Tuesday, January 06, 2009

As sick as the silences

Shelly died last Friday.

She came to an AA meeting that I attended a week ago. It was not, I later learned, the first time she'd been to a meeting; she'd been plenty of times before, although I don't remember seeing her before last Tuesday. And she waited until the last ten minutes of the meeting to speak up about what was on her mind - a classic newcomer delaying tactic. But she finally spoke up - asking simple questions like "What's a sponsor?" and "How do you get a home group?" and just pleading for help in general. It was a moment of surrender, and it was a blessing to watch.

The compassion in the room for this desperate woman swelled up and poured out in her direction, almost as a tactile sensation. As the group finished the Lord's Prayer at the end of the meeting, a group of recovering folks descended on her like a cloud of recovery locusts, providing her a group-hug of acceptance and willingness-to-help.

A smaller group of folks (both men and women) took her out to the Waffle House around the corner from the meeting, and did what we always do when someone really wants help - they poured their hearts and their experience out to her. She left the restaurant knowing that there were people who were committed to helping her get sober and stay sober. She even called a couple of them, between Tuesday and Thursday.

But unknown to us, Shelly was already out of time. She'd been drinking and using since she got out of rehab at Thanksgiving-time, and her body was already weakened by the hard-living she'd done up to that point. No one knows whether she overdosed, or whether her body just wore out and wouldn't go on anymore. What we do know is that she went to bed Friday, and didn't wake up.

She was 31.

I was somewhat astonished, being in the same meeting at which she'd made her cry-for-help a week earlier, than no one was saying a word about it. (Of course, it was a "young people's meeting," and no one wants to look stupid or anything, do they? God forbid we should be uncool....)

Being the sensitive, tactful "elder statesman" that I am (read: "old fart"), I brought it - that the old AA blather about "jails, institutions or death" was still true, somehow, and that sometimes people run out of chances to get sober. I just could not leave the silence unbroken about the tragedy of this girl's death.

Coming home, I was reflecting on the meeting, and I was again amazed at what we as addictive people are capable of glossing over. Yes, a couple of people had been to the funeral earlier today, and were moved by it. And yes, a majority of the people there were just getting their court-slips signed, and none of this really had anything to do with them. As my sponsors have often said, "The reason the armed forces keep recruiting 18-year-olds is that they are the only ones who think they are bulletproof."

But I'm still annoyed. Yes, I know it's part of dealing with people in recovery; most of us don't make it. And yes, I know that all I can do is keep sharing the message, and not being annoyed that the seed often falls on rocky soil. But it still annoys me (and if the truth be told, hurts, a little bit) to see the gift of sobriety given the "yeah, yeah, I know" treatment, and the death of this woman dismissed so casually.

Life just means too damn much to me these days, I guess.


Hope said...

Bless your heart for speaking up. We are all in danger of that early end when we let the silence rein.

Michael Dodd said...

The key words to me in all this are "No one knows ..."

We don't know what happens in another's inner life. We don't know what this young woman said to her Higher Power when she lay down to sleep for the last time, to awaken, one hopes in the lap of Love.

We know she hurt. We know she reached out. We know that people heard that cry for help and reached back.

That is not so little, really, to have reached out and discovered someone there who cares.

Her story (well, the only part of it that we can see from earth) may not have had the ending we would have wanted for her. So few stories do. Still we are not the Author, though we can hope to be willing instruments in that Hand.

Keep letting your HP write with you.