It was nearly past my bedtime, but I sat fully upright, at attention, on my living room couch. Staring at a blank blue iPad screen, waiting for the thin green line in the center to pulsate, twitch — anything to indicate signs of life on the other side of this video call — I felt patches of sweat quickly forming in my armpits.
My heart pounded and my mind flashed back to my first recovery meeting last July. Deja vu.
This was, somehow, even more surreal. I’d volunteered to serve as guest speaker for a 12-step group at a rehab center — a local one, but it could’ve been on the moon, for all I could see…which was nothing. Nothing but blue.
They could see me, though. And they were waiting for me to tell my story.
I’ll skip past that part, because A) you know everything there is to know if you’ve ever peeked into this space; and B) I was so nervous I don’t even remember what I said.
I do know I tried to lean heavily on the last part of the “experience-strength-and-hope” blueprint. The turbulent experience of early sobriety (314 days and counting…) is a daily struggle to find, or summon, strength, and if you don’t have hope, you probably ain’t gonna make it. While I could only speak for myself, I figured the invisible people I was talking to would be able to understand that universal truth.
I was right. The men — turns out it was a room full of men — who stepped to the mic, sending ripples across that green line, talked about feeling triggered, pissed off, ashamed, scared…and grateful for the chance to keep going, do better.
They reminded me of the men in that very first recovery meeting (oh look! I wrote about it!), when I sat, flop-sweating my ass off on a stiff folding chair in a room full of strangers, and for one hour ceased to feel hopelessly alone.
Right before the coronavirus outbreak hit, I had reached a point of reckoning when it came to recovery meetings. What had once given me peace started giving me pause, and the program began to feel a little too program-my for my fiercely independent personality. One meeting felt too judgmental, another felt too cliquey, and the whole thing started to stink of groupthink, a phenomenon I’ve instinctively rebelled against my entire life.
I looked around “the rooms” and marveled at how society is always society, no matter if it’s a high school classroom or a church basement filled with addicts, a CrossFit gym or an office space. I never felt like I fit in anywhere, and I was pretty sure I never wanted to.
The way I’d always protected myself from society and its smackdowns was to think I didn’t need anyone, that I was strong enough to handle anything and everything all on my own. Hovering around any group for too long eventually got me down, and when I got out, I didn’t so much burn bridges as neglect them, leave them to rot, break down and fall apart on their own. (Sometimes, you have to break out the torch, though, and that’s a topic for another day…)
I was ready to repeat the pattern with AA (yeah, I said it; sue me), but something inside said “No.” I knew, deep down, that abandoning the fellowship would be inviting in loneliness, which spells doom for a lifelong loner like me. Once I fully indulged my innate tendency to isolate, I’d halt my growth and eventually kill all hope.
I clung to some of the wisest words I’ve heard in recovery: “Take what you need, and leave the rest.” And I kept coming back.
I decided that I might not ever fully “fit in,” or entirely embrace every aspect of the program, but I didn’t ever want to let go of that precious lifeline to fellow addicts.
My speaking commitment this week completely reinforced that feeling, in a way I can’t really explain. It wasn’t about what was said, or the act of sharing my story. It was the sense of peace — and hope — that comes from knowing another person really gets what we are going through and is willing to help us in our fight. Where in the world can you really get that? The office? 😂 The gym? 🤔 Sometimes, not even at home.🤷🏼♀️
I’ve never, anywhere, felt the kind of deep connection with others that I’ve felt around people in recovery.
I can’t believe I ever considered turning my back on the fellowship. But then again, I can. It’s human nature, the pulling away from things that could cause pain, the compulsion to cocoon yourself in what feels comfortable.
Other people can hurt you, if you let them. It’s true. And there is definitely strength in being your own person, thinking independent thoughts and taking “the road less traveled” wherever you want to go. In recovery, though, I’ve learned that strength also comes from letting go of old hang-ups, fears, judgments and beliefs that serve no purpose, other than to protect you from pain.
Hope thrives when you stop looking around and seeing what makes you different from everyone and instead focus on everything you share.