The Sweet Energy of the Twelve-Step Meeting

Those meetings. Those amazing, infuriating, unforgettable, comforting, harrowing, heartwarming meetings.

Monday, March 13, 1989 was the last day I got high. The details of using are irrelevant here. A drug is a drug (that goes for booze, too).

Picture me. Slumped in my chair, head on my chest, eyes blurry, legs akimbo. The television, tuned to God knows what. Alone in my attic apartment on an ironically-named New Road in Raleigh. Pale winter sunlight spills on the floor. I am old at 34.

In my mind: Desperation, loneliness, suicidality, gloom, defiance. In my spirit: Nothingness.

My first meeting: Lively and foreign. Aside from work, I was unused to company. Young, warm girls hugged me. I barely felt their contact. I sat in a chair, bolt upright, arms crossed, watching everything.

During the meeting: Stories. Stories of fear, privation, crime, degradation, and yet… identification. Empathy. At-home-ness. God alone knew how, but I belonged. These strangers felt the same things I did, did some of the same things I did, sold themselves and their families out, just to get high again. Like me.

Meetings and weeks pass. All over town, I see the same people over and over. A man picks up a red keytag: thirty days clean. Impossible. A woman picks up a glow-in-the-dark keytag: one year. Unattainable. People talk of multiple years. Eons.

I speak, full of ego and intellectuality. I share correctly but with no passion, with all the warmth of an annual report.

Years pass. I help others, work Steps, share my life story, chair meetings, empty ashtrays (this was thirty years ago, remember), give rides, hug a million people, call my sponsor… stay clean, stay clean, stay clean. Jobs fail, Mom dies, illnesses come and go. I stay clean. How did I get here? Friends overdose, relapse, claw their way back. Why did they leave, and not me?

Today: The only day there is. I slouch in my hard wooden on a thick cushion. Nod and smile, hold a hand, wave to a friend. I share, unrehearsed. Words flow and bounce around the room, unrehearsed, liberated. Ideas dance like ocean foam, vanish in digressions and wry observations, hang in mid-air. Experience, strength, and hope. Feelings.

The meeting ends. I give out keytags, nestle in the group hug, say the Serenity Prayer. I have left my burdens at the door, and my heart and mind are young and free.

Those meetings.

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