Outlaws for dinner

Tonight at the meeting the topic was something like, How do you celebrate in recovery without any alcohol?

I can’t think of a duller topic. I’m an alcoholic, but I’ve never liked drinking. It’s just so gastronomical — all the pissing and throwing up. Even if I did drink, I know I would not choose to celebrate a big life event by opening a bottle of — what? I don’t even know. I would much rather get high on heroin. So I did that thing I do at meetings and I swapped out alcohol and put in heroin. How do you celebrate in recovery without any heroin? Now that’s a more interesting question.

And I don’t know if it’s even celebration that I’m longing for. I got high for a lot of reasons, but celebration wasn’t really much of a factor. If you get high to celebrate, it means you have to wait for something to celebrate and I wasn’t much into waiting. I got high every single day. Getting high was the celebration.

Still I think I know what the guy was talking about. For years after I stopped using heroin I longed to be part of that old life again. I loved being an outlaw. I loved deciding to spend the rent money on dope. I loved hustling to get a new apartment or living situation. In my first years of recovery, it was dull. I had a lousy job. I had a roommate and a small apartment. My life was filled with a mind bending  dullness broken only occasionally by sex or sometimes a relationship and sex. In time it got better. I went to school, got better jobs, met  my wife and we started a family.

But here is the thing.

I still occasionally arrive at a place in my life when it’s either so new and frightening or so fucked up that being an outlaw starts  looking mighty attractive again. When my twins were born, I got into a place like this. My life was diaper pails and double size baby push carts.

I just felt so domesticated.

Sometimes the kids would wake up at like 4 am and you could see from their shiny little eyes and smiling face they were not going back to sleep. The only thing you could do was load them in the cart and take them for walks. I would go to the local supermarket and walk the aisles. Back  then I smoked and the supermarkets had the cigarettes in a big case at the front of one of the aisles. It was the honor system, and you  were supposed to grab your cigarettes, and take them to the checkout to pay. Seattle was such an innocent town back then! One morning I put a pack in my pocket, did a few laps around the aisles, and then ducked out the front door. I was an outlaw again. I was still pushing a baby cart, but I felt seriously good about myself and my station in life. I didn’t steal cigarettes every day, but within a few weeks I was getting almost a carton from each snatch and run. Walking out the grocery store doors my heart would race and my palms would sweat. Pretty soon it dawned on me that even though I was an amazingly badass outlaw, one day I would get caught. When that sad day came, the police would have to fold up my pushcart and do what? I don’t know. Put it in the back of the patrol car? And then what would they do with my kids? Jesus.

That was a scary thought.

I started going back to meetings. I had really given myself a scare, so getting into the meetings again helped. But you know, the boredom with life, the fear about what’s around the corner, especially as I get older and the kids get ready to move out of the house, that stuff  doesn’t change. Sometimes I still long to feel like an outlaw.

I have found that writing helps.

Last night at dinner I told the kids a very unflattering story about how I decided to get married the first time. In it, I presented myself as a shameless cad and it wasn’t completely untrue. They’re both sixteen, and they just sort of shook their heads. My daughter — bless her heart — said “So you just got married for the money?” I told her I guessed it was true. I shrugged and looked at my wife, who is kind of used to this sort of thing from me, and she just smiled. One the way to the meeting, I wondered about what made me tell those kinds of stories to my kids. Now I’m thinking maybe it’s my way of remaining an outlaw.

A few words on tolerance

Not everyone in recovery is in a 12 step program.

Some folks go to church, for example. And some people do treatment that doesn’t involve 12 step stuff or 12 step meetings are just a small part of their recovery. The rehab in NYC I attended gave “drinking privileges” to the addicts at graduation and had only just started inviting 12 step meetings into the facility (ironically AA meetings!). When I was there a recovering alcoholic from Throggs Neck came in one night a month. It made me really nervous to learn about the drinking privileges, because by the time I graduated from that facility, I had already been to a lot of NA meetings, and I understood abstinence to mean complete abstinence from both drugs and alcohol. A lot of the guys I went to treatment with didn’t have these same concerns as me. So then at my own graduation, I made a commitment to AA and got a sponsor and started going to meetings and doing the recovery drill.

And then a few years later, after I had been sober in AA for maybe 4 or 5 years, I met a woman who was in AA, but also a counsellor at a methadone maintenance facility in NJ. When she mentioned methadone, I bristled about “those people” who (IMO) weren’t really in recovery, and she set me straight. Her thing was that if 12 steppers (on a whole) were more tolerant of people using different methods of recovery, her clients would have an important outlet for fellowship they so desperately needed, improving their chances immensely. It’s very hard for people in methadone maintenance to go to 12 step meetings without feeling judged (can you imagine?) Or worse, being guided to go off methadone against medical advice!.

That kind of tolerant thinking was a real wake up call for me, but has turned out to be a really helpful idea to embrace. I have family (not going to mention any names but someone I introduced to heroin and feel all the requisite guilty) attending church to deal with crack addiction. And don’t we all know people who had a problem with drugs or alcohol and just moved to a new city and started over? Or maybe someone else who found just the right person and started a family (Johnny Cash?) and made an exit from addiction that way.

It’s easy to look at them skeptically and ask if they’re really in recovery (I’ve done it, believe me), but on good days I can just feel secure enough with my own path to just accept they are on a different path than me, but that we’re all trying to get to the same place. 

Have a great day people!