. Sometimes I sorta want that newcomer brain again. Simpler problems, like, how do I make it through the next five minutes without getting totally ripped. Any other worry was way down the list -"

"Man, if I told V___ what you just said, she'd be shocked."

"Too late. I tell everybody that. But you may remember I'm not your sponsor -"


"... or else I'd be asking how that ninth step is going. But no fear. I won't. You couldn't get me to sponsor you if you gave me a million dollars -"

"Oh, like that's real spiritual." But he's relaxing a little bit. And so am I.

The tree isn't that far from where the apple falls, either.



Phone Tag

Hey, it's me. Are you there? Pick it up. C'mon.
Oh. Well, I went to that stupid meeting. Hope you're happy. Couldn't smoke in there either. At least there was another visitor so I wasn't the only one. Those people, they're weird. They don't make any sense. All these buzzwords and stuff... And they look like they just got out of jail. No way they're clean. I don't think this is for me. But hey, I tried it. Later.

Babe, you there? Hello?
What're you up to? I'm, uh, doing okay. Just staying home like a good boy. It's, uh, I think it's not as bad coming down this time. Well, call me when you get in, you know how long I can stay up, hah. Call me.

Hey. Hel-LO. You must've just missed me. And you're never home. I could use some, uh, moral support once in a while, y'know? Where are you? I need to talk.

Um. Hi. Me again. Uh, sorry I wasn't here when you called, I was, uh, well. You know. But don't get mad. I just did a little. I swear. Just enough to settle down, and now I'm okay. Safe and sound. I think I really could just, like, set a limit and stick to it. I know I said that before but I've been thinking. I'm not that bad. You want to see bad, now, those stoners at that N.A. meeting, now they got a problem. You should see 'em. No thanks.
Later on.

Are you there? C'mon... Oh, wow. Tag, you're it.
That was kind of a rude message you left me. It is different this time, I told you, I'm not an addict like those other losers, I'm... more of a addict by choice. Addict with a little 'a'. I work hard, and I deserve to blow off a little steam without you or anybody else riding me about it.
Look, you've been through a lot, I know that. So I'm not the best at managing money... and I I'm staying away from Ty's place. He cuts it too much anyway, I don't even get off on his stuff anymore. So I won't be over there every night, anymore, like I said. Alright? Give me a call.

Hey. You there, pick it up. Hey.
Of course not. Well, you better call me when I am here. You're totally wrong. I remember last month just fine. That was before I decided to cut down, alright? Give me some credit here. I'm not going to do that again. I don't know why you can't have a little faith in me. You're going to get all the money back, if that's what you're so worried about. Never mind me.
Just forget it.

C'mon, pick it up. Please.
I feel like I got dragged behind a truck. I can't move, everything hurts. Something wrong...
I can't stop. I should be able to, but I can't help it. I'll give you all the hairy details when I see ya, and they were real hairy, this time. But it's the same, it's just the same thing. I can't believe it did it again.
Aw, you don't know how it is. Nobody does. Well...
I'm actually thinking about going to another one of those meetings, that's how bad it is. So you don't have to nag me or anything. Just call me, okay? Please...

Hello? No. Well, of course. No, I don't mean that. It was cool of you to call back at all. I was crashed, oh man. Man.
Yes, I went back there. Yes. All by myself. I think they knew, some of 'em, that I was... well, they, uh, I heard a couple things... that might help. Everything's looking pretty crazy, though, right about now.
Hey, I want you to hang in there, don't give up on me. Okay? Talk to ya later.

Hello, your machine. I can't believe this. Must be some kind of record for most phone messages without a real live conversation.
I'm... hurtin', but, uh, I'm making it. Right now. No telling 'bout later. I talked to a guy at a meeting, don't know what his game is but he said some stuff that sorta helped. It's insane, though. Your turn to call me, babe.

Aaaarrrrggh. You're really there and just letting the machine get it, aren't you? Some kinda massive conspiracy.
I've been in meetings, that's why I'm not home much. Meetings. That's what you wanted, right? Sheesh. They got 'em every night. It's almost scary...
Not as scary as this, uh, these cravings. I've been talkin' this guy's ear off - oh, yeah, I met this other chick, I mean woman who went to school with my sister. Who'da thought. She looks normal.
Uh, they're not as ridiculous as I... thought they were. There might be something to that Steps thing -
Whoa, I got a call coming in, I'll catch up with you later on.


December 1998


"Hey, brother."
I stare at him. "Hey..."
"Whatcha doing?"
"Got me." I look around. "Aren't you, uh -"
"Yep. So they tell me."
No more pain.

A clubhouse. Sorta like virtual reality - no, it makes real life seem like virtual reality, somehow...
"Am I... uh -"
"Just visiting."
"Oh." No one else is here. "It's quiet," I say.
"Now, yeah. You should hear it, later." That lopsided grin.
"Didn't think I'd see you again... for awhile."
"Lucky you."
I chuckle at this - and feel embarrassed right away. Not okay -
"So... you got somethin' to say?"

No. Yes. Nothing appropriate, everything -
Too sudden, too wrong, thought I'd have another chance bud, minor beefs were more important.
Another failure as a sponsor, too indirect - too weak - waiting, safely, for initiative that I sorta knew wouldn't come. Played it safe. Not a good friend. I bailed. Certain adjectives, spoken after a meeting here or there...
Bollixed-up priorities.
The principles shoved to the back of the line, sometimes. How many times?
I didn't know I didn't know I didn't know.

And anger... ridiculous, now, even more than then. How could you, why didn't you, what were you thinking, if only I'd known. Why.
Revisiting the emotion is corrosive, ancient. Even here. A dangerous relic, the roll-call of offenses, silently justified resentments.
Pitched battles in the wrong arenas...

My mouth opens, and closes. No idea what's next, here.

His eyes narrow some, and his shakes his head just a little.
"Some things, they just don't matter. Right?"

And if I thought I was tongue-tied before - all the slices of time, our past, fixed and permanent. If only and I can't believe I did and I wish I had. Frozen in amber.
Is there tribute in rehashing all the faults and wrongs of others, or myself? Or disrespect in remembering what has the greatest value, rebuilding bridges, walking on more observantly than before?

My eyes meet his, and lock.
He finds an answer to his question.



Future Fantasy

"Who cares what it is, man?," Speck says. "The important thing is that it works..."
They finally pulled it off. Abstinence in a pill. Even more amazing, some eccentric billionaire funded the research and production. For less than a dollar, you get a little grey pill. Take one every day - no more obsession. Well, at least not of the chemical variety.
It'll go on sale in two weeks.

Not that he was one to read the paper, usually... but the big screaming headline sorta caught his eye. I'd been following Interase ever since it was just a wild rumor on the 'net. All the careful responses from the government, and the mocking disbelief from a dozen different industries. Watching the debate get more and more heated among the other addicts online.
Waiting, I suppose. It all comes down to this... a few million people, waving a newspaper headline at their sponsors.
Maybe the others were wondering, like I was, what __.A. would look like a month from now. A year.
Was that future-tripping? Or was I putting too much importance on this conversation with Speck?

"What does that mean to you - 'it works' ?" He blinks a couple times. "Okay. Fill in the blank for me: If I take this pill, then I can..."
"I can forget about these freakin' Steps."
Oh boy. But that's not all, is it? "And you'll stay clean anyway?"
"Dude. Cleaning up... it's just popping a pill now. Why shouldn't we get loaded, have a good time, take one of these babies the next morning - no problem? Stop anytime I want..."
There it is.
I watch him, talking excitedly... and I feel very old. He's been around a couple months, consistently hitting three or four meetings a week. Reading some, connecting with guys in the program. Those light bulbs have been starting to go off - maybe there is a life without this jones on his mind every second of the day, the __.A. people aren't kicking each other when they're down and not for any lack of opportunity, and there are too many coincidences for all these people to be gettin' it on without Something Up There helping 'em.
A good start. Solid results. I would almost have wished for this news about the Interase to break a month from now, or maybe a month ago.

"Can we keep talking about this?"
"Well... okay," Speck says, "but why?"
"There's more sides to this -"
"What? More sides? What sides?"
I shift around in my chair. "Well, I myself get more out of __.A. than just staying clean -"
"Well, yeah, but - I'm not sure the rest is worth it. To me. Sorry, but you oldtimers sorta had to do it that way. Looks like I don't."
That stings. "All you know is what that one article said, right? Is it going to hurt to find out more?"
He hesitates before he answers, and the thought is big and hollow: He's already made up his mind. "N-no, guess not..."
We head our own ways, with a shaky date to get coffee on Saturday. I have some reading to do myself... and a lot of thinking.

Has "the message" been attractive enough? Did we fail to hit it as hard as we partied, when we were out there? Whatever we did or didn't do, where does our responsibility to tell, end - and the newcomers' responsibility to listen, begin?
An easier way out will look attractive to members all up and down the __.A. ranks. That's human nature. I wonder who'll take the plunge. I wonder if we're witnessing the end of our usefulness, so far as public opinion goes. I wonder how this will change us, as groups and areas...
Who would have thought we'd live to see it...




Good thing I'm staying anonymous. No way the mob of angry __.A. villagers with torches can find me.

Okay, here it comes. Brace yourself.
I am...

Oh sure, there was a time when I'd hide it. You know how it is. Sorta let you believe I was __.A. through-and-through. Conveniently forget to set the record straight. Those were simpler times, when a member was judged more on what (s)he said and did... than where they came from.

I realize now that was dishonest of me. I crave your pardon. It's easy to let you believe what I want you to, instead of looking bad. But I can no longer run from my past. Dirty little secrets can grow in the dark corners of our meeting rooms, too...

The cold truth is I... uh... started out somewhere else. There. I said it.
Wha? Oh. Well, see, I didn't know about __.A. when it was my time to g-
You can stop hissing anytime now.

We are among you - addicts who started their recovery in places other than ______ Anonymous. Through no fault of our own, we didn't go to __.A. first. We don't have pure __.A. recovery, and we never will.

Despite our differentness, we try to serve - to fit in - to win your respect. Maybe we're not as welcome on the convention speaker circuit or in the loftier realms of the service structure, but we buck up nonetheless. We share, and sponsor, and put chairs away. Doing our best to rise above our humble origins and live in anonymous unity, the __.A. way.

In our heart of hearts, we seek your forgiveness.
Embrace us. We aim to pay our debt, within our society.
Take us as we are, today, as we atone for our mixed origins... dreaming of a world where addicts of all detoxifications, pure and impure, can meet at the folding table and increase our therapeutic value as one.



Don't Be Cruel

Good news: Certain conference-approved literature includes the idea that this is not a selfish program. Hooray.
(By the way: "selfish", adj., too much concerned with one's own welfare and interests and having little or no concern for others.)

You've got your own pet peeves, and the newsletter people would be only too glad to consider your submissions about 'em. In the meantime, here's one of mine: Three little words. They often get a laugh at meeting level. A great suggestion that generally masks a ugly attitude...
"Write about it."

Frequently uttered with the same tone of voice that suggests an earthier two-word insult, this is a great example of saying one thing while another is meant. "Call your sponsor" is often attached. Another good idea. It's not the words I mind, it's the condescending viewpoint. Disagreements happen, but few phrases reveal as much closemindedness. As in, if you don't like it you're wrong. Or, you may disagree but I just don't care. Or even, I'm doing it my way, put up or shut up.

These are not lovely sentiments. Obviously they're not always there... but think back on the last few times you heard (or used) "Write about it." What message were you most determined to send (or "carry")?

The things you and I say at meeting level may - may - have more of an impact than we ever know. Sometimes the offhand remark reverberates for years, through sponsor-trees, under service committee meetings and into the spiels of conference speakers. Even outside the rooms, right? I'll bet your sponsor has had something (s)he said years ago, long-forgotten, come back around to 'em: "You chaired this little meeting at this diner in Nicolaus, years ago, it was raining really hard, and it really helped me when you said such-and-such, I hung on to that for a long time, can still remember you saying it..."

What am I not saying here? Censorship, ban certain words from the meeting, avoid sarcasm, never have a opinion of one's own, it's better to lie than to say something which might upset somebody, every word said at a meeting is crucial and true? No, times six.

I am suggesting that (uh) higher motives make for better fellowship. Is the witty remark I'm about to make going to help, or hurt? Am I reaching out - or slamming a potential heckler?
Subject to your consideration and discussion, I'll go out further on this here limb: For an __.A. meeting, the primary purpose is a group purpose which comes before individual purposes. We can all still get what we need. The newcomer is still the most important "unit" (hurtin', spun or otherwise). Every group will remain autonomous. Truth will be said. At the same time, I need to remember that the other people went to the trouble of coming to this meeting tonight too, when many (?) of 'em could have decided to stay home and "write about it" instead.




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version 1.03     19jun1999

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