I’ve been to thousands of recovery meetings by now, which means I’ve listened to tens of thousands of testimonies: the lives of addicts. Our experiences, our struggles. One to two times a week I chair a meeting – a small bit of service, easy enough to do even if you may be prone to a case of the nerves during public speaking.
This bit of work is a wonderful opportunity to put aside my own little plans and schemes; a few moments to ground myself, breathe, and properly orient my mind to being helpful. Being helpful is a great ambition of mine. And a great joy, I may add.
So anyway, all people are equal in these rooms of recovery. People new to these meetings don’t believe this is the case because how could it be – it isn’t anywhere else! But if they stick around they will discover this tenet is astonishingly observed. No one will be denied their turn to speak; and no one can reasonably expect to dominate the group, either. I have never been part of a more profoundly egalitarian fellowship in my life.
In that spirit I pass out readings ensconced in tattered plastic coversheets. The group is often mostly men and today is no exception. I hand one of these readings to a very large man in the back; he tries to shake me off. “Thank you!” I tell him, as I press the sheet into his hands and head into the kitchenette to check on the coffee. I figure he’s another one of those reluctant fellows. Either shy (in which case a gentle nudge may help him) or stubborn (in which case, get over yourself a little!). I also know that when someone really doesn’t want to read, they can pass the sheet to someone else without incident.
After coffee is settled I commence our business and our recitations. I discover this young man was not stubborn; he has a low degree of literacy. As it turns out I’d handed him the longest reading, and he forges through. Everyone listens, quietly. We’ve heard these words thousands of times, and we wait. The sunlight spills in through the window and the room settles to comfortable observance; we listen to our recitation. We listen to our brother.
The fellow reads the whole thing; it’s an effort. He chucks the handout on the table at the end; I can’t tell if he’s disgusted with the affair or not. I look at him across the room and say, “Thank you.” He has beautiful blue eyes and as so often happens I see one of these intimidating men as a young child, and think about a mother who loves him and who treasured him above all things. In that moment we are two human beings in the room, utterly unknown to one another but entirely familiar, too.
Sometimes I look around these busted-ass chairs at the lot of us who live this sober life. So many of us are Garbage People; we come from places that society considers disgusting. No one escapes life unscathed but there is something different about this group. We no longer pretend these ugly things didn’t happen; we are busted up a bit like the lumpy cushions of a favorite chair. Not so pretty, maybe. Something happened where I got broken up inside and reassembled and everything’s a bit crooked but all the more beautiful for it.
I tell the guys since next week is a special day for me, I’ll bake them some fresh bread and bring it to share. Life’s easy like that, these days.