I’d been calling it a spiritual experience for weeks. I know this pissed off most of the counselors at my recovery retreat, but what else was I supposed to call it? An awakening? An epiphany? A dramatic realization?
No, none of these descriptions would suffice. This was an honest to God spiritual experience, and given what they’d been preaching for the past four months you’d think they would have been happy for me.
It happened at the ‘Cookie Church’, a stone’s throw away from Greenbriar Inpatient in Washington, the first sure sign that this was divine intervention. They called it the ‘Cookie Church’ because along with the ever present coffee, this particular AA meeting featured a spread of Dollar General’s finest selection of expired generic cookies. A real fucking treat.
I already detested this meeting for a number of reasons. It’s size gave me anxiety, and it was a speaker meeting which meant I usually lost interest after the first 10 minutes and would end up tearing my Styrofoam coffee cup into bite sized pieces – daring myself to eat them and hopefully choke to death.
The basement of the church also always smelled like an indoor swimming pool. This wasn’t as bothersome as the fact that I couldn’t get anyone to agree with me.
“There must be chlorine in whatever they are cleaning the floors with!” I would insist until people got annoyed and walked away. I just wanted some assistance in getting to the bottom of the smell. What happened to helping a fellow alcoholic?
Alas, I’d simply learned to keep my mouth shut when I wasn’t breathing through it to avoid the stench of chlorine. The final glaring defect of said meeting was that my sponsor’s husband was usually in attendance. I found him insufferable, and I was pretty sure he was the Anti-Christ.
I once got trapped in a moving car with him and he mentioned his “flamboyant personality”. I stared silently out the window, thinking of all the more fitting words he could have used – obnoxious, self-righteous, off-putting, abrasive, repulsive, condescending.
I ended up telling myself that my service work for the week would include not correcting him. Flamboyant, sure, why not John.
The logistics of how Satan’s minion could freely enter a house of worship are still a mystery. All I know is that he was usually there, talking down to anyone unfortunate enough to make eye contact.
The only true redeemable quality about this place was that my friend who usually brought me in his Mitsubishi was nice to look at and talk to about normal people things. Given my already shit mood, it’s a miracle that my spiritual experience occurred in this basement, but who am I to explain God?
I find a seat at my favorite table in the back. The only other person to ever share the table is a crusty old man named Bob, who looks like he’s homeless and can barely speak his own name. I sit with him because I know he won’t/can’t talk to me, but also because I know how it feels to sit alone. For all AA’s talk of including everyone, Bob is always conspicuously alone.
I smile at Bob, shake his withered old hand, and scan the room for my friend Carter. Sometimes he will let me borrow his phone during the meeting so I can browse local real estate prices and check my stock numbers. My
captors counselors only give me my phone when I go to work. They’re afraid I won’t pay attention or be fully indoctrinated with the AA message.
I’m crestfallen when the chairperson rings the bell to signal the start of the meeting, and there’s still no sight of Carter. Ginger, the ancient harlot who insists on spreading herpes by kissing everyone on the lips, starts reading the 12 steps. I put my head down on the fake wood table and groan. A bit too loudly apparently because several people near the front turn around and shoot me dirty looks.
Maybe I am being an asshole. I did promise Favorite Therapist that I would try to be more open. I sit up straight and decide to actually listen to the speaker tonight. It takes the last of my willpower not to make another audible groan when the chairperson introduces the speaker for the night – Chuck Underhacker.
I know him, and yes he uses that full hideous name when he introduces himself.
I push the harsh judgments out of my mind and instead try to focus on the message, not the person delivering it.
I do it for five minutes. Then ten. Finally at 15 minutes into this man’s story (which includes many cats), I start to get a vision – out of body almost.
I’m looking in at the meeting from above, an ariel view, not as myself, but as a casual observer. I can see this obese bearded man, sweating profusely in his cat hair covered suit, telling his pathetic life story to a crowd.
Here is a man no one would ordinarily give a minute of their time to, let alone an hour. And here they all are, listening rapturously, as if their lives depended on absorbing every word. Behind Chuck, ten-foot banners with the 12 steps and 12 traditions billow to the ground, and in front is a shrine to Bill Wilson, complete with scenes of his own first spiritual experience.
There’s a strange feeling in my chest. Am I going to throw up?
I take another look around the basement room. That’s when I realize that it’s laughter that’s trying to escape my body. This is fucking ridiculous. This meeting, these people, this man, this whole thing is fucking ridiculous.
I quietly make my way to the door and step outside into the night air to light a cigarette.
Never again will I be able to take AA seriously, but also, never again will I drink excessively. To drink nightly would doom me to a lifetime of these absurd events. I am free. Free from alcohol and free from AA
Then I’m laughing and can’t stop. It’s as if God himself is laughing through me.
I’ve calmed myself by the time my friend Ross comes outside, the meeting apparently over. In the car I ask Ross how he liked the meeting.
“Oh I thought it was great…really good message…what about you?”
I crack a smile “It was life changing…”.
I can hear the shock in his voice when he asks “really?” because he knows how I feel about these things.
“Oh yes…I do believe I’ve finally had a spiritual experience”.
I really hate writing these, but this is important. I have a number of friends, free-thinkers, who I still talk to from 12-step nonsense. I love you, this was just what happened to me. Anything that helps you stop shooting heroin in that McDonald’s bathroom is ok in my book.
Follow whatever path makes you happy.