How I Became The Manager of My Sober Living House

By Amy Dresner 10/16/15

Twenty years after entering my first sober living, I'm running one.

Managing the Sober Loving

So coming full circle I’m now managing the sober living I lived at for two and a half years. No, the owner hasn’t lost her mind. Everybody calm down. It’s only for three weeks.

I won’t lie. It is weird to be here. It’s like being back at your old high school. Sure you’re the principal now but you still have flashbacks about being the uber depressed goth girl as you walk down the halls. It was a tough time for me when I lived here: divorce, community labor, whooping cough and a parade of strange roommates.

All the girls currently in the house are in their 20s, which I’ll admit doesn’t bring out my most mature side. I could be their mother even though I dress like their little brother. One night I’m wedged between two of them as we binge-watch Mr. Robot. They both text incessantly, when they aren’t laughing about how their moms freaked out when they turned 40. “My dad put tombstones in the front yard,” one young junkie girl says, laughing. Oh isn’t that hilaaaarious…. 

Within the first four days, it looks like I’ve definitely killed the manager’s plants. They don’t seem to like my chronic vaping. I quickly hatch a plan to replace the plants if they suicide before she gets back. But they survive and so do all the junkies, I mean "girls." 

Being here is a reminder of how crazy and fragile you are when you're in your 20s when you're newly sober. Everything is a huge deal. There’s lots of crying and defiance. It’s like herding cats….cats that were addicted to heroin. 

I think back to my first sober living. I was 24 years old, two months off of an almost two-year methamphetamine run. The place was a converted pink convent near Olympic run by a nun, Sister Margaret. I was the youngest resident, the only Jew and the only drug addict. The house was decorated, much to my dismay, with dried flowers and graven images of the Virgin Mary. Sister Margaret hated me. But she hated my car even more: a red '69 Dodge Charger with primer and no side windows that made a horrible rumbling sound you could hear from blocks away. I’d bought it when I’d been up on speed for four days. Some kid in Compton had tricked it out with racing gear and when I went to have it smogged, the guy opened the hood, saw the maze of chrome intestines and just laughed. But with an extra $100 and some eyelash batting and it “officially” passed the smog test.  

Sister Margaret was the living embodiment of Mrs. Doubtfire with perfect grey-coiffed hair, a high voice, and horrendous housedresses. She’d been sober forever and I was always fascinated by the idea of an alcoholic nun. Guzzling the Mass wine perhaps? Anyway, she was a real star fucker, with big sober Hollywood actors on her “Board of Trustees.” Whenever she would host her “garden parties” (read: fundraisers), she would send me away for the day. She didn’t want me in my short '70s dresses and no underwear, angrily stomping around in thigh-high platform boots with a cigarette perpetually stuck in my mouth, ruining her pristine reputation. Unsurprisingly, I was kicked out after four months for being “non-compliant.” When I wasn’t flipping her off with my long opalescent acrylic nails, I was crying incessantly. I was back to being me in the world with no buffer and I just couldn’t handle it. So yeah, I get it, girls.

It’s nice and dare I say shocking to be considered trustworthy and responsible enough to be handling somebody else’s money, credit cards, mail and home. But it’s strange when you were one of the girls in the house that they confided in and would make pacts with, like “Don’t tell the manager”…and now you are the fucking manager.  

In general, the gig turns out to be more stressful than I expected with an unforeseen ant invasion, a plumbing problem and a city ordinance violation, all while trying to juggle four writing projects, my own program and playing den mother and parole officer to three newly sober chicks. 

They think because I crash early (I have an 8:30 am start time moonlighting for an evolutionary-based advice columnist) that I won’t know if they blow curfew. But I do. When one girl is a bit late, I just pull her aside and say, “Listen. I was a wild cat when I lived here and I never blew curfew. Not once. So you have no excuse not to be back on time. Don’t make me police you. I’m too old for this shit and so are you.”

I only have a measly two years sober and some change compared to the house manager who has over a decade in recovery and a black belt in Al-Anon. In addition, she’s a lady and a mother and well, let’s just say we have different approaches. Hers is more “Hey, are you coming to the meeting? It’s time," delivered with a posh British accent and a smile. Mine is more Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: “Let’s go, assholes. Meeting time!” or “Nobody’s getting loaded on my watch!” She is maternal and concerned, “I’m worried about you. We need to talk." I’m more “Hey, if you need to talk I’m here. If not, journal or cut yourself. And Tinder worked wonders for me.” And because I’ve been there (am still there?), they take to it and weepingly confess their boy dilemmas or thoughts of relapse. No good deed goes unpunished. 

Tonight is my last night here and then I’m off on my next adventure. I sheepishly realized at the weekly speaker house meeting that I was wearing a vintage Budweiser shirt. Not sure this is the right job for me. But if you can’t be a good example, be a warning, I’ve always heard.

Amy Dresner is a columnist at The Fix.

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