When it comes knocking
Back when I did my first 6th step, I was asked to write down my character defects on little slips of paper and burn them or flush them. It was an exercise to help me see what it would feel like to let them go. I sat in the back of an IHOP (when they still had smoking sections) and I wrote out these ugly things I wanted to be rid of. I placed the little slips of paper in the ashtray and set my cigarette to them and watched as they turned to ash. Even after they were burned, the ash retained the shape of the paper and the ink was still clearly visible. For fear that someone would see what was written there, I stirred the ashes with the tip of my cigarette until they all disintegrated to tiny bits of dust.
As I did this, I realized how silly this fear was. Here I sat horrified that someone would come along and see all these terrible secrets I had written when all the while they’ve been written all over me. Who did I think I was fooling? Did not everything I do in life, right down to how I carried myself, reflect my fears, my guilt, my shame? Even if my pores no longer exude the stench of booze and drugs, does my addiction not seep from my skin and surround me with a certain aura?
Those who have sat in meetings with me have heard this story a number of times as it is one which proves to me just how vigilant I need to be. I was perhaps a month sober, enjoying a lovely Saturday morning, reveling in my newfound sobriety, when I got a knock at my door. At the time, I lived in a fairly quiet complex where the only real drama seemed to center around my apartment. I was not prepared for what I was about to encounter.
The woman at my door was in need of some assistance. She was low on cash and wanting to pawn some valuables, but didn’t have a valid ID or some such. I sat on the front step with her and watched her exhibiting obvious signs of amphetamine intoxication as she recounted her story. Her jaw clenched and her legs bounced as she told me about how shooting meth was causing problems in her life so she had begun smoking it instead… which I thought to be a far worse solution, especially considering the fact that she had a baby in the house who was now breathing in these toxic fumes as well. The disease is horrific and insidious.
There was no talking to this woman and I didn’t stay long. She had her mind set on what she needed and nothing would sway her. I told her that I had recently been not so unlike her and that she didn’t have to live this way anymore, but left it at that. The whole situation was very uncomfortable and if I’d stayed long enough, eventually that little addict in my brain would have taken her up on her offer and pawned her things for her in exchange for whatever she had to give so that he could have me sitting there jumping out of my skin just like she was. I quickly “remembered” I had to be somewhere, gathered my things and went to see a friend.
I first moved to Texas, in part, to escape a certain lifestyle. I was here barely a week before all my friends were exactly like the ones I had left back home. “Ask and the door shall be opened unto you; seek and ye shall find.” These words aren’t just a request to seek God, but a warning that the desires of your heart will find you whether you go looking for them or not.
Just as I couldn’t conceal the character defects which graffittied all aspects of my life, I could neither escape the lifestyle which led me down those dangerous paths time and again. The only way to ensure my safety was by making a complete overhaul of everything I thought I was. I had to give it all over to a power greater than myself – even if that power was simply another alcoholic who had recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. Left to my own devices, I kept coming back, full circle, to the same old bad habits that kept me from maintaining any sort of normalcy or building anything lasting no matter which direction I set off in this time.
The simple fact is, one day it’s going to come knocking at your door. Your neighbor may see you out mowing the lawn and bring you a cold beer just to be friendly. The hotel may put a complimentary bottle of champagne in your room in honor of your anniversary. A junkie may just walk up to you and offer you a quick fix for your troubles. And where will you be then? Do you still wear your addiction like a “Scarlet Letter”? Do your pores still exude those alcoholic pheromones? Do you recoil as if from a hot flame or are you placed in a position of neutrality? Or will you instinctively reach out and pop the top during a strange mental blank spot?