A Good Meeting.

April 28, 2011

I was told there was going to be a camp-fire, hand- holding and Kumbaya, and I'm not leaving till I get it.

    Group meetings are a part of treatment, everyone knows that. The group therapy concept is fodder for mockery in an uninitiated popular culture. And I get that, the concept is a little hokey. But it absolutely works. I had a fantastic meeting yesterday, and I want to give you, my readers, a little glimpse into the inner sanctum of the Notdisneyworld Sober Ranch.

    Today, we heard from one of our own, a guy we’ll call J, who gave his “life-line,” which is a talk that everyone in treatment must eventually give to his brothers and sisters in recovery. The life-line is basically the Reader’s Digest version of our autobiography. It takes a lot of guts to give this talk. And the staff usually gives people about three or four weeks – at least – before they are asked to give their life-line.

   I asked for, and J gave, his permission to share this story. J is an affable, good-looking fellow just this side of thirty. Treatment has done him good: he is articulate, intelligent, tan, and has an extremely positive outlook on life. He looks ready to go home and set the world on fire with his talent and positive energy. So it was surprising to hear how the events that lead him to treatment unfolded.

   One of the natural things we do as human beings is size-up other human beings and compare them to us. That is doubly true in treatment; how do these people and their problems stack up to my own? Natural as it is that we do this, we’re not necessarily any good at it. I had J all wrong. Which goes to show that judgmental-ism is more art than science. And it’s a dark art.

   It is a credit to the work that he has done here that when I arrived, I assumed that J probably didn’t have a problem on the level I did (he was about 70 days in when I got here). After all, people arrive here in all different phases on the hot-mess scale: not all drug problems are created alike, or so my thinking goes. That thinking is flawed, evidenced by the fact that it only ever seems to surface in concert with two negative emotions: shame (e.g., “I don’t deserve forgiveness; what I did was too bad.”) and vanity (e.g., “Ha, my problem was way worse than your problem.”). I had sized J up along the lines of the latter: I thought there was no way he could relate to my problems. Until, that is, he started to tell his story.

    J talked for almost a full hour about his history with drug abuse, and we are substance-abuse soul mates. He was unflinching in his honesty. He wasn’t afraid to let us see his emotions. He cried early and often, particularly when he discussed his family, for whom he obviously has great affection. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house; I was overcome myself, several times during his talk.

    I connected with J’s story in a very powerful way, because his story is my story. So many features do we share: same substances, same crazy drug-addled psychosis, same feelings of guilt for letting our families down. J spoke at length about how hard it is for him to forgive himself for putting his family through such a long ordeal.

     The cycle of active use-getting clean-relapse, along with all the lies that we tell our family in the process, is devastating for our loved ones. And right now, we have nothing but time, and none of the crutches or coping mechanisms that we had before, so that guilt and shame is REALLY raw. As I have indicated before, I have been working on my problem for the better part of 15 years. I can’t tell you how many come-to-Jesus conversations I’ve had with my parents, my brother, my friends over the years. It’s enough to just about kill a parent. Or a sibling. Or a spouse.

    More times than I can count, my inner circle has had to stop what they were doing to try to put Humpty Dumpty back to together again. J’s story is almost identical along these lines. The pain I saw in his face when he discussed what he has put his family through over the years – particularly his mother – was like an arrow through my heart.

    I hurt for J, because I can relate to so much to his story. After he finished his life-line, we had an opportunity to give feedback. When it was my turn, I tried to tell him how much I could understood because of what I had put my family through, and I fell apart. And J fell apart again. Two tough-guys in a room full of people crying like babies, and no one was laughing at us or judging. Just total and complete silence and respect for two people that were working through some really heavy shit. This is why group therapy works.

    The most poignant part of J’s life-line was when he discussed his little girl. Almost the same age as my little girl. For a good portion of the time that he tried to talk about his little girl, J just sat with his face in his hands and sobbed. If we could have, every person in that room would have walked up to him and put our arms around him, and told him, “Dude, it’s okay; you don’t have to do this now.” But he did have to do this. He needed it, and so did we. It’s part of the process.

    So this grown man, with all the talent in the world and his whole life ahead of him, is sitting in front of us, completely unable to speak, unable to face us, unable to read his notes, unable to do anything but hold his face in his hands. So we just sat there for a few minutes, all of us in complete silence, until he was able to continue, which he did. This is a man who has been the most popular person in the room everywhere he has ever been. He is proud, intelligent and accomplished. He knows the joy of victory and the agony of defeat, in all phases of life. And because of his honesty, because of his raw display of emotion, because of his humility and his because of his willingness to share it with us, everyone in that room did some healing. And when the time comes, everyone in that room will be able to give their life-line. J set the example. It was one of the most courageous things I’ve ever seen another man do.

   I’ve known this man for 5 days, and he’s done more good for me in five days than my drinking buddies have in years spent together, getting to the bottom of a thousand bottles. J, your daughter is getting back her Daddy, your family is getting back a Man, and I have gained a Friend.

    Real men do cry, in spite of what you’ve heard.

J is on the left. The guy in disguise on the right is your humble author.

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7 Responses to “A Good Meeting.”

  1. Mary Poston said

    I’m in tears and feel so proud after reading. Thank you for writing and sharing. “J” is everything you describe and more. He is loved deeply and unconditionally, as I’m sure you are by your family and loved ones too. J’s story has just begun and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store.

  2. Georgie Boso said

    Thank you very much! I am J’s mother. This is heart warming. You are a wonderful writer!

  3. JerriR said

    What a wonderful tribute to a fine young man who has a great future ahead of him!…and if I may encourage you as well, it sounds like you are on your way! May the both of you continue on your journey of the love, forgiveness, and restoration that is freely ours for the taking, as the price has already been paid! PS I’m an avid blog reader even though I currently don’t have time to keep up with my own and your writing is powerful! Keep up the good work!

  4. […]   Which brings me to J, who you already know. Today was his coin-out, a process with which you are already familiar. I think most of the people […]

  5. […] who the next leaders are gonna be, the ones who will step into the void left by people like R and J, it occurs to you: those people will have to be us. Me. Because in any group dynamic, there are […]

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