We’ve all got ’em. We’ve all heard them.
There are some stories that describe harrowing and death-defying acts. There are others which are absolutely hilarious. And then there are some that make you hug yourself where you sit and thank God that those things didn’t happen to you. I have none of those stories. My bottoms and down-and-outs don’t involve dancing monkeys, ninjas or full SWAT team take downs. I don’t have a funny tale of blacking out and finding myself in Saskatoon with one shoe, a tutu and a banjo handcuffed to my arm. I don’t have an endless stream of bizarre and reckless episodes that will keep you on the edge of your seat. I can’t recount a time where I leaned over a tall bridge, broken and desperate, about to leap into the dark brimming water below. Those aren’t my stories.
In treatment, we were required at every Sunday in-house meeting to stand up, introduce ourselves and describe what had brought us there. This opened up a raw and jagged world of painful memories, some even only a few scant days removed. Men laid bare horrific stories of abuse, violence, rage, despair – and even some of the so-fantastic-they-couldn’t-have-made-it-up variety. Most of these guys’ bottoms were heartbreaking in their breadth and depth and were punctuated with emotions so ragged and visceral that you could feel them practically dripping onto your own skin. My “what brought me here” was pale and lame compared to the other guys’ shares. I started to think that I didn’t belong there…with them. The pathetic thing was that I was actually jealous of their stories. I have to say it again. Ahem. I was jealous of other people’s stories of how bad it got for them before they needed to get treatment for alcoholism. How sick is that? A counselor would later tell me that “you are where you need to be”. Thanks, Joe.
When it comes down to it, I was just a run-of-the-mill, boring, lonely, angry drinker. That’s it. End of story. I hid my drinking in the last few years, I rarely spoke to people, didn’t like being the center of attention, was never a party animal, tried to be a nice guy, tried not to rock the boat and was happiest when I could just be on my own. So that definitely didn’t set the stage for titillating tales of steamy loose morals or dynamic bang-’em-up tales of bravado and crazy barroom antics. Just a dull drunk. So you can imagine why I would get upset when I heard other people’s stories – even at my reckless worst, I was still boring! Again, how sick is that type of thinking? I should be grateful that I never go into hair-raising stuff. I should be thrilled that I wasn’t in some bombastic police shoot up. I should be chuffed that I wasn’t in a situation where I had a knife to my throat or was facing serious jail time.
And I am grateful.
But that is why I don’t talk much about my war stories. I mean, I do have stories – don’t get me wrong. I may not have actual physical wounds, but I do have the spiritual shrapnel, the emotional lacerations and the mental gashes to show for it, or at least I did early on. But I don’t discuss war stories because they don’t serve me to do so. The only times I tell them is when I am working with a newcomer or I am the speaker at a meeting. In both cases, war stories (judiciously doled out) are the best way to connect with another alcoholic. Alcoholics only listen to someone who has been there, who knows what it’s like. By telling my story, I am plugging into another alcoholic. They get me and I get them. They know that I know what the deal is. Boom, instant jazz between us.
But other than that, there is no reason to get into the old stuff. Identification, yes, glorification, no. I gain nothing in the re-telling of my pathetic drinking. I know other alcoholics know how to drink, so why bother describing my drinking? We’ve all been there. And I am nowhere near into other people’s war stories as I was when I got into treatment and AA. I still like to hear them – there are some doozies out there, but there isn’t much I haven’t heard by now. It’s old hat. We’re old hat. The wonderful thing now is that we get to stash those stories away and create new stories. Like soldiers who have come back from the war, we trudge past the horrific sights and sounds we were a part of out on the battleground, learn to deal with and move past the pain and forge new lives with new insights and perspective. We have a renewed energy. We learn to embrace life having gazed upon death, or possible death.
For me, the reverberations of bombs past may still echo now and then, but I live in today. I live in hope. I live for a new me.