I remember when I had my daughter many years ago, and her father and I were preparing to leave the hospital to take her home, just 23 1/2 short hours after she was born. I was in a daze, still coming to grips with the fact that I had birthed a child, walking gingerly with an ice pack in the crotch of my adult diaper placed in my elastic-waist pants, and gathering my clothes and all of our baby supplies. I distinctly recall thinking, they aren’t really going to let us go home alone with her, are they? I can’t be trusted with a newborn! I felt like i needed more time and more training. Maybe another day to get my bearings. Should I still be bleeding this much? It felt kind of irresponsible of them to let us leave with her. I felt exposed and raw and scared. (And of course we screwed up installing the car seat, which is another story.)
This is how I felt when I walked into my first AA meeting – completely exposed. Like everyone was staring at me and judging me for the irresponsible 46 year old I was. Tsk tsk, their glances said without a word. Look at you. You aren’t prepared for sobriety and we all know it. You’re hiding under that ball cap but we see you. And we know what you did to get here. As I sat down on a cold, metal folding chair, I felt like there was a spotlight above my head and a sign around my neck that said LUSH. I felt guilty and ashamed. Of course no one was judging me nor did they know my story and this was all just a made up story in my own self-obsessed mind. But I didn’t know that at the time.
The whole scene was surreal. Everyone seemed happy, optimistic, hugging each other and laughing, big handshakes and smiles. Lots of coffee and noise. Some slightly sketchy glances from older men. I just didn’t get it. Shouldn’t these people be crying and moaning? Where are the bedraggled who awoke this morning and plodded down to the meeting, ready for another flogging? This was not what I understood getting sober to be like. I sat quietly and listened, overwhelmed with the rituals and moments where the whole group talked at the same time on cue. I was confused, but I stayed.
At the end of this meeting, I was shepherded by a few veterans over to a tall, thin woman with lots of auburn hair. She had been running the meeting and was busy putting supplies and papers away, folding chairs, etc. Someone said to her, Cindy, this is Jennifer. She’s looking for a sponsor. I felt oddly childlike, like a fragile little doll that would break into a million pieces if you looked at her the wrong way. Cindy gave me a big, sweet smile, and said I’d love to sponsor you, Jennifer. Let’s meet next week. And that was it. I now had a sponsor. I was on the hook. This was real. Weird and real.
Now, 139 days later, I’m thankfully starting to feel like one of them. I’ve been meeting with my sponsor regularly and working the 12 steps, facing my fears and insecurities, embracing my heartbreaks and breakthroughs, loving my moments of sheer joy and my real and raw experiences on this road of recovery. Life will continue to go on, and I’ll be sober to live it. Free. Clean. And thankful. Responsible for a newborn, and this time, it’s me.