I have a little machine that I carry around with me. It’s not noticeable, but it beeps and bips and boops inside of me, and feeds me wrong information on a constant basis. I don’t like it now, but there was a time when I used to oil it, shine it up, tinker with it to see if I could make it work better and faster, and crank it up to full speed.
It’s my judgement machine.
I was at a meeting yesterday at lunch hour. And as usual, my judgement machine was already huffing and puffing away. When I sat down and realized that it was not a literature based meeting, but that it was a sort of a free-for-all open discussion meeting, my machine revved up even further. I like literature based meetings – we talk about the Big Book or perhaps we read from the 12 & 12. It keeps things on point. It focuses on the solution, not the problem. We all stay on topic. A “whatever you want to talk about” meeting is not what gets me excited about recovery. Nonetheless, I was there, and I was with my peeps, and that was fine enough for this alcoholic.
Now, here is how the machine worked in that meeting (and remember, the machine often spits out it’s information before anyone speaks, just to be clear on that) :
Member #1 (Daniel)
Machine says : “Drama queen. Probably just likes to hear his own voice and will probably drone on for a while.”
Reality: Daniel is in pain. His sister was murdered and is talking to the prosecutor for the first time to find the details of what happened. Her body was left for two weeks before anyone had found it. His 6 year relationship with his partner was ending as well. He has major resentments he won’t let go of, to “honour” his sister. He want to use, but he says he won’t.
Member #2 (Richard)
Machine says: “We see this guy all the time. Walks around like he invented AA – see how he came late? (I know we were late 5 min, but that’s different.) Like his message though. Likes to dominate meetings. Loves the sound of his voice too.”
Reality: Richard says that we’re all “fucking nuts”, and so is he (laughs from the group). He says that while his voice is big and booming, and so is his body, he is really a little boy who is hurting on the inside. And he has a hard time telling people that, and that he likes getting hugs too.
Member #3 (Renaldo)
Machine: “He is a nutbar. Heard him in other meetings – rants in a strange way. Probably has mental issues – he needs a psychologist, not an AA meeting. See how loud he was, coming in when he too was late? No consideration. You should leave when he shares.”
Reality: I left when he shared. “Bathroom break”. Not proud of that.
Member #4 (Alain)
Machine: “He looks put together. Probably is calm and serene and is wondering why he’s here with so many wingnuts.”
Reality: Alain has been struggling and just traveled on the weekend to see his boyfriend, who used to be in the program and has since relapsed. He had to leave after his boyfriend got stupid drunk and had to sleep somewhere else in that other city. Doesn’t know what to do – is confused.
Member #5 (Lee)
Machine: “He looks a bit twitchy, but he looks like he’s got it going on. He looks a little smug, actually now that I think about it- see how he nods in approval when others speak, as if he’s seen it all, like he knows life’s secrets? Jerk.”
Reality: Lee is in trouble – he has only 14 days clean and sober and wants to use drugs and drink very badly. He hasn’t spoken to his sponsor in a while, and this is the first time he has admitted aloud to a group that feels like using. He doesn’t want to go back out. He also later shakes my hand and thanks me for my own share.
Member #6 (Jessica)
Machine: “She looks well dressed, probably drives a nice car. What is she doing here? Looks like she has some sober time behind her, life is getting back on track for her, no doubt.”
Reality: “I don’t trust any of you guys. I don’t trust my sponsor, I don’t trust my Higher Power. I don’t know how to have anyone in my life that I care about. I don’t know why I am telling you this. Maybe I need to more of this.”
So after this, and listening to many more shares, I notice my machine started to lose steam. Gears and belts and bolts fell off. The machine started to dismantle on it’s own. It’s was getting smashed more and more as I sat in that meeting. The hesitation I had coming in was now replaced by love. By compassion. By the realization that once again, I am them and they are me, these broken, lovely people. I was broken, and I still need repairs today and forever more.
Now at this same meeting was a dear friend and overall lovely man, John. He’s like a blanket of serenity and loving humanity that I love to just wrap myself up in sometimes. And this was one of those times. We went down the street for lunch. He had crepes. I had coffee. John got sober in the 70’s. He is not old – he looks great for his age. John is the guy I go to after talking to my sponsor when things are on my mind. Sometimes I just go to John alone.
We conversed a bit and then after he heard my thoughts on the judgement machine, I spoke about some of the things that were on my mind. Some of those things I had written about here in this space. The one thing that came up for me was the feeling that I wasn’t doing enough for my recovery. I mean, all I do is attend meetings, sponsor guys, do service work, write a recovery blog, am active on two recovery sites, read spiritual books, watch docs on alcoholism and recovery, write for my old treatment center newsletter, participate in alumni nights at that treatment center, speak to newcomers as a contact from that center, and am volunteering at the upcoming AA convention this month. I need to do more, don’t I? Doesn’t everyone in AA do this? I know I don’t have any hobbies or do much else than housework or go to work, but I should be doing more, yes?
He looked at me, finished the last bite of his crepe and neatly placed his knife and fork down on the now folded paper napkin. He chewed and swallowed his food. He said “You’re scrupulous.” And that was it. I digested that as slowly as he digested his lunch. I said “That’s not a word that you say in positive terms usually, is it?” He shook his head in his old school principal ways. “I don’t mean it as a criticism, but you’re so afraid of doing things wrong that it’s going to eat you up. You feel that you have to be running fast all the time. You don’t have to, Mr. AA.”