I went to AA and CA meetings in Toronto when I was twenty-four and then stopped. I went back at twenty-six, and by being back I was at a meeting every day and was ‘working the program’ with a sponsor. I would make it a habit to hit this one meeting at noon on Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays at University and King cause it was about a five minute walk from my work and was important for my lunch routine. I’d come back from the meeting to my receptionist job and feel sort of the same way I’d used to feel going to the bar to sneak a drink, as here I was doing something clandestine and private away from everyone else, yet this was helping me stay focused and on track opposed to turning my day to mush. This meeting, like a lot of meetings, is in a church. AA is not a religious program but the meetings are almost always held in churches. This AA nooner had more men then women usually, and they tell you to not focus on guys when you’re new to the program or even not-so-new cause that’s not why you’re there. Your primary purpose is to stay clean –not pick up guys or girls. I sat down at the round tables in the center of the room across from a guy my age in a white Hanes T-shirt fresh out of the package, faded light blue jeans, trucker belt and construction boots who wasn’t hot, or really good looking enough for me to steal glances, but there was a type of attraction which I wasn’t able to understand until he opened his mouth to share later.
The usual order of events at a meeting began with announcements, and reading from the book other then the Big Book called the Twelve and Twelve (twelve steps and twelve traditions). This afternoon we were discussing step five and everyone gets a chance to read a paragraph about what this step entails. Yes we admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being (usually our sponsor) the exact nature of our wrongs. This is like confession. When the reading starts, it truly depends on the group – it can be dry, or pleasurably comforting. This particular group became annoying really fast as they are completely unaware of the volume required to be heard in a big room, so if you’re sitting all the way across the three large round tables there’s no chance you can hear. Who wants to sit through someone’s gravelly whisper? Members usually don’t chime in with a request to, “Please speak up” or “I’ve heard grade One students read better than you so hurry this up , please…for the love of a Higher Power!”
Is it apparent I lack patience? Or better yet to use the ‘lingo’ of AA’s fifth step, one of my character ‘defects’ is that I am inpatient and intolerant of others.
The chapter was done. We could now open the floor to share.
Usually they recommended keeping the sharing to under four minutes each when there’s more people than usual in the meeting. If you have a ‘burning desire’ to continue sharing – please don’t hold it in and find someone to speak with after the meeting.
The first member to share was a middle aged man with glasses and a trench coat over his suit. He spoke intelligently about where his inner dilemma lay:
“My family is creating a new resentment inside of me as they keep telling me that I made them really angry when I was drinking and messed up things in a month so irreparable that I’m even wishing I was still out there drinking. It seems like even my recovery is an inconvenience to them.”
I thought about the characters in the novel THE INFORMERS by Brett Easton Ellis. He was a middle class father, who had just gone through rehab needing to gain peace of mind by finally taking his fifth step. His writing a list of his character defects was more like: “a novel than a mere coupling of pages.”
Next a woman who wore glasses and loved yoga shared her experience about knowing when something was about to take place in her life that was definitely not God’s will and more her will. She said an excellent way to figure out if the thing you may act upon is from a spiritual place is to tell your sponsor as clarity will come when you tell someone you trust.
I felt sad that I’d never develop an intuition, or that my intuitive abilities were hijacked temporarily by alcohol and cocaine addictions. Often when I started to feel sorry for myself I’d just look over at this one particular member who used to huff glue, smoke crack and drink to feel as if I hadn’t destroyed everything in my brain and ability to express myself clearly.
Then the guy across from me in the white t-shirt leaned in to share.
His eyes were something else. They were blue, clear and bright and it became more noticeable the more he spoke.
One thing I knew from my years in and out of AA meetings was that the transformation when someone’s illegal and shady life ends an enormous change transmits through their eyes. Bright clear shiny eyes are the bonus prize.
“Hey I’m Jimmy and I’m an Alcoholic” he began,
“Hey Jimmy” we all responded.
He started speaking using lots of hand gestures that reminded me of both kinds of guys, the one who is outside the Dufferin mall kicking it with his homeboys and the other who’s pure Italian College street bar hopper. I guess it was the part where he was telling us he spent the last nine years in jail and was just released March the 28th and is now twenty-eight. When he arrived at his new apartment he couldn’t help but turn the light on and off for five minutes just to watch it a thought hit me:
What if this is a guy who wants us to believe he’s Jimmy, but he’s really an actor who’s created this character, written this entire monologue, memorized it and is saying it as an exercise for the Theatre School he’s enrolled at? This may be true, I believed, but this was some really talented actor. I actually had to fight my urge to whisper my suspicions of Jimmy being a performer to the girl next to me.
If anything I realized how come so many people used to ask me the question:
“Are you for real?”
“Come on dude, Is she for real?,” motioning their cigarette in my direction or the neck of their Molson’s to the person next to them at the bar.
So here I am asking myself, Is he for real?
“I’m really glad to be here today. I know that I am trying to deal and change so I really need AA. I kinda have to learn to feel and express all these things I really couldn’t do when I was locked up. If you were around the other guys you really couldn’t be sensitive or show any emotions, but trust me when I say you get to see them alone in their cells, and everyone is reading Cosmopolitan and crying.
So yeah, I got a call from my sister who invited me for the family dinner so we could all be together again and meet her new boyfriend, and his father is a judge of all things. So I’m sitting there and like: “Hello Mister Right.” And my sister tells me I shouldn’t freak out about something she wants me to know, but it’s hard to promise to someone that you’re not going to freak out , or be angry when you used to freak out and get mad and do….stuff all the time, you know. So I promised her that I’d be cool and she said that she may be getting engaged to this boyfriend, and he’s a cop. Yeah, so I’m sitting at the dinner table and there’s a judge on my left and a cop on my right and then there’s my dad, who’s a psychiatrist.
After I got through the meal, I go home to my new place, and I’m just so happy to see the sun come up, and hear the birds chirp, like I wouldn’t have cared or appreciated those little things before, and man… I love hearing the birds.
It’s hard to explain really why I was so happy to be able to have my own light with a switch I can control, that I just stood there for five minutes turning it on and off, just watching it. My apartment is like a rooming house where I have a microwave at the end of the hall. My sponsor came over with a bag full of microwave dinners and I have to learn to use a microwave now. I have to learn all these things about living on my own now, you know? I even have a television set and make a point to turn on the news. I watch the Premier of Canada, cause I didn’t know who it was but it’s like he hadn’t changed cause they’re all the same anyway so It really don’t make a difference.
Money is also a funny thing now, cause before when I was nineteen I had no concept of money. I had big rolls of twenty dollar bills, and I’d be all (mimes taking the money off of the roll) how much is it? Here take this. I wouldn’t even wait around for change. Now I’m just blabbing on here, but now it seems like I never have any money which is even more strange, as that’s the problem with it, cause you make it, but you don’t ever get to keep it cause you pay for a few things and it’s gone. Now I have to pay rent, bills, for food and then it goes. I work construction, that’s where my job placement is and I can’t stand my boss at the site. My boss is a total alcoholic cause he’s such an idiot, and I get so annoyed by his attitude. I’m all hey, he shouldn’t mess with me cause I’ve got access to concrete and nails and stuff.
This woman came up to me after a meeting last week she finished crying and said her son is just like I was, and do I have any advice to help her cope and I thought, what can I say to this lady to make sure that he don’t end up dead or in jail, you know?
(Pause) Thanks for letting me go on like this, everyone looks happy today and the weather outside is beautiful and I’m glad to be here.”
Well, had this monologue ended at the Church Street AA meeting everyone would be clapping heartily, but when I looked around the room nobody else was as thrilled or as entertained as me – or they simply didn’t show it.
This reminded me of my escaping the jail of strip clubs and adjusting to a new relationship with money, responsibility and relationships. Time is frozen when I spent years in dark, dingy bars working every night and sometimes doubles. You don’t know how trapped you are until you get to a chair in a nooner and hear someone else share with experiences you can really relate to.
He also reminded me of a character right out of a Judith Thompson or John Patrick Shanley play.
When it came to putting change in the basket I dropped in a Loonie thinking show was well worth it, and then I got out the free movie pass I’d been keeping in my purse to give to Jimmy.
“Here Jimmy, go see a movie for free. Any day you want.”
He took it, and looked at me, “Yeah, I guess I can do that now, eh?” I smiled and made my way back to work. The afternoon sun shone down, as I was enraptured in intense giddiness and comfort. Here’s this guy who’s now courageously living.
Do you know how lucky you are? I felt like shouting to the business drones with briefcases and blank faces making their way down University. Really, do you know how lucky you are? Jimmy is baffled at how a microwave works, but he’ll never loose that clarity in his eyes if he stays sober.
The following Saturday I went to a nooner at The 519 Community Center on Church. Jimmy was there. He sat in the back. When he spoke he said that he picked up and used on Friday night. Yeah, I had been there before too. The disappointment. The realism of coming back and just feeling like whatever beautiful chain of sober days was not worth anything and how it may have just been a dream.
Approaching him outside I let him know it happened to me all the time. Up close I could see his pale skin and yellow teeth. His eyes didn’t look the shiny anymore, but by seeing the way he looked at me I knew he appreciated what I said. He lit up a Players and started to talk to the guy beside him. I didn’t know where to go so I just made my way down the street. Turning my head and taking a last glance behind me I could see how Jimmy is attractive, but only if I was looking at him from a distance.