The young man has incredibly beautiful, large blue eyes. Leonine. Red-rimmed but striking. Today after I ask if he has anything to share, he finally breaks down and talks about the violence he committed while drunk, or on drugs – I’m not sure which (it doesn’t matter). He can barely speak and by the end he is crying as overwrought as I’ve seen anyone in real life. He’s choking and crying and in almost any other place you’d have people rescuing him or shushing him or uncomfortably squirming. This is a holy place though and that doesn’t happen, now.
Still. Since this is an early Recovery setting, there is a break in the sacrosanct listening you can usually expect when there are other “old timers” (like me! Ha!) present. See, addicts in treatment are like a box of baby chicks. Certain things disturb them and they start acting up in concert, popping out of the fog of their meds and talking. After even only fourteen months of regular experience, it’s still rather predictable. Depending on what they’re exposed to, sometimes they’re angry, edgy, and disrespectful. But today they’re offering the young man encouragement, because he’s in so much distress, and maybe they’ve not learned to let someone get through it, because there is no consoling the inconsolable. Or maybe they don’t realize this is a special moment, and our Presence is all that’s required. So anyway they tell him the person he abused will forgive him, the love of family is always there. They say parents are there for you no matter what. They say all the stuff they want to believe but don’t really, deep down, know to be true.
I’ve learned wisdom can come from just about anyplace, and I don’t give less credence to people based on their circumstances. But my thoughts: you can’t get clean or sober based on what your family thinks or whether they let you use them as a punching bag or whether they don’t return your calls. You can’t rehearse the remorse and guilt ad infinitim either without playing with the Relapse thing. And you can’t get clean and sober because you “owe” it to someone. Jack shit on that account. But I stay silent because even though I’m chairing this little get together, I’m not especially needed at the moment.
A few minutes later, incredibly, a young woman M. tells a story of triumph. She’s got it all figured out and she and her ex-husband are going to have a life together and fix everything between them since he’s been clean two years. Another woman asks if she’s afraid, saying, “My boyfriend and I only did heroin together the last four years.” “I’m not afraid,” M. says, lifting her head up. “What am I afraid of? Love? We’re going to be that cute old couple that drives around on casino tours in an RV with a little dog.” Of everyone tonight, she’s the spookiest to listen to. She’s not scared enough, I don’t think. I could be wrong though.
I’m thinking of how much suffering I’m exposed to. It’s quite phenomenal. The human capacity to suffer is incredible. We will take it to such extremes, until we are angry and pinched and flee only to the corners that cosign our bullshit, or the chemicals that give us release, but soon those things aren’t even enough.
Then there are those in limbo. I’m thinking of a woman who came into Recovery sad and frightened but now she’s angry. She’s angry she can’t drink but she’s angry about other shit too. I can see it as clear as I can see through a still pond. She sits in the group and won’t share and smiles but the look in her eyes is crazy-anger. She’s ballooned up in weight and her eyes bulge like someone squeezed her around the middle. But she won’t share. “I’m just here to listen.”
Last night another woman eight months sober broke down crying after many months of “not sharing”. She’s one of those women who’s incredibly beautiful, she did more drugs than I’ve seen and was hauled off to jail and evicted and she’s tough as nails and stunningly lovely. And I sat four inches away and let her cry, it was beautiful and I hope she comes back for more healing. It’s this kind of crying… I can’t describe it. It’s not that congested, angry crying. It’s like watching a river flow, watching a freshet. It’s sorrow, sure, but it’s also a very real moment because someone is breaking down and being themselves, and being broken, and doing this with another human being. It’s one of the most spiritual things I’ve seen and one of the most spiritual things I’ve experienced.
When I was scared I stayed scared until someone could help me, and I did as was suggested and I never got to the angry part. I’m not angry I can’t drink. Well, I can drink. For me, to drink alcohol would make as much sense as drinking Drano. There were many years I drank and thought it did me little harm, and maybe that it helped, and that it was my prerogative. But I was incorrect. It did harm me.
Back to treatment. It meant a lot to me tonight that this young man J. recognized me from last Wednesday, and his face lit up when he saw me. Wednesday I’d made a joke at the end of our meeting, as I’d noticed he had “DGAF” written on his knuckles. Just before we broke the group up I said, “J., I hope it’s not true that you DGAF. I hope you do GAF.” His face went from inanimate to a surprised smile and his eyes came alive. Anyway when he saw me tonight he was glad to see me. He’s one of those who cuts me right to the heart, because at 35 many of these I work with are children. I am often capable of seeing the child in any addict or alcoholic but the ones who are so young, it’s like I want to breastfeed them.
Oh and when I leave tonight a young man C. says, “I like your style.” That’s pretty cool.
I could write pages and pages more just on the last couple days alone. It could be overwhelming if I let it. It helps to write.
One of the most amazing things I’ve learned is I haven’t met the the addict or alcoholic who doesn’t hurt so bad for what he or she did to other people. Not the one and I’ve literally heard thousands of testimonies. It is incredible. It is a blessing. My faith in the beauty of humankind and of God is unshakable.
I’ve also learned to be entirely at home with other human beings.
A woman who helped me so much, and continues to, told me soon I’d feel my heart break because so much compassion would flow in. I remain grateful and humbled by my experiences. There are too many to pray for each evening. Too many to remember in my consciousness. My god-consciousness will have to do, as much or as little as I may have.