Wait, I Thought He Was With You
It was Good Friday, 2009. I was in the middle of my Junior year of high school, and my school was closed for the holiday. We decided as a class (there were only 40 of us) to take a trip to the neighboring island, St. John, for a beach day. To no one’s surprise, I got drunk. In the midst of a brown out, I somehow got separated from the group long enough to get left behind. It was a classic case of “I thought he was with you.” While my friends had taken the ferry back to St. Thomas, I was attempting to hitchhike back to town with no money, no shoes, no phone, and no shirt. Eventually I got lucky, found a ride, and was given $10 for the ferry. I met my friends in Red Hook, St Thomas and they were relieved. But to my disappointment, they were all going home. In my eyes, I had just survived and wanted to continue drinking. I blacked out about an hour later and woke up in my bedroom. A friend of mine, who had no license, had driven me home. The look my mother gave me was all I needed to know.
Now, I tell this story because I was supposed to get married on April 10th, 2020 -- another Good Friday. After all the anxiety and disappointment around having to postpone, I was reminded of my story of survival. It was so obvious that at 17, I was already showing signs of being an alcoholic. One detail I forgot to mention was that all my friends went home at 5:30 pm. In fact, my senior superlative voted on by my peers was “most likely to be left on another island.” Over the next few years, parents always made snide comments about my drinking in front of me. My reaction always seemed more dramatic than it needed to be. But I could not control the feeling of utter shame and guilt that existed within me. It wasn’t until I got sober five years later that I understood what was happening.
I remember my sober living manager, Jeff, would run a group on Thursday evenings. He would start having us read the first four paragraphs of the chapter “More About Alcoholism” from the Big Book. We did this every Thursday for two and half years. And this phrase, “All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but such intervals - usually brief - were inevitably followed by still less control, which led in time to pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.” It was really the last four words that rang true for me. It reminded me of the story above. I still can see my mother’s reaction when I came to that morning. I can make that story funny today but I cannot make my mother’s look of disgust and anger anything less than pitiful and demoralizing.
There is something to the phrase, pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization. I have since run a similar group with my clients and everyone appears to wince in pain when that sentence is read allowed. It has a power to place us in the middle of a painful memory or situation. There is no escaping that feeling. It’s really difficult to explain, unless you can relate to that story. And when I was in my addiction, I pushed down that demoralization only to find myself in a vicious cycle for years.
I remember sitting in a meeting a few years ago. The speaker was a writer with 30-something years in the program. He said something I wasn’t expecting, which was: “The most powerful phrase in the English language is ‘Me too.’” He went on to discuss how the phrase cuts through all walls, barriers, secrets we bury, masks we dawn, and bars we set to separate and isolate ourselves from the world. It is a phrase that illuminates the darkness and depravity we face as addicts. Even the founder of the Me Too Movement, under different circumstances, stated her organization “started in the deepest, darkest place in my soul” .
This speaker's story reminded me of being in Jeff’s groups. Before getting sober, I had the mentality that if you understood what I had experienced, you would drink and do drugs too. But his groups had a way of chipping away at my beliefs and perceptions. They were the first introduction I had to the 12 steps and the literature. Jeff would tell these animated stories of his addiction and trying to desperately control enough of his life to just get by. This included isolating in an apartment on meth, chasing shadow people, and an obsession with porn. And I related to that miserable existence. It allowed me to connect with someone else’s story. I could see similarities and not just ask “what’s in it for me?” And I led with that question often in Jeff’s groups. I challenged him and got angry. All he ever did was smile with some humility and say, “Hey Jack, me too. I get it.” And for some reason I believed him. That gave me hope. I wasn’t isolated anymore, but instead seen.
I texted my best friend, who still lives on St. Thomas, late Friday night after the Zoom dance party. I told him it had been 11 years since that fateful Friday afternoon when I got myself left behind. He laughed and congratulated me on my success since then. Now, I have yet to find another kid in the program who got left behind on an island and had to hitch hike back to civilization while drunk. But what this story does is remind me that I experienced pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization just like every other addict. And it reminds me that these feelings of uselessness and shame are shared amongst my friends in the fellowship. If I tell a story that produces some laughter while in a meeting, I know they can relate.
This Article was written by Jack Shain, CADC-II and founder of Keep Left Recovery. KLR is a private drug and alcohol counseling service located in West Los Angeles.