It was the night of the party. I was fired up. NA would be great. I’d go to Zack’s party. I’d be empowered. I’d have a good time. I’d show him I was a good friend. I’d maintain my sobriety. I’d…
Cold, steel grey chairs created an ironic morgue-like ambiance considering it was being held in a hospital. From my perch of nowhereness the handful of regulars shuffled into PIL’s haunting melody, The Order of Death. From experience or envy, it was easy to see who knew the routine and the Chairperson. From one illusion to another, I thought. I wasn’t being judgmental; I just called it as I saw it.
I listened like a good little boy to the obligatory readings and the ‘Hi my name is So-and-So and I’m an alcoholic drug addict’ until my eyes began to strain. Although I’d done it before, a few more stories made it impossible to take anymore. I knew NA wasn’t entertainment, but someone had to liven things up if I was to stay awake. As if on cue, someone delved into the darkest depths of addiction and dug up an I-almost-felt-guilty-for-taking-an-aspirin story. “You know, I was that close…” I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to shout out: “look at yourself, you’re that close to being an idiot,” but I couldn’t do that. It would’ve been impolite and caused a scene.
On and on and on and on…. ‘Was that it, an aspirin? You almost ran out and bought drugs because you nearly took an aspirin. Fuck. Just shoot yourself and do us all a favor.’ I squirmed, jolted and recomposed myself. Eyes descended on me, but I made it look like it was due to the chair. As the letters ‘P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E’ floated before me, my mouth dropped open. If patience was a virtue then…. I scanned the room, to see if anyone else had seen it, but they were too transfixed by the story being told. Not wanting to bring further undue attention to myself, I let it go. “Patience indeed, at this rate I’ll end up a bloody patient,” I chuckled half-heartedly at my in-hospital sarcasm.
If time ever stood still, ever in the existence of the entire universe, it was at that meeting. Why would people do that to themselves? I mean wasn’t life bad enough already without turning ninety minutes of it into the most drawn out, long-winded journey of exasperation ever told upon the face of the Earth. War stories rehearsed and rehashed a thousand times in a thousand different rooms dulled the senses to the point of suicidal tendencies. Was that the latest recovery technique: Death by Boring Dribble? ‘We will cure you by boring the addiction right out of your body’ was the new rallying cry. Maybe they’d just given up hope and the only thing left to do was to take every last one of us down with them, methodically and as painfully as possible. And what was the most painful thing for any addict – boredom.
I knew NA was there for when we had the stinky thinking, but whenever it seeped in it was next to impossible to get rid of. The truth was I wasn’t there to listen, and I certainly wasn’t there to learn new ways to use and abuse myself. No, the ones I’d used before worked fine. I had my own agenda. I was a warrior on a mission: to set a shining example of ‘recovery in action’. And, unlike the rest of them who’d predictably failed, I was different – I would win!
I stifled a laugh as my own clown act ended. “Hello, I’m over here.” I wanted to get up, do a song and dance, anything to get their attention, but that might’ve caused a scene. Instead I recomposed myself and planted my feet firmly on the ground in mock defiance at any thought they might’ve been trying to get rid of me. As another war story came to a close, I gave a knowing look to the Chair that I was ready for my cue, but he had other ideas. My eyes rolled in their sockets as a muffled groan escaped my lips. Heads turned and eyes descended upon me, but I was past caring. With no expectations left, I slouched down in my seat and sank deeper within myself, revengefully concluding I wouldn’t share even if they asked me to. That’d show them! Arrogance took the stage and I surveyed them down the length of my nose. “Hmmph! How many people would relapse because I wasn’t allowed to share my pearls of wisdom?” I entered anger mode.
“Hi, my name is Mike and I’m an alcoholic-addict,” I rehearsed just in case they came to their senses. Somehow affirming the negative had never sat right with me. I mean, wasn’t my life already negative enough without reinforcing it all the time? I’d done some good things in my life while being high like saving someone’s life for example. So, it wasn’t all bad. Where were those things in the NA equation of recovery? Something was missing, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, somewhere deep within the core of my being. I could feel it. In the meantime, I pondered the concept of addiction and came up with a brilliant idea: I could only be an addict if I were alive! The bubble burst when I came to my senses and realized it also meant not being dead! I sank even further into familiar uncomfortability of my steel grey chair. Although death was a transformation from one state into another, the only option in my current state seemed to be a crown of thorns known as ‘constant fear of relapse‘. But how did living in constant fear solve anything? I wanted to end my addiction forever and put it behind me. For me, being scared of it, of anything, was the glue that bound me to my addiction(s). No, that wasn’t the answer.
In that instant I took a long hard look at myself and came to the brutally honest truth that, despite all my good intentions, all my hard work in recovery and all the excuses in the world, I was no closer to finding an answer than I’d ever been. I lowered my eyes and inwardly wept at the deep resonating truth that it all boiled down to one simple fact: until living in society made more sense than living in addiction I’d remain an addict? And how could it when I didn’t know how to trust the world, society or myself anymore?
“God grant me the wisdom to know the difference….” – yeah, yeah, yeah.’ The meeting ground to a painful halt. My pasted on smile did little but smother the anger and rejection burning inside. I tactfully evaded the invites for coffee feigning tiredness and other commitments. Pausing, I took one last look at the room, the people and the organization as a whole, shook my head in disbelief that I’d ever thought that they could help me and walked out.
Emotions roared and trumpeted their battle cries. My brain reconfigured its chemical state to revenge and I was no longer myself: Dr. Jekyll became Mr. Hyde.
Who were these fools that had wasted my precious time? I’d given them everything: my money, my time, my words of wisdom, the skeletons in my closet and God only knew how much more. Where were they when I needed them the most? Nowhere, that was where. Truth was laid bare: it was they who were responsible for my relapsing time and time again, not me! I wanted to quit, but they wouldn’t let me! It was the classic game of ‘The-Blind-Leading-The-Blind’. Why hadn’t I seen it before? They were just like the rest of society and the know-it-alls, providing nothing more than revolving doors of self-perpetuating business tethered to eternal promise. Eternal relapse was more like it. ‘Just listen to me, I have all the answers’ was the battle cry of the Pied Piper, but when they couldn’t pay up we, the children, suffered. I felt like a commodity, a thing being used for other people’s vested interests. ‘I am not a number; I am a human being’ roared The Prisoner. It was they who weren’t human, not me. I became enraged; I was rage; I was gone.
My mind swung like a pendulum violently increasing in momentum between two truths. Right: I would quit tomorrow and on my own – the way it should be done. Left: I just couldn’t do drugs anymore.
Rounding the corner, Davie Street vomited forth its daily offerings of congestion, pollution and inane babble. My senses reeled and forced me into the alley behind Celebrities. A small dividing wall made a mock throne upon which I collapsed in an emotional heap.
All I’d wanted to do was to go to Zack’s birthday party and be his friend. What had been so wrong about that? As if in answer to my plea, a bright light brought forth the clarity I longed for. I had no choice but to smile, for it was not without irony. The one outcome I’d never factored into the equation or seen coming revealed itself in all its glory, namely, failure. My stomach churned at the indignity of it all. Tears welled up, but were held back by my contempt for an unloving and uncaring society. But it wasn’t the first time something had gone wrong, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. I breathed a sigh of relief, smiled, picked up my pride and descended back upon the Earth plane.
As if awakening from a dream, I found myself sitting on the dividing wall. My hand clutched a present, but why and for whom I couldn’t recall. Suddenly I was engulfed in a flood of memories and feelings centering on honor: me honoring myself to honor him so we could to honor our friendship. So, donning the proverbial stiff upper lip, I took several deep breaths, salvaged what was left of my sanity and headed towards honorable salvation.
© Michael J. Varma, The Gong Show, 2011 –
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