I know many of us are not believers. But there's something about this piece that transcends labels, just as A.A. often does, and since some of us are alone and dealing with overwhelming problems this holiday season, it might help.
I miss the stories Anne Lamott used to write for Salon, because they got me through some of the roughest times of my life. (How can you not love someone who refers to herself as a "cursing Christian"?) Anyway, reminded by several other bloggers who also posted this, an excerpt from one of my favorite columns. I hope it gets to someone who needs it:
So I called my Jesuit friend, Tom, who is a hopeless alcoholic of the worst sort, sober now for 22 years, someone who sometimes gets fat and wants to hang himself, so I trust him. I said, "Tell me a story about Advent. Tell me about people getting well."
He thought for a while. Then he said, "OK."
In 1976, when he first got sober, he was living in the People's Republic of Berkeley, going to the very hip AA meetings there, where there were no fluorescent lights and not too much clapping -- or that yahoo-cowboy-hat-in-the-air enthusiasm that you get in L.A., according to sober friends. And everything was more or less all right in early sobriety, except that he felt utterly insane all the time, filled with hostility and fear and self-contempt.
But I mean, other than that everything was OK. Then he got transferred to Los Angeles in the winter, and he did not know a soul. "It was a nightmare," he says. "I was afraid to go into entire areas of L.A., because the only places I knew were the bars. So I called the cardinal and asked him for the name of anyone he knew in town who was in AA. And he told me to call this guy Terry."
Terry, as it turned out, had been sober for five years at that point, so Tom thought he was God. They made arrangements to go to a meeting that night in the back of the Episcopal Cathedral, right in the heart of downtown L.A.
It was Terry's favorite meeting, full of low-bottom drunks and junkies -- people from nearby halfway houses, bikers, jazz musicians. "Plus it's a men's stag meeting," says Tom. "So already I've got issues.
"There I am on my first date with this new friend Terry, who turns out to not be real chatty. He's clumsy and ill at ease, an introvert with no social skills, but the cardinal has heard that he's also good with newly sober people. He asks me how I am, and after a long moment, I say, 'I'm just scared,' and he nods and says gently, 'That's right.'
"I don't know a thing about him, I don't what sort of things he thinks about or who he votes for, but he takes me to this meeting near skid row,where all these awful looking alkies are hanging out in the yard, waiting for a meeting to start. I'm tense, I'm just staring. It's a whole bunch of strangers, all of them clearly very damaged -- working their way back slowly, but not yet real attractive. The people back in Berkeley AA all seem like David Niven in comparison, and I'm thinking, Who are these people? Why am I here?
"All my scanners are out. It's all I can do not to bolt.
"Ten minutes before the meeting began, Terry directed me to a long flight of stairs heading up to a windowless, airless room. I started walking up the stairs, with my jaws clenched, muttering to myself tensely just like the guy in front of me, this guy my own age who was stumbling and numb and maybe not yet quite on his first day of sobriety.
"The only things getting me up the stairs are Terry, behind me, pushing me forward every so often, and this conviction I have that this is as bad as it's ever going to be -- that if I can get through this, I can get through anything. Well. All of a sudden, the man in front of me soils himself. I guess his sphincter just relaxes. Shit runs down onto his shoes, but he keeps walking. He doesn't seem to notice.
"However, I do. I clapped a hand over my mouth and nose, and my eyes bugged out but I couldn't get out of line because of the crush behind me. And so, holding my breath, I walk into the windowless, airless room.
"Now, this meeting has a greeter, which is a person who stands at the door saying hello. And this one is a biker with a shaved head, a huge gut and a Volga boatman mustache. He gets one whiff of the man with shit on his shoes and throws up all over everything.