I recently read Anna North’s article in the New York Times about Sarah Palin’s bizarre, rambling speeches. Palin’s pretty famous for earnestly trying to make a point while sounding somewhat incoherent. I found myself laughing, but then I realized that ever since I got sober four years ago, I tend to go off on some really weird tangents when I share in AA meetings. I have said some dumb things, that I should have saved for a fifth step with my sponsor or for a visit with one of my many shrinks.
When Palin bounced next to Donald Trump on that Iowa stage, like a kangaroo dressed in a disco-style fringe jacket, I found myself mesmerized. I laughed. But then I had an image of Palin screeching at me, saying her own rendition of an old cliché, “That’s like the coffeepot calling the tea kettle black!”
When I got sober, it was November. I sauntered into the AA meeting wearing shorts, candy striped leg warmers, cowboy boots, an old leather jacket and a Nirvana t-shirt that looked like it had gone through five cycles in the dryer, after my dogs had chewed it up beyond repair. Basically, I looked like a nut. I probably sounded like one, too.
I may have been sober but my mind was completely muddled.
Perhaps I should have listened to the old timers and shoved cotton in my mouth and just shut up and listened. But of course, I didn’t.
When I got a newcomer chip back in November 2011, I shared about my last drunk.
“I was so wasted. I found out from Facebook that my ex boyfriend who dumped me years ago was in a hotel in Vegas with some bimbo he picked up in Arkansas! I called that hotel and his cell phone 100 times. I told the receptionist that I was his wife and that he was in the room with a whore!”
So not only did I reveal that I am an alcoholic who has hit rock bottom, and that I stalked my ex on Facebook, but I also admitted that I might be as insane as Squeaky Fromme. Great.
I also discovered it is not wise to discuss politics at an AA meeting. I did that several months ago, when I bolted into the meeting wearing a NYC hat, which covered my latest weird hair color. It was super warm that day, but I refused to take off that hat. My hair was half blonde, half red, thanks to my impulsive decision to bleach my hair in an attempt to go blonde. Because hey, don’t blondes have more fun?
There I am at the meeting, looking like I should be hanging out on Skid Row and somewhere in my share, I said, “Oh my God we have to look at the big picture here. I mean, I am an alcoholic but really don’t you guys get tired of sharing about alcoholism? We have ISIS to worry about! We gotta do something about ISIS!”
Besides politics, I have learned it is also unwise to mention your suicidal ideations and existential musings in an AA meeting. In one particular rant, I probably sounded like one of those cursed souls from Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit. My share was something like this:
“I keep thinking about death. I mean I really do. What is the point of life? I mean, we are all going to die right? But this death is a rebirth. I feel like my old self is dying, and this death, which is not literal, is kind of like the meaning behind the Death card, in the Tarot which actually means a rebirth.”
My only saving grace was that, by then, I had stopped wearing those weird leg warmers and shorts.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can offer from someone who has been there, done that is: don’t talk crap about AA at AA. Don’t rip up apart the Big Book as if you are New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani trashing John Irving’s Until I Find You. AA members don’t like it. As far as they are concerned, the Big Book is holier than the Bible and the Quran combined.
On the other end of the spectrum, during a Big Book study, it’s also not wise to say, “This book comes alive when we read it out loud! Wow that is so wild!” as if there is a demon entity hiding in its pages. I have also gotten dirty looks when I bring up Bill W’s marital infidelity, his acid experiments or his severe depression. I get it. They really don’t want to hear about that because I am supposed to be sharing my own experience, strength and hope.
Okay, I’ll stick to my own practical understanding of recovery. But I learned that when it comes to sharing my own experience and hope, be careful about disclosing too much.
Don’t tell everyone you believe in a holistic approach to your personal recovery. Mentioning SMART Recovery and Refuge Recovery as possible supplements to exclusively attending 12-step meetings freaks AA members out and makes them suspicious. It’s as if you told them that you have a rare strain of the bubonic plague. It also might make them question whether they are, in fact, in the right place or thinking, wait, what are SMART Recovery meetings like?
Another thing that I have learned is to stop sharing how I would rather be of service to dogs than people. In early sobriety, I mentioned my canines and more specifically, how many dogs I had. Not only did I have people approaching me after the meeting, asking me if I could take their precious poodle mix, Muffin, because they were moving to Alaska and sadly, their new landlord did not allow any pets. I also had my sponsor confront me about my animals, telling me that I was “self-will run riot” whatever the hell that meant. She suggested that I needed to shed my old life, get rid of the dogs, take them to the pound if need be, and move into some sober living in order to just focus on my steps.
Needless to say, I got rid of that sponsor. When I hear AA members share about following their sponsor’s direction 100 percent, I still get the willies.
Yesterday I was at a question and answer meeting. One of the questions that was asked was, “Do you think old timers have a right to remove a newcomer who identifies as an addict from the meeting?” Immediately my hand shot up, as if I were Jeb Bush desperately trying to make a point on the stage of a GOP debate.
“Back in the day, when AA started it was around prohibition, you know? Our society has evolved into a drug culture. Throwing a newcomer out like that is against the principles of our program plus its rude!” Naturally, an old timer, with 43 years of sobriety, God bless him, shot his hand up after me and said, “Yes those addicts should be thrown out! This is AA! Not NA! AA! We need to uphold our traditions.” I swear to God when he said that, I had a vision of Zero Mostel as Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof bursting into song, and singing, “Tradition!”
After that meeting, I told a friend that that I was not the perfect poster girl for AA. This young woman, who is essentially a newcomer, looked at me and smiled. “But, you have been sober for over four years? Wow. You must be doing something right.”
Her comment made me feel better than the meeting.
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