I’m not sure if I wrote about this before–maybe sometime back in the fall. Because my job is kind of ambiguous, sometimes I get to go to really interesting events in the city during work time. This fall, I had the opportunity to go to a “Recovery Celebration” breakfast. The breakfast was deliciously full of carbs and sweets- but the actual speaking piece was the best part. The whole idea behind the breakfast was to bring together recovering addicts, their social service providers and community to celebrate their recovery (again, remember how I said my job was random?!) I am neither a recovering addict (although narcissism could be my vice) nor do I work with clients who are addicts, but this breakfast was incredibly powerful.
The keynote speaker was the head of the Homewood Clinic (Centre?) in Guelph. An accomplished doctor, this man drank himself into total oblivion for 30 years. He spoke of how at his worst, he “woke up” from a week long black out to find that he was meeting with a patient. He spoke mournfully and passionately about his family, about what he put them through, what it was like for them. He spoke, with a sense of wonder, as he talked about his wife, and what it meant to have her stand by him. Perhaps most importantly, he spoke with complete humility. In someways, this humility made sense, I mean, it can’t be easy telling over 500 people about your addiction. But I realized that this humbleness went deeper than that. This doctor had become involved in a 12 step program- the ones that we see depicted on movies and tv. I got thinking about this story last night when I was walking to my car in the dark after a late meeting.
My work parking space happens to be in a school- and there were lights on in the building, even though it was close to seven. In my imagination, a 12 step group was meeting inside. And as I hurried to my car to get out of the February cold, I couldn’t help imagine the people that would be in this meeting. I pictured people who had been coming to meetings for more than 10 years, people who had been sober for 6 months, people who called their sponsors at 4 am afraid they weren’t going to make it. All of these thoughts went through my head in a split second and I was left with a certain longing; not a longing to become addicted to anything myself, but a longing for the freedom that those involved in 12 step programs have. After taking possibly the greatest risk of all, these people admit to being sick, to needing others, to getting well. They openly and repeatedly admit their fears, their paralyzing self-doubt and their weaknesses. Imagine if the whole world operated like this. Because the way I see it- we’re all in the same boat as the 12 step programmers- they’ve just found the courage and the freedom to admit that they need help.
These programs, designed to pull people out of addiction, are based on honesty, humility, and community. A new member will be paired with a sponsor, who has been there. A sponsor who undoubtedly at one point in their own struggle with addiction has made the 4 am phone call. Yet if there were and “us” and “them”, the thing that is so different is that addicts and recovering addicts are ALLOWED to be weak. The rest of the world, is told that they need to have everything together. There are no “life” sponsors. But when I think of the fictional 12 step meeting that I walked by last night, I am envious and curious. What is it like to be able to be so vulnerable? To be able to weekly ask for help and to receive it. What would it be like to use our darkest and most painful moments to help pull someone into their future? I believe that the church (not the building, but you and I) have the potential to be this for each other. Granted, society hasn’t told us that it’s ok to need help, but since when do we depend on society to lead the way to a better world? I picture a group of people who can change the world because they start by changing themselves– by admitting to their fears of inadequacies, their neurotic human tendencies and their desire to be valuable in this world. I know that when we begin to show others the truest versions of ourself, we will be able to receive the comfort and support we need to feel better, to be our best selves. Perhaps even better than that, we’ll be able to hold a mirror up to those around us and show them how incredible they really are.
I don’t imagine many addicts or recovering addicts are glad that they have had such a struggle. But when I think about these 12 step programs, and the communities of love that are produced by such programs, I imagine those who attend become molded by their experiences, by the love that surrounds them, by their own strength and courage and by the freedom to be real.