How I take my coffee and how I loved my scotch.
I have been sober for almost 20 years, Thank God, because I could not imagine what I would be doing during this pandemic. Day drinking while homeschooling or beer bonging while binging Netflix? It is frightening to consider. I’m beyond grateful I am sober, especially during this time. And for those of you trying to get sober during a pandemic, it must be extraordinarily challenging.
I say that because, when I was new, it was about AA meetings and the fellowship. It was about sitting and listening to someone who is different than you are in race, sex, orientation, and/or religion and completely identifying with their experiences and feelings. That connection. That community. It kept me coming back. Sure, we have fantastic Zoom AA meetings and the message in them is still the same- we don’t drink no matter what, take it a day at a time, and give it over to a power greater than ourselves. That message can be heard in person or over a computer screen, but the intimacy of sitting with someone as they stand up and say that this is their first meeting or to hear someone cry through a share of unspeakable loss, to be able to comfort them and to remind them that we are here for them, that is what I’m missing in my sobriety during this pandemic.
I was not a daily drinker. More like a weekend warrior. I would set out to have 2 drinks and end up having 12. I ended up in places and with people I didn’t know. Blacking out was so common that I thought that everyone blacked out when they drank. I would wake up feeling scared, sad, and sorry. I’d call someone the next morning to apologize “just in case” I did something unspeakable the night before because I, of course, couldn’t remember the details. With the help of a psychic, I decided that alcohol might be an issue. Let me explain.
As a gift to myself on my 27th birthday, I went to a psychic for a tarot reading. The first card she turned over, she asked me, “Do you have a drinking problem?”
“Ugh. No. In fact, I’m on a break from drinking.” I would always take my birthday month off from alcohol. My birthday is at the end of March so on the last day, I would break my fast.
“Why are you taking a break from something you don’t have a problem with?”she asked.
The next card she turned over and said, “You know you do this, right? You are a reader.” I had always had intuitive hunches, but had kept this little secret to myself.
The last card she turned over and said, “If you end up in an ambulance, you will be fine. But don’t drink tonight.”
I informed her gently that it was my birthday today and that I would be drinking. Heavily.
She said, “I’m going to say this one more time. Don’t drink tonight. Happy birthday!”
That night, I ended up in an ambulance at 2AM because I had been hit by a car as a pedestrian. I ate the windshield and broke my two front teeth, but I was “fine.” I started reading tarot shortly after, and several months later, after a night not unlike any other, I had had enough. I walked into an AA meeting the next morning and have not had a drink since. That was almost 20 years ago.
I was not a coffee drinker at the time I started my journey in AA. I cut my teeth on the coffee at the meetings, almost literally, as I would end up chewing the coffee grounds at the bottom of my styrofoam cup. I would sit at the Log Cabin in West Hollywood and make bite marks in the cup as distraction from what I thought was going to be the end of my life because I was sober. I was so wrong.
After every morning meeting, I would join someone for breakfast. Sometimes it would be with a shaky newcomer or seasoned old-timer. Other times it would be with my sponsor or a fellow sober friend. I could list several names of the people that saved my life on separate occasions while drinking espresso and eating omelettes at Kings Road Café or pancakes bigger than your head at The Griddle. I experienced miracles while sitting at Toast on Third and breakthroughs during breakfast at Norms. We drank, ate, and shared about the joys of living sober. These moments and copious cups of coffee were how I spent my mornings for the first two years of my sobriety. How lucky was I?
The amount of life changing conversations that happened with these beautiful people could fill several lifetimes, but one specific conversation made an unmistakable difference along my path. It was with a woman we’ll call S.
S was a super cool, kind of rocker chic that I had met in an acting class. She had a deep, soothing voice that she could use to lull you to sleep or cut your throat. She was awesome. She was also transparent, a quality I truly admired. I had been hiding under what I thought others wanted me to be. I had no idea who I really was. She wore her truth like a tattoo; you knew parts of it really hurt, but man, was it beautiful. In class, she revealed she was sober, so when I came home from my first meeting, she was the first person I told. She invited me to another meeting the next night and another two days later. She bought me a Big Book. She didn’t say much to me, just one invitation after another to connect with her at meetings. I had a few weeks under my belt when we decided to meet for coffee. On my second vanilla latte, I just couldn’t keep it in anymore. I let it all go. All of the shame I had felt, all of the guilt, all of the sadness came pouring out of me, my nose, and my eyes. She sat there, listening, and when my blubbering had subsided, she said, “You don’t ever have to feel that way again.”
That’s it. That’s all. And the path to happy destiny was paved.
I made a habit out of meetings, I worked the program, and I drank lots of coffee.
I’m not saying it was easy. I have felt those difficult feelings in sobriety, but because of S, I have the resources and relationships to help me walk through and learn from them.
I am sober today because of that Starbucks meeting and her loving kindness. Thank you, S.
When I recounted this moment with a friend, it reminded him of one of the best moments of one of the best shows that has ever been on television, The West Wing. In Noel, Episode 10 of Season 2, Leo has waited for Josh to come out of an appointment with a psychiatrist. After Josh tells Leo how he really cut his hand, Leo responds with this:
This guy’s walking down a street, when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep. He can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up “Hey you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes him a prescription, throws it down the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out? “The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole! Our guy says “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here!” and the friend says,
“Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”
The Thing is…
YOU don’t ever have to feel that way again. If you are trying to get sober during this pandemic, I am here for you. You are NOT alone. We might not be able to sit next to each other at a meeting and chat over coffee afterwards, but there are Zoom meetings all over the world that you can log into. Reach out to me. Let me know.
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