I got there half an hour early. So I cleaned the car out for twenty minutes.
We are required to attend an AA meeting. It's part of our psychiatry rotation - they give us a list of all the meetings in the Indianapolis area, and tell us to have someone sign a first name there. I chose, out of the gigantic list of AA meetings (so very many, O Best Beloved, just in this city), women's meeting. I chose it because every time I think about alcoholics I think about old men, or young men, or men in general. And I wanted to see.
It was incredible. I thought of a hundred things during the meeting, its single hour of confession and sharing and brutal, brutal honesty, a thousand things I wanted to say to you. And I cannot now untangle them. They are faces, so ordinary, that I will not be able to forget. They are the women you would pass in the grocery store, the church pews, the office; women who are, in the end, just women. But they are women who have found within them the courage and the fortitude to face a devastating truth.
Yesterday, O Best Beloved, I spoke to a man who did not know how much he drank, but wanted to stop. The blind girl with the Xanax problem was here this morning for her detox appointment. This afternoon, however, I went to the ER.
Her BAC was 0.021, three hours after the ambulance had picked her up. One drink metabolized an hour means three drinks in her system at 11 AM. She fell, sometime this morning, she doesn't remember when, and gashed her head open "on the floor". It's a two-inch lac down to the bone; I could see the grey and shining tissue that covers the skull through the opening in her forehead. She was covered with dried blood. She smelled like she hadn't bothered to bathe or wipe in days. She drinks, she told me, every other day. Vodka and beer, but she has no idea how much.
Ambulance report says she refused treatment for her lac initially, that the house was "unkempt". Later reports say that it was full of human and dog feces. Her son says she smears it. She stinks. She didn't want to be there, she didn't want to cooperate, and she most certainly didn't want any help for her drinking or her depression. She gets by on Social Security. She was fine. We're calling adult protective services on a 70-year-old woman who lives alone with her poodle in a house full of excrement. Of course she's fine.
I left before the case was staffed, at 1740, to go to my AA meeting. She was on my mind, and I thought of my grandfather and the cardinal who landed on his back porch, in his neat home with memories of a life well-lived to surround him. I thought of my grandmother who is slowly forgetting the future backwards, in a place where at least she has sunshine and birds and other people around her, my grandmother whose tombstone, when her husband died thirty years ago, was carved with the first two numerals of her death - 19. She is still alive, in this year that begins with 20, and I am proud of that, although I am afraid of the twilight in which she walks. It runs in the family, dementia, and goes along with longevity. That is a curse I pray I am spared, that combination. I drove and I thought of these things, of the money that my family finds to go to Europe and Colorado and visit and spend time together, and I thought of a woman in a hospital bed whose children cannot find the time or the energy or the money to live the mundanities of her life for her when she does not find them worth the doing herself, a woman who cannot go to a nursing home because she refuses to stop drinking.
O, God, I am blessed. Perhaps that is why I feel this ceaseless need to give.
I drove to my meeting, and I heard perhaps thirty women pass a ball from one to the next and speak or not-speak, no shame in silence. I heard the refrain over and over and over again - "Hi, I'm ***** and I'm an alcoholic." Every single time someone spoke, and the room positively wept with sympathy. They talked about the first step - admitting that you are powerless over alcohol - because there was a new girl there, who had never been to a meeting before, whose best friend, also a member of AA, had brought her. What a thing to find the courage to do.
I walked out of the meeting, my signature garnered, after stopping to talk to two women there, and being hugged by a third for no real reason at all. I walked out, shamed by these women's brutal honesty in admitting their failings; enlightened and inspired by their strength in surrender. I walked out and I felt the wind hit my face, and I saw the last half-hour of sunlight setting fire to the sky. And O, Best Beloved, it was so beautiful.
Tonight, O Best Beloved, I felt within and around me the power of something so much bigger than myself. I felt a stirring and a tugging at my soul that I have not felt so strongly for a long time. And I heard, O Best Beloved, the still small voice of God.