“I don’t want to hang out with other fat people.”
“They’re not my kind.”
“What do we have in common?’”
Nearly every newcomer to recovery rooms judges other members in attendance. They don’t realize how they are resisting great gifts. We share common maladies and seek common solutions and on many basic levels, we think and feel alike. And we have to adapt to learn from those we might call “strange bedfellows.” They might not be people we’d choose as friends, but they can be lifelong recovery buddies.
I’d just celebrated ten years in Alcoholics Anonymous and sixteen years in Overeaters Anonymous when my life took a turn for the worse. My business partner had not cared for our books properly and I was sued by the IRS. He also happened to be my love partner, so my personal life went to shambles as well. On top of all that, the fabulous sponsor who’d weathered all my early recovery with me developed a heart condition. She let me know with love and caring, “Listening to your life right now is too stressful for me.”
I countered, “You think it’s hard to hear it? Imagine how hard it is to live it.” She said she’d have to stop taking my calls.
I’d been warned that things change when you move into double-digit sobriety. You must get closer to the program and take help wherever you can get it. As during my first year of recovery I only went to one meeting a week, I now needed to attend much more often. This chaotic period helped solidify my assurance that twelve step meetings would always serve as what Buddhists call our “refuge.”
But I carried that nagging question: “Is this where I really belong?” I wasn’t a daily drinker or skid row resident. I came into “the rooms” highly functional with a great career. And I was able to control my substance abuse for long periods of time. I kept asking, “Do I need help from folks so different from myself? Are these really my peeps?”
I’d soon learn that despite what separates us, we share a common cause and can get the help we need.
During this period, I consulted “program literature,” but also veered toward dark and dirty. I’d found a quote somewhere that seemed to apply to me: “Always a stranger, ever alone, always a little in love with death.”
Wow, how dark and depressing, I thought. I was attracted to and intrigued by the words. That phrase spoke to the addict’s experience. I’d always loved Film Noir and existential literature, and was certainly a bit of a drama queen, so I set out to find out about that quote.
This was long before we could Google it. I had no idea where I’d heard or read it. I consulted college literature professors, psychologists, and whomever I could ask. I even traveled to Toronto to consult Marion Woodman, a Jungian analyst and writer with whom I’d studied for years. She’d been an English Literature professor and then a great eating disorders therapist, so I was sure she’d know.
Nope. No one could tell me who wrote that quote.
Then one early morning I went to a meeting in Palm Springs. As I arrived in the parking lot, I saw a grungy looking older fellow climbing down from a big rig. It was a very hot summer and as he walked toward the building, I could see waves of heat rising around him off the pavement. I expected to hear flute music like in a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western. The guy had on a crumpled cowboy hat and resembled Gabby Hayes. I followed him upstairs to the meeting.
The meeting’s topic was, “Keeping Things Positive Despite Dark Thoughts.” I decided to ask if anyone knew of that quote.
“Always a stranger, ever alone, always a little in love with death. Does anyone know where that comes from? “
The Gabby Hayes fellow raised his hand. In my haughty opinion, he was certainly the most unlikely guy in the room to study great quotes. He spoke up. “I do. It’s from Eugene O’Neill’s Long Days Journey Into Night. It’s a play about a family of addicts. The son, Edmund, tells his dad that he loves sailing and really should have been born a fish. He tells about feeling alone and restless. That’s the addict’s condition: Restless, Irritable and Discontent; full of the RIDS.”
I was spellbound. I never would have expected that this unshaven, bowlegged guy in shabby clothes would know about great literature. And he could even tie it all up in a bow with a cute phrase to help me remember.
Throughout the rest of the meeting, I listened quietly as people shared about weathering that “dark night of the soul”, “this too shall pass”, and “nothing’s so bad that a drink or binge won’t make it worse.”
I got what I needed and my troubles eventually moved on. More importantly, my “refuge” was secured, and I was awakened to the infinite opportunities we’re offered at such meetings. I had to give up my judgmental expectations, open my eyes and ears, and take the wisdom from whomever had it to give that day.