Thursday, February 05, 2009

It still hurts, even now

When I was active in Kansas AA (before my abortive trip to Chicago and seminary-land), I would get asked to speak at "open" AA meetings - those meetings which are open to anyone, not just those with a desire to stop drinking. When I got asked, I almost always said "yes" - because that's what I was taught. If you're asked by AA, and you can possibly do it, the answer was "yes."

A fellow frequently joined me. He was a year "younger" in sobriety than me, but otherwise we were nothing alike. He was barely a high-school graduate; I was "the college boy." I'd never even gotten a DUI; he was a guest of the Kansas penitentiary system twice. I'd only done marijuana once; he was like "Mikey" in the Life cereal commercials - he'd try anything (and liked it all, too). Folks got such a kick out of our duo, they nicknamed us "The Choir-boy and The Convict." We had vastly different stories, and yet had grown to be fast friends in sobriety.

Since I'd been in Ohio, I'd only gotten to "tell my story" once in 2-1/2 years here. So I was whining about how "no one wants what I have, evidently" and a fellow immediately snapped me up to speak at a meeting a week ago Sunday. It would also be the first time that many of the men in my men's-meeting circle of friends would get to meet Chris - and the first time Chris would get to hear much more than snippets of my story.

It went great. There was so much I wanted to share, but you can't fit 18 years into 60 minutes in any kind of detail. Chris was delighted to meet folks, and to put faces to names he'd heard about. I didn't save anybody, but it was good to do, and several people said they were glad they got to hear my story.

The afterglow lasted through the next day - and on my way to Monday Night Men's, I thought, why not call my friend and see how he's doing? I had to admit, it would have been cool to have him there, to split the meeting with him and all my new sober friends in Toledo. So I called him up to share the joy.

What I was greeted with was a slurred, stumbling voice that I barely recognized as my friend's. And it was pretty clear his incoherent speech was not because I'd woken him up out of a sound slumber.

He was loaded. Whacked out on pain medication. He tried hard to ignore it, to act as if everything was fine. And after the shock passed, I tried to do the same. But I knew. I knew.

I've been afraid of this for a while. I'd asked him what the hell he was doing with Percoset; I told him that he was out of his mind when he was considering low doses of methadone to deal with his back and leg pain. He told me he was going to meetings, that he was doing everything through the VA Hospital, and he was doing it all exactly as prescribed.

But he's either had a stroke, which he denied, or he was just plain loaded.

I got to the meeting in shock, and when they asked for a topic, it just tumbled out. "I know I'm not responsible for his sobriety; I know I can't change him or fix him; I know I have to just let it go and go on. I know all of that. But right now, I know our relationship is never going to be the same. It feels like a part of my past died tonight, and it just hurts. And you people have told me for 18 years that when it hurts, it needs to come here. So here it is."

Not everything that happens in sobriety is joy and fun and coffee-n-cookies. Sometimes it just hurts, dead sober.

There's lots more, where that came from - my little encounter with my friend came the night before we found out that my job situation is being "offshored" to India between now and September 30th, probably closer to June 30th (maybe even sooner than that). But the fact is, it's not worth drinking over. It's not worth gorging myself on pizza or whatever, either.

Today, all I can do is take care of myself, do the best I can for my partner, and live for today to the fullest degree possible. And, of course, keep on sharing. Once again, I find myself praying a prayer that I was given a dozen years ago, when another friend threw himself off the wagon:
Dear God, please find my friend someone who can help him - because I can't. And please send me someone who needs my help - for exactly the same reason. Amen.