I must admit, AA meetings will at least prove that one fact of life. If you think you have it bad, just attend an Alcoholics Anonymous group meeting and you will feel immediately better. Alcoholics either hit the high or low bottom before becoming sober. We self-destruct in many varied, exciting, interesting, and pitiful ways. If you have a “high bottom”,such as myself, you can listen to other members discuss hitting rock bottom. Leaving you open-mouthed, wide-eyed and mystified as to how this person survived to tell about it.
I thought my own drama from childhood and train wreck of young adulthood added up to a pretty good sum total of reasons why I should get sober. Not so. There is always another person who has traveled a much rougher road, fallen way down the rabbit hole of addiction and come out barely alive and breathing. But the positive is that they came out breathing. If you’re breathing you can change.
Take for instance my friend Cheri. She graciously shared her story of childhood sexual abuse while sitting on the porch swing outside our AA lady group meeting Monday night. Nothing prepares you for such horrifying tales, but because I am a reader of memoir (thank you A.Burroughs and James F…although you may or may not have a friend named Leonard), and because I work with urban kids who have been dealt some pretty shitty cards, I guess the shock-value of her story was diminished in my presence. Oh Cheri, is it any wonder you became an addict? Remarkable still, that she chose to live and go to rehab instead of end her life at 24.
Cheri’s cousin began abusing her at 6 years old. Only touching. Once she became a teenager, he began having sex with her. She of course felt all the things survivors of sexual abuse feel: shame, guilt, curiosity, pain, confusion, even desire and jealously. Because the great thing about pedophiles is they “groom” their victim by treating them nicely, giving affection, fulfilling needs they see being unmet in their prey. The predator watches and studies and times his assault. Poor Cheri, some part of her still believes on a base level that she is responsible. She won’t say that. But the professional in me can pull that from her story. She hasn’t told her husband of 8 years. She hasn’t told her mother. She is 36. She hasn’t told her abuser how badly he damaged her self-worth, dignity and spirit. She is strong. She is brave and courageous. She wanted to not live. She drank her pain away for ten years before getting sober in rehab. I admire her. She is my sponsor.
Cheri grew up in her grandma’s house. She ironed her mom’s clothes and fixed her breakfast and dressed her younger brothers. She washed the dishes. All at age 7. She tells me this detail. Hanging on the wall in front of her as she washed dishes, towel dried the plates at seven years old, was a wooden plaque. On it was scored the “Serenity Prayer”. I later told her that I believe she ironed her mom’s uniforms and bathed her brothers and cooked her family’s meals at an age when most of us were watching Sesame Street on Saturday mornings because she needed to learn to survive, to self-preserve, to not die from her trauma. She agreed.
And having the Serenity Prayer read aloud at AA meetings brought back her memory of washing the dishes and that plaque:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change
Courage to change the things I can
and the Wisdom to know the difference.