Sobriety Brings Me Downtown Again
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Sobriety Brings Me Downtown Again


This post was originally published on February 21, 2014.

There’s a meeting in town which frightens me. It’s a meeting with a reputation. It’s downtown, the place I fought to escape, but whereas I once had a compulsion to go from bar to bar when I was active, I now had a compulsion to go there, to that meeting, in my sobriety. The people there somehow know me and I need to know them because they hold the answers to my past.

I’m not uneasy in my uptown meeting, where there are plenty of rules to keep me feeling safe and warm. Don’t use foul language. If you’re qualifying, do wear a jacket and tie or a skirt if you’re a woman. Don’t show up drunk because if you do, you’ll be diverted to someone for one-on-one service. Do share about how it was, how it is now and how you got from point A to point B but don’t share about anything except alcohol addiction. Check the drug and sex talk and anything else you’re recovering from at the door. After all, this is AA. Talk about booze here. Nice and comfortable.

Downtown has rules too—actually, just two. “When the bell rings, your share is over.” And “Stay in your fucking seat.” That’s it. This leaves much room to freestyle a share—and freestyle they do.

I lived in an attached three-bedroom home with lawn chairs for living room furniture but I grew up in the gin mill. I learned you could sink an eight ball with a cue stick or, if you wished, crack it over someone’s head. I learned to keep my eyes open and my mouth shut or my day could get bad quickly. I learned that people who say, “Come here kid” don’t always have the best intentions. I learned to protect myself. I learned how to drink.

Our bar wasn’t the worst dive in town but it wasn’t Bright Horizons nursery school, either. I used to tell my friends that my dad was bartender but the fact was that my mom and dad were drunks who treated their bar stools like time shares from which they were determined to get their money’s worth. We’d get to the bar as a family at 11 every Saturday morning and stay till 4 in the morning Sunday, then back again Sunday afternoon around 1 to drink the rest of the weekend away. Then, of course, there were weekday nights where the curfew was the more reasonable hour of midnight. For me, the bar was like a prison. I had to be there whether I liked it or not. There was no refrigerator from which to get snacks. I ate when they fed me and ate what they gave me—or pretzels and peanuts when all else failed. I slept under the tables on a hard floor when I was tired. I waited for a daily reprieve.

This tavern my parents loved was a little on the tough side. There was the occasional bar fight and the cops stopped in regularly but what I mean by tough is that it was tough on me. These men and women covered with tattoos drinking in a haze of cigarette smoke made it clear to me that they weren’t interested in having a kid around. The bartender fed me maraschino cherries to shut me up but he couldn’t close my ears and I came to believe everything I was told by the sad, resentful people who drank to forget. I came to believe there was no point in having hope for a better life.

I drank too much during those pre-school years. This should be no big surprise. When you’re five years old, thirsty and in a bar, you might as well have a beer of two. When I was older, though, I preferred to do my drinking alone at more respectable establishments. When I did go to a dive, I’d sit in a dark corner and mind my own business. I still had that feeling left over from childhood that I was supposed to be under a table. I was supposed to be somewhere where I wouldn’t be a bother.

Then one day I’m a drunk. Then one day I’m in AA. Then one day I’m in this downtown meeting where there are only two rules, surrounded by tattoos and the people who sport them. No one is wearing a suit or a proper skirt and I’m frightened. There’s too much of the past in this room. These were the people I grew up surrounded by, people who fought at the bar and fucked in the bathrooms and who would harm me if I came out from underneath the tables at the wrong time.

I raised my hand. I shared.

“My name is John. I’m an alcoholic. This is my first time at this meeting. I’d rather be drinking than in this room. I spent my childhood here surrounded by you people. I feel like I’m being punished somehow. I don’t belong here. I really don’t. That’s all I have to say for now except for…Never mind. That’s all. I’m sorry. That’s all I have to say.”

I was crazy and ready to defend myself against anyone who made a move in my direction. I knew it would come and when his giant mitt of a hand landed on my shoulder, I tensed. It took all I had to keep from spinning around to hurt this man before he made a move.

He sensed the threat. He tightened his grip. He leaned in close from behind. He whispered, “Easy now brother, you’re among friends. You’re safe. You’re home now.”

I need both meetings now. The folks from each are a blessing and my weeks are not complete without them. My uptown meeting gives me hope for my future. My downtown meeting gives me hope for my past.

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About Author

John Moran is a cross addicted addict 13 years in program. Sobriety has enabled him to sit down long enough to write. With a novel, play, screenplay, web series and short scene collection underway, he's enthusiastically making up for lost time.