The evening’s anticipation and anxiety grows. I cook a simple supper of two ground beef patties, mashed potatoes, greens beans with almonds, a banana, two slices of bread, and a glass of milk. I eat and then take my nightly medications that are so key to my health these days. I then crawl into a hot shower, washing my hair, and lathering up. I get out, towel off, blow dry my hair, shave, and dress. I am ready to go. This is an important step to making me feel less conspicuous.
The last hour passes by in a blink of a notice as I watch the clock and nervously smoke cigarettes while listening to the radio. It is time for me to drive over. I walk out into the cool night air and get in my car. I am so nervous with anticipation. I sit for a moment after cranking up the car wondering if I should go. “Can I do this?” I think as I sit there. I put the car in drive and make my way over to the meeting hall after building up some more courage.
Once arriving, I get out and walk to the door. I had remembered it was a Big Book study and I stand at the entrance with that big, blue book in hand. Moisture forms on my forehead which is uncharacteristic for such a cool, winter’s night. I can hear the chatter of many conversations beyond the closed door as my heart beats in fast palpitations. I am at the point of no return. I either enter or climb back into my car and go home. I reach out for the door knob and open the door as the fluorescent lighting from inside floods out upon the floor and the ground below me. People look to see who is entering. The strong smell of brewing coffee hangs heavy upon the air. I try my best to ignore the limelight as I walk to the safest, most isolated seat I can find; a place where I will not have to make small talk. I am relieved when the normal chattering of the meeting goers resumes and I am seemingly ignored once again.
The meeting starts. We go around the room and introduce ourselves. This part is especially hard for me as all eyes look on when it comes my turn to speak in the crowded room.
“Hi, I am Andrew and I am an alcoholic,” I say meekly turning to the person beside me to pass the limelight as fast as I can.
The introductions conclude and the normal proceedings of a meeting commence. We talk of how important a spiritual awakening is to overcoming this allergy of the mind and soul that is alcoholism. There is much speaking of God and higher powers which makes me uncomfortable.
“I try to believe,” I tell myself. “I just cannot grasp this God thing.”
One person speaks of the spiritual awakening they received during rehab:
“I knew I was safe once that big, steel door on the psych ward closed behind me,” He says. “The compulsion to drink was no longer with me. It was a true spiritual awakening.”
“Not all alcoholics have it so easy,” Another argues. He is an old timer. The old timers are often very opinionated.
“They lose everything and hit rock bottom before getting better,” He continues. “It takes years of spiritual recovery to start getting better.”
This exchange of differing views makes me uncomfortable. The tension in the air seems to be so thick you can cut it with a knife. I look for an argument to break out. None ensues. The normal meeting resumes.
We all gather around at the end of the meeting, hold hands, and say the Lord’s Prayer.
“Let’s bow our heads and pray for all the suffering alcoholics inside and outside these rooms and hope they may find these halls and peace,” He says.
We conclude and I slip quietly out the back door to escape to the safe and quiet confines of my car as the after-meeting socializing starts in earnest. This is the most dreaded part for me as old timers come up to shake your hand and ask you your name once again to urge you to, “keep coming back.” I sigh deeply as I crank up my car and light up a cigarette cracking my window. I feel safe again.
“Baby steps, Andrew,” I say. “Baby steps.”
Thus ends the ordeal for one mentally ill man who suffers from extreme social anxiety and who also happens to be a suffering alcoholic. He just completed one of the harder things he has to do in life at the moment; to walk into a crowded room of very extroverted people and join in. He is proud of himself and drives home relieved. Maybe after a few weeks of doing this continuously he will have the courage to start volunteering his time helping others.
“Baby steps,” I repeat again as my mind mulls over tonight’s events as I drive home to retire to the bed exhausted. Baby steps...