(All names have been changed. The whole story has been changed.)
The shiny-black-haired girl to my left adjusted the tracking device around her ankle, scratching absently at her healing tattoo. A few pieces of molted gray skin flaked off and drifted down softly onto the ugly carpet. I winced. The lady to my right, small and blonde and steadily crunching her way through a bag of M&M’s, looked over at me and smiled.
“You’re new, aren’t you? Hi. I’m Janie.”
“Hi. Liz.” I shook hands with her.
“I’m not that good, but I’m here.” She rolled her eyes and tossed some more M’s in her mouth.
“Okay, let’s get started with the serenity prayer,” said Casey, the only person I knew, from the front of the room. Everyone adjusted and cleared their throats. Casey winked in my direction.
The serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom always to know the difference. Just like I’d seen stamped on countless keychains and embroidered on well-meaning throw pillows.
“Okay. Let’s go around and introduce ourselves, I’ll go first. I’m Casey, and I’m an addict.”
“Hi I’m Kate, and I’m an addict.” (Smiled shyly – first time?)
“Clarence, addicted.” (Not his first time.)
“I’m Janie, I’m an addict.” (More M&M’s.)
“I’m Liz, and I’m an addict.” (Was this a lie?)
And so on.
Someone read the why-we’re-here. Then someone recited the goals sheet. Then someone read something else. I sat there and sipped my cold coffee, wondering what this formulaic repetition could possibly give anyone besides a headache. This was like getting up for mustard after you’ve already eaten the hot dog. What was I doing here actually?
Did Casey ask me to come with her because she needed moral support, or because she thought I needed it? How long do you have to be clean before you officially don’t have a drug problem? Months? Years? Or is it like herpes, you just have it no matter what?
We read Step 4. I had no idea what Steps 1-3 were, but Step 4 was an inventory: you were supposed to be honest with yourself about every horrible thing drugs made you do and every horrible thing drugs made you feel. Everyone read awkwardly and stumbled on words. I wished for a beer, feeling claustrophobic. Then I remembered where I was and felt the impulse to sob.
After awhile, Janie spoke. Her words drifted, muffled, around the bright red sucker in her mouth which had materialized from somewhere at some point. She took it out and placed it wetly on the empty bag of M&M’s.
“…And it’s like…I want to get better. But at the same time it’s like ‘God, here we go again.’” A single black tear dripped off her inky eyelash. “I can’t believe I’m doing this again.”
“Sometimes I wish I could be normal, you know?” She peeled the sucker off the bag with a sticky rip and stuck it back in her mouth. “But you know what? All those ‘normal’ people out there are more fucked up than we are, and they don’t have a 12-step program to fix it.”
Janie cracked the sucker with her back teeth as if to punctuate and everyone laughed, then stopped. I understood the silence with a plummeting nausea and slowly cleared my throat.
“I guess…you know…since it’s my first time here, I haven’t done any of the other steps. And to be honest, for the first 35 minutes I still didn’t think I needed to be here.” Everyone laughed again and I felt the heat rise in my cheeks.
“But this entire list was like…a checklist. Of what I should have thought about, then. It’s…I don’t know. Thanks. Thank you.” I choked on the last part through a sip of coffee. Everyone nodded reassuringly.
Maybe it was like taking medicine for a cold that went away two weeks ago, or maybe you were still sick. But at least you acknowledged it, right? You needed to do that, right? You had to see it. That’s how you got better.
“Thirty days sober?”
One guy raised his hand to receive his keychain. Applause.
“2 months? 6 months?” No one, none.
“18 months?” Nothing.
“And how about today, the most important day of all?”
We went outside to smoke our cigarettes feeling exhausted and considerably lighter.
Profile: Mila Jaroniec