For your weekend reading pleasure, this post is an excerpt from “Its not all Rainbows and Ponies”, a Memoir by Laura Shepperd, http://laurashepperd.com/a sober writer who recently launched her memoir. I really liked this Chapter and hope you enjoy it as well.
It’s Not All Rainbows and Ponies
By Laura Shepperd
Any smaller group I attended during those first days was filled with other newcomers, and meetings were held in a small building off the beaten path of the main campus. “All these stone buildings look alike. Stone buildings everywhere with red roof tops,” someone said.
She walked me to the smaller building and stood next to me in the doorway while my eyes adjusted to the dark room. Down two steps, turn right, and down three more. I surveyed the long, empty room. Chairs were placed in a large circle, some with folders and books on the seat, others without. Narrow, rectangular windows lined the right side, dark wood paneling down the left.
It felt like a basement because the windows were level with the backs of the chairs. There was another door at the far end, and a tall blonde woman in a white linen dress floated through it and into the room. “Hi, Laura! Welcome!” “Hello,” I answered, still perusing the room. I felt lost, but she had called me by name, so, I figured I must be in the right place. “You’ll need to take one of the chairs with the literature in them. You’ll find a folder with your current schedule and some other paperwork. That’s an AA Big Book on top.
We’ll discuss those in more detail a little later.” I took a chair opposite the wall with the windows and purposefully placed the literature on my lap. Now what? The lady in white was obviously our group leader. I watched her organizing books and folders, but when she looked up, I glanced away or looked down at my reading materials. She was a heavy-set woman with a bobbed hairstyle. She wore no makeup and lots of big jewelry. Left over hippie. She kept tossing her head to get her bangs out of her eyes, and when she did, her clunky jewelry rattled like pocket change.
Other people began to filter in. The flowy lady in white smiled and greeted the group as she began the meeting. Her name was Carla. She instructed each member of the group to introduce themselves (no last names) and state their DOC. Now this? Just when I thought I couldn’t feel more awkward.
I was edgy, constantly shifting my weight, adjusting my sandals, crossing and uncrossing my legs and whatever else I could find to do. I glanced around the room, but never made eye contact. There were equal numbers of young and old, and more women than men in our group. Frequent Flier Haney was there, but he was already nodding off like an old man in church. Amy, Jenny and Theresa from SCU were there. As instructed, each introduced themselves and identified their DOC. “Hi guys. I’m Amy, and I use intravenous heroin.” She had such an ease to her, she was almost cocky. “Jesse. Drug addict.” Tap tap tap goes the left foot. “Jenny. Xanax and alcohol.” “I am Theresa. I smoke pot, and I drink. Oh! I take Xanax, too!” she giggled. Idiot. “Laura. Alcohol.” And on and on, until each of the fifteen or so of us had introduced ourselves and our problem.
We were taught AA Meeting decorum, and some very basic group therapy guidelines. Don’t hug, pat or even touch another group member when they become emotional. This can cause the person sharing to shut down, and if they cut short their share, perhaps limiting their processing, we were told. No passing of tissues for the same reasons. If the person sharing wants a tissue, he or she can get one. There will be plenty placed around the room. I was never much for navel gazing, self-reflection, whatever.
This was all new to me. We were to speak only in first person, and only discuss, analyze, or critique our own issues. No cross talk in response to what another has shared, and speak only of your own experience. Be respectful. No talking, whispering, or excessive noise or activity, such as moving your study materials or rustling papers while someone else is speaking. I settled a bit further into my chair and tried to become invisible, studiously leafing through my handouts. The Newcomer Group was fluid, so the number of members would vary from day to day. New people would flow in and receive instructions and assignments, and those who had completed the required work would flow out, moving on to the next level of their Recovery. Carla said one of the requirements was for each member to write a Goodbye Letter to their DOC. She paused afterward to let that sink in.
The new people were given guidelines as to what was to be included, and I gave it a glance and stuffed it away in my folder. A Goodbye Letter to alcohol? Really? What a bunch of kindergarten bullshit. I’ll smoke this assignment, blow her socks off and move forward in record time.
“And then you will read it aloud to the group,” Carla said. Oh … well … now, wait just a minute. There are probably fifteen or twenty people in here! People I don’t even know. Don’t see what good can come of that. It’s bullshit. “And today, Amy is ready to read her Goodbye Letter to the group,” Carla said smiling and turning to Amy. Everyone closed their materials and locked their eyes on Amy, and I followed their lead. She began her reading with a brief background of her introduction to drugs and alcohol in the party scene. Then came her slippery slide into drug abuse and finally, the horrific tale of her intravenous heroin addiction. She told of days on end looking for the next fix. No food, no shower, no sleep. Just fixated on the fix. There was nothing too filthy or compromising if it would get her what she needed to get right, she said. She read. She screamed and cursed. She cried. Her body shook like nothing I’d seen before. Her chest was heaving so, I feared she might pass out, and the ragged sides of her paper, torn from a spiral notebook, flopped up and down as her hands trembled. I was mesmerized. She cleared her throat and wiped her drenched face on her crisp, long-sleeved shirt, then sat up straight with new resolve. “And so, in conclusion, I say goodbye to you, heroin,” she read. “You’re the devil. I’m sure of it because you’ve taken everything. My family, my future … even the me I used to know. You took it all! Every fuckin’ thing that matters, you hear me?” she shouted with tears streaming down her thin, drawn face. Then she hung her head until her chin was on her chest, and with quivering lips, just above a whisper, she uttered, “Adios, you motherfucker. I’m done.”
No one drew a breath. There was no air in the room to breathe. And with trembling hands, she tightly folded her pages over and over into a small square, mashed them firmly between her palms and passed them down to our leader. I internally noted the irony of the scene, her passing a note like that to the teacher. And though all the horrible mess that was her life and the dark secrets she had dragged through that mess were now out there all naked and raw, how she had meticulously folded her pages over and over themselves as if to keep the sad truth of the words inside from spilling out again.
Those pages contained more pain, struggle and shame than any girl her age should ever have to know. She should be passing notes about dates and dresses, I thought to myself. Most everyone in the group was wiping away tears, and we all looked like someone had punched us in the gut as we sat with our heads down and hands clasped tightly on our laps. I felt as if I had witnessed someone torturing herself. It was so brutal and jagged that when I finally did glance up at her, I almost expected to see slashes and bruising. But she just sat there all skinny and pale, limp with exhaustion. I sat stunned in the silence.
I had two days to work on the assignment. That night, I read the assignment outline and set out to write the most articulate, well organized, grammatically correct Goodbye Letter ever in the history of Rehab. What I ended up with was an emotional chronicle of my very close, very lengthy relationship with alcohol. One that started as a party, disintegrated into just plain pathetic, and now was ending with a bitter breakup demand by me. My anger towards my dear old friend surprised me. It was as if I had been plucked from a sick relationship, and only in that removal could I begin to see it for what it really was.
My life partner alcohol had become a selfish sonofabitch: “No one new in! And everybody who’s already in, Out with you, too if you disapprove! We go everywhere together, and we do everything together. If we’re not allowed in together, we just won’t fuckin’ go. To hell with you, and your judgment and intolerance!” I cried for the me I had known and for the person I’d become. I cried for the mom and wife my family knew, and for the one they had ended up with. For two nights, I wrote and re-wrote. I threw away pages damp with tears and others crumpled in anger.
At times, I meticulously edited each page. Others, I just copied the words over and over again. Finally, when words and tears no longer flowed, I neatly stacked my pages, shoved them in the folder on my desk, and let it be. Then came the morning of my turn to read aloud, and I too, shook as I read with quivering voice, and I too, cried as I chronicled my relationship with my DOC. But as I concluded, I came to realize it was about the process, not the end product.
It didn’t matter at all what was on my paper, any more than it mattered what anyone in that room thought of it. So I cleared my throat, gutted it up, and finished my reading: “Alcohol, I’m scared to let you go. You were always there for me. Picked me up when I was feeling down, relaxed me when I felt tense, and made the good times even better. Then you turned on me, and now there are no good times together – ever. But I keep crawling back to you, begging for more, like a sick, pathetic, battered victim. “You, once the maker of all things better, now the Betrayer. You, who eased my restlessness and took the edge off, have put me on an edge so thin and sharp, now the only way I can stay balanced and tolerate this excruciating mental, emotional and physical pain is to drink again. And then, again and again. But we turned a corner, didn’t we? The party’s been over for a long, long time, and the relief you once gave is now an elusive memory I chased until I was busted up and finally, defeated. “Yes, I’m scared to let you go. If this is life drinking, I can’t bear to think what waits if I stop. I didn’t want to keep drinking and seeing the disappointed looks from my children and my husband, but I could not, NOT drink! It’s all become a vicious cycle of fearful maintenance that has left me hopeless.
Not the kind of hopeless that’s declared by an outsider. I am, within myself, for the first time in my life, without hope. Hope that I can manage my drinking, much less, quit completely. Hope that I can stop hurting my beautiful family. Hope for a better, happier life. And hope that I won’t be a drunken, sack-of-shit disappointment the remainder of my life. Yeah, that hope’s been long-gone. “But I’m done. You’ve taken all I’m willing to give you, so go. Haul your ass away from me and my family. Somehow, they haven’t given up on me yet, so neither can I.”
Did I blow their socks off? Hardly. But the effect on me of honestly putting that history down on paper and then sharing it aloud with the other members of my group was deep and profound. I had written and read truths about myself that I had never even admitted alone, in my bed, in my busy, crazy head. I now trusted each and every one of these people, and they now trusted me. Seventy-two hours before, we’d never even met. And but for this one thing in common, our paths would have never crossed. When class was dismissed, I grabbed a bottle of water at the Bodega, sat on a bench under a tree and opened some study materials so no one would bother me.