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Parrots & Pigeons

December 1, 2015

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Every time I sit at the tables I’m reminded of standup comedy. There are people with thirty years of sobriety, people with a week of sobriety and everyone in between, and it seems like all of them have a routine, or a bit. They share for five or ten minutes. Their life story, their material, goes from raw to refined to polished (distilled probably isn’t the best word to use when talking about sobriety, so I won’t). Their history, their trials, struggles, tribulations and triumphs get buffed out, refinished and reformatted until they have a tale suitable for mass consumption, approval and replication. And in many cases, they tell that story again, and again, and again.

My great fear is that I’ll end up like that, spinning out the exact same ten minute yarn with the same ups and downs and inflections and pauses and punchlines the same way for the next twenty years. I don’t say much at the tables unless I feel compelled to, or if it seems like I can add something to the conversation. There is no shortage of people with nothing to say and plenty to say about it inside and outside the rooms and I refuse to be another one. I suppose that’s my gift to the Program: my brevity. I’ve shot my mouth off enough in my drunken past, so the least I can do for my brothers and sisters is pick and choose my contribution to the rolling dialogue that takes shape in the meetings.

I’ve heard it said that the Program only has two kinds of birds. There are Parrots, who recite what they’ve heard by rote. I’ve met plenty of them, proud of their ability to memorize passages from the book and spew them out when appropriate. Pleased as punch to regurgitate a line or a saying that was told to them. And then there are Pigeons, who carry the message. Given a choice, I’d rather be a Pigeon. There’s more room for improvisation there, don’t you think? It seems nobler to me to find my own spin on the message, but at the end of the day (when you think about it), you’re going to get shit all over the bottom of the bird cage either way. Kidding.

I didn’t stop drinking to be some kind of puppet. There’s a lot more freedom in recovery than that. Saying the same thing over and over would be a kind of hell for me. In two years, I’ve found out how to live. And there isn’t much that any of us can’t do with the notable exception of one thing: We can’t drink. It’s pretty hard to believe that I’ve been sober for two years, but it works 100% of the time if you follow it to the letter. I won’t get preachy with you though, since you’re an innocent bystander.

I’ve discovered a lot more about the Program as time goes along. There is a dark side, but that’s to be expected with any cross-section of the populace. One of the few guidelines we follow is ‘Principles Before Personalities’. Chew on that for a little while. One of my friends says that we’re all sick people trying to get better, and some are sicker than others (I guess I do have a little parrot in me, don’t I? *Squawk!*). There’s a pecking order, whether we honor it or not. There are a few climbers, ‘career daters’ (which is putting it kindly, on the inside we call them ’13 Steppers’), politicians and melodramatic evangelists peppered throughout the groups. I didn’t stop drinking to be a politician, or the grand Poobah of the organization. I don’t need a title, and would prefer to travel in the middle of the herd. I’m also thankful that I didn’t date anyone my first year in (a commonly-held suggestion), because now I’ve got enough sense to see that the women are just as nuts as the men are. I also don’t need any disciples doting on my philosophical prognostications. There are actors and actresses. There are quite a few different kinds of people from all walks of life in every shape, color and creed. It’s a powerful thing to give someone a voice to a room of 60 people, or a table of 20. We all adjust to it differently.

My buddy Mike has a really good point when he tells me that we don’t know what these people were like when they were out drinking, and that their recovery most likely mirrors their drunken debacles to some degree. Bullshit artists. One-night-stand studs. Loud mouths. When I first came in, I looked at anybody with two years or more as some sort of Jedi Knight. There’s a glaring problem with putting anyone on a pedestal, which is mainly the loud crash when they fall off of it. We’re all painfully human, and we’re all on the same broad highway to getting better. For the twenty-odd years that I was ‘out there’, I was grandiose, psychotic and angry. Your best friend or your worst enemy depending on how far along I was on my drunk that night. That problem has been removed.

Even with two years in, I have a sober history now but I’m proud of my blank slate. I’ve tried very hard to avoid drama when I used to be a magnet for it, to strive for something close to humility when pretension and pomposity used to be the order of the day, and to share a kind word with everyone and look for the good in all of them. Everyone’s heart is in the right place, but there are a few with poor execution skills.

So now I have a sober history to build. I have a few steps left out of twelve to follow, but it’s a clear slide to home plate from here. As someone who’s not exactly a joiner, I feel a kinship with a special brand of fucked-up miscreants, malcontents and rejects eager to reform. I’m where I belong with my other dysfunctional family and their endless supply of interesting stories, rehearsed, polished and otherwise. It’s a big dysfunctional family tree. I’m going to take root, stay for awhile and save my applause for the natural punchlines.

Counting my blessings while lining the cage,

Tom Waters

 

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