I was so broke when I got to AA, that some sweet old timer bought a Big Book for me. I didn’t even ask for the damn book. After I nervously introduced myself as a newcomer with just over 24 hours sober, he approached me during the break and asked me if I owned a copy.
“I bought a copy years ago,” I said. “But I have been in and out of AA so many times, that somewhere along the line, I used it as a wine glass coaster, then my dogs chewed it up.”
“Well, now you have a brand new book. Welcome. Keep coming back.” Despite the keep coming back comment, which actually gave me the jitters, I had a sense of excitement. I am a book lover, so maybe I was just excited to get a new book. Or maybe I was just happy to have a gift. Who knew?
My excitement soon turned to dismay. As I skimmed through the pages, I stumbled onto the first paragraph of Chapter 5. Instantly the voice of God from the 1956 film, The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston as Moses boomed inside my head.
“Thou shalt not recover! Because thou art one of those people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program!”
What the hell did that mean? I was supposed to do this “simple program” no questions asked? I mean, wasn’t that crazy? That’s like signing up for one of those jobs that turn out to be scams, the ones that advertise, “Make good money doing simple jobs!” And if I’m doing a simple program, doesn’t that make me some kind of simpleton? So many things were running through my head.
How many drafts of this damn Big Book were written before it got published, anyway? This Bill W. mentions Higher Power and God interchangeably, why can’t he just pick one and leave out the other? Big Book aside, when I got to AA I was surrounded by all these smiling men and women who looked like they just walked out of the L. Ron Hubbard Scientology Center in Hollywood. What was I supposed to do?
Apparently I was supposed to pull the cotton out of my ears and put it in my mouth. I listened to some weird old timer talk about how he found his Higher Power after he jumped out of an airplane and broke his ankle because he was given the wrong-sized parachute. I tried not to cringe when somebody got up on the podium and said they were a real alcoholic. What the hell is a real alcoholic? Does that mean there is an unreal alcoholic? Or is there a surreal alcoholic for that matter?
During my first year in AA, I felt like a surreal alcoholic. I was Alice in Wonderland, after she stumbled into the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. At one point, I was even tempted to get a sobriety plaque that read, “We’re all mad here.” Sevasti-11/28/11. And on my plaque, there would have been a picture of a grinning Cheshire Cat clutching the Big Book. Upside down.
So how did I, the great intellectual, get over all of this arrogance and downright snobbery? How have I survived AA so far? Good question. My honest answer is I don’t really know. Maybe my skepticism is partly what keeps me in AA. I want to check out SMART Recovery and have no problem telling people in my home group. I also love talking about Refuge Recovery, even though I have only gone to one Refuge meeting thus far.
The biggest reason I stay in AA is the fellowship. I have come to realize that many of the people in AA are like family to me—the best version of family. They seem to care about me, regardless of my defects of character. As a newcomer, I often brought up my writing during shares. I somehow always managed to name drop Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath. Those shares had more to do with covering my insecurity by bragging about how well read I was—as opposed to sharing honestly about my alcoholism. I wasn’t really impressing anyone. It turned out that my friend Amelia knows more about Woolf than I do. She studied feminist literature and has read all of her books, including the diaries.
During my first year of sobriety, I went to a meeting in Quartz Hill. We were reading out of the Daily Reflections book, and it just so happened that on that particular date, which was March 29, the reflection mentioned Nikos Kazantzakis, and an encounter between Zorba, who is a character in his novel Zorba the Greek and an old man. The woman reading the reflection could not pronounce the author’s name. “Kazantzakis!” I interrupted, rudely. I was miffed by the awful pronunciation. I felt it was quite disrespectful to the author, who just so happened to be a fellow Greek intellectual, even though he was famous and I wasn’t.
“Oh, okay,” she said, and then continued to read. As soon as she finished, my hand shot up like a goody two shoes teacher’s pet in a college literature class. “Hi, I am Sevasti, an alcoholic. Oh, my God. I just love Kazantzakis. He is Greek, and I am Greek, so anyway. Zorba is a good book, but personally I connect to The Last Temptation of Christ.” I went on and on, discussing Nikos, his personal torment and his brilliant rendition of Christ, as presented in the book. I might have mentioned Sylvia Plath, God only knows.
Oddly enough, the fact that Kazantzakis was mentioned in the Daily Reflections made me realize something. Somewhere along the line, the person who wrote that little book had read Zorba the Greek. I was not the only intellectual in AA! Can you believe that? I contemplated Kazantzakis, as well.
When I was a kid and I told my mother I wanted to be a writer, she said, “You don’t want to end up like Kazantzakis.”
“What do you mean, ma?” I asked. “Well, the Greek Orthodox church refused to allow him to be buried in a cemetery in Greece.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because of that book he wrote, Last Temptation of Christ. Don’t ever read that book.”
Naturally, I got my hands on that book, as soon as I could. And after I read it, I had a thought. How could the country of Greece refuse burial to such a brilliant artist and why? I did a little research on the matter. Due to the fact that he portrayed Christ as a person with emotions, as opposed to the Son of God, poor Kazantzakis got to spend the rest of eternity stuffed in some wall in Heraklion, Crete. My God. That sounded so mean and judgmental. But then again, that was the Greek Orthodox Church, an institution that makes Catholicism look as liberal as Bernie Sanders.
So maybe by acting like I was such an intellectual, I was also being like the Greek Orthodox Church? I allowed myself to entertain the idea that perhaps I was being extremely judgmental of AA. So, despite myself, the program got under my skin. Recently, I did a little more research on Kazantzakis. It turns out that the epitaph on his tomb reads: “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”
My God, I thought. Maybe that would be a cool saying to put on my AA plaque at my home group. My sponsor thinks I should get a plaque. That sounds way cooler than boring old One Day At a Time! My plaque will stand out in a wall of completely dull plaques! I bet I am the only one there who has read Kazantzakis!
Some things never change.
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