Quarantine Diary Day -8: Meeting Makers Make It

AA During The Pandemic

On March 5, 2020, my brain was waging an internal war against my feet over whether or not I should go to an AA meeting. My feet, which had been reliably carrying me to and from the meetings that have kept me sober for the last four years, knew the drill. When the clock hits quarter to noon, they stand up and march me to the nearest church basement, where I sit my ass in a chair. That day, my brain, wily and willful, was whispering that I didn’t need to go to meetings anymore. I’d read the big book cover to cover and worked the steps with a sponsor. I had better things to do with the next hour than sit in a small stifling room listening to the same people rambling about the same problems I’ve heard hundreds of times before. I’m good. I’ve got this.

Lucky for me, my feet are smarter than my brain, and they walked me out the door. I was ten minutes late to the meeting, but I caught the end of the speaker and when it was my turn to share, I did. I don’t remember what I said. I know I hoped my words were helpful to someone else–there was a newcomer in the room that day–but it’s more likely they were most helpful to me. They always are. I do remember that there was only one other woman there, and that I hung onto her every word. I always do. After the meeting, the woman came up to me and asked me if I would be willing to share my story at a meeting that Saturday. I said yes, even though it meant rearranging my Saturday schedule and texting my husband to make sure he be on bedtime duty for our daughter. I always say yes. I know I left the meeting feeling better than when I went in. That always happens. I went back to work at peace, my mind and body no longer at war, my heart recommitted to the way of life that saved my life. I think this is what people mean when they talk about serenity.

That weekend, on March 7, I went to the “Saturday Night Live” meeting at the Alano club in my town and shared my story. I marveled at how, after four years, I could still walk into a meeting I’d never been to before, sit down among people I’d never met, and feel right at home. This particular meeting was a riot. Ten minutes before it started, a few members got into a heated discussion about the wording of an announcement that had been added to the meeting script. The dispute had to do with whether the group should adhere to the tradition of holding hands during the prayer at the end of the meeting in light of the spreading coronavirus. The woman chairing the meeting was adamant that she would not be holding anyone’s hand, because she was had a compromised immune system, and she thought that the announcement did not adequately address her concerns. The man she was talking to was was equally adamant about…something…it was not entirely clear what, because the group ended up deciding to suspend hand holding until the pandemic subsided. I remember laughing about how alcoholics always seem to find a way to make things difficult, even when the right way to do things is obvious, and eminently reasonable, and everybody agrees. Somebody else recommended that we update our phone lists, in the event in-person meetings were also suspended. I nodded, but couldn’t fathom that actually happening, couldn’t imagine around a world in which in which the churches and hospitals and community centers closed their doors on sick and desperate people. No more meetings was, to my mind, unthinkable, an idea more shocking even than closing down public schools and postponing the Olympics.

Meetings are the lifeblood of sobriety for me and millions of other members of AA. “Meeting makers make it” is the aphorism I hear most often in the rooms, and the one I hate the most. I hate it because I don’t hear the hope it offers–with the help of the group, you can not drink one day at a time. I only ever hear the dark flipside–if you don’t go to enough meetings you won’t make it; if you don’t go to meetings, you’ll drink; if you don’t go to meetings, you’ll die. This is AA law, based on the transitive property and the other big saying, the one that says, “to drink is to die.”

I hate the “meeting makers make it” mentality, too, because it’s imprecisem. How many meetings is enough meetings? How regularly do you have to go to be a regular? Three times a week? Five? Seven? Think you don’t have time for that kind of commitment? Old timers have a quick comeback for that excuse: “You had time to drink every day, didn’t you?” What if you didn’t drink every day? I didn’t. What if five meetings a week is fine, but you’re competitive, like me, and want to earn gold stars, on top of all your chips for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, a year?

Of course, the thing I hate the very most the claim that meetings will keep me sober is that I don’t know if it’s true. I prefer ideologies I can swallow whole can embrace or reject outright. Nuance, ambiguity, the entire notion of different strokes for different for folks–it’s all breeding ground for anxious overthinking, ruinous rumination. I know there are people who get and stay sober without AA–or rather, I know of such people. Am I one of those people? Or do I need the fellowship of the group of drunks? I have supporting both hypotheses. On the right, my angel-voiced better self reminds me: I tried for years to quit drinking on my own and couldn’t do it, but haven’t taken a drink since my first meeting in January 2016. On the left, my independent side tallies up all the days I’ve gone without a meeting and presents me with indisputable proof: I can survive long stretches of time. I can’t know if “meeting makers make it” or if “meeting dodgers don’t” because I’ve never had the chance to really test the theory. When I go more than a few days without a meeting, I get squirrely, and when I go more than two weeks–well, I don’t know. I’ve never gone more than two weeks. Before March 2020, whenever I got squirrely, I knew exactly where to go.

Three months ago, I couldn’t wrap my mind around a world with no meetings because, in the most fearful reaches of my mind, this was nothing short of a death sentence.

Getting back to the meeting on March 7, Saturday Night Live at the Alano club, once the issue of hand-holding was resolved, the meeting, as I mentioned, was a lot of fun. When I talk about my drinking sober outside the rooms, it sounds so serious, and so sad. Inside the rooms, people laugh at my stories about raiding the medicine cabinets in my dry Mormon household for cough syrup, my failed suicide attempt, and the insanity of my efforts to manage my addiction after I had a baby. Inside the rooms, my life feels normal, instead of like a sad morality tale. After the meeting, we went out for dinner to a restaurant where the servers knew we were coming, and had set up a long table in the middle of the dining room. Old timers regaled me with tales from their own drinking days, and stories about the history of group. I caught up with an old friend who I met early in sobriety. A few woman banded together to shield me from being thirteenth-stepped. I walked home late that night feeling happy, joyous, and free, recommitted to the people who saved my life. “I want to keep going to that meeting,” I told my husband, “and going out for fellowship after.”

Of course, you know the rest of the story. The next week, the Alano club shut its doors, along with every other meeting in town, and I haven’t been to an in-person meeting since.

Quarantine Diary Day 61: Twenty-Seven Questions About The Fleabag Finale

We finally watched Fleabag. I say “finally” like I didn’t hear about it for the first time only a few weeks ago, and like I didn’t just figure out what it was–a British TV series starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge–last Friday. It took me a minute to get around to watching it because every time I saw it mentioned on social media or heard my husband say that someone had recommended it, I developed Memento-style short-term memory loss and immediately forgot all about it. Conversations about it went something like this.

Me: So, _________ recommended this show on Amazon, I think it’s called Fleabag?

Husband: Yeah, I know. We talked about it last week.

Me: We did? I’ve never heard of it before.

Husband: Yeah. It’s one of the shows the cashier at Trader Joe’s recommended. He said it’s great. Remember?

Me: No. What’s it’s about?

Husband: It’s a British comedy.

Me [groaning loudly]: Ohhhhh, never mind.

I say “Ohhhhh, never mind” like I historically haven’t loved them, like the UK Office wasn’t my gateway drug into the golden age of television just like everyone else in my generation, like I wasn’t obsessed with shows like Fresh Meat and Pulling and Gavin & Stacey and even, briefly, a pretty bad show about teen parents called Pramface, like the first few episodes of Breeders didn’t absolutely delight me as recently a few months ago.

Here’s the thing, though. I’m pretty bad with accents. I’m embarrassed to admit it, because I’m afraid it’s a trait that carries whiff of ethnocentrism or at least lack of sophistication, and when I go on to explain that it’s just hard for me to follow a show or a movie where most of the dialogue is spoken in heavily accented English, I feel lazy and selfish and like I should just try harder and be better, goddamnit! I don’t mind watching shows with closed-captioning. In fact, I prefer it, because I’m also pretty bad with rapid-speed dialogue and hushed voices and lots of background noise. Maybe I just have poor hearing? I tend to forget that closed-captioning/subtitles are an option, though.

Here’s the other thing. Without knowing anything about it, I assumed Fleabag was about a man. I think it was a quick association of the word “fleabag” with “dirtbag” and another quick leap to all the raunchy comedies out there about shitty dude and while it’s true that I’ve known and loved these comedies and the men who make them over the years, I don’t need or want to watch another show about a shitty dude. I don’t even want to watch a another show about a decent dude. I definitely don’t want to watch anything with a redemption narrative: shitty dude has realizations, tries to become decent dude, starts treating women like they have value instead of like garbage but ultimately still sees them as objects.

Back to last Friday. Just as I was groaning away the prospect of struggling through a British comedy about a dude, husband pulled up the show so we could watch a trailer and I didn’t need to see anything more than Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s mascara streaked face before I changed my mind.

Me: We’re watching this.

I’m very interested in female dirtbags, though, in women with unpleasant and irredeemable characteristics. I like women who are a little gross.

We finished the series in four days. It’s really short, but also really wonderful. Now that I’m finished, all I want to do is talk about it with girlfriends, but moms’ night out isn’t happening anymore, so I’m taking to the internet. Mostly, I have questions.

THE REST OF THIS POST IS ALL SPOILERS

Here are my questions:

  1. What is Fleabag’s name?
  2. What is Fleabag’s mom’s name?
  3. Does anybody care about the Godmother’s name?
  4. What is the significance of the breaking of the fourth wall?
  5. Is Fleabag insane?
  6. Or is she just grieving?
  7. Was she like this before Boo died? Before her mom died?
  8. Why was the Priest able to see her breaking the fourth wall?
  9. Why is the Priest so sexy?
  10. So, is Claire a lawyer or what?
  11. How adorable are Claire and Klare?
  12. Will Jake be okay without Claire?
  13. Do we agree that the bassoon is a cry for help?
  14. Do other instruments fall into this category?
  15. Can a guinea pig bond with a hamster?
  16. Is Hillary’s cage too small?
  17. How will Fleabag process what happened to Boo?
  18. Has Fleabag made amends for what she did to Boo?
  19. Why aren’t there more shows featuring women with unkempt hair and bad makeup?
  20. Is there any hope for a future between the Fleabag and the Priest?
  21. What is the significance of the bus being cancelled at the end?
  22. Does Question 17 contain the answer to Question 16? (Please say no (I know you won’t.).)
  23. What’s up with the fox?
  24. The Priest definitely has an alcohol problem, right?
  25. Would it be very foolish for me to open up a cafe when the pandemic is over?

Look, I know the ending was perfect, and that resolving any of these questions would have diluted the artistry of the show as a whole, but I am who I am and I want what I want and who I am is a sad sappy sucker and what I want is closure. Also, a happy ending for the characters I love and just desserts for the characters I hate. At least Fleabag delivered on the latter in spades.

I do have one more question, which sort of undercuts the last paragraph, and it is this:

  1. How is it that a show can leave so many major issues unresolved and still feel so satisfying?
  2. Is it because that’s how life is?

That was two questions. Goddamnit. This is the last one, I swear.

  1. Will I resort to this Question/No Answer format for future posts?

Almost definitely. [Wink]

8 Minute Memoir – Day 12 – Decisions

I hate making decisions. It gives me anxiety. I hate shopping in a big box store. I hate researching my options online. I hate a ten page menu. I hate how many goddamn summer camp options there are in my town. It’s not that I want someone to tell me what to do, I just want to be presented with a minimal amount of options. I am the target customer for subscription clothing services and produce boxes. My husband has not once but twice given me a decision-making coin for a gift and in both instances it was the perfect gift. One is a basically a flattened out magic eight ball, with two yes/no-type options. The other is brunch specific: savor or sweet. I don’t use them often but knowing I have them gives me great joy and relief.

But here’s where the twist gets twistier.

I am really good at making decisions. Like, really good. I rock a pro/con list like no one’s business, and when I’m done listing that shit out, I don’t think twice. Not about leaving the church I was raised in, not about re-homing the family pet, not quitting my secure job as a law partner, not about backing out of a contract to buy our dream house. I move on. No look-backs. I make great decisions.

I am also the best order-er I know. You want to go out to eat with me because I am terrific dinner company and I enable over-ordering and will stay for coffee and dessert, but you also don’t want to go out to eat with me, because my meal will definitely be better than yours.

8 Minute Memoir – Day 11 – Losing Things

Our first Christmas together, R gave me a pen, translucent titanium gray with polished gold trim and my full name etched on the conical panel cap. It was gorgeous. My grandmother was stunned. What kind of twenty-year-old boy gives his girlfriend such an old-fashioned gift? Of course, I lost the pen. I lost it many times, in fact, only to find it a few days or weeks later in the bottom of my backpack or buried deep in a rarely-carried purse or rolling around in the back of my car. The pen always came back to me, though, so often that I stopped worrying when it went missing. I knew I could count on it to stick with me. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen the pen. For a time, I suspected it disappeared into the crack between the cushions of my sponsor’s couch, where I sat every Sunday for almost two years, reading the big book and working the steps. For a time, I assumed that she would find it on her own and return it to me, but now I’m not so sure. I’m not worried, though. I know it will turn up when I least expect it. And if it doesn’t, that’s okay too. I don’t need to mourn the loss of the first really gorgeous gift R gave me because the pen is nothing compared to the many things he’s given me since.

8 Minute Memoir – Day 9 – 8

I don’t like this prompt at all. “8” on Day 9? It’s just so…off. Also, I already wrote about being eight years old when I wrote about my baptism for Day 1. Also, I’m responding to this prompt to give myself a break from memoir-writing, where I am deeeeep in the childhood years and, honestly, pretty sick of writing about sweet little me and my loving family and my weirdo church. But I said I’d write on the prompt for eight minutes and I’ve got four left, so here I go.

When I was eight years old I was convinced I didn’t sleep. I swore to my parents and siblings and anyone who would listen that I spent all night every night wired in bed, restless, not sleeping, not dreaming, just waiting for morning to come. Of course, my dad wanted to prove me wrong and to did it, he crept into my room at night and drew smiley face on my stomach in green marker. It was, say, six inches in diameter, massive on my little frame. I didn’t find it until the next morning in the shower and when I looked down and saw a face smiling back up at me I screamed. It was like a waking nightmare, finding something on my body and having no idea how it got there. It was torture, trying to piece together what had happened, where I’d been. It was like being robbed, realizing somebody I trusted had done something to my body without my knowledge or consent. It was good practice.

8 Minute Memoir – Day 8 – Birthdays

My daughter’s birthday is in late April, which sounds like a spring birthday, but in Chicago it’s basically still winter. I know this because it snowed two days before she was born and it has snowed right around her birthday every year since. Nobody really believes me when I say this, that we’re going to get accumulation, actual inches of snow, in the last week of April, but it’s true. We always do. My birthday is in mid-May, which I will represent is also basically still winter. I know this because every year my husband plans picnics and hikes and walks in the neighborhood because the man knows what I like and every year it’s cold, frigid even, and I am forced to tuck my cute outfit under a wool coat and my cute hair under a ratty winter beanie. After May we get a break until August, which is when the real birthday gauntlet–I mean season–starts, and the special days start rolling in, one after another, mom’s birthday, brother’s birthday, other brother’s birthday, husband’s birthday, sister’s birthday, dad’s birthday, other other brother’s birthday. (We cannot talk about nieces and nephews right now because I am a negligent aunt. In laws? Good god, no.) Other other brother’s birthday takes us into Christmas and then New Year and then we’re in the drought, the dry spell, the lonely sad season, the endless miserable winter that only starts to end the day my daughter was born.

8 Minute Memoir – Day 7 – Finish

The first time I ran six miles out and back from my house, I knew I would run a marathon. There was no question in my mind. If I could run six miles, I could run 26.2. It didn’t matter that I had no aerobic base. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t run regularly in over seven years. It didn’t matter that I’d only almost but not quite quit the smoking habit I picked up in college. I signed up for the Chicago Marathon a few days later and trained with one goal in mind: to finish. And finish I did, in somewhere around five hours. It didn’t even occur to me to characterize this time, as “slow” or “fast” or even “around what I expected.” I had no expectations at all. It did not occur to me to calculate my pace, not once while training, not while I was running, and not when I finished. I did take pride in the fact that I ran the whole thing, except for a pit stop at Charity Village at mile 15 to eat a cupcake with the kid I was sponsoring as a charity runner. Since then, I’ve run three more marathons, with goals that ranged from “finish” to “finish faster” to “finish faster than that.” Each of my marathons has spit me up and chewed me out. It’s a brutal race. But I keep doing them, because there is nothing–nothing–like the feeling of finishing something that feels impossible.

8 Minute Memoir – Day 6 – Games

We take games seriously around here. The first time R played Risk with my family, my brother threatened to flip the board and stormed out when he lost. The first time I played Risk with R’s roommates, I threatened to flip the board when R took New Zealand from me. The first time R and I played Risk with our friend D, I broke an alliance immediately after making it, and D quit playing right then and there. He still talks about it, and still won’t play risk with me. It’s been ten years. My entire family refuses to play Catchphrase with R because he cheats. My entire family refuses to play Clue with my sister K because she’s too good. Once, my Mormon family made the mistake of playing Cards Against Humanity and only realized the mistake we’d made when my mom played a card that’s too unspeakable and offensive to include here, even in this giant overshare of a blog. My sister-in-law M danced on the table when she won that game. When I was on maternity leave, R and I used to stay up til 1, 2, 3 am playing computer games while our baby slept. Last time I played Ticket to Ride with my family, nobody completed even half of their missions and we all went home in a terrible mood. My daughter loves games, too. We play Uno, and Operation, and Candyland, and Battleship, and Old Maid, and Sleeping Queens, and Bugs in the Kitchen, and Go Fish, and chess, and a slew of adorable cooperative games that didn’t exist when I was a kid. Sometimes I let her win. Okay, often I let her win. I let her lose too, and I’m trying to teach her to be a good sport when it happens, but honestly I don’t think she stands much of a chance.

8 Minute Memoir – Day 4 – Adventure

Adventure is a hard drug. You get sold on the promise of fun, the lure of escape, but when you’re there in the thick of it, it’s hard and painful and you just want to go home. I used to apply for internships in places far from home and jet off with romantic visions of me sipping coffee in cafes and wandering city streets and reading poetry in the park and meeting people who moved me in a way no one back home could ever do. Cut to me sweating buckets on a bus freaking out because I don’t know if I missed my stop. Cut to me walking miles in urban wasteland, nothing but warehouses and empty fields and big box stores as far as the eye can see. Cut to me blowing off weird guys, awkward coworkers, and annoying roommates to hang out in my room alone. Cut to me running out of money. Cut to me calling my mom, my boyfriend, my friends. Cut to me desperate to come back home.

8 Minute Memoir – Day 3 – Billboards

I love billboards because I love the highway because I love long road trips because I am a sucker for nostalgia. Nostalgia for an Americana that I never lived that maybe never existed is like a short cut to eliciting emotion about my own past, or maybe it’s more like a crispy clean saccharine coating for memories that are more complicated to process. We drove everywhere when I was a kid because we couldn’t afford to fly. There were too many of us and even before then there wasn’t money for plane tickets. So we drove through the mountains up to the pacific northwest to see one set of grandparents and we drove halfway across the country from the midwest to the southwest and back again to see another set of grandparents so many times and I loved every miserable moment of those trips. Robert and I drove too, in our early years, all over the desert, not because we couldn’t afford plane tickets but because we had nowhere to go. We used to pick destinations at random, for no reason. Let’s go to Wilcox! Let’s go to Casa Grande! Let’s go to Bisbee! Let’s go up to Phoenix for the state fair! It was on one of those trips that we saw the greatest billboard of my life, a campy horror-esque advertisement for THE THING. What THE THING was we had no idea, but we had to see it. The billboard told us we had to. And then we saw another billboard and another and another after that, each one announcing with increasing urgency that THE THING was drawing nearer. We followed the billboards, they were on the way to whatever small whatevertown we were headed to that day, but we would have blown right past our destination in search of THE THING if it had come to that. When we finally made it to the home of THE THING, one of those gas station/souvenir store outposts in the desert, we followed the signs to the back of the store and saw that we’d have to pay $2 for the thing. Robert lost all enthusiasm but there was no dampening mine, so I went in, and wandered through a labyrinth that wound well behind the store, marveling at all manner of chintzy artifacts and treasures but also walking quickly because I needed to get to the THE THING and finally I did and it was everything I ever dreamed.