Invasion of the Meeting Snatchers

By Dana Bowman 07/08/16

What do you do when someone you know from the outside invades YOUR meeting?

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Not here...

When my husband and I moved to our small town, we headed out that very evening for a late night bike ride. We wanted to scope out our tiny, midwestern, rather Grover’s Corners new home, and I wanted to find out if the liquor store was still open. And then, as we rode our bikes on the wide bike trail, I saw it, looming up above us in the sky. A grain elevator. I lived in a town with a grain elevator. 

I used to live in the city, the kind that had lots of tall buildings all over the place. And now, a grain elevator would be the only structure blocking my horizon. I had to stop my bike and just stand there, staring at it. It glowed, tall and white in the moonlight, and my husband circled back.

“I actually live in a town with a grain elevator,” I said, rather stupidly. 

“Yes,” he said. “This here town also has electricity, and they drive them new-fangled automobiles too.”

Nine years later, I am still living with my grain elevator. Also, I am living my life sober, which is quite a miracle too. 

Small towns have meetings, and mine was directly down my block. I avoided this meeting for some three years, ignoring its annoying proximity and also ignoring the fact that, yes, even Grover’s Corners harbored alcoholics in recovery. But, after attending a fabulous meeting in a town some thirty minutes away for over three years, my recovery did what it usually does: It decided to take things up a notch.

Taking it up a notch is annoying. But, as I did it for decades as a drinker, now I can do it as a sober person. My drinking slowly escalated from a daily glass of wine to hiding boxes of the cheap stuff in my laundry room and drinking warm vodka out of my kids’ plastic tumblers because I kept breaking the glasses. I know “taking it up a notch” well, but this time, it was a good (but scary) thing. This time, it meant attending the meeting down the street in the little white house by the college. 

So, on a Wednesday night, I grabbed my keys, my phone and my knitting bag, and took a deep breath. “Well, here I go,” I said to the husband. “I’m going. Just down the street. So, if you need me… I’ll be…“ I gestured weakly towards the college. “You know, right over there.” Brian was feeding dinner to the boys, trying to get our youngest to like broccoli, plying him with ladles full of ranch dressing, the gateway dressing for veggies. He looked up briefly and smiled, “Okay!” and went back to negotiations. I stood there, awkwardly. This was a Big Deal. I was doing something Brave. I needed a standing ovation, for Pete’s sake. Instead, Charlie waved a broccoli spear at me and shot more ranch dressing across the room, and I decided to leave before I lost my courage and started wiping down the kitchen. 

And then I walked past seven houses, and up the front sidewalk, and right on into the little white house. It was all rather anti-climactic. 

The meeting in the little white house is now my happy place. It has about eight regular attenders—mostly the geezer type, mostly men, and all beloved. I find Paul in his usual spot right by the door, spouting every profanity possible in his man-talk before we start, but as soon as he speaks in the meeting itself, he turns into a male version of Brené Brown. He’s a philosopher and a gratitude guru.

Sam sits in the corner, a bespectacled ex-seminary guy whose smile and peace are intoxicating. I love Sam. I think, perhaps, he is my recovery Santa, spreading good cheer and magic whenever I see him. I have never seen Sam not joyful, but somehow he still manages to not be annoying about it. I usually find happy people irritating, but pretty much anything Sam would say, I would write up on a bumper sticker and smack it on my car. He’s that good. 

Then there is Sarah and Glen. They are married, with silver hair and sweet smiles and lots of recovery between them. Glen wears small circle glasses, and he looks like that dude from the Grateful Dead—the one who made all the ice cream. Sarah just looks beautiful, in flowing clothes and silver jewelry that matches her hair. Occasionally she drops the F-bomb. It accents her well. 

And then, there is Saul. And I know him. From outside.

This was the whole reason I avoided this little meeting in the first place; I had a terrible fear that as soon as I walked in the door someone would stand up and point at me, like Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and start howling at me in horror. Instead, Saul just looked at me and smiled in an impish way, as if to say, “Welcome, friend. You can relax now.” 

Small town life means you are constantly bumping up against other folks. We can’t help ourselves. The grocery, and the post office, and coffee shop? They only have so much room, and it seems my other friends and neighbors in this town like groceries and coffee just as much as I do. When we first moved here, I was teaching at the middle school, and each visit to Scott’s Grocers turned into a parent-teacher conference. We would discuss homework and reading levels back by the deli counter, and I would find myself ducking in and out of aisles, throwing canned green beans into the cart in a bit of a panic, just trying to get out of the store before I had to analyze another kid’s GPA. But after a while, I got used to it, and came to accept that I might be asked to re-explain my grading criteria about an analysis of “The Road Not Taken” while I was buying feminine products. Acceptance is key.

This small town thing had to apply to meetings. It took some time for me to relax, but as time passed, Saul was not the only one I knew who would walk through the little white house’s door. I came to understand a weird but necessary dynamic that occurs at meetings. In the world outside the little white house, we are all just a bunch of Clark Kents, but yet we know our capes are tucked away. If regarded with gratitude, it sort of feels like we are all part of some secret club, like the ones with secret handshakes and code words that we created back when we were kids.

Except this secret club keeps us alive. 

Saul and I rarely talked about how we knew each other outside the meeting, or the threads that connected us. Instead, we discussed our recovery and how to keep going at it, even when we were tired. He has considerably more time sober than I do, so I listen to him and lean in. And it is okay. 

And I thought, “You know, seeing people I know at meetings? Not a problem at all.”

All this well-being got to experience being taken up a notch, though, when The Student came in.

I taught Devin in seventh and eighth grade, so many years ago. And one night, there he was, a cigarette stuck behind his ear, and with the same affable smile, sitting across from me at my meeting. He was in my meeting. MY meeting. 

I couldn’t really make eye contact. It was all too weird. This was the kid that never turned in his work and was a goofy class clown in my literature class. And here we were, in the same alcoholic boat, and my ego was sparking out all over the place. I made this kid read Robert Frost, for Pete’s sake. I corrected his spelling. I can’t possibly be sitting next to him discussing my recovery.

The kid started to talk, and I leaned back and considered my options. I couldn’t really run screaming from the room, and the kid was way too young to have seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so howling at him was out. I was stuck. Devin spoke in a soft drawl that made us all lean in to hear him. He fiddled with the lighter in his hand, and stretched his long legs out in front of him. “I really like being here with you awesome people.” I shot a glance at him from the corner of my eye. There was that wide smile again, and he twirled the lighter on the table. 

I expect sarcasm from young people. This assumption is based on twenty years of teaching teenagers, and also from my own snarky-ness that’s been built in since I was an embryo. I figured Devin was just messing with us, that he was attending tonight due to court orders and that our “awesomeness” was debatable. But, as he continued to talk, I found out that he was there on his own accord. And, also, he seemed to love this group as much as I did. “I’ve been sober now for almost thirty days. And, you know? It’s been really good. I find myself wanting to actually, like, talk to my little sister. And I don’t seem to get really pissed off within seconds anymore. People, like, actually wanna be around me.” We nodded. And then, he said, 

“I know I’m the youngest dude here, but to me? We’re the same. We’re all just the same. And I thank you for the help.” 

So the student becomes the teacher, after all. We are all so different, we addicts. 

And, we are all so very much the same.

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