I remember the first time I went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I think I may have been eight.
My father had only been sober for a couple of years at the time, so when he felt the urge to stop at one of the underground railroad of rooms that held meetings throughout the city, he went whether he had his small son in tow or not.
I remember those rooms. Church basements. Private homes. Empty classrooms. They never seemed to be big enough.
Sometimes my eyes burned from the cigarette smoke that hovered over them like a thick layer of meringue. Others’ eyes burned from lack of sleep, or despair, or just raw desire for the one thing that would briefly take away their pain, before multiplying it tenfold.
A few months ago, I went to another Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with my dad–this time to hand him his 27-year chip. In front of people with years of sobriety ranging from less than a month to nearly half a century, my dad told his story. He spoke of arrogance and missed opportunities. He spoke of friends and supporters. He basked in the rarefied air of his highest heights, and described the unedited horror of rock bottom. This was a Saturday morning at about 10:00 a.m.
Less than twelve hours later, I stood in my apartment having washed down a shot of bourbon with an ice cold beer. I’d repeat that ritual several times over the course of the night at a handful of nightclubs, bars, and lounges throughout the city.
Beads of sweat formed on my forehead in the still warm air of early fall. Between stops, I cracked the passenger window of a car steered by someone better equipped to get us to the next venue alive
I did this without a second thought about the stories I heard just hours earlier, or the lost years of a father and son’s relationship due to a man pushing up against his demons, desperately trying to keep his shoulders from touching the mat.
The loud music and revelry were enough for me not to worry. The late night greasy food would keep my stomach from churning. The underdressed women kept me company. The overpriced drinks kept me humble.
All of it was enough to forget that I was really alone. The bars and clubs weren’t too much different from those childhood AA meetings. Lost souls swaying to and fro. Their stories are told through their decadence, attitudes, and false bravado. Numbers exchanged lead to hollow connections for business and pleasure.
Is it possible that even in a room full of people and loud music I’m not really having fun? Am I really just drunk by myself?
Nah. Turn up.