Updated: Oct 27
...is Galt A. who is celebrating one year of sobriety and completing the 12 Steps.
“Thank you, Ed for your kind introduction.
Ask one hundred people in a twelve step program which step they think is the hardest and you’ll get one hundred different answers — no shit. There are only twelve steps but there are infinite answers about where the struggle lies.
I say there are only twelve steps but there are really fourteen: step zero is showing up to the meeting; for many this is also step one (admitting you have a problem), but people on parole or who come with papers to sign, they haven’t taken step one.
Step one was easy for me — it’s not hard to see you have a problem when you look around and see the mess you’ve let your life become; I mean, it felt like I was living in a forgotten mausoleum where dust and dead flowers overtook the dim room… so one day I said ‘to hell with living this way,’ found a meeting on the internet, and showed up.
‘Hi my name is Galt,’ everyone coughs there because they want to say their last name but you can’t, ‘and I have a problem’: this beautiful format creates a sense of welcoming and community as people inevitably clap, pat you on the back, or say things like ‘keep coming back’ or ‘it works if you work it’ — but best is the old timer who stands up and puts his hand on your shoulder and says, ‘this is why we are here! For the newcomer.’
Many people go out and use, or drink, or buy, or screw, or gamble, or whatever, after their first meeting and I thought I wouldn’t be one of them, but lo and behold, not two hours after feeling like the crown prince of prodigal sons, I was back at it and with a shame that never hit me before — yeah I knew I wanted to stop but it didn’t occur to me the damage I was doing.
Steps two through seven were easy; I grabbed a sponsor at my next meeting and afterward we went out for coffee (like any movie or tv show will indicate happens after a twelve step meeting) and right there in the booth I admitted I was powerless, I turned my will over to the power of the group as my higher power, I listed off my defects of character (bored, impatient, erratic, over-planner, hoarder, nostalgic, and so on) as he wrote them down, in telling him (Herman) I also told myself and god the exact nature of my wrongs, we held hands as I cried across the untouched menus, and we prayed for my higher power to remove all of my shortcomings — and they were gone.
Herman sent me home that day of step eight — I made a list of all the people I had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all — and I did my job to fidelity: a one-hundred-page notebook filled with my injurious activities, and as satisfying as it was to complete, I was also energized — and I know, I know, I’m supposed to say ‘triggered’ but it wasn’t triggering, it was morbid libido, which is why I’m able to tell who is ready to get sober and who isn’t, see, people who want to get sober aren’t having fun anymore.
I called Herman and no answer, so then down the call list looking for anyone who would stop me but no one did; and I know that it was no one’s responsibility to stop me, but this is why I leave my phone on — I don’t want someone new going back out like me.
I took my list with me and I went to the park and saw a man walking his dog and yelled, ‘hey brother wait up’ and he stopped; I opened my notebook and said, ‘I just joined a twelve step program and I’m trying to make amends’ and he just kinda stood there confused so I continued, ‘one, Sarah Shuman, 6th grade, head smashed with a rock by the river…’ oh, I was making him nervous but I was in a kind of drunken stupor.
In AA they talk about the ‘pink cloud’ that everyone gets on when the excitement of sobriety kicks in and all they want to do is share the good feeling, tell all their business, and recruit; well, I was on the red cloud, which like the pink cloud, is easy to get knocked off of if a setback occurs — a setback like a stranger not wanting to be a sounding board.
So, ‘some guy in the park’ became ‘782, some guy in the park, head smashed with rock behind the bench because he didn’t want to hear about how Sarah Shuman made me show her mine but didn’t show me hers’ which was difficult to write in the dark with blood covered fingers and on the inside of the back cover.
The next day Herman came over and remarked on the state of my apartment: ‘bloodstains, bones, mold cat food, dishes, dust, a mummified corpse… Galt,’ he told me, ‘if you want to change the way you live you’re gonna have to change the way you live’ and then he started cleaning my apartment and said there would be ‘nothing to say until there was space to say it.’
Cleaning was traumatic… I felt robbed… like someone stole a family heirloom… these were pieces… of… people I had held on to… it was how I remembered them… after.
On my clean coffee table Herman said, ‘if you don’t know their name or any way to find their family, highlight them in pink; if you can easily find or get in contact with their loved ones, put a star by their name… I’ll sit with you while you work.’
They say AA is ‘spiritual kindergarten’ but I guess all twelve step programs are because at the end of the day we had 782 names narrowed down to five kinds of action steps: 1) living amends (meaning don’t murder anyone else), 2) a donation in the person’s name (if no living friend or family can be found), 3) meet a friend or family member and offer some closure (if a cover story would be believable), 4) continue an act of service as meditation on my actions, or 5) if their loved ones are still deeply suffering, kill them and add them to the list.
Oh, and of course I had to take care of J.G. (John Wayne Gassy, the minipin) from the park; Herman told me that normally you have only a plant on year one, a pet on year two, then date on year three… but considering the situation lil’ J.G is an act of amends.