I wish I could say that it was the “gift of desperation” or the rabid desire for a new life that kept me coming back to the rooms when I was new. But it wasn’t. It was the boys. Oh, the boys…with their smoky breath and ironic t-shirts and tattooed forearms, waxing philosophical about life and spinning tales of desperation, desecration and finally redemption. It was all too sexy and alluring to resist.
I could easily branch off into horror stories about how I was 13th stepped by program quasi-gurus who had double-digit sobriety while I was just stringing days together. I am still envious of the young newcomer girls who are pulled aside by other women and warned about the predatory old timers who wait in anticipation for the next wave of fresh meat. That was never me. I became best friends with another hot newcomer girl and together we went through the 13th step mill, at times sharing some of the same old timers. I think I hooked up with five different people within my first four months, and that’s not counting the occasional rendezvous with an old using buddy.
But I am not crying victim here. I was never raped. I was a willing participant, although at 45 days or even four months, you’re so hungry for attention and distraction that you think you can handle things that you’re clearly not able to in retrospect. Romance took me out of the rooms more times than I’d like to admit. I always relapsed over a boy. I can think of at least four specific times. And, if it wasn’t romance taking me out, it was the lack of romance—the ache of terrible loneliness.
I think dating in the rooms of AA is not unlike hooking up in prison. There is a limited supply of broken people and we recycle each other. So when you break up with somebody, don’t be surprised when they end up dating your sponsor or sponsee. Dating in the program is like fishing in a small toxic pond. And you’ll often hear sayings like, “Odds are good that you’ll meet somebody, but the goods are odd.” And I couldn’t agree more.
When I relapsed for the umpteenth time and ended up with a militant black lesbian for a sponsor, she was very clear that I was not going to fuck my way through the rooms this time around.
“Baby, you only going to go to women’s meetings and gay meetings,” she said.
“But how am I going to get laid going to women’s meetings and gay meetings?” I whined.
“You ain’t. You gonna focus on recovery.”
“Well that sounds boring,” I said.
But I had just come out of a psych ward, and had also just cracked my head open when I fell backwards after having a grand mal seizure when my meds were changed, so I was willing to try it another way. I would go to those uptight “lady” meetings in Beverly Hills and Brentwood where women with bad facelifts and expensive handbags complained about their gardeners. I would go to a Saturday women’s meeting in Crenshaw for lesbians. I was the only white straight Jew in the room and I’d sit in the back cowering, scratching at my stitches.
“Why you sittin’ in the back, Sugar Plum?” my sponsor asked me one day.
“Because I’m scared,” I answered honestly.
“Well,” she told me, “be scared in the front.”
But the desire to escape ourselves is so strong that we can often find a distraction, no matter how slim the pickings. One day at the crusty Brentwood “ladies who lunch” meeting, a tattooed, dark-haired man walked in.
“This is a women’s meeting,” one of the tautly pulled housewives said.
“I am a woman,” the man—who, as it turned out, was a woman—said. And at that moment, I found myself infatuated. I had never been attracted to a woman before but she wasn’t just a woman: she was, when I got to know her, this amazing combination of the best traits of a female best friend with all the machismo and chivalry of a man. She could fix your car and then stay up till 1:30 in the morning eating ice cream and talking about feelings, burning you Tori Amos CD’s. She was what I called “guy light.”
“It would be better,” I told her one night, “if you had a penis. But we can work around that.”
But she never touched me. She didn’t date straight girls, newcomers, or crazy people. And considering I was all three, there wasn’t a chance in hell she was going to turn me out.
“Amy, you are a newcomer. That’s a sanctity I can’t violate.” None of the men in AA had ever said that.
When you’re dating another alcoholic, there is that instant affinity: you both speak the same language of disease and recovery. You both live a lifestyle of sobriety and abstinence. You both go to the same trendy diner after meetings to eat French fries and fellowship. But when it goes bad, as it inevitably does when you’re dealing with two crazy selfish alcoholics, then you’ve accidentally shat where you eat. And then you have to split up territory: “Okay,” you’ll find yourself saying. “I‘ll take the 11:30 meeting and you can have the 4:00 Big Book study.”
Even if you avoid those meetings and drive 45 minutes out to bumfuck where nobody knows your name, word gets out. It’s only a matter of time before he hears how—and who—you’re doing. The “Grapevine” couldn’t be a better metaphor for the growing gossip and intertwining overgrowth that is the fellowship of AA. And let us not forget about the amends that have to be exchanged once the relationship has gone awry.
And yet I met my husband in AA. We had a mutual sober friend who kept the connection going even when our diseases and neuroses kept us—or me—apart. He pursued and pursued, and I rejected and deflected, hating myself too much to respond to anyone who liked me. One day, when I was telling him everything about him that made him not my type, he said, “You really should be nice to me because we are going to end up together.”
He’s not what I would have ever imagined for myself back when I was a distraction-seeking, unhinged newcomer. And thankfully I kept coming back long enough to figure out that he was right.
This piece originally appeared on The Fix, a website about addiction and recovery. Amy Dresner is a sober comedian who liberally pulls material from her depressive illness and drug addiction. She performs all over Los Angeles and is also on a national recovery tour called “We Are Not Saints.”