“I only agreed to come to this karaoke bar because you’re cute. Otherwise this is a first date no-no,” she said while setting her drink up on the table and purse onto a hook.

He pushed the song book her way. “Protocol at this bar is to write your name and the song which you’ve selected to serenade the bar on this slip of paper and give it to the bartender.”

“Do they have any Spice Girls? Should I sing a crowd pleaser like ‘Before He Cheats?'”

“The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get.”

“Excuse me? What did you say, freak?”

“Let Me Kiss You.”

“Ew, what?” she rather reactively threw her cocktail, glass and all, at her date’s face. She was a piss poor shot and spritzed his chest with what amounted to a spray of vodka tonic cologne. The glass tumbler fell to the floor, intact.

“All You Need Is Me.”

She unhooked her purse and right-hooked it square into her ex-date’s gullet. She then stomped away, leaving her date to rub his wounds and lick the salt from the rim of his shot glass. 

“That’s How People Grow Up.”

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Loaded Grillers and Loaded Questions

When the depressive mood strikes I often feel a hunger that isn’t really there. It’s just the emptiness of my feelings crying out for the carbs and GMOs they crave. I know that I need to be strong and fight these binge-eating depressive episodes by meditating, calling a sponsor of sorts, reading, exercising, etc.

Welcome to Taco Bell, how are you this evening?” I make a point to reply to the voice in the speakerbox if they ask how I am that I am “well – and yourself?” both as a white lie to avoid confronting my self-sabotaging behavior and to perpetuate some of the politeness in society. The speakervoice replied, “oh I’m good, thank you.” I like to think they are taken aback by politeness. In reality, we are both good at acting.

Pulling up to the window to hand over my choice of payment, the cashier asked (and caught me off-guard) “why are you ordering food at this hour?” My mind raced to assess the situation. She had a slight accent and slightly slanted eyes and was very young appearance-wise, so perhaps she didn’t comprehend precisely how loaded of a question that could be. That isn’t racist I’m merely taking everything into account including the possibility that she’s foreign into account, and why someone would ask this question that could conceivably be misconstrued as rude. I know working in any type of service job there are “small talk” scripts you develop to run through to help make your interactions with customers enjoyable. I’m not a “small talk” person but she’s likely asked this question countless times before without anyone bursting into tears.

While my mind did that in the moments before I handed over my bank card which barely has the minimum funds required to keep itself open let alone afford a burrito combo expenditure – my soul searched itself. Was I supposed to bring my arm back into my car, put my wallet away, thank her, and drive away praying about how she saved me from shameful, empty calories and a bout of colitis? I stuttered and searched for bullshit to reply.

“Well… what do you mean?” I needed to buy myself time. She appeared genuinely interested. I was becoming genuinely concerned with myself and how badly my anxiety was. “I want to know the reasons people come here to eat so late.” Well, when she puts it that way! Maybe she’s conducting a survey. I told her that it had been a while since I ate last (semi-true) and then I inexplicably piled on a tiny layer of bullshit and said that I needed to “power on through the night” and then punched my fists at the air. The cashier laughed gave a small chuckle and said, “you’re funny.” Which would have been good enough for me if she hadn’t asked the follow-up question, “what do you do?”

“What do I do?” besides pull over in the Jack in the Box parking lot down the street where the lot is better-lit and shove this burrito supreme down my gullet while listening to Jen Kirkman’s podcast – and I had to give serious thought to what in the actual fuck I am after all this time spent farting around on earth. “I’m a writering” I think is what I said because she had to clarify by asking – “you are writing? You are a writer?” and I just mumbled “yeah” – and she felt obliged to keep talking – “you are an aspiring writer?” To that I had to say a definitive “yes” to end the interrogation. The food must be really fresh at 1:20AM judging by the length of our interaction.

I was surprised at what came out of my mouth. I am by no means a writer. I am a writer the same way that you are a reader. “What do you do?” I’m a box-packer? I could have said that. I studied to be a drug counselor for three years and abandoned my certification program with one remaining class and one thousand internship hours under my belt? I’m an uncle and a godfather? I don’t know what to say to that question. I feel most people are content with having one word answers to what I view as triggers to existential crisis.

To be polite, and out of curiosity, I swung her question right back at her. “What do you want to be?” which did not even come across as patronizing. You can’t ask a Taco Bell drive thru window operator if she wants to climb up their corporate ladder and if that is her life dream; but that’s basically what I did. I asked it by saying, “and you…?” and then looking her in the eyes for a beat too long until she understood what I was asking. She then pointed down at her cashier windowsill and said smiling to herself, “oh, not this. I want to be an RN. I applied for an internship at Kaiser and I’m waiting for it come through.” Like, oh silly, Taco Bell does not DEFINE HER. I maybe said “you go, gurl” and then asked for Fire sauce. Then we told each other “good luck.”

Then I promised myself that I would fucking write when I got home.

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Note: remnants of the class assignment formatting are left over (“meeting essence” and “personal essence”) and some blanks have been filled in. Names are different. Parts may have been fabricated. I don’t know. CA meetingAA meetingAlAnon meeting

The meeting took place in a Christian church on a Saturday morning in July. It was started by a woman with short blonde hair whose name I can’t recall. She was the Secretary of the meeting, and passed it off to the leader, Claudia. Then several different members read the Twelve Suggested Steps of Emotions Anonymous, The Twelve Traditions, and the Helpful Concepts. Then Claudia shared for six minutes, followed by a ten minute coffee break.

When the meeting resumed everyone introduced themselves and all newcomers were asked to share.  Timed sharing of three minutes resumed until ten minutes to the hour remained. I replied with a “pass” when asked to share. After the shares, the Seventh Tradition was observed while twelve Just For Today mantras were read.
A traditional moment of silence for the person still powerless over their emotions in and out of the rooms of EA was observed, followed by the Serenity Prayer.

Meeting Essence:
Claudia spoke in circles for the entirety of his introductory six minutes. She was vague about what precisely she found comforting in the program. She did say that her sponsor suggested she attend these meetings in addition to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

A younger woman with an accent named Maria shared briefly. She was with her husband, and had proclaimed that she was not a member. They were attending at the request of a doctor. She seemed troubled and talked about being freshly released from a hospital.

Theresa was the only other person whose story stood out in my mind. Incredibly suicidal and haunted by visions of death, she found solace in the rooms of EA. She was plagued by vivid lucid hallucinations where she would see blood gushing from her wrists as she walked through the supermarket during the daytime. Deeply troubled by her own psyche, she knew she needed help and the support of others.

Personal Essence:
Looking through the book of Emotions Anonymous, I found it noteworthy that the program had been around since the early 1970s and had once been named Neurotics Anonymous.  This explained why several people at the meeting identified themselves as “neurotics” instead of “powerless over their emotions”. The meeting felt welcoming of all types, and even the people who identified simply as “visitors” didn’t feel out of place.

During the readings of the text and during people’s shares, I felt like this was a “blanket” program. Where anyone and everyone, regardless of what their disorder was, is welcome. When I spoke with other members during the break, they disclosed they were members of other Anonymous programs (dual-citizenship for the dual-diagnosed).

During the break, I also browsed through program pamphlets and literature. There was a small box of speaker tapes (on cassette!) from EA conventions. From the 1970s. They weren’t for sale, they were available to borrow. I wanted to take at least one and digitize it, but I had a fear that I would either A) never digitize the tape, B) never listen to it, or C) never return it.

I left this meeting feeling that no one truly cared for the program. I didn’t hear any tales of people owing their lives to the Steps of Emotions Anonymous. Lots of people were asleep during the meeting. It was an organized yet sloppy affair. That could be a downside.

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Note: remnants of the class assignment formatting are left over (“meeting essence” and “personal essence”) and some blanks have been filled in. Names are different. AA meetingAlAnon meeting

The meeting was led by the Secretary, Terry, on a Monday evening in a church rec room.  The group was rather small and consisted of seven men – Terry, Bill, Jira, Alan, Erik, Robby, and Mark.  I arrived in tow with about a dozen of my classmates (so conspicuous).  The CA meetings are run very much like AA/NA meetings.  They describe the program, then another member reads How It Works, they ask if anyone would care to take any sobriety chips, and then Terry shared for ten minutes.  Afterward the Seventh Tradition was observed and the meeting was adjourned for a break.

After the break, anyone who cared to share was allowed to share for five minutes or so, without a timer.  The meeting was ended with an announcement of several local CA events, then lead out with the Serenity Prayer after the moment of silence for the addicts and other substance abusers still suffering.

Meeting Essence:
Terry spoke first, and commented on how nice it was to actually share, because it’s traditionally a rather small milk and cookie meeting. The milk was cold and the cookies were Oreos. Terry went deep with his history, going all the way back to his days of being addicted and finding the program.  He’s been through a lot since he’s been in recovery, including a divorce.

All of the speakers had a dual-recovery program working.  They had all started with AA apparently, and then found CA, and liked the people or the meetings better.  When Jira spoke, he reflected on his first CA meeting he ever attended.  He met Alan at that meeting, way back when Alan was receiving a five year chip.  Alan approached Jira and offered his five year chip as a Promise chip.  Jira was floored at the gesture, and thanked him for his friendship and fellowship.  He says that motivated him to become involved in his own recovery.

When Mark spoke (he spoke last) it felt like time stopped to let this man speak.  He got sober in 1985 after being deep into a cocaine habit that was costing him thousands of dollars per month.  If it weren’t for the meetings and getting clean, not only would he not be alive – but he wouldn’t have been able to be a father to his children.  He talked about his openness with them and how they know about his past.  In turn, they are open with him and know of the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.  He said there’s been several instances, although few and far between, where he’s gotten a late night call and had to pick up his children because they’re being safe / smart about alcohol drinking.

Mark talked about how even after so many years of sobriety, he still takes on commitments at meetings.  He still makes coffee at certain meetings because then he knows that “the coffee is good”.  The point that being of service was stressed and that it didn’t matter in what ways – big or small.

The subject of sponsorship was also broached for the first time during the meeting by Mark.  For twenty six continuous years, Mark has had the same sponsor.  Although that doesn’t sound smart, he had very solid reasoning for never switching his sponsor out.  His sponsor has never once led him astray or given him advice that’s gotten him loaded.  So if it ain’t broke… don’t fix it.

Personal Essence:
This was the best meeting I’ve ever been to in my very short history of attending various Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous meetings.  The mood of the entire meeting was absolutely affected by the presence of the dozen of my classmates, but it was for the better.

The combined years of recovery between the regular members of this meeting had to be nearly a century.  Genuinely hearing these old-timers out and listening without judgement to the wisdom they had to impart fulfilled me. No matter how many meetings I’ve attended in the past week, I didn’t truly know what it felt like to got to a meeting.  I have no other way of describing the feeling of well-being and goodwill I felt when I left this meeting.  I felt like I was floating.  I want this feeling after every meeting, and I feel like I can have it if I want it. You had to be there.

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A summer time Friday night at 8:30PM in a suburb of Los Angeles. Here is my account of a random AlAnon meeting. There are others happening all over the world at any given moment. There is likely one happening as you’re reading this.

I missed the first part of this meeting because I was unwittingly in an AA meeting.  I had never been to this Alano Club, and it’s definitely larger than another one that I’m familiar with.  This club holds meetings simultaneously, and the Al Anon meeting was in a separate, smaller room down the hall from the AA meeting.

It was coffee break when I found the Al Anon meeting.  When the break was over, the team leader, Tim, introduced himself and then the entire room introduced themselves by first name.  Then Tim announced the topic for discussion.  It was a question, “what would I have to change in order to have a different relationship with a Higher Power?” and was taken from Chapter Eleven of the AlAnon fellowship book, “Discovering Choices”.

This particular meeting used a timer and only allowed each person to speak for three minutes.  After the first person shared, Tim chose the subject of the meeting.  He wanted everyone to speak about their “Willingness to change”.

Everyone continued to speak in turns while a binder full of fliers for events and meetings was passed around.  When an hour had passed, the meeting was closed out with the Serenity Prayer.

Meeting Essence:
Quite a few people spoke, but I was only able to remember a few speakers.  The meeting was 80% female by my approximation. None of them spoke about anything I felt was related to the topic or subject of the meeting at all.  They seemed to just be sharing what was on their mind, but unlike an AA meeting, they didn’t declare they were sharing off topic.

One lady who identified herself as Zorro talked about how unhappy she was with her job and not having any friends.  She seemed particularly troubled by something.  When she wasn’t speaking she was rocking herself back and forth in her chair.

This other woman with a thick (Armenian?) accent named Wendy shared about getting angry at her children earlier in the day.  She mistakenly identified them as her siblings first, but corrected and clarified she was speaking about her children.  I found that strange.

An older woman named Danielle who talked about having a cabinet fall over on her spoke for some time.  She waxed poetically about the good ol’ days when she could build a house.  Now she is in her eighties and needs help doing lots of things, but never asks for help doing anything.

The only other person whose “share” I can remember was an older black woman named Myra.  Recently recovered from a knee surgery, she was upset she could no longer go for long walks.  She really wanted to exercise, and was more upset that she had no one to exercise with.  I have no idea what any of this had to do with her Higher Power, but it was kind of cool to hear people talking out their issues.

Personal Essence:
The mood felt very somber, and made me in turn feel reflective and kind of sad.  I was a little put-off by how abnormally unfriendly everyone seemed.  I was trying to be present and aware of myself at all times and made sure to smile when introducing myself to people during the break, but I can’t recall anyone else smiling or being very jovial.  There were also several moments when people were speaking where I felt myself begin to nod off.  Then I looked around the room and noticed one lady was fully asleep, and another lady beside her was knitting. No one else seemed to take issue with the sleeper and knitter, so I figured they must all be very comfortable with each other and that meeting.

I feel that nothing anyone talked about had anything to do with the price of tea in China, and no one made it a priority to  be on topic.  No one even referenced their steps or traditions or sponsors or anything I feel as typical of self-help programs.

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About two years ago I enrolled in a class at a local community college (because that’s what I do – just take classes – I have enough credits for a Ph.D. in enrolling in community college classes) where several assignments were to attend the meetings of various anonymous fellowships. Here is one such account *edited for the blog* of my time spent in a self-help meeting.

The meeting was started by the secretary of the group who then turned the meeting over to the leader, Bill (whom the secretary incorrectly identified as Jim – everyone chuckled).  Bill read the Preamble of Alcoholics Anonymous in his very small, quiet voice.  The Preamble describes the fellowship of A.A. as a whole and its purpose.

Then a man named Louis (who had raised his hand when asked if there was anyone in the room who had less than thirty days of sobriety) read the section from chapter three, More About Alcoholism.  Technically, this was still the “beginning” of the meeting, meaning it was pre-break and pre-sharing personal stories. I took this time to take a head count. There were fifteen people in the meeting, myself included.  How It Works and the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions were read by three other individuals.

The entire meeting was only one hour, but lots of ground was covered.  Bill spoke for the greatest length of time and chose the topic for the discussion, which was the Tenth Step.  After he chose the topic, the Seventh Tradition was observed.   No one really spoke about the Tenth Step though, everyone just shared what was on their mind. If you need to know what these Steps and Traditions are, then maybe you shouldn’t be reading this and need to find a meeting.

Meeting Essence:
Bill has been sober since 1969.  His first meeting was with the very same Group, in the very same building we fifteen people were huddled in. His then-wife and then-mother-in-law forced him to meetings.  He drank because he didn’t “feel different” when he drank.  He also drank after meetings and found other members to go drink with for the first six years.  That information was relatable. When he finally got sober it was a matter of life and death.  He had cirrhosis of the liver, weighed only one hundred pounds, and drank day and night.  He credits the spirituality of the program for eventually saving him.
Then a man sitting next to me took a break from spooning his KFC Bowl to speak.  He’s sober for seven years and thanked Bill for speaking.  He last saw Bill speak four years ago and said that he always remembered what Bill said.  He felt that the Tenth Step is overlooked and that he keeps it in his heart all day, every day.  He tries to live it without resentments, but it’s tough.  Okay, you got me. The Tenth Step is, “We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” The man eating the KFC Bowl left the meeting immediately after speaking. I too, would need to leave shortly after eating a KFC Bowl.

Tony was the next to share.  He was forced to become sober in 1988 after thirty five years of being “out there”.  He’s been sober ever since.  He partly credits genetics for keeping him alive this whole time, and other partly thanks the spirituality of the program.  When he came to the program he admitted he could never say “God” and would say “Good”.  Eventually, it didn’t matter.  He said he had never been atheist even, let alone spiritual.  Being atheist or agnostic would require caring.  All he ever cared about before was the drink.

The final person to speak was this man named Pablo.  He was sober for three years and was in the program starting in 1994.  He was court-appointed to attend the meetings this time around.  He had a court card and he talked about his obsession with drinking.  He talked about having a drink last night.  He’s been slowly changing the times of day and ways that he drinks, but he’s been having trouble.  He replaced his afternoon meal-time beer with a Diet Coke and that replacement has been working well for him.

Personal Essence:
They did speak about newcomers a lot though, and it almost felt like they were talking to me.  There were lots of crossed arms or couples placing their hands on each others backs.  Those small physical cues send out lots of energy and speak volumes. I felt uncomfortable hearing Pablo speak about drinking a beer with dinner. That is more telling about myself than it is Pablo.

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I am a bit blue at times. I let the words and actions of others affect me.

I am misanthropic around my family, and receptive and uncynical around my friends.

I am learning to not take things so personal, although this is written in the subjective personal pronoun.

I am self-aware and constantly analyzing my choices. However, I do not doubt my choices.

I find humor in serious subjects; I do not laugh at everything I find humorous. I find sadness in solemn things. I make humor out of everything else, because ‘to find’ implies that humor is hidden away somewhere.

I am clean, sober, and abstinent from mind-altering substances and I aspire to a full recovery from all of my old behaviors. I have a five year plan but I am living one hour at a time. Living this way fills me with dreadxiety at times.

I enjoy portmanteau.

I think that language is prison for the thoughts in my head. (thanks Mike Eagle)

I feel happiest when I am singing oldies at karaoke; I do not know how the people listening to me feel.

I adore live music, especially when it moves my feet to dance or moves me to tears.

I now know what the group Operation Ivy meant when they sang, “all I know is that I don’t know nothin.’” because I am certain of the uncertain and that brings me peace of mind.

I am forever documenting and preserving my life via journal, photographic, or videographic record. I enjoy the process of writing, photographing, and videographing, but not necessarily the outcome.

I enjoy a cup of french press coffee.

I hate it when I read a book instead of going to the gym. I read books dressed in gym clothes.

I believe in fluidity of thought.

My belongings are not organized, but they are not in piles. My thoughts are unorganized, but I can make sense of them.

One thing I’d like to change about myself is my impulsive, depressive tendency to binge eat.

I know that I am an amalgamation of all of my choices and mischoosings.

Insanity is supposedly doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results, yet I woke up and ate breakfast this morning.

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