You go back to that day. What is it? 5 years ago? You’re sitting in a dimly lit church, all eyes are directed towards the front. It is a Saturday evening on the Upper East Side of New York City. This is Alcoholics Anonymous.
That meeting stands out to me despite the numerous meetings I have been to because that was the meeting I first asked the question that has proved to haunt me all these years later: “Am I or aren’t I?” Am I an alcoholic? Or aren’t I? That evening, after the meeting, we walked several, sweltering blocks to a diner. I paired off with a woman who promised me this: if I worked with her and went through the Twelve Steps and they failed to work, the bar’s would wait.
For awhile, I committed to her. I bought a Big Book, scheduled weekly meetings with my sponsor, and then winter break was over and I moved back to Boston. I still remember my first meeting back. I had selected the meeting because it was close to home, but also because my friend at the time, E, wanted to go with me. I should mention, in a very strange turn of events, E was my rapist, but because I still didn’t understand that what had happened between us was rape, I clung to her as something familiar. If you find this upsetting, imagine how I feel writing these words.
Anyway, I remember the room was overcrowded. There was standing room in the back, sort of like we were at a concert, but there was no bar (obviously) and the only music came from the homeless guy humming to himself in the corner. I remember distinctly, a tattooed man sitting in front of me knitting. The needles looked tiny in his giant hands. Later I learned it wasn’t uncommon to knit through meetings, it was a distraction as much as something to do with one’s hands (an addict always needs something to do with their hands). Clack-clack-clack, his needles went. My attention was pulled to my side as E whispered in my ear, “can we leave soon?”
Though we made it through the entirety of the meeting, we went to dinner afterwards. E wanted to know if she, in her words, “qualified for the program.” We Googled a test that is often cited in the free pamphlets in the front of meeting rooms. Are you or aren’t you? Answer yes or no. Tally up how many times you say “yes.” It seems silly to me now that a number is supposed to reassure me that I’m an alcoholic. It’s silly only because I believed it to be that simple. Much like I believed that what my sponsor said about my behavior was irrefutable.
I was a selfish asshole and that’s why I was here. I would die if I left. I was going to die because I couldn’t stay. If I could go back 5-years ago, I would have more compassion for the scarred, way too vulnerable girl I was. I would’ve understood that addiction is a completely different beast per person and that it stands to reason, so is recovery. I know the argument about and for A.A., but I also know that my alcoholism and addiction does not fall so neatly into a yes or no box. I don’t drink all the time, in fact I barely drink, but when I do horrible things happen to me. I was raped nearly 3 times and then actually raped. I had questionable sex because I craved anything to make me feel better. I befriended my rapist for months, falling in love with her at times and hating her at others. I worked nonstop and then I did nothing at all. I professed my love to several women, and only really meant it once.
I would have told that girl, a younger, less experienced, me, I am sorry.
There is no easy button and there is no way to get through this in a gentler manner. I would’ve said, your scars will burn brighter before they completely go away and even then, there will always be trace evidence hovering slightly below the surface. You will never heal fully and that will be your burden. You feel so immensely you’ll want to never wake up, but also go see every single beautiful thing in one day. Your mind will take the brunt of things, your thinking will become your hardest addiction to battle. You’re not alone baby girl. It’s never easy to look back. Because looking back is literally a losing battle. There’s no edit button, there’s just the truth.
I remember a writing workshop class my senior year. I asked the professor if I could propose the free write, “write what you could if you weren’t scared.” It was hard for me at first, because I felt like I was always writing the truth, feelings aside. I don’t remember what I wrote about that night (it was an evening class), but I do know what I would write now. It would be all this.
All of these blog posts and all of the ones to come. How do you keep going when you deal with crippling self-doubt? How do you ever know if you are or you aren’t? Does that seemingly defining question ever go away? I don’t know. But I do know this, knees pushed into the corner table at my favorite cafe, reading nonfiction submissions for a literary magazine, a coffee cup empty to my side, these are small things that make big feelings. Maybe, it never gets better…maybe you only learn how to better deal with it. It, this, the question. Isn’t it all the same thing after all?
We all want the answer to the question that both stokes and extinguishes our greatest fear: will we come out of this alive?
You can’t edit any of this, because this is your life. If you had that power you’d never finally find your footing. Everything would be in vain. But, imagine for a second if you could. Edit this. You try.