Experience, Strength and Dead Hookers

At the beginning of most recovery meetings, the chairperson asks, “Is this anyone’s first meeting ever, anytime, anywhere?” Every so often, someone nervously raises his or her hand. “WELCOME!!!” shouts everyone else. Should the newcomer not immediately have a stroke, the chair usually announces that the discussion topic will be the First Step: “We admitted we were powerless over [our drug of choice/destructive behavior/Orange is the New Black], and that our lives had become unmanageable.”

The point of First Step meetings is for people who have been around awhile to share how they ended up in recovery, and how their lives have improved since getting sober, so that the newcomer can see that we’ve all been where he or she is, and that he or she can stay sober, too. In reality, though, the theme of these meetings quickly shifts from First Step to Dead Hookers — that is, people skip right past the messages of hope in favor of the lurid details of their addictions. To wit…

“So there I was, in a cheap motel room with a dead hooker.” [dramatic pause] “And that’s when I realized I might have a problem.” [hold for applause]

There is very little one can do once a meeting has gone full metal Hooker, other than grind one’s teeth and pray the newcomer doesn’t bail halfway through to go find a bar/back alley/crack house. Occasionally, in a valiant attempt to avoid this phenomenon, the chair will pitch a different topic relevant to the newly sober, my personal favorite being, “Why did you go to your second meeting? What brought you back?” I don’t have quantifiable statistics in front of me, but I’m going to say this tactic has about a 60/40 success rate.

Believing themselves to be warded against exaggerated horror stories, people will talk about the warmth they experienced at their first couple of meetings, and the welcoming, nonjudgmental attitudes they encountered. However, there are a lot of hardline traditionalists out there who can’t handle even the slightest deviation, and when called on to share, they will wrestle away control of the meeting and steer it straight to Hookerville (pop. -1):

“I appreciate your topic, but I think it’s also very important that we talk about the First Step. For instance, in my case, family members had been trying to reach me for days, but I’d lost my phone after blacking out at a Tijuana donkey show…”

It’s cool that those of us in recovery have a safe place to tell these tales, and it’s a lot of fun to be able to laugh at some of the bigger mangles — we laugh, because most of us have gone through the same awful struggles and survived. And that’s the important part of these stories, the part that often gets lost in the grit and grime. We survived. And we’re not doing anyone any favors if we only focus on what we survived, versus how we survived it.

With that said, I should mention that a spoonful of Dead Hooker, shared specifically at a newcomer’s prompting, does help the medicine go down. Recently, while I was helping clean up after a meeting, a guy I’d never seen before came over and said hello, then admitted it was his first meeting. He was too freaked out to say anything when the chair asked if it was anyone’s first time, but he said he’d heard a lot of good things, even if he wasn’t sure he could stay sober himself.

“Dude, seriously, I used to show up to this meeting drunk,” I replied. “If I can stay sober, trust me, anyone can.”

The new guy looked at me warily, as if I’d just glowingly described our fabulous new jungle compound and asked if he’d care for some Kool-Aid. So I hollered to my friend B., waved him over, made introductions and was all, “In your own words, please recount how big of a train wreck I was when I first showed up here.”

B. looked New Guy up and down with a critical eye. “Well, you’re sober,” he said. “So you’re already one step ahead of Sweeney.”

There was a moment of silence as New Guy stared at me, then B., then back at me again. Finally, he spoke:

“I am… so hungover right now.”

And then all three of us laughed our asses off.

 And really, that’s when things work out best: When the newbie sees people with their shit (mostly) together, who can say with all honesty, We know where you’re coming from, but you don’t have to go back there; you can stay here with us if you want to. And sometimes they do, and they stick around and get better. And that is awesome. It is miraculous. It is worth its weight in dead hookers.

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