Celia never seemed to put more than a few months together clean. A complete failure at recovery. Not worth the 24-hour, 30-day and occasional 60-day aluminum chips she was picking up with regularity. At least that’s what some thought.
The short, short cutoff jeans. The barely-there blouses. For the healthy ones in the rooms, clothes were clothes. Many hearkened back to younger years when they could pull off showing a little more skin. But to the sick? Well she was just asking for whatever came her way, sobriety be damned. Or were they so self-absorbed that Celia’s recovery wasn’t even a factor?
“There ain’t anything in the first hundred and sixty-four about not 13th Stepping,” Mike—30-years sober and a regular “Big Book Thumper”—tried to explain when I tried raising a concern about the behavior of some in our group. I paused. I thought of Celia. I remembered a few years back when I first met her. Married, two years sober, and a brand new baby girl. She had a little spark in her eyes. Then her husband relapsed. Beat her up pretty good. Left her to fend for herself and her infant daughter.. Her mom stepped in and took the baby. Celia? Well, she was on her own.
“You know what Mike?” I replied, “I’ve read the first hundred and sixty-four a few times myself. It also doesn’t say anything about not ass-raping children. But I’m guessing the founders weren’t down with that.”
It’s been almost twelve years since I sobered up. I’ve divorced in sobriety. I’ve found love in sobriety. I have been happily married for nine years and counting in sobriety.
I have no moral compunction against forming relationships in the rooms of recovery. But 13th Stepping? Men and women with time preying on the newcomers? Well, that has about as much in common with healthy relationships as cast iron skillets have with evening wear.
I remember the story my wife tells of the not-so-gentle guidance she got from her sponsor when she first got sober. “They say no relationships for the first year. For you, let’s call it two years. As sick as you are anyone who would want you would have to be really sick!”
Not that my wife was immune to the predators who slink around meetings. 10-, 20-, 30-years. It made no difference. She was living on a woman’s sofa the first five months of her recovery. There were unsolicited offers of rides and meals. There was even an offer of a new wardrobe, convertible BMW and a condo in a Honolulu high-rise by a married man who “just wanted to help.”
“Can I have a sugar daddy,” she asked her sponsor. “No!,” came the curt reply. “But I think God sent him to help me.” “No, God sent me to help you, and if you do it you’ll get drunk and loaded.”
Forty-seven years sober when she passed, my wife’s sponsor had seen it all. The healthy ones didn’t prey on newcomers. They stayed at arms-length and encouraged sobriety to take root.
She was more than happy to let my wife make a gay meeting her home group. “‘I didn’t have anything ‘the boys’ wanted,” my wife recalls, “But they loved me anyways.”
But wait a minute. Aren’t women like Celia equal partners in the disposable hookups they find themselves in?
“When we are out there running and gunning we are in survival mode,” my wife—who ran the streets for a decade—explains. “We snare and use anyone who stumbles across our path. When we first get sober we are still in survival mode. That’s why I tell the women I work with to give themselves a break. Learn to take care of yourself first. Find a relationship with yourself and a higher power. Sick attracts sick. Healthy attracts healthy.”
So I’m not hear to preach. Lord knows I have plenty to work on. But come on folks. Male or female. Straight or gay. If you have time, act like it. Leave the newcomer in peace. Share your experience, strength and hope. Not your leftover moves from the singles’ bar.
Celia? What became of her? There were the menboys who passed her around. They had time. When she inevitably started jabbing a needle in her arm again they bailed on her.
There were the women who shunned her. Celia was young and pretty. That brought out scorn and judgement in some.
But then there were those who offered fellowship… no strings attached. Men who offered encouragement at arms length. Strong, sober women who shared their stories of finding themselves… their strength… their hope. At times she listened.
She eventually moved two states away. She moved back home. She got sober there the first time. More of a return to sanity, less of a geographic. At least that’s what I like to tell myself.
The 13th steppers? They still come around. They still pick up chips… the brass ones. They still sit on the sidelines, swilling their coffee and scanning the room.
Occasionally they spew their version of sobriety. Cliches and tired stories. A watered down message of recovery. A message that says: “I got mine. You? You’re on your own.”