even more of Grrr's recovery tales

You Don't Say

There's a whole bunch of things people say in meetings because they need to say them, or because they need to be said. Hey, nobody walks in with a solid understanding of what we're trying to do here. That goes for me, too. Until we learn different (and better) tools, we do the best we can with what we have.

At some point, though, we want more. In order to get it, we have to (gasp!) curtail our own freedom of speech. This is also known as "self-sacrifice." Not a big favorite... but it's been said that anything worth having, is worth fighting for.

In the hope of activating brain cells everywhere (and nudging you into writing your reaction down and actually e-mailing it or sticking in into an envelope), here's a list. Let's call it...

Things We Don't Need To Hear in an __.A. Meeting

Mislabeled opinion

Working the crowd

Talking about somebody else's behavior rather than one's own

That's how sick I was (or am)


June 1999

Love ya, D

There's a hole like a missing tooth. The earth is greyer, quieter.
From a body in the shadows, to a face, then a voice. A history, a determination, a future. Fire and passion, shrewd reckoning, brazenly unique.

She didn't forget where she came from.
She focused on where she was going.

Some people have crossed your path so many times, from the start of your recovery, that you can't remember or imagine being clean without them. Even when they weren't in the meeting room every night, same chair as always, kitty-korner from yours, you knew they were still in the game, still clean, a fixed point of reference.

It isn't about sainthood. If anyone illustrated that, it was her.
The stronger impression is of sacrifice, and kindness, and an open-minded intensity that never came across as blind or unsure. Later, to the end, she bore the consequences of her addiction with considerable graciousness and increasingly constant grace.

You might not have met her, but odds are you know someone she sponsored. You definitely know someone in _.A. who knows someone who knew her. You've likely been to a meeting that was seasoned and flavored by her. This area is more enlightened, more compassionate, more tolerant because she was here.

We are her legacy.
Addicts, still living, because she took the time.


July 1999


"Our meetings have an atmosphere of empathy. In accordance with the principles of recovery, we try not to judge, stereotype or moralize with each other." (BT, page 11)

You know how it is when we're new. Either we don't say 'boo', or we don't stop talking... or maybe both, on alternating nights.
The foremost thing is just to be there. Scary, for a lot of us. But eventually we take a chance.

"We have learned that old ideas and old ways won't help us to stay clean or to live a better life. If we allow ourselves to stagnate and cling to terminal hipness and fatal cool, we are giving into the symptoms of our disease." (BT, page 53)

On the street, attitude is the coin of the realm. And when we find ourselves in the unfamiliar vibe of a meeting, we naturally reach for the tools we know best. The risk of looking bad, sounding dumb, alienating people is heavy upon us.
You don't have to impress me, and I don't have to impress you.

"Clean time speaks for itself." (BT, page 40)

In the rooms or out of 'em, we are our own best "advertising". Just as true when it's inconvenient, too. Our behavior says it all. Oh yeah, been there. But never with arrogance, please.
(For extra credit, see if you can find the warning about cockiness.)

"Surrounded by fellow addicts, we realized that we were not alone anymore. Recovery is what happens in our meetings. Our lives are at stake." (BT, page 15)

Learning about ten new "skills" at once, we find ourselves depending on the kindness of strangers. Some are stranger than others. Alone may have been preferable, but through trial and error we find out this recovery stuff doesn't work nearly as well without... accompaniment.
We do what we have to do, because we have to do it. If there was a quicker, gentler way, be assured God would've told your sponsor, and s/he would've told you. We're doing the best that we can.


August 1999


Chirping. Insomniac birds... Dave, trying to be funny?
No. It's the phone. 1:51 this fine Tuesday morning...
"I... This just sucks, all of it. I can't take it, Treece. Just can't. I hate him - I hate this, and I'm goin' out to get a bag." More words, drowned out by something without a muffler in the background. Pay phone.
Her eyes are open now. "Ellie? Is this a test?"
A bitter sigh, tightly strung. "Yeah, right. Look, you made me promise. I'd call before... So here I am. Just a bottle, maybe. Shut my head up..."
Oh, God. OK. Help, here. "Ellie? Did good, hon. Now talk to me, let it out. Start at the start." Sitting up now, Dave stirring alongside.
Distant, vacant sound in her voice. "That store on Russell, it's still open. Of course. But I knew that when I called. There's enough time... I don't know why I called, Treece. I'm gonna go ahead and do it this time." She's out there, and she's not listening. Oh, El. C'mon now.
"El. El. Just - just really listen for a minute. You don't have to do this. It won't make anything better. You told me you didn't want to take the old way out. Remember? You drink, you get loaded, you end up in jail or lockdown. Remember telling me that?" No, this isn't coming out right. Wake up, wake up! "You can make it through this. We'll make it through, and this... it'll change, you'll feel better -"
A sharp breath, and a hurried reply. "It hurts, Treece. I can't do this. It just feels... I can't -"
"El. Postpone it. Just put it off and start walking toward here. Okay? Tell me where you are, and I'll be there before you know it..." Waiting. A bad silence. "I don't want to see you get hurt worse. It will get better, El, I swear it will. God is n-"
A faint wail, caught and cut off. "I can't. I'm goin'. Don't hate me. I gotta... go." In a hurry -
No time. Searching for the "right" words, but they aren't there, or won't come. No magic tonight. She can picture Ellie on the other end, about to hang up, anxious. Already pulling away. Body over mind.
"Don't go, Ellie."
Dave sits up and looks curious.
"I'll be here." Calmly spoken... And she still hasn't hung up. Urgent, almost pleading: "El -"
Click. More clicks. Imagining that they continue, on a sidewalk somewhere, obsessed heels hurrying away from a pay phone.
A red digit changes.
It's 1:54.


July 1990

Tell Me Why

They did it again. "I can say anything I want here. If you don't like it... write about it!" Laughter. What's wrong with this picture?
It's not the rebelliousness - I like that as much as anyone. I'm attending meetings [here], aren't I? Dissent is a neutral thing, and nonconformity ain't too bad either.
Addicts come to _.A. for a few different reasons. The question I'm inviting you to consider is not, "Why am I here?" - it's "Why are we here?"
Meetings are not held to provide me with a captive audience. It is not constructive for me to say any damn thing that occurs to me. Not every word that pops into my head while I sit in a meeting will carry the message. And yes, friend, this goes for you too.
Newcomers: now, don't even think about shutting up. We need to hear your thoughts, fears, questions and hopes more than you can possibly imagine. Experience, strength and hope are the targets we (hopefully!) aim at.
See... I forget the simplest things. I forget just how miserable I was when I got here - so please keep on contributing. Anyone who says the newcomer is not the most important person at the meeting is only flaunting their ignorance.
And, for those of us collecting brass tokens now, and not keytags - don't you agree there's a (gulp) duty that comes with the _.A. clean time? To be as honest as you can, and share the solution you've found with those who came in (or who came back in) after you? One without the other, and the meeting can be off-kilter.
We have an incredible thing going, here... not group therapy, not a pep club. ____ Anonymous thrives when we give a little thought and care to our purpose.
And - "If you don't like it, write about it"?! That's just a last-ditch exit line for those unwilling and unable to explain themselves further. "F--- You," in recoveryese.


May 1993

Talk the Walk

When the fog started to clear, I looked around me and saw a room chock-full of dope fiends. Candlelight meeting. They'd laugh, sometimes. And mostly, they were listening...

After the meeting, they kept doing it. Apparently it wasn't an act. They, uh, cared about each other. I hung back on the fringes, determined not to get sucked in - and kinda-sorta wishing I was one of the gang.

What I ended up learning from those varmints (and my endlessly patient sponsor) got me through the first month, the detoxing, my first term as a meeting secretary, and into the Steps. Pushed down the wall that blocked me off from my future, and saved the authorities from who knows how much paperwork. I watched, and learned - more desperate than I even knew - and they taught me how to take a chance on 'em. When I'd sit still long enough, one of 'em would hit me with a direct question - and then keep looking at me, as if they really wanted to know what I would say. Faced with that, I could dummy up, or sling the usual B.S. Or maybe try to do what I heard them doing.

Lying had become so automatic I didn't even know the difference. Trying to be impressive, in one way or another, was long-time reflex. But these lops were wise to that. They wanted something else - the truth, if I dared. Risky stuff. As it wasn't challenging enough just to figure out what sentences meant - "So, uh... how you doin'?" - and then hunt around my fuzzy brain for the answer.

Some people can talk a blue streak when they first get to the fellowship. I was in awe of 'em, sorta. It took me months... But "getting real" is different than just stringing lots of words together. And it isn't just using the right clichés, either. (I know. I tried doing those things, later on and since.) What amazed me was that the people who'd been around __.A. would ask me to tell them what was really going on with me. Not just positive stuff, or polite stuff. Actual... truth.
That's what they did, to each other. Some of the things they said were shocking, and they wouldn't look embarrassed at all! So I tried it. Once in a while I regretted my choice of words (or listeners), but the ceiling never fell in on me, and I ended up feeling a little better. Came to find out a new thing: We all want and need to be... heard. In a fellowship where most of the round-robin "coaching" is verbal, I discovered a different need - to listen, and not just so I would appear to be a stand-up kinda guy, or so I could stash the juicy details to use against you, later.

Maybe it's as close to a "secret formula" as we have around here. You know - being friendly, making conversation. Old-timers want the newcomers to remind 'em what hell on earth was like. And they also hope the later arrivals will step out on a limb and try revealing a little piece of their real-deal selves. Just a little piece, if they can. To get a nod and a grin in response, instead of judgement or rejection - what an amazing thing. I mumbled something, out loud, that maybe wasn't the "right" thing to say, social-wise - and I didn't get shunned. You guys took it in stride. Responding just as if I was... one of you. Huh.

Do you see how this adds up? I overhear you people talking, outrageously candid, and I work up my nerve. Toss out a tiny bit of honesty, and brace myself. I don't get stomped on. You don't blab it to everyone within a four-county radius. So I mull it over, and try it again...

Many (?!) of us get to __.A. without the slightest idea of how to volunteer anything truthful. Members' direct, straightforward little "invitations" to respond are how we begin to save each other's lives. Addicts of different kinds - terminally friendly, blunt and simple, virtually telepathic, quietly sacrificing their time to buy more literature and line up chairpersons - deliberately making room for one more, not just at a table... but in a crew.

Now I know you give as good as you got. You take the time to give newer people the same thing you were surprised to find here - respect. Without always knowing just the right response, you care enough to try, or maybe just to be there, on deck. Not driven by what's in it for you. How rare is that? On the street?

You are attractive, in that "magnetic" sense of the word - like cool water way out in the middle of a desert, discovered unexpectedly. That kindness ripples out and away, rebounding back from time to time. You've discovered how to heap your own fears and doubts in the communal dumpster - and that other addicts' woes are oddly less taxing than your own. There's just no telling how many others - future members and those who care about them - will benefit from all of us "getting real", our clean little secret hidden right here in plain sight.


March 2001

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