The meeting started at noon and I was running late. It used to be when I first got sober I was so self-conscious if I couldn’t be on time I just didn’t go. But these days, with my busy life and even busier schedule, I have to get in a meeting whenever I can. I can’t afford to use the excuse of being late to keep me from going.
Normally with my low attention span, I like to sit up front so I don’t miss anything the speaker says. But when you walk in and they’re already halfway into the readings, your seat options are what’s left, and today that meant in the back of the room with all the newcomers that hadn’t yet made AA a priority. Luckily there was an open chair on the aisle and I quickly sat down.
The secretary was taking care of business and they were passing the 7th tradition basket around. I put in two dollars and handed it across the aisle. Or at least I tried to. The man sitting there had his head down and he was crying. I tapped him on the shoulder, gestured with the basket, and asked if he was okay.
“I can’t do this anymore,” he whispered. He took the basket, and without adding any money, handed it to the woman next to him. Then he turned away from me and hid his head in his hands.
For the next twenty minutes I listened to the speaker share his experience, strength, and hope. He told one story after another defining his drunkalog, and then switched to when he found recovery. The man across the aisle never stopped crying. No one else spoke to him. When he abruptly jumped up and walked out I followed.
“Hey man, what’s your name?” I called out to him as soon as we were both outside.
“Um, Daniel. Why?” He furiously wiped the tears from his face and stared defiantly at me.
“Hey Daniel, my name’s Patrick. Why are you leaving?”
“I need help. No one in there gives a damn.”
“God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.”
— Serenity Prayer
Typical of most newcomers Daniel thought his not so silent crying would attract a fellow alcoholic to ask if he needed help. Unfortunately that doesn’t always work. One of the fundamental cornerstones of Alcoholics Anonymous is learning to ask for the help you need. As that signals to the rest of us that the addict or alcoholic has finally surrendered and, “admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” Daniel just wasn’t there yet. But he still needed help.
“You need to talk to somebody? I’m listening.”
“Really? Why the hell do you want to help me?”
“Look Daniel. I’ve got over 18 years in the program. I didn’t stay sober this long keeping it to myself. I have to give away what’s been given to me. It’s how it works.”
Daniel stood there, hunched over, staring at the sidewalk, and not making eye contact. Then he quietly started talking. “My life’s a mess. I don’t fit in anywhere. I’m gay and I work in an industry where I can’t be myself. My family disowned me. I’ve been doing meth for ten years. I can’t keep a relationship. I feel like… I’ve been thinking of killing myself.”
“You suicidal now?”
“No, that’s not the point. It’s just that… I’m desperate. I’m so desperate I came here and not one person in that goddamn room even looked at me or introduced themselves.”
“I introduced myself.”
“Yeah, well now that you know me you’ll probably just leave like everyone else in my life.”
“You got a cell phone?”
“Of course I do. I’m not homeless.”
“I wasn’t implying you were. Here, punch in your number.” Daniel slowly inputted his number into my phone. I hit the call button and the phone in his pocket rang. “Now you got my number.”
“Your numbers not going to help me get sober.”
“Well okay, Daniel. Just how are you going to get sober?”
“I don’t know. This is a waste of time.”
“Ever considered going to rehab?”
“I can’t afford that.”
“How do you know? You got insurance?”
“Yeah, and a lot a good it’s done me.”
“What, this some weird religious place out in the desert? You guys keep me secluded, indoctrinate my gayness to be gloriously cis straight and I’ll find Jesus. Then soon as I get back I’m hitting Grindr and doing meth all over again.”
“I don’t know… I just…”
“Come on man, call tomorrow. I mean like really, what do you have to lose?”
“I got to go.”
“Hey, I’ll be here next week. See you then?”
“I can’t… I have to go.”
“Call me, okay?”
Daniel didn’t turn around or acknowledge me as he walked away. I went back into the meeting just as they were standing up to pray out. I took my place in the circle and joined in.
“God grant me the serenity; To accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.”
My life got busy again after that meeting. I went to work. I hit the gym. I made another two meetings over the weekend. I hung out with my wife. We went out to dinner with friends. I called my father. I text my sponsee that never calls. I did a bunch of domestic stuff like laundry and vacuumed the rug. But I didn’t hear from Daniel.
Monday rolled around and once again I was running late to the meeting. Not quite as late as last week. But I still had to park on the street, as the community center’s parking lot was full.
Thankfully they hadn’t started and there were seats up front. As I walked the aisle I notice the empty chair where Daniel had sat the week before. I looked around for him but he wasn’t there.
When the meeting let out I scrolled through my phone and found his number. I pressed call. It went straight to voicemail and then said the mailbox was full.
A lot of people try to get sober. It’s not easy. It’s a “we” program and they have to ask for help. Some people just aren’t ready. As a recovering addict/alcoholic I always have to be there in case they are.