The lesson

It was hard to go and speak at my home group last night. Normally I don’t get nervous about chairs in meetings any more, but I was more nervous than I had perhaps been since my first ever chair, when I was six months sober. When I got to the meeting, I still wanted to be at home in bed. It’s an honour to be asked to lead your home group meeting on your tenth anniversary, I’d been looking forward to the occasion for weeks, yet I couldn’t lie to them about how I was feeling yesterday. It hadn’t been a good day, and I told people that whenever they asked.

Despite the nerves I had to give the chair and make some kind of sense. I decided I would talk about recovery instead of drinking, for a change. Last week when I did a chair I talked almost exclusively about my drinking, the subject that’s normally focused on in chairs. Not many people give much time to the story of their recovery, and since I was getting a second opportunity to talk in a week I thought I would try and tell the true story of this ten years. I told them everything, about my first sponsor and my shyness around meetings in the early days, the slow build up of resentments against the fellowship, the way my understanding of the steps never really reached completeness. I talked a lot about the “six year slump” when I left meetings and decided I didn’t need a program any more. I recounted the night I was at the pub with work colleagues and I nearly drank, because they kept asking me why I wasn’t drinking and I couldn’t give them a satisfactory answer. I explained how hard long term sobriety can be to maintain in a level of detail I’ve never gone into before. Most of the time people don’t talk about that kind of thing in the meetings I go to. The only meeting I’ve been to that focuses on issues of later sobriety is the Thursday night in South London, one which I used to attend eagerly to hear about what later sobriety was like.

People shared back with gratitude for my honesty. I had been apprehensive about how such an unusual chair would go down, and the response proved there was no need for apprehension. They appreciated hearing about the dangers of letting resentments build up in the fellowship, and what happens when you don’t go to meetings. For some people out there, leaving the fellowship might be a good move; none of us knew anyone that it had worked out well for, though. I was lonely and angry for two years when I wasn’t going to meetings, and I nearly drank. The only reason I didn’t drink was because I didn’t want to lose that sobriety date.

It was nice to use my voice authentically and to have a good response to it. Prior to the meeting I had asked several people if they’d be going out for dinner afterwards, as I wouldn’t get another opportunity to celebrate being ten years sober. Many people gathered outside at the end for food, as they normally do on a Saturday, and I was a little weary of continuing to be the centre of attention. I’d been the focus of everyone’s attention for nearly two hours, and it was only set to continue. But I had put myself in that position because it was my tenth anniversary, and I knew somewhere inside that I needed to be at the centre of things, to celebrate and make some memories.

People asked me where I wanted to eat and I just suggested the place where they usually go, a busy burger restaurant round the corner. They do good burgers there and I knew I’d enjoy the food, but I also knew that it would be difficult to find a table where we could all talk to each other. Initially I was at the front leading the group with C, my crush, but somehow I got separated from him on the five minute journey and ended up stuck at the back of the group, meaning that I got last dibs on a place at the table and had to take a small, squashed space in a corner. I was sitting with two shy newcomers that didn’t say much, while the people I knew best were far away at the other end. This was why I rarely went to the burger restaurant with that group, why I preferred the coffee shop with the other group where at least I could hear what people were saying to me. Here there was loud music booming out of a speaker above my head all night, and it was an uphill struggle to get any conversation going at my end of the table. I could have cursed God for putting me in this position again. I had to wonder at why it seemed so easy for other people, people like C, who always just ends up with friends and has a great time.

Before long I knew that I was being presented with an opportunity to test my social skills, and I started to make an effort with my neighbours. By a miracle I ended up having quite a good chat with the person sitting next to me, someone I had never seen before, who happened to have studied acting at the same college where I’m studying counselling. We talked all about the college and the excitement of changing careers for a good half hour. I made an effort with some of the newcomers as well, and although it wasn’t a conversation to write home about, I felt I got to know them a little better.

My fear that I would be the centre of attention all night ironically proved unfounded. I could have been forgotten about entirely had I not opened my mouth and started speaking.

After dinner when we were all standing outside the restaurant, satisfied and ready for our beds, I continued with the effort to be part of things by laughing at jokes and offering reflections on the night. It was a lovely ten minutes, as we said farewell and crystallised our bonds. I could go home knowing the night had been a success – an unexpected one, in many ways – and I could forget the bad feelings of earlier.

I had ended my chair by talking about the fact that feelings never go away, no matter how long you’ve been sober. The most important lesson I’ve learned in sobriety is to take life one day at a time, literally. I can have a bad morning like yesterday morning and feel like shit: unlike my newly sober self ten years ago, I can acknowledge these feelings and carry on through the day, facing what needs to be faced. One day at a time, or one step at a time, I can walk through fear and anger and meet friends and smile and end a day on a good note. My fear and my anger hasn’t gone away, but I’m learning to live with it. I already knew this, but it was clear to me again last night that this was what I needed to keep doing, if I wanted to cultivate the intimate relationships that I so crave. I need to keep being around people and sharing with them. Five years ago I didn’t use my voice in meetings, and I paid the price.

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