AA Meeting, Part 1
In true fashion Andy arrived right on time. He was never early, never late. Before he could even sit down he cautioned me, “We don’t have much time.” “Fine by me,” I answered. Every week or two we met at the end of a day “just to stay in touch.” This afternoon it was obvious neither of us had arrived with the plan of unpacking an agenda. We were two old buddies there to “hang out”. Well, as Christians, it was more than chatting--we were sharing with one another. We covered the normal topics. We asked each other about our families, exchanged our current reading list, brushed over politics, updated what we heard about old friends, then moved on to movies, and sports. Andy asked, “How are you doing?” I gave my standard answer: “Fine.” He seemed unsatisfied with that reply. So, he circled back for a second round, “How are you?” I’m not sure if it was my body language or my tone of voice, but something was unconvincing. Nonetheless I again said, “Fine.”
After about a half hour of chitchat Andy abruptly jumped up and began marching toward the sign that read “PLACE ORDERS HERE.” Andy was on a mission to grab a “to go” drink. He was a few steps from our table when I involuntarily blurted out the honest answer to his question, “How are you?” These were feelings I had been suppressing for a year or more. This outburst stopped him in his tracks. Immediately he came back to the table. My display of raw honesty left him stunned. Andy began probing me for details, while repeatedly assuring me of his friendship and his vow to secrecy. I felt like a witness being cross-examined by an expert attorney. As he skillfully evaluated my “confession” he glanced down at his watch. “Pack up your computer, put on your jacket and follow me,” he ordered.
To add to his mounting stress level over my condition, he was now apparently running late for his next appointment and needed to leave immediately. For my own benefit, Andy demanded I go with him. Reluctantly I obeyed. During the jog to his car he told me he was on his way to a meeting and that I would be his guest for the night. This wasn’t a discussion item. It was an order.
“Where are we headed?” I asked.” “You’ll see. Trust me. Right now, this group is what you need.” “Who else will be there?” “The size of the group typically ranges from 8-12 people,” he answered. “However, tonight is the season finale of Dancing with the Stars. The winning couple will be awarded the highly coveted Mirrorball Trophy. It will effect attendance.” I cracked, “Will it increase or decrease attendance?” Not even a grin from my friend.
Any initial enthusiasm I had for our adventure was rapidly vanishing. I began to register a protest, but he cut me off mid-sentence. Grabbing my arm, and like a police officer making an arrest he put his hand on the top of my head and tossed me into the car. The debate and wrestling match were complete. It was clear that I had lost. Off we went.
We were stuck in rush hour traffic. Our progress was agonizingly slow. Neither of us spoke a word. Andy exited the freeway after 15 or 20 minutes. He made a couple of turns driving into a beautiful residential neighborhood and parked outside a gorgeous ranch style home. It is the style that was typical of many Phoenix homes that were built in the 60’s and 70’s. I assumed this was our destination. “You can leave your computer in the car,” he said. Soon we were at the front door ringing the doorbell. A charming older lady welcomed us. Andy gave her a hug and said, “It is good to see you again. How are you feeling?” “Much better.” Andy told her, “Sit and relax. I know the way; you don’t need to escort us.” I was growing more and more nervous. When entering any room, my custom is to make certain my presence is noticed, to announce: “Here I am.” Over time I have mastered the art of arriving “in style.” However, that night I couldn’t find my trademark swagger. I tried but it was useless. In retrospect, it was understandable. This was unfamiliar territory. For me it was an “away game.” A combination of factors had pulled me out of my comfort zone.
Andy led me into a large open room which was our destination. I surveyed the room carefully noting all the details of both the physical layout and its occupants. Everything about the room was inviting. I was experiencing the creation of a highly skilled, sophisticated design professional. The walls were painted with soft warm earth tones and tastefully decorated. I did note the absence of any family pictures or personal mementoes. The available seating options consisted of a couch, a love seat, and 4 plush leather high-back chairs. If those choices were not to your liking, the other option was to settle into one of the half dozen comfortable swivel chairs scattered throughout the room. The oval shaped seating arrangement was casual but intentional. The configuration was designed to give all the participants an unobstructed view of one another. The effect was a calm atmosphere, encouraging honesty and openness.
Looking across the occupants it also appeared they were a product of careful vetting. People were paired off in conversations. There were some serious exchanges but also smiles and even laughter. It looked as if, at least on this occasion, the host had assembled a diverse collection of people. Male, female; Caucasian, people of color; old, young; fashionably dressed, those who weren’t; and fit, less fit. It was a mixture of folks chosen from the DMV and folks from Phoenix Country Club.
After all this reconnaissance work here was my conclusion: the decor was inviting, and the people were warm and friendly. To me all this effort gave the appearance of a group genuinely happy I “crashed” their get-together. That is what I felt like. A party crasher. An outsider. I still didn’t know what this was or why I was there.
A gentleman awkwardly walked to the center of the room. He looked like an “old school” (no pun intended) college professor. He wore a herringbone camel sportscoat, yes, with elbow patches. The remainder of his ensemble was a tan shirt, coordinated floral tie, a pair of dark brown slacks and tan hush puppy shoes. His voice was soft. So, everyone grew quiet and even then, I strained to hear him. He announced, “Drinks and snacks are available on the island in the kitchen. Feel free to help yourself. We will begin in 5 minutes.” Begin what? I wondered. Andy took the man aside and the two of them had a private conversation. I was justifiably paranoid. The man glanced my way then said something to Andy, then looked back at me. I assumed Andy was telling him my story.
I heard a voice say, “Please find a seat wherever you like so we can get started.” My feeling of uncertainty and need for some sense of security compelled me to follow Andy. He chose a seat to his liking, and I squeezed in next to him. As we took our place, the gentleman again took center stage. “Thank you all for being here. I realize tonight we are competing with DWTS.” A hint of nervous laughter filled the room. “So, you made a sacrifice to be here. I appreciate that.” He paused and turned toward Andy and me. “I see we have a first-time guest with us. Let me introduce myself. I am William Brawley. Welcome to our home.” I recognized that name. Yes, William “Wild Bill” Brawley is a local legendary television weather man from “back in the day.” He was theman in the Phoenix TV market when suddenly at the peak of his career he was gone – off the air. No one was sure why. Lots of speculation--booze, drugs, payoffs, a fling with the station owner’s wife and other gossip. But never anything certain. All I know is that he disappeared overnight. As I looked at the man standing before me I was convinced he was “Wild Bill.”
Armed with the background information Andy had provided him and ignoring the other guests, William spoke directly to me. “Jason, we meet here every week. Our goal is to create a ‘safe place’ that allows us to speak truthfully about our lives. Everyone here has taken an oath of confidentially, swearing that what is said in this room stays here. No one may discuss the contents of this or any of our meetings with anyone outside this room. Not a spouse, a friend, no one. I know that sounds like a lofty objective, but Jason, after 6 years each of those pledges have been honored. Never a ‘leak’. You all agree with that right?” he asked. Immediately each person in the room confirmed William’s statement. “Jason, before we start the meeting we are asking for the same commitment from you. Do you promise that what is discussed during our time together stays ‘in this room?’ Do we have your word?”
This was serious – that was clear. I was vacillating. How honest were the disclosures that people made to the group? Did everyone, in fact, follow these rules? Experience taught me to be suspicious of people’s ability to keep such promises. During the past I have had many conversations that began with the introduction, “I swore not to tell anyone this but_______.” Then a friend would violate an assurance of privacy they had made to someone. I wanted to trust the group, but I didn’t know them. William interrupted my thinking when he asked again, “Do we have your word?” Seeming to sense my angst, Andy put his hand on my shoulder to support me. I was struggling to breathe. Then with a voice that was weak and trembling I heard myself say, “You have my word.
The self-assured, confident, almost superhero figure Jason had been reduced to a fragile, weak, pathetic figure. But I told myself, “At least that’s done. Just sit still and be quiet. Once this is over you can leave and never return.” Wrong. That didn’t end it. It was just the beginning. “Jason, good to have you with us.” William declared, “Welcome aboard.” I managed to whisper, “Thank you.” “I know exactly how you feel. Not long ago I was ‘in your shoes.’ Andy told me you may have something you want to share with the group. I understand your apprehension.” I felt betrayed. Glaring at Andy I struggled to gather my composure. This was a risky proposition. Could I trust a group of “strangers” with a secret I had kept from everyone until I blurted it out to Andy just an hour ago? I asked for a bottle of water. A lady, I later learned was William’s wife, gave me a bottle. My throat was parched. I gulped down half the water. Shocking myself I stood up. My legs were shaky, but I gained my “land legs.” I coughed and cleared my throat. “William is right. I do have something I want to share with you. However this is new to me. And it is scary for me. I am trusting all of you. I want to share something that no one except Andy knows. And even though we are best friends, he didn’t know this secret until this afternoon.” Choosing to believe all William had said, I continued. “For over 5 years I have had been involved in an innocent activity that has become a destructive behavior. I thought I could control it, but I can’t. Now it has spilled over into almost every area of my life and is gradually ruining me.” I surveyed each face. There were nods of understanding. Smiles of encouragement. Looks of compassion and reassurance. This was the moment. I decided now was the time and place to “come clean.” To be continued
“Talk” again soon.