January 22nd, 2020
“One day at a time, sweet Jesus. Whoever wrote that one hadn’t a clue. A day is a fuckin’ eternity”
― Paula Spencer
All that bad shit.
And here we are.
I took the young woman to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous yesterday. I take her to a meeting almost every day. I dropped her off at a small Lutheran church in our hometown. The meetings generally last for an hour. I came back for her, and I waited in the parking lot for her group to finish. I stared at the church. I know it well.
I went to AA meetings there twenty-eight years ago.
Twenty-eight years ago I was a mess, an even bigger mess than I am now. I was drinking all the time, and I was out of control. My wife wanted to leave me. Things were bad.
I asked one of my uncles to take me to AA meetings. He did. He had started going to them back n 1985, and he has been sober ever since. I guess he qualifies as a success story, but I’ll get back to that topic some other time. In any case, I went meetings at least three times a week, every week, for about six months. I was involved with three or four different groups. I really tried to follow the program. I wanted to change my life.
I got a sponsor. A sponsor like a mentor in AA. This a person who has a history of sobriety, and is willing to guide a newbie along that same path. Choosing a sponsor requires a high level of courage and trust on the part of the person who is just starting to get sober. Basically, the person who is just beginning with AA puts his or her life into the hands of a totally stranger. The sponsor can and will order their protege to do certain things. In return, the sponsor promises to be there to help their AA apprentice when things go bad, and things invariably do go bad.
Things went bad for me. I was working third shift at a trucking company, running a complicated dock operation all on my own. It was a remarkably stressful job, and I slept poorly. Karin and I had two small children at home. Karin’s parents came to visit us from Germany, and they brought along Karin’s young niece. This should have been a thoroughly pleasant experience, but it wasn’t.
Remember that this is back in 1992. This all occurred when people only had landline phones. There was no caller ID. It happened that the niece’s mother kept calling to check on her little girl. The woman called from Germany every five minutes for hours on end. We could have unplugged the phone, but I had to be available if somebody from work wanted to contact me. So I listened to the phone ring at all hours of the day and night. I couldn’t sleep, and I was ready to have a meltdown.
My sponsor was a guy who had been sober for ten years or so. He was a very active in one of the AA groups that I attended. He was a take charge kind of guy. He was kind of flashy; he liked his bling. I asked him to be my sponsor. He agreed and he immediately gave me a set of rules to follow. He made it clear that he was a busy man, and that he wasn’t going to babysit me. He told me to call him if I was in trouble, but only to call him when I was sober. He didn’t want to risk his own sobriety by talking on the phone with a drunk. I said okay. I only called him one time, and that was when I was in trouble.
I finally called my sponsor after the endless phone calls from a psychotic mother in Germany got to be too much for me to handle. I told him what was happening. I can remember his response as if he had spoken to me just yesterday. He sighed and said,
“You know, I don’t think we are good match. I can’t really help you. You need to find somebody else.”
Then he hung up on me.
I went to meetings. I remember going to three of them in a row. I told my story at each of the meetings, and at each of them somebody pulled me aside and told me that my problem was not an appropriate topic for the group. They wanted to talk about alcohol, and only alcohol. I said that all this stress was going to end my sobriety. I was told to tell my sponsor about my issue. I replied that I no longer had one. I was told to find another.
One person actually laughed and told me, “Looks like you need another meeting!”
Fuck all you guys.
I had been led to believe that the people in the AA meetings cared about me. I was led to believe that the people in these groups were somehow more spiritually advanced than the general population. I believed that these people were there for me.
I was wrong.
The people at AA meetings were just people like everyone else. They were no better and no worse. A few folks really did care about me, and I am grateful to them. Most of the people were friendly enough, but they were wrapped up in their own problems as much as I was wrapped up in mine. We had no real connection. We had no real relationship. They were not my friends, not at all.
AA is founded on trust. A person can only work the program if they can trust the other people there. That is one reason the it is called “Alcoholics Anonymous”. The Anonymous part is there to make people feel safe. I didn’t feel safe any more at the meetings, and I did not trust anybody any more. I felt betrayed, and I still feel that way. It was like looking behind the curtain and finding out that the Wizard of Oz was just another schlep like me.
AA obviously works for a lot of people. I am praying that it works for the young woman I know. I want her to get healthy and stay healthy. At this point, I will go along with anything she wants to do, as long as it saves her life.
I have often thought about going into a meeting with her. I have concluded that would be a bad idea. First of all, she would not want me to be in the same room with her. More importantly, I would not be helpful to anyone there. I don’t believe in the program, and I would say so. AA has some of the aspects of a cult. You never question the program. Ever. You buy the entire package or you leave.
I left a long time ago.