Lying, Pills, and Dirty Chips

By Hannah Sward 10/25/17

“Today I have something to say. I’ve been lying the whole time.” His voice lowered to almost a whisper, “I’ve been taking pills the whole time and keeping it a secret.”

A woman sits at a table with coffee, head on hand, across from a man.
When I first came into the program I didn’t know anything about AA. I didn’t comprehend what ‘sober’ meant.

I took a dirty chip at the red carpet of meetings in the Palisades. The meeting where there’s a variety of ten canisters of Starbuck’s and every flavored creamer: Sumatra, Columbian Supreme, Hazelnut. A buffet of fruit salad with mango and blackberries; poppy seed, raisin, and gluten-free bagels.

200 people sitting in metal chairs facing a stage where a young woman stood.

“Anyone celebrating 60 days of sobriety?” she asked.

I didn’t want to take a chip but my sponsor at the time nudged me. “Do it for the newcomer,” she said. “Show that it can be done.”

I’ll never forget walking down that aisle towards the stage, everyone clapping as I was handed a magenta chip. As I made my way back to my seat, people shook my hand.

“Good job.”


“You are a miracle.”

I wanted to keep on walking. Walk straight out that back door.

A beautiful, older movie star was the speaker that day. While she shared her story, I stared at my chip. In gold lettering it read, ‘60 days. To Thy Own Self Be True.’

When I first came into the program I didn’t know anything about AA. I didn’t comprehend what ‘sober’ meant. I just knew I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing, drinking Two Buck Chuck wine and snorting meth out of a McDonald’s straw. I thought sobriety meant as long as I got my head to the pillow without drinking or using I was sober.

During my first month in the program I was invited to a wedding in Hawaii. On top of being incredibly anxious about not drinking at the wedding, I was also worried about eating too much cake.

In the rooms people kept telling me, “Expect to gain ten pounds during your first year, everybody does.”

I was adamant that wouldn’t be me. I got extra strict with my diet. But wedding cake? When there’s cake around there’s no controlling myself. All I could think was how am I going to resist that huge, beautiful mound of sugar and not drink at the same time?

Adderall. Cake problem solved. And it worked. I made it through without eating or drinking.

About a week later I was at a meeting in West Hollywood. It was a hot LA day. I sat in that stuffy room feeling trapped by the warm, stagnant air. I didn’t want to be there. I was about to leave the meeting early when a man with a scruffy beard, red striped shirt stained with sweat under his armpits raised his hand and began to share. Something in the sound of his shaky, hesitant voice made me stay.

“I’ve been coming to meetings for seven years and I can’t do it anymore,” he said. “Today I have something to say. I’ve been lying the whole time.” His voice lowered to almost a whisper, “I’ve been taking pills the whole time and keeping it a secret.”

I don’t remember what else he said or anything else about that meeting. Only his words, the heat in the room, his sweat stained shirt and again, his words. Pills, lying, dirty cakes. I didn’t know until then that me taking Adderall was not sober. I thought about all the dirty chips I had taken without knowing it. But now that I did know, I knew I should tell my sponsor. Come clean. Start over. But I didn’t. I kept on taking the pills. For the next few weeks, I continued taking Adderall and I knew exactly what I was doing. Every time I opened the drawer where I kept the little white pills next to the pottery dish full of newcomer chips, I felt bad. One bad day after another.

My sponsor at the time drove an hour from East Los Angeles to the red carpet meeting in the Palisades, stopping to pick me up on the way. She was a screenwriter and I think she was hoping to make connections there. She had 13 years but no sponsor. At the time, I didn’t know it was important to choose a sponsor with a sponsor and my picker was off. I mainly went to gay meetings made up of mostly men and she was the first woman I heard speak.

The day I took the dirty magenta chip, my sponsor came in to use the restroom when she dropped me off at home. She shut the door to the pink tiled bathroom. I sat on the couch, staring at the painting my stepfather had made hanging on the wall. ‘When the pain gets too great we change’ it read in white typewriter lettering against darker colors. Tears formed in my eyes so the words blurred together. The bathroom door opened and I looked at my sponsor: frizzy short hair, thick leather wrist cuff, ruddy cheeks, stocky frame planted strong. Tears streamed down my cheeks.

“I have something to tell you,” I said.

My fingertips felt cold, body shaky. She didn’t say anything.

“I’ve been taking Adderall,” I said, not looking up.

All I remember is her pacing around the room like a Bull Dog. She was so angry. I started to really cry, hard, so ashamed. Heart racing, I wanted her out.

“Where are they?” she asked, staring at me. “Where are the pills?”

I opened the top drawer of my desk and took out a tiny porcelain jar with an etching of a rose on it. My grandmother had given it to me before she died.

Flushing the pills down the toilet my sponsor said, “Get in the car, I’m taking you to a meeting.”

I sat in the front seat next to her, staring out the window through my tears. She dropped me off at the Club Med meeting across the street from La Brea Tar Pits.

“Find yourself a ride home,” she said and she drove off.

I never saw or talked to her again after that.

I walked into that meeting, took a seat and cried the whole time. I raised my hand as a newcomer and shared. Shared exactly what happened.

Afterwards an older red headed woman in a yellow blazer put her arm around me and said, “Honey, it’s going to be okay. I’m taking you for pizza.”

And that was it. Nothing else was said about it. I didn’t feel judged or shamed, I felt accepted. I sat in the pizza place across the street with her and a few other people from the meeting. We ate deep-crusted pizza topped with pineapple and basil. Picking the warm pineapple off I listened to them talk. I don’t remember what they were talking about, maybe the movies, the weather. It doesn’t matter. What does matter, what stays with me to this day so clearly seven years later is the memory of the red headed woman putting her arm around me, not judging me, telling me it was going to be okay and taking me out to pizza. That was all I needed. It was everything.

I still have that same pottery dish that was filled with dirty chips in my top drawer but now it’s filled with clean chips and seven medallions.

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Hannah Sward’s work has been widely published in literary journals in the US, Canada and the UK. She was Editor and Columnist at Third Street Villager Los Angeles. Her most recent work can be read in Porter Gulch Review 2017,, Other Voices (CND), Vagabonds: Anthology of The Mad Ones 2016, Alimentum, Rozlyn: Anthology of Women Writers 2015, Erotic Review and Word Riot. She has written a collection of linking short stories, Queenie Goes to Bosnia and Other Stories and a memoir, Strip. Follow Hannah on Twitter.