Where do you start, you know? Where do you start when you decide to tell your own story? Why to tell your own story might be the best place but I have no ready answer for that. Call it vanity or call it an exorcism or call it what you want. I have no words for it but there is something pushing it to the surface. It's now or never, having started making noise about it some time back.
So let's just start here:
It starts with being humbled or maybe humiliated, or even just knowing the difference between the two. That's when you come to the consciousness of what being humbled is.
Humbling is sitting in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in the East Village, having shambled through a year or two of sobriety and stumbled over a few of the 12 steps, and listening to a pretty, young woman tell a story that sounds startling familiar. The voice didn't sound familiar. The story did. She was relating the tale of her "bottom," that moment of clarity that can come with incomprehensible demoralization. It involved a long weekend of cocaine and alcohol fueled depravity and a disgusting older man she didn't know in her apartment ranting and raving and pawing at her like an animal...
Oh, hello MacGregor.
Shit, man. It's not like she didn't invite me in and defensive for a moment, the animal acts did seem mutual at the time. I mean, I knew it wasn't romantic but didn't really think it was... well, I guess I didn't think much about it at all. Guilt, however, quickly superseded the alcoholic defensiveness.
I don't know if she knew I was sitting sweating at the back of the crowded meeting. It was only when craned up a bit and saw her profile that it hit me. Who else could she be talking about? There could certainly be other disgusting, older men that she took home from gin mills. It's entirely possible that she was doing it every night. It would be nice to think that it was someone else. Given the sober time she attested to though it was very likely that this particular disgusting older man was the very same character that was sitting in my folding chair.
Humbling is the the distinct possibility of having been the absolute lowest point in some nice, young lady's life, and if that was indeed the case, the likelihood that there were others. How had I managed to make it through several hundred meetings and not encountered any familiar faces from the recent past, or any past, but jovial drinking companions?
But there she was, and if she was right there seated at the front of the room telling people about the worst days of her life, then there could very well be others. This is the kind of shit that will give you pause if you have any sort of operating conscience at all. My first reaction though wasn't my still somewhat dysfunctional conscience. My first reaction was that this AA stuff was far too fucking crazy for me and who in their right mind would want to spend an hour a day trudging through their history and waiting for someone to walk up and ask.
Do you remember me?
And I absolutely would remember whoever asked. I have been cursed throughout my life with an elephant's memory, and even the deepest blackout always came back around in the following days of a bender, with an interrogation lamp burn.
Aw man... did I really?
Oh yes, I really did.
Maybe this curse is why I'm sitting here now, sifting through my personal history, trying to make some sense of it all, or at least get it out at a safe distance.
Redemption? Yah, absolutely, that would be nice but I'm not really counting on it. It could also be more about erecting a huge, neon warning sign. Abandon hope, all ye who enter.
And I can hear The Crocodiles now saying, "It gets better, kid."
They're right. It does get better but you're going to have to face it all first, and so far this is the only way I've found to get things reasonably "clean." The quotation marks can stay on that word. Reasonably should be in caps and italics, just for good measure. I don't know if I'll know what clean feels like if it comes my way. I've been listening closely now for over seven years, though meetings have been too few and far between lately, but I've been listening. One day someone will explain to me what "clean" feels like.
There's those quotation marks again.
I left the meeting that day shaken. Then I went to another that night and told a few of the guys there what happened earlier in the day. Their reaction was laughter. It was knowing laughter but they laughed and I laughed too but that's my default to fear. Make a joke out of it, right? It wasn't a joke though. I'd never once felt at any point in my life that I was the high point in anyone else's life but now I was the lowest. Lowest is what had kept me out there running for so long in the first place. This was confirmation of my deepest fears.
That could be what this whole exercise is about, but that still remains to be seen. I've only just begun, after all. This is just the beginning. It's technically yet another beginning but there aren't too many chances left. I'm praying to a god... Götzengeschwätz... praying to a god that I don't technically believe in, that it goes the distance this time.