I bust into the bathroom to pee and then wash my hands. The sink is full of puke. Someone’s not feeling well, I think mildly. And then there’s no toilet paper. I make do with one of those sterile paper seat covers, which will always remind me of a joke Sharpie’d in a stall some time back: “Free Cowboy Hats!”
And BAM it hits me. I feel more at home in the places I go to help drug addicts and alcoholics, than I do almost anywhere else besides my own actual residence. Even in the latter, sometimes I feel oddly disconnected from my domestic exploits, like my life is a series of sensible activities to take care of my body and the bodies of the ones beloved to me (husband, children, dog, cats, gecko even, friends, family…) – even my artistic exploits, as much as I love them, can feel more soothing to mind and body than anything else. But where my heart and soul find resonance, are these places where pain twisted us to shit in a crucible, where we were finally defeated and broke in half and we learned the profound and utterly brilliant experience of complete demoralization. If you haven’t experienced enlightenment through this means, it probably sounds unpleasant. Or maybe bogus. I used to want to explain it over and over because it’s so incredible. But today, I don’t try to convince anyone much. I have a brain disease and not only that, it got bad enough the symptoms made themselves noticeable in a big way and then I had to fight myself out of a pit like nothing I could have conceived and today I’m standing on the edge still grinning down. If you haven’t been there, you don’t get it.
I sit down and the clients walk in, or shuffle in, and I greet them and smile. I couldn’t be more in my element. Except I’m hot from hustling my ass up the hill on my big heavy bike. And instead of the room being the typical preternatural cold (I think to keep people from falling asleep; many are on medications that keep them drowsy) it’s warm and so I’m not cooling off. I fan myself and I say hi. Every week, dozens more. Some people I already know from before, back out, back in. I’m glad to see they’re alive. A pretty young woman says to her friends, “There’s my sponsor!” and comes and sits by me and tells me she’s out Monday. Some look all sleepy and are in full-on naptime a few minutes into me talking. I’m thinking of one woman I saw a few weeks back, she introduced herself by name and said she didn’t know how much time she had sober… She slowly said, “I don’t know how I got here.” Anyway the sleepy ones, I’ll see them again in a few days probably, and they’ll meet me for their first time.
I tell them a little bit about why I’m there and start talking about what I’ve experienced. When I’m talking a lot of people are relating, nodding, or laughing with that kind of relief, I’m not the only one. There’s a few sleeping and there’s probably a few who find me annoying as fuck. One of the ones who is listening, a dark young man across from me, nods in recognition when I talk about being a “high bottom” and what kind of mess that gets you, and then when I talk about how it hurts to watch someone you love still in active practice. Later, reluctantly, he shares – after the group asks him to. He says he spent all this time locked up in a few forms of treatment facilities and immersed himself in Recovery culture and said he walked and talked Recovery and kept a smile on his face, always. And he collected a bit of time that way. But he says he never dealt with the pain, and he relapsed. He doesn’t say this but it seems like he’s dealing with it now. He says slowly, and to no one in particular, looking at the floor and the words are like a birth: “if you’re having fun right now, you probably don’t get it. The fun doesn’t happen until way later.” To me he reads like he’s in deep, profound pain. The truth of his words pulls from my own gut, and I know what he’s talking about. And I think to myself what a blessing, what a manifestation. I recently read in a book: “human consciousness is light perceiving light.”
The joy I experience in this work is deep and unshakeable. And it’s not hyper or even blissful, it’s just joy. It’s impossible to describe and what’s the point? You have to experience it. Get a little and you can start to recognize it in others, and you definitely recognize its absence in others.
An hour and a half later I’m leaving and a big man says to me, “I really respect you for what you’ve shared.” And I’m like, “I respect you – you said you didn’t want to talk then you get started and you’re dropping all this wisdom.” Wisdom is found everywhere in those I work with. It’s actually other places, almost every other place, you find people sleepwalking through life, going through the motions. It’s like this secret no one wants to own up to. Nothing to be ashamed of, we all sleepwalk at some time or another. We can all wake up, but we can all fall back again too.
This work keeps me awake while I’m doing it.