Years ago, after a white-shirt-and-tie visit to Phantom of the Opera in San Francisco, we stopped in at the Redwood Room to have a drink. In honor of Herb Caen, the famous columnist of the Chron, I had a double Stoli on the rocks. The most intimate and excruciating love story of my life started right then.
I started my recovery journey about eight years ago.
One day, my wife suggested I go talk to “John.”
I replied, “Really?” She reminded me of a conference where he had said he was off to a “meeting.” I had forgotten.
I walked down the pothole-laden alley to his office, walked in and told him I needed to talk to him about meetings. He looked at me, and said “You?”
Ten years as a city councilman. Two years as mayor. Citizen of the Year. Thousands of hours of community service to the youth of the community.
I didn’t have the guts to go to meetings in my own town.
My first meeting was in Sacramento, with a friend. We got there early to help set up. As I was doing the chairs, I looked behind me to find somebody adjusting each and every chair I had put out so they matched exactly — alignment, and spacing.
AYKM? Hmmm. I thought to myself that maybe AA was not for me after all, that perhaps it was only for OCD folks.
I didn’t give up, and subsequently I started the daily sojourn with John, to Davis, about 10 miles away, for an early-morning meeting.
It was a great meeting, and I was home ready for my day by 8 a.m. However, it was all pretty much successful white people, high-bottom folks, and I didn’t realize at the time that I needed some grit as well.
When, after two weeks, we started hitting the occasional meeting in Vacaville — where there are two prisons — I realized the value of the grit. Many inmates’ families and relatives had followed them to Vacaville, many of them with their own tragic stories, their own checkered pasts — and I was a beneficiary of their tales.
After about a month of the anonymity of distant meetings, my counselor intervened. Great.
Her point was that I had a mission to fulfill, that others needed to be the beneficiaries, perhaps, of my story.
All those kids whose lives I had touched. All those constituents I had represented, those who voted for me, and those who did not. The thousands of fire personnel for whom I had facilitated Level I and II officer training.
Hmmm. I thought I was retired. I guess not.
I resisted at first. It’s a self-centered journey, and I had to take care of myself, right?
It was a short resistance movement. This counselor and I had only crossed swords once, albeit epically, and she had always given me sound advice. This time she said emphatically that my personal comfort level was nothing, and that perhaps saving even one life by going public should take precedence over my own ego.
Shit. I hate getting hoisted on my own petard!
What’s a petard, anyway? A small bomb you are planning that goes off near you or in your hands. Shakespeare, of course, turned it poetic, into being hoisted on your own logic, your own philosophy.
Well, after I thought about the suggestion for a while, I caved in — and I did so with a vengeance, of course. That’s what we do.
I started going to meetings locally, and I was surprised at the people I found in the local rooms. I knew many, and had no idea about most of them. I knew that I had to walk a fine line between my hypothetical “membership” in any of the 12-Step programs, as there is anonymity to maintain, and they all proscribe attraction, rather than promotion — as I understand it.
Anonymity. A spiritual foundation. “What you hear here, whom you see here, let it stay here when you leave here.”
I would also have to be careful with my stories, lest I disclose something that would allow somebody to know about whom, besides myself, I was speaking. That should be easily done, I thought.
So, I went for it. Facebook. Twitter. Life.
I was pretty much up front with everybody. Full disclosure.
She was right, and I was wrong.
There were a couple of times that I posted that I was going back to rehab, and a couple people got the courage from my posts to do the same thing, to join me.
One time, there was a train. I did. A woman followed me. She posted. A friend followed her, and he posted, and then one of his friends followed him, as well. On little, brief message, and consequently four people were back seeking help to save their lives.
I have also been amazed sometimes at meetings. Occasionally, after I share, somebody with long-term sobriety, somebody who I hold up as an icon, will approach me and tell me that what I had to say really resonated with them. Wow, again.
Now, though, I understand that we newbies, especially those who have started and failed repeatedly, serve as a beacon, a reminder, for those who have been doing well for a long period of time. Where they were once upon a time, and to where just a very few drinks would take them.
Of course, I have bumped up against a few purists, who have read some of my stuff, and for whom any writing, any publicizing, is anathema. Screw them. I have never invited anybody to join me in recovery, I have simply shared what I have been going through, and talked about my periods of success, of progress, and my insights.
I have also shared my many failures. Even though I regret the drama very much, and it took me a lot of fortitude to bring that drama to my Facebook page, and despite often being in a drunken haze, I did it anyway — my mission, as I chose to accept it, stayed with me.
The low point, of course, was not the concussion, nor the stupor I was in for a couple weeks after I found out for sure that my father was not my father. No, it was that very rare occasion that I drove when I should not have, and wrecked my van. And the resulting interface with the Washington State Patrol, and the all-expense paid trip to jail in Everett, with a tour of the ER in Monroe along the way.
It was brutal, and it raised some eyebrows. People were disappointed in me, and I was disappointed in myself. Despite that, though, I can still count on one hand the number of times I drove under any influence, but I never wanted to become a threat to anybody else — and this time, I clearly was.
There will not be another.