As I waited for the divorce lawyer to return my call regarding Bigamy and Contempt, I had another court case to tackle: my DUI.
When I first got out of jail, I immediately called a friend who just so happens to be a judge. He was extremely kind, sympathetic and nonjudgmental upon hearing my plight. He pointed me towards a good (expensive) criminal attorney. I hired the firm right away.
It was suggested that I take a proactive stance in my case. I did have a good chance of getting the DUI dismissed, but I had to show some earnestness in my “desire to be rehabilitated.”
I was definitely earnest. I would do just about anything to lessen my punishment.
“You should probably attend some AA meetings,” my lawyer advised over the phone one afternoon. She went on to explain that some judges require defendants to attend meetings, or work in the morgue. It was a fairly standard punishment.
“I’ll send you a court card and you can get started. You just have to get the secretary to sign off on your attendance and you’ll get credit for the meeting. Try to get five or six meetings in before your court appearance next month. I can’t guarantee anything, but it certainly won’t hurt your case.”
I hated the thought of having to attend an AA meeting. I couldn’t believe that I had found myself in a situation where Alcoholics Anonymous was involved. It was humiliating. Furthermore, I was way more interested in going to the morgue to see dead bodies.
Nevertheless, I obliged. I wanted to get it done – out of the way – and show the judge assigned to my case that I was a GOOD girl who had made a mistake, and would never do it again.
I’ll never forget that first AA meeting. I rose early to attend the 6:15 a.m. gathering. It was held in a Fellowship Hall at a Presbyterian church. I pulled up a chair and sat in the back, and listened to people mumble for an hour. The room echoed and it was difficult to hear. Occasionally the attendees shouted in unison, and a few pounded their fists on the folding tables. They laughed, listened, hugged one another and repeatedly sipped coffee from little styrofoam cups.
I brought my own coffee. I sat with my arms folded tightly against my chest for the hour and didn’t say a word. I dropped my court card and a crumpled dollar bill into the basket as it passed.
After the meeting adjourned, I raced to the front to find my signed card. Several people sought me out to welcome me, congratulate me for being brave, and offer me literature.
I just smiled, nodded and reached nervously for that damn card. One down.
I didn’t need salvation from alcohol or drug addiction. I didn’t need to make any new friends. I didn’t need any more suggestions on how to live my life, even if it had been excessively hard lately due to circumstance and/or poor choices. I just needed to endure the punishment and get the hell out.
I found a noon meeting to attend. After about four gatherings, I realized I was learning something.
I had to write.
The familiar smell of “thrift shop” wafts through my nostrils as I enter the darkened room. Cushioned folding chairs are aligned with care, and icicle-like Christmas lights hang over the main table. The wall is adorned with wooden placards, and old felt banners read, “ONE DAY AT A TIME!” I am positive the room was decorated in 1974. I find a seat along the western wall and clutch my phone, as if it will save me from…what?
I’m five minutes early, which can be a good and bad thing. The smell of cigarette smoke drifts in and out of the room, as the men gathered at the front of the building inhale their last bit of carbon monoxide before the meeting begins.
I glance around the room. Directly in front of me sits Justin Bieber. He is hunched over his phone, furiously texting with one hand and biting his nails on the other. I do about seventeen takes and cannot actually figure out if it is Justin Bieber or not. Regardless, it makes me chuckle, and I relax a bit.
A small Chinese man storms through the center aisle, hugging everyone in his path. He is fierce in his intentions, and laughs extremely loudly as sarcasm drips from his lips. I didn’t realize that such a loud voice could come from such a small body.
At the main table sits a doughy woman whose arms are adorned with tattoos. She cracks open her first of two sodas (that she will drink in the span of one hour) and looks at the clock.
The meeting is called to order, and people straggle in at 10, 15, even 30 minutes past the hour. One latecomer plants himself right next to me. He’s a soccer player in his early 20s. I notice his freshly shaved head and manicured toenails. He sniffles throughout the entire meeting, keeps his back turned away from the main table and barely listens to what anyone has to say. At times I think he might be crying, but I soon realize that he is just wiping his nose and snorting the mucous back up into his brain. Later, I remind myself to wash my hands, since I end up holding his, reciting the Serenity Prayer.
It is time to reward achievement, so the little Chinese man jumps up and jubilantly passes out little chips, screaming, “Chips from the Chino!” I laugh at his unabashed racism, and relax a little more. I decide that if they make “Hangover 3”, this guy could give Ken Jeong a real run for his money.
Later, the little Chinese man shares his story. He is an alcoholic and a drug addict. He begins speaking in anger towards a few other relapsed alcoholics whom he had helped find jobs. Subsequently, he lost his, and needs prayer to deal with both.
The room nods.
Little Chinese Man opens up about his days as a “skilled outdoorsman” (homeless man). He would stand outside the local 7-11 and beg for money. Once he made $5.00 he knew he’d be able to get a “fix”. He finally checked himself into rehab. A few days into his sobriety, Little Chinese Man offered to wash his counselor’s car. He detailed it with precision and care, and, in the end, his counselor handed him a crisp, five-dollar bill. His eyes fill with tears as he describes the realization that he had earned every penny of that $5.00.
He goes on to explain an old Chinese parable of a puppy that asks his mother where he can find happiness. The mother tells the puppy that his happiness is in his tail. So, the puppy spends years chasing his tail.
Frustrated, the puppy goes to his mother again and asks, “Where can I find my happiness?”
“I told you,” his mother replies, gently. “Your happiness is in your tail, and it will follow you wherever you go.”
The room sighs.
Little Chinese Man thanks “the rest of you low life’s” for allowing him to share.
A big, fat biker guy in the back demands his time to share. He curses and speaks with authority, and talks about “these rooms”. He wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for “these walls”, so we’d all “fuckin’ better fuckin’ keep coming back, because it fuckin’ works if you fuckin’ work it!”
Later, he falls asleep.
A former dentist speaks up. His drug of choice was crack cocaine. Little Chinese Man gasps.
A slender, tan and weathered woman speaks up. She is dressed in a striped mini-dress with matching espadrilles. Her nails are painted lime green, and look like they are straight out of a travel advertisement for Thailand. Her nails keep clacking her soda can. She sheds tears over the years she lost, drowning her sorrows in her wine glass. She doesn’t want to feel bad anymore.
Justin Bieber has switched from texting to playing “Words with Friends”.
As the hour passes, more and more people share their stories. Some share the same story they did the day before. Some shed tears. Others sit in stoic silence. But, all in all, they come together as humans with a purpose: humans who are wanting to end their addictions; humans who are seeking God. Humans who are broken, ashamed, torn up, spit out, rejected, abandoned and hurting.
Human beings who are beautiful, precious children of God.
I will return to “these rooms” for a few more hours, out of an act of service. Preventative action. Punishment. Hope. Perhaps I will share my story, perhaps not. One thing I have learned so far is to face my fears. I may not identify completely with the people who attend the meetings, but I am just as broken and hurting as the rest. And, for that, I say, bring on the styrofoam coffee cups and the stale sugar packets; bring on the strip mall parking lot adorned with the stunning view of the San Gabriel mountains. Bring on Justin Bieber and his Honda.
I will laugh and cry with my fellow human beings, and I will even hold their snot-ridden hands. It feels good to be alive.