I Felt Like I Could Breathe Again
What struck me the most, in that first N.A. meeting, once I felt like I might actually belong there, was the level of emotional honesty these kids shared with. It was compelling to me. I couldn’t help but get drawn in, and feel some stirrings of emotional honesty within myself as I listened to each one of them share. They came straight from the heart.
Seeing the nods of understanding from the others as each one shared added to the deep sense of intimacy that pervaded that little room. Something inside of me suddenly felt like it could breathe again, after having held its breath for a long, long time.
I found myself raising my hand, towards the end of the meeting, and telling that room full of kids that I thought I was an addict, and that I felt like I might be able to stop using, with their help. Suddenly, I became the focus of their attention for the rest of the meeting, and afterwards. It was breathtaking!
It’s hard to describe exactly how that felt, for that lonely kid deep inside of me, who had once thought he’d found a way to connect with others through getting high. While I’d put down the bottle a couple years before, that was simply out of fear that I was becoming a wet-brain. This was different — fear wasn’t leading me to want to stop using drugs. Desire was. I wanted to belong here, and they said the only requirement for membership was a desire to stop using. I could feel that desire, not as an intellectual idea, but as a feeling deep inside my heart, my soul. It almost felt like falling in love.
This felt like a chance to give it all up, the drugs as well as the booze, and still find a way to fill that empty, lonely hole I had deep inside. While the drugs were still giving me temporary relief from the loneliness, it was like that one-night stand with that passing stranger girl — there’d be an unbelievable night, a great high, followed by the stark reality of the real world, which I’d been becoming less and less able to navigate, without being high. I’d been there before, and never wanted to go back to that place.
This meeting, these kids, were offering me a way out. I didn’t know, intellectually, if I could trust it, but emotionally — my heart was all in. Fortunately, those days, I tended to follow my heart much more than my head. So, like the good addict that I was (and still am), I dove in.
The thing is, while they had all gotten deadly serious about this thing they called addiction during the meeting, as soon as it was over, they went back to being wild and carefree teenagers, at least it seemed that way to me. Everyone hugged me and said, “keep coming back”, then went on about the business of whatever was on their agenda for a Saturday night. They were young and full of the need to get their ya-ya’s out. They weren’t old and dull and just trying to hang on, like I often felt those folks at AA were doing. These kids were full of life!
You could go into one of those AA meetings, where they were friendly enough, and leave at the end without ever having been touched by another person. If you didn’t initiate a conversation with them, they left you alone. They had a slogan, “Live and Let Live”. I’d liked that, when I didn’t want to get up in anyone else’s business, or them get up in mine. It was like they took the meetings as their required medicine, then went on about their business, before and after. That’s the way it felt, there. I had liked that for the past two years. It had allowed me to come and go, and no one get to know me well enough to even find out who I was. I could be anonymous, like the name suggested, and had thought that was cool.
In N.A., they reached out to you, they hugged you, they shared at a level of honesty that was impossible to just sit and hold back, yourself. You wanted to jump in there with some honesty of your own, or get the hell out of there, if you didn’t want to be found out. I was to the point where I wanted to be found out! I was so tired of hiding who and what I was.
My head was spinning as I finally made my way out of that meeting and drove the short distance to my apartment, but my heart was full. I was so excited! I honestly couldn’t wait to go back to the next meeting, which fortunately was the next night, same place, same time. They said it was a Step meeting. They had 12 Steps, just like AA, but instead of being powerless over a substance (alcohol), their 1st Step said they were powerless over addiction.
I’d never gone to a Step meeting the whole 2 years I was going to AA. I never saw the point. I didn’t see what I needed them for. I was there to stop drinking, and I had stopped drinking. The meetings had just made me feel a little better, like medicine does. That kid George, who had engaged me on the break and brought me back into the meeting when I was ready to split, had told me the Steps were what it was all about. He’d said, “they’re the path to recovery.”
I wanted that. When I got back to my apartment, I was so charged up, I had to do something. I began to write. I found words just pouring out of me, like they hadn’t since I had first discovered writing, after my first time falling in love, and promptly being dumped. I began to write with a passion.