How I Learned to Commit (and Then Stay Sober)
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How I Learned to Commit (and Then Stay Sober)


“We need a new coffee person,” the secretary had said at the meeting that would soon become my regular Saturday safe spot. “Who wants it?”

He scouted the room for willing hands. I was almost six months sober and the concept of responsibility had not entered my mind whatsoever. But a sober friend sitting next to me grabbed my left arm and raised it. I almost felt violated.

Since the day I became capable of decision-making, I’ve been scared of commitment, mostly out of a fear of not being able to keep them.

“You get sick every time you have something important to do,” my father used to say. “You are unbelievable!”

I know why he’d say this but all I understood at the time is I would get sick every time a big commitment came. I see now that I would run away from life to avoid failing at it. Back then, I didn’t know that fever and nausea were my safety mechanisms to deal with my dread.

It’s safe to say that committing to either something or someone was neither my forte nor something that I would even mention at the bottom of my emotional résumé. I’d already had a coffee commitment during my first stab at sobriety, and it didn’t end well. Even though I’d put together six months without a drink or a drug, I eventually relapsed and abandoned the program and the coffee pot.

Still, I remember both the positive effect of the group’s trust on my first brewing night and the feeling of defeat when I didn’t show up once I was drinking again.

Old ideas have ruled my entire adulthood; letting go hasn’t been easy. So when presented with the chance to deflect the familiar path—with such a simple action as making coffee during my second term in recovery—I ended up just re-running the old movie in my head.

In other words, I never thought I could show up for the long-term without getting an instant reward. And yet this time I agreed.

In order to prepare the coffee, I had to arrive one hour before the meeting started. The only benefit I could see was that I’d have an easier than usual time parking—slaying at least one source of anxiety for me. It is with genuine sweetness that I remember taking my first Xanax-free sigh of relief when I arrived at the empty parking lot. Still, coffee anxiety remained. Shy and insecure by nature, I was terrified by the idea of brewing too weak a drip or forgetting to buy the right paper cups or creamer and sugar.

One by one, folks soon walked in and introduced themselves. All I wanted to do was hide in the bathroom until 6 pm, when the meeting started. I didn’t. I sat down and listened. At the end of the meeting, the time to thank the people who had been of service to the meeting came. And so did an unexpected feeling of accomplishment.

“Tonight the coffee was brewed by Alice,” the secretary said while smiling at me, and before I could acknowledge her mention, the room roared with clapping hands. I had never experienced such warmth and encouragement, not even when I’d performed at readings.

They clapped every week, with the same intensity. And also every week, they would thank me for the amazing coffee (and attribute it to my being Italian).

Two years have passed since the day when I officially became the “girl who makes the coffee.” Life hasn’t always been easy and has actually been harsh and unfair at times.

When my commitment was up, I had not yet entirely surrendered to the program. I had actually been contemplating getting loaded and my bulimia had reached such high peaks that I felt like I was in my 20s all over again. Hopeless as I was, I had also re-opened old scars on my arms.

“Alice, are you keeping the coffee commitment for six more months?” the new secretary asked the day the meeting commitments were discussed.

“I am,” I said without thinking too much, because I knew that without that weekly task I’d end up on the wrong side of town. Whether I liked to admit it or not, being accountable had somewhat helped me so far. My old ideas were more blurred and less of a noose around my neck.

Maybe my coffee was really good or that’s just how AA works but after one year of brewing hot, caffeinated beverages and setting up the refreshment table for my home group, I was elected secretary. I was also in charge of court cards at another meeting.

I had somehow managed to not get high when people I knew were doing it under my nose. I had also managed not to steal my father’s Oxycodone when I visited him in Italy. I had made phone calls in tears, curled up on the living room floor, when all I wanted to do was give up.

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know how I stayed sober, stopped binging and throwing up and cutting myself. But I have an idea: I think that being accountable to a community of people who cared for me had a lot to do with it.

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About Author

Alice Carbone Tench is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles. A former translator and interpreter from Turin, Italy, Alice moved to Los Angeles in 2010 and worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent for several Italian magazines, among which Vanity Fair, the Italian news agency ANSA and the online magazine Fine Dining Lovers. In 2011 she started a blog, Wonderland Mag, to share the American experience with her Italian friends, but the blog soon became something more, the source material for a book. Her debut novel, The Sex Girl, was published by Rare Bird Books in July, 2015. The book is currently out of print. From 2013 to 2015 she hosted the interview podcast Coffee with Alice. Today, Wonderland Mag has evolved into a candid portrait of Alice’s life: Stories of healing, of being a woman in today’s America, stories of food, love, and of how to dust off after a storm, to move forward stronger than before. Alice is currently working on her second book, a collection of essays from this blog titled Making Sense of Reality. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, keyboard player Benmont Tench and their daughter, Catherine Gabriella Winter.