January 2004 is a period I remember with unwanted clarity. Miserable in many ways, elated in others, I had a 3-month old baby who I adored. Likewise, my life was a shambles — financially, my relationships, my job was not a high-paying job and the likelihood that I’d get more hours was slim, and … I was “dry.” Dry. I can’t say “sober” in the true sense of the word, but I can honestly attest to my abstinence. Emotional hangovers came and went. I had no contacts in AA. After having my son, I had gotten away from meetings and had unlearned much of what I had heard over the first 9 months of meetings.
I had just started going back to work following my maternity leave and my working-from-home segue back to reality. I just wanted to hold my baby boy with the red hair and single dimple under his eye all the time. I adored him. That was a beautiful part of my life and the smile he gave me when I returned from work. We would lay on the blanket on the floor and kick. He would coo and play with my hair. I reveled in it. Sometimes I fell asleep holding him. The dishes could wait. In 30 years I wouldn’t remember whether the sink was filled with dishes or silvery shiny clean. I would just remember his warm little body and his gurgling and cooing, his eye contact, his fascination with books I would show him, waking in the middle of the night reclined in the recliner still holding him …….. it was bliss.
With some emotional hangovers I knew I had to get back to meetings. And I was a control freak about the baby. I had very solid unyielding opinions about how he would be raised. Someone prematurely giving him a lick of ice cream would probably wind up overfeeding him on sweets and would make him fat. I could see it now. They might keep him awake too long so that he would fall asleep too early or take a nap during “my” time and I’d miss out— and that would set bad patterns down the road! I could see it now. He would be up all night in his teens and not waking up for school and he’d become a dropout and a burnout and …. and ….. they would ruin him!!!
Getting back to meetings wasn’t easy. Before I had my son, I was just starting to feel like I belonged. People remembered my name. I was attending the same meetings and people were no longer offering me their phone number and talking to me slowly so as not to scare off the new girl.
I didn’t celebrate my first year in AA. I was pretty depressed on so many levels. I was just over 30 and felt like my life was an irreversible shambles. There were screaming matches and arguments. There was chaos. NOTHING had changed. And I was busy pointing the finger at the dysfunction around me – – the dysfunction I had so heartily welcomed and embraced. I was also avoiding looking at the fact that I was rather dysfunctional. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself. I would be passive or hyper-vigilant. There WAS no middle ground. I didn’t know how to communicate. Dropping hints was my everyday lingo and if people didn’t read my mind or read between the lines? It meant they didn’t CARE.
The negativity was still there – that angry voice in my head telling me how bad everything sucked.
So I didn’t celebrate my first year. One night I went to a candlelight meeting that I had been previously involved with. There was a lady handing out chips [it is NOT a tradition of Alcoholic’s Anonymous but is sometimes a tradition of some groups to hand out “chips” to honor certain milestones in sobriety — there are months 1 through 11 and the 24-hour coin for those who wish to surrender to their disease and to remember 24 hours/one day at a time]. I watched and watched, squirming with each month they called out.
“Two months?” She would hold a coin above her head and look around the room.
Everyone in the room looked around, their heads wagging back and forth in bird-flock waves.
“What do we do?” Her voice projecting through the room.
“KEEP COMING BACK!” Everyone answered in unison.
The adrenaline built in me and I wasn’t sure why. I wasn’t sure what I was feeling. Even after a year, I had problems identifying feelings and sensations such as this. Was it excitement? Anxiety? Fear? I looked around and realized I was thinking of going up and asking her for a 1-year medallion. Surely they’d have one, wouldn’t they?
“Six months?’ She raised a coin above her head and waved it. There was someone clapping in the back which led to applause and a beaming lady sauntered up there. Her proud smile was beautiful from the sunbeam crowfeet spraying from the corners of her eyes to her toothy Hollywood grin. The applause subsided and she smiled her way back to her folding metal chair.
I wondered if I even deserved a year medallion. I hadn’t been coming much to meetings for the past three months. This argument – I seemed to labor over it for an eternity when it couldn’t possibly have been three minutes.
“To show the program works, would anyone with a year or more please raise their hands?”
Half the room raised their hands and I proudly raised mine, looking around to see if there were any surprised smiles in the crowd heading my way …… No one noticed. No one recognized the change since last week.
“…And if you didn’t have a drink today, thank your higher power and give yourselves a hand!” The room filled with applause. She smiled and turned toward the clear square container containing the chips.
With a clumsiness that I had intended to be stealth, I tripped over the leg of an empty metal chair and tried to nonchalantly continue my journey and make my plea — amid the clatter. The chairperson stopped saying what he was saying for a second. Some people turned to look at me, obviously wondering what was the racket.
I moved quickly now that she had snapped the container shut and was starting to turn away. I quickly gushed in a raised-voice whisper “How to you get a one year medallion? Do you have any?”
She told me she thought I would have to celebrate. I pleaded with her with my eyes, but she wasn’t looking. The thought of “celebrating” (in AA jargon, this entails “telling your story” and having someone present you with a cake while the whole room sings “happy anniversary to youuuuuuu!”) nauseated me. For telling ones story, one must talk about “what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now.” I could straight-up say that “what it’s like now” SUCKED. “What happened” SUCKED. But at least “what it was like” sucked the worst of all of this suckiness. And that is why I kept coming. This happened to suck the least. There was also a component of stubbornness fueled with rage. I wanted to show people I could DO it.
With an index finger to her chin, she squinted thoughtfully at the chairperson then scanned the room with her eyes. The hopefulness in her face dissipated and she turned her attention back to the box. She was quiet for a moment and started digging through the clear-plastic-square compartments, the chips clicking plastically. With a smile the blonde lady with tattoos and powder blue eye shadow proudly presented me an 11-month chip and a 1-month chip. “Eleven plus one is twelve ….” she explained with a polite smile and a shrug.
I cupped them in my hand and slunk back to my seat , defeated. Unfurling my fingers I sat in my folding metal chair and admired the pair of chips. The one-month chip was red, the eleven-month green. They were colorful and lustrous and reminded me of Christmas. I smiled softly before palming them discreetly in my purse. I felt like the whole room was watching me, wondering what I had done. No one was. I know that now. I’m just not as fascinating as I once thought I was. [wink]
My anniversary came and went. No one noticed. I was dying for someone to notice and I would have died if they did. My mother congratulated me with an enthusiasm I had never seen — maybe something on par with my very first day of school but without the sweet talk and helping me get dressed and taking pictures of me. I kept my two chips in my purse. Occasionally I would encounter them in that zippered side pocket and my heart would swell for a second. In spite of it all, I did it.