|A wise man once told me the two most important words you’ll ever hear in a twelve step meeting are “me too.”
At six years sober I left my small town recovery bubble in Kerrville, TX for a new, exciting job opportunity two hours away in big, cool Austin. It was not an easy decision—I would be leaving friends, hobbies, and most difficult, my four-year-old daughter. Even though I would still spend every other weekend with her, I seriously wondered whether I could be a good dad from two hours away. I soul-searched for weeks—prayed, meditated, journaled, did “pros and cons” lists, sought counsel from anyone who would listen—before the answer became clear. It was time to grow! I knew it in my gut, and all my closest confidants agreed. So I accepted the job and moved to Austin.
I wasn’t in Austin for very long when my world started melting. The move, missing my daughter, a recent rocky break-up following a rather unhealthy relationship, a new job in a new city, all culminated in a deep sadness that lasted longer than I had ever experienced before—I cried every day for months. I lost appetite and lost weight. I couldn’t sleep at night—I would sit up until all hours drinking chamomile tea and chain smoking. It was all I could do to peel myself out of bed in the morning to go to work.
I can still hear my sponsor’s voice: “Kiddo, it sounds like you need to go back to the basics.” I started going to twelve step meetings every day and forced myself to introduce myself during and after the meeting, exchange phone numbers, and USE those phone numbers the following day to make some very awkward phone calls, inviting complete strangers to coffee and a meeting. I prayed and meditated more than I’d ever prayed and meditated before—I’d go home on my lunch break and meditate again. I did thorough nightly inventories. I got a local sponsor that I wore out with my daily phone calls. He fired me. So I got another sponsor. I brought AA meetings to local treatment centers and did a ton of fifth steps. I was looking for any amends I could possibly make. I would read the AA literature and other spiritual texts daily in my very-regimented morning and evening routines. I journaled like a mad man. I exercised daily. After a few months of this with no real relief, and some loving advice, I eventually sought help outside the scope of the 12 steps through psychotherapy and psychiatry. It was a rough time in my life.
In the midst of all this, I was having one of those days where I just couldn’t seem to shake the sadness enough to function. True to one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned from AA, I picked up the phone and called a friend from the program. I don’t remember the content of what I told him; I just remember crying and blubbering to him about how awful I felt. But I will never forget exactly what he told me: “You need to go to an AA meeting right now and share with them exactly what you’re telling me. There’s a men’s meeting starting in 20 minutes at Allandale.” And then he politely and firmly got off the phone.
Another lesson I’ve learned through AA is to listen to the people who love me. When I’m that scrambled, they know better than me. So I went to that meeting, poured myself a cup of black Folgers, and plopped down in a seat in the circle, avoiding eye contact, sure everyone there was sizing up my puffy eyes and assuming I was a newcomer. The meeting commenced. I don’t remember what the topic was, but it was soon evident that it was a “round robin” meeting in which everyone around the table shares. As my turn to share approached I agonized about what to say. I wanted to stay on topic. I wanted my long-term recovery to be a beacon of hope for the newcomer. But I also suspected I was likely incapable of articulating a message of hope within the confines of the topic—I wasn’t even sure I could formulate a complete sentence. And what little hope I had was shriveled and dusty. Whatever came out of my mouth wasn’t going to be pretty.
When it was my turn to share, I tried dancing around the inevitable, taking a stab at the topic as articulately as I could manage while the lump in my throat grew, until finally the dam broke and the tears came spilling out. I don’t even remember what I said–I’m sure it was something about being so scared and angry that I couldn’t shake this crippling sadness no matter how hard I seemed to be working the twelve steps, and that I really didn’t even want to be there; I just didn’t know where else to turn or what else to do, so I took the advice of someone that loved me. Whatever I said was certainly not a tidy package of hope.
As I sputtered incoherently between sobs, something amazing happened—the less I tried to share well, the more I was able to be real and raw. And the more vulnerable I became, the more I connected to the other men in that room—I saw heads nodding, eyes tearing, little verbal “mmm’s” of empathy. And, perhaps most amazingly, after I shared, every man that shared after me shared some version of “me too.” Whether it was “I’ve been there before and it sucked but it will pass and here’s what I did” or “I’m there right now myself, and I’m glad I’m not alone,” every alcoholic in that room had, at some point in their sobriety, felt hopeless and full of despair. The resounding message, over and over, was “You are not alone! Me too!”
I’ve heard it said that humans are empathic creatures that crave connection, and that vulnerability is the only true way to affect that connection. My ego tells me that twelve step meetings are the perfect showcase for my intellect and my “wellness.” It hides behind this false notion that my sobriety should always look and sound good to attract the newcomer. But I’m pretty sure that the most important thing I can share with the newcomer, or anyone else for that matter, is the truth of my experience—the real, raw, beautiful, often ugly truth. I know the truth when I hear it, deep in my stomach. And I can always relate to the next guy’s human experience because it’s my experience too. My bridge to recovery, over and over, was built upon those two little words: “me too.”
Written By: Jeremy Sosa