Last night at my men’s meeting there were two birthdays. Jeff had six years, and Rick had thirty. Jeff is always faux-pissed that his birthday gets overshadowed by Rick’s. Both are great guys. And it’s wonderful to be in the room when guys are celebrating. Not that there’s a big party or anything. In fact, Rick spoke at the meeting, and then the rest of us took the piss out of him for 45 minutes. I commented that between Steve and me, added together, we’d been 13 when Rick got sober. I received a hearty “fuck you” for that, and the room laughed at both ends.
Many newcomers, or visitors to open meetings, are astonished at how much laughter there is in the meetings. I was taken aback myself. When most people first come in to the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, they’re in pretty bad shape. I certainly was. And the idea that people who’ve suffered the same thing as we have could laugh like they do, it’s perplexing. Sometimes I got angry. I wanted to shout: “What’s so fucking funny?” Of course, now I get it. There’s so much that’s only funny in a room full of ex-drunks.
The very concept of celebrating is a bit foreign to me. I have never enjoyed celebrating actual birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. They seem so arbitrary and pointless. “Congratulations, you have failed to die for another year!” It’s a useless, stupid thing to celebrate a biological birthday as far as I’m concerned. And yet, I admit that I do appreciate it when people at least note it and call, or mention it in person. But no more than that. I’d be actually angry at someone who planned a party for me.
But I do celebrate my AA anniversary. Because it matters. Because it’s not about me. I know that might sound absurd. How is my own anniversary, of the time that I spent sober, not about me?
I don’t really have any more time sober than anyone else reading this who hasn’t had a drink yet today. All I am is guy who got up this morning and hasn’t had a drink yet. I’m planning on keeping it that way. And I’m not much fussed about tomorrow. And I’ve done that same thing - gotten up, not had a drink, and gone back to bed in the evening - 1,551 times in a row. Each one its own day. Nothing particularly special about any of them, after the twelfth (the day I had my last craving). And that’s a good thing.
But that time could be incredibly special, incredibly valuable to someone walking in to the meeting for the first time, or struggling with a desire to drink that day. When I first came in to the rooms, and I met a person with a year sober, I was awed. I couldn’t fathom what it must be like to go so long. Two years ago, I went back to the rehab where I dried out and spoke, and led a class. I saw the same amazement in the eyes of the people there that had been in my own heart two years prior.
When Rick, who is 58 years old and has now been sober a significant bit more than half his life, celebrates his 30 years in the program, and is happy, and comfortable, and at peace with his life and surroundings, I see hope. Maybe I don’t need to pay attention to the actual birthday any more, but I need to see what it looks like for people with time sober. I need to see how we progress through life and confront it well. I need to hear him talk about how the program keeps him right today, so that I remember that I don’t ever graduate from AA. I can’t get complacent. I follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before.
Today someone I know, brand new to the program, is celebrating 30 days. I’m incredibly proud of them. I hope they take the time to celebrate some today. Not just for themselves. But for the person walking through the door, with one day, who can’t imagine going to bed that night without a drink. Get that big bronze coin, and hold on to it.
In science, there’s a lot of jockeying for credit. Having a shiny CV and a couple of glass statuettes with your name engraved on them is a sign of respect and success. And I want all that, absolutely. Unquestionably. But in AA we measure it differently. My sobriety is not a reflection on me. It’s a reflection on the program, on the people who went before me. On the network, the sustaining community. If you like, on a higher power. But not on me. Because I established, very conclusively, that I deserve no credit for my sobriety. Because I absolutely cannot stay sober on my own.
My own thinking, desire, ambition, effort? Those things end up with me drunk and useless and dying. So I celebrate my sober anniversary. Not to elevate myself, but to show others that as a community, we are not limited by our addictions. That by following a path others have cut, and by continuing to tend that path, more of us can recover. Because I didn’t make this way. But I am its steward now. It’s my responsibility to light the way.