About a month ago, someone from my home recovery group asked me if I’d share my story at a local rehab. In order to keep it, you have to give it away, they say.
The first time this guy asked me about speaking, I apparently pulled out my phone and put the date in my calendar because it was already there when he asked me about it again last week. I hadn’t agreed to it then and figured (hoped) he’d forgotten all about it, but he had not. I’ve heard enough people say they always take a speaking commitment unless they have a good reason not to. Still, I thought about it another day or two before committing, not because I didn’t want to but because I was afraid.
Just like some people fear flying or dogs or germs, I am afraid of public speaking. It’s irrational, although I was somewhat comforted by another member reminding me that sharing our story comes from the heart and extemporaneously, so is not much at all like public speaking. We can change subtle things about our message, but our story never changes, and this is precisely why I freaked out a little once I set foot inside rehab yesterday.
I guess I had a different idea of what rehab would look like. Like many in recovery, I detoxed at home and never went to rehab, although I romanticized it plenty in those early days. I pictured plenty of natural light and down time and tired looking women in sweatpants and very little makeup. I hadn’t pictured so many heavily tattooed men (and women) and so much syrup on the dining hall tables we pushed together to form our own makeshift recovery meeting. A handwritten sign on the wall listed a different radio station to be played each day of the week with the threat of talk radio ALL DAY (emphasis theirs) if anyone had a problem with it. This rehab felt like prison if prison had a lobby with a murky, half-empty aquarium with too many orange fish and one big turtle straining to escape.
What possible good came of me sharing my suburban-white-mom story with a bunch of people with probably very different circumstances? I have no idea. It’s possible something I shared from my first year of recovery stuck with someone…maybe how I didn’t do anything perfectly except for not drinking. I don’t know, I’m reaching. I shared my story, avoiding eye contact and feeling a bit like my 4 year-old when she meets someone new and runs to hide behind me (if I can’t see them, they can’t see me, right?). Everyone listened politely. A handful of people used the time to fill in worksheets, which probably had to do with step work. At one point a woman loudly crumbled up a page she was working on, but I don’t think it was to protest anything I said. After the meeting, some came up to shake our hands and thank us for coming, and this touched me. I took something away, though it was not the pat-myself-on-the-back feeling that I expected. I took away gratitude that I got to leave and drive home at the end of the hour to be with my family.
In an email to a recovery friend I’ve started getting close to (my first real-life recovery friend!), she talked about gratitude and how seeing someone with less made her appreciate all that she had. I knew just what she meant. When I snuck glances around the room yesterday, I was aware how lucky I am to have gotten out when I did. I hate the term “high bottom” because frankly it reminds me of firm asses. But there are so many points in a person’s life they can choose sobriety. Maybe it’s more apt to say sobriety chooses us. How else can I explain the college student sitting next to a newly sober retiree at a meeting? Why did I stop drinking at 37 and not 27 or 47 or never? Who the fuck knows, but I’m even more grateful I had the resources and support to stop as easily as I did. Looking around the room yesterday, I saw how easy I’ve always had it. The experience was unsettling and humbling.
Right now, gratitude is as much about being thankful for the life I avoided as it is appreciating the life I have. Eventually I hope I feel it without so much fear and judgmental-ness, but hey, one more thing to work on. I am grateful for that and even the smell of syrup, which stayed with me for hours afterwards and reminded me of the world I left behind.