Monday, November 20, 2006

The AA Prom

Last Saturday was the annual Bill W. dinner dance, better known as the AA prom. A thousand or so alcoholics gathered in an anonymous midtown hotel wearing heels, jewels and tuxes to toast water and dance to wedding tunes.

I began the evening bitter and uncomfortable. Nothing could go right. My dress was too revealing. I forgot my fishnets. My pedicure was chipped. I didn't have time to shower so my hair clung flat to the side of a face that looked smeared in Vaseline. I was late. My table was filled with women who didn't like me. No one at my table smiled. The guest to my right leaned over my dinner plate spitting out her words as she eagerly discussed the weather with my BFF. The dried up chicken and fingerling potatoes were practically thrown from greasy trays by clearly underpaid and overworked wait staff. I cringed to think of the effect of this insensitive treatment of the food in a room filled with addicts and control freaks. Worst of all, I was growing increasingly defensive at every word that came out of any one's mouth.

But before my mind could mentally masturbate to self analysis, the lights lowered and a series of speakers began to tell their AA stories on center stage. It was then that the AA miracle happened.

Serenity slowly filled the room like a slow haze of smoke that lowers with the light of each new cigarette. The first speaker reminded me that it is my primary purpose in life to not drink and help another alcoholic. I looked down at my crossed arms and defensive posture when she explained the importance of asking the 'God in her' to see 'the God in you'. Speaker number two was similarly filled with gratitude. AA and the people in that room had allowed him to be a father to his daughter and saved him from certain death.

Speaker three told my story. He was a people pleaser that took his first drink to fit in and be cool. He continued to drink to please those around him, until he was no longer making a choice. He crossed the threshold. And he couldn't stop despite the pain and loss. "I didn't get in trouble every time I drank. But every time I got in trouble, alcohol was involved." Drunk, he always had excuses. But once he found AA, he began to be the solution.

When all of the speakers had finished, I looked down to see my arms had loosened from the vice grip of my arm pits. Their words had taken me out of my head. My worries had dissolved in the clarity of their own superficiality. I no longer wanted to glare at the women around me. I decided to try and make them feel comfortable, rather than expecting them to ease my discomfort. The speakers had left me with an overwhelming gratitude. My friends, the relationship with my family, my career, my self esteem, were all gifts of sobriety. I shook off the selfish child from earlier in the evening and replaced her with the confident loving woman I knew I had become.

It was as if I had come back from the ladies room and entered a completely different party.

I learned that in AA. You can always start a day over. You can always come back.

As my mood lightened, tables were moved out of the room and a DJ began spinning Saturday Night Fever. An odd assortment of young and old, blind and deaf, black and white, rich and poor, healthy and sick, all danced to the beats of a 70's grind. Girls popped out of their tops, men did the splits while imitating Michael Jackson, a girl fainted on the dance floor, another swayed to her iPod headphones, my sober friends and I danced until our clothes were soaked through with sweat.

There are good dancers. There are suave and sophisticated men and women that turn dance clubs into cat walks. But the kind of dancing that has no boundaries will always be my favorite. And that is the kind of dancing that this group of drunks performed last Saturday night. Our sweaty bodies and potent BO filled the room with the stench of freedom reserved for the kind of people who had once balanced precariously on the edge of hell, but for some unknown reason, had not been swallowed. Being spared, they savored this uncensored moment of stolen time as if it could very well be their last.

Not everyone in that room will be back next year. Odds tell me that 200 of the thousand will die or pick up the drink again before we meet back here next year. So for now, I feel privileged to have shared their company. I feel priveleged to have shared the moment.

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posted by Pop Culture Casualty @ 11/20/2006 11:32:00 PM |

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