I am writing this blog from ‘The Dry Dock’ a recovery cafe in San Francisco. They have meetings every hour from early morning till night, not just here, all over the city. I’m blocking the sound of chattering recovery folk out with Jason Mraz on my headphones, so I can concentrate on writing this. Several times I’ve been interrupted to chat so I’ve had to close the computer and speak to my fellows, the rest I have written from my motel room.
I’ve been to 12 step meetings all over the world including Thailand, Spain, Germany, India, USA and Canada. This is one of the joys of traveling in recovery. Instant friends, just add water.
If you didn’t already know, I am a person in long-term recovery and what that means to me is that I haven’t had a drink or a drug for almost 6 years. To stay happy in recovery takes maintenance and a big part of that is plugging into the recovery network, which is like a (not so secret) secret society all over this beautiful planet. I need to be around people who walk the same path as me, we understand each other and help each other. I used drink and drugs as a way to chill out or deal with feelings and trust me, when you travel, you get feelings!
There are as many ways to stay clean and sober, as there are people who choose to do so. People often think their way is the best but there is no definitive way to stay clean and sober. I find 12 step meetings work for me. Stopping is easy, it’s staying stopped that is the challenge. For me as well as spiritual and self- development, I need to connect with people who have chosen abstinence from mood and mind altering substances. I can easily forget that I have addictive tendencies, my mind will sometimes tell me I can have a drink or use and get away with it. Trust me sometimes I wish I could. However, my experience tells me otherwise. I suffer from serious mental health problems when I use drugs and I become obsessed and compelled to use more, so I choose to maintain my sobriety. As a result my life is amazing and so are the people in it.
Since plugging into San Francisco’s buzzing fellowship a few days ago, I’ve had lively conversations, meetings, lunch dates, pizza parties, I’ve been whisked round the bay, shown the beaches, been driven over the bridge and I’ve even played musical instruments in a large house over looking the sea with a close friend and neighbour of the late Robin Williams. It seems an insight into the lives of the sober locals of San Francisco comes very quickly to someone in recovery.
I must set the scene and give you the back-story of this trip. Two friends from England arrived a few days ago to Vancouver and they invited me to join them on part of their road trip to America. So with delight I accept and we drive the 15-hour trip in two days.
Crossing the border is a long and arduous process. The energy change from Canada to America is palpable and the arrogance and attitude of the US border control purposefully intimidating, not to mention highly irritating. I feel myself becoming resentful and several times I catch myself saying “Fucking Americans.” In addition one of our party is from Iraq, needless to say he is nervous.
The guy who processes our visas is young, with suspicious bloodshot eyes and a greasy comb over. Like a detective I look hard to see if he is hiding a bald patch, but I cannot get evidence so alas we’ll never know.
Sometimes, especially if I’m not being present, my special mind gives me a back-story. My mind warns me, “This person wouldn’t think twice about taking you and your friends into the woods, giving you a head start and then hunting you down for fun.” So you can see I was not in a very good headspace.
When we finally get into “The greatest country in the world,” like a sponge, I have soaked up far too much of the American spirit. This is further compounded when we stop for lunch just across the border in a ropey Mexican Restaurant, the first thing I notice is an advert on the table appealing to the paranoid, “Buy yourself a gun and protect your home.” By this point I know I am not spiritually well.
Very late that night we found a motel, dirty and overpriced but everywhere was booked up due to a Labour Day holiday and we were too tired to continue. My jet lagged friends and I shared a room, which was a mistake. They both snored beyond what is deemed tolerable and I thought in the night that I might die from the ordeal. Snoring is a form of torture, you wait for the next snort, and even if you do get a break in the relentless cycle of nasal Tom foolery you are too nervous to relax, anticipating the sound to tear through your tired brain at any moment, which of course, it invariably does. So by this point I’m worried about this trip, why have I come?
Finally after 2 days of driving (beautiful and exciting), we roll into downtown San Francisco in the evening and stay in a hotel nestled between huge skyscrapers in the heart of the business district. It is a relief to have my own room and a long shower, and don’t ask me how we ended up at a religious themed amateur drag show that evening, but we did, and this went some of the way to restore my faith in America.
The next morning, I look up an AA meeting to get my feet back on the ground. I find one a mile away so I walk there. I’m looking around me in wonder at the shiny diamond bright skyscrapers and within minutes I find myself in the middle of a rough neighbourhood called The Tenderloin. The clean wide streets give way to littered urine smelling pavements, the clicking of heels turns into the shuffle of addicts and then I find this meeting, in the heart of it.
A huge black man wearing a clean pressed shirt, baseball cap and a walking stick welcomes me warmly. He has a massive smile and I like him immediately, I like the way he repeats my name in his thick American accent.
There is a mix of people here, some are clearly desperate but the majority are open hearted, grateful and passionate about recovery. A man with false teeth too big for his mouth can’t stay still and wanders in and out, stopping only to click his teeth on his gums. On closer inspection he only has the bottom set, he’s in the right place.
The shares are heartfelt, honest and insightful. I feel suddenly more connected to myself as I sit and listen. I really can’t express in words how blessed and honoured I feel when I am in the company of people who have experienced the miracles of recovery.
The topic happens to be on resentment. In recovery we learn to take responsibility for everything we experience. I share about my experience of crossing the border and in a moment I recognise the anger I felt towards my US brothers on the border made me just like them.
You cannot fight fire with fire. I had held the energy of resentment when all my learning tells me to respond with love. It is not about what is happening to us, it’s about how we choose to respond. A meeting always helps me remember I am responsible for how I feel. Everyone is doing the very best they can with the information they have. Everything that is not based in love has it roots in fear so I can choose to move away from resentment and have compassion for my brothers who don’t know any better.
I laugh to myself and say thank you in my head to universal source energy, higher power, God, whatever you want to call it. I can feel the love in this room and I feel the angels around me both in human form and ethereal. This is my first meeting in San Francisco, I am home!