Fear, loneliness and Texas Hold’em

A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum …

Last night was kind of a milestone in my sober-living life. See, there’s this group of guys that’s been getting to together for poker every Friday night after my home group meeting. Mitch, Mitch, Mitch, Mitch all gather at Mitch’s house to play Texas Hold’em with a buy-in of $5.

Author’s note: Because of the secretive nature of the Program and the Fellowship, I’ve taken to naming every guy I meet in the Program “Mitch”. It just seems to be a good all-purpose name and if I use it for every guy, thus, anonymity.

It was my first time meeting with this group of guys. Well, let me amend. It was my first time meeting with any group of guys in sobriety other than my housemates. A good bunch of Mitches for the most part, but I have known I need to expand my social world for a little while. I’ve known about the game for awhile but always seemed to have planned something for after the Friday night meeting. Now that I am out of work and out of school, I promised myself this week I was gonna ask Mitch about it. Turns out, Mitch wanted to talk to me.

“Have you ever thought about chairing this meeting?”

I hadn’t. I told myself a couple weeks back that I wanted to read the first 164 pages of the Big Book again before I would do two things 1) Chair a meeting and 2) Take on a sponsee. Both are vital ways to stay engaged in the Program and be of service to others. And believe me, I’ve had some strange experiences with both. From guys who wanted to work the first three steps outside their car and thrusting themselves at friends of mine like drunken prom dates desperate to become someone’s sponsor, to guys who thought chairing a meeting was somehow a position of honor and privilege and worthy of inherent awe and respect. I didn’t precisely know what to expect from either role, but I knew I wanted to get through the most vital part of the Big Book before I did either.

“Well, you should finish that job and then start chairing the meeting. It would be you and Mitch and Mitch as co-chairs (that last “Mitch” is a woman. Damn I’m good at the anonymity stuff) I accepted the invitation. Equally important, I said I wanted to play cards this week and they all said “Sure.” So I got directions to Mitch’s house (different Mitch) and drove over there last night. And you know what, it was just a bunch of guys/Mitches playing Texas Hold’em but, and this is where it gets a little strange, no possible chance of somebody drinking too much and starting a fight or accusing another player of cheating or yakking on the chips. No emotions running high, so no fights. No booze, so no yakking. And If someone is cheating, they deserve to win because all the other players are just as sober.

After the game (I broke even. Another thing about sober Hold’em, nobody gives away their “tell” because again, they’re just as sober as you are. It’s like watching statues play chess. Nobody gives away a goddamn thing) I was talking to Mitch about my current situation. What with having a friend recently back out of our plan to live together, but also about not having a job and all the frustration and impatience that goes with that. Because we’ve been listening to each other talk in meetings for many months, he listened politely to my idea of getting a place by myself after I did get a job, then proceeded to politely rip me a new one.

“I lived at the Bradley House for 3 years before me and Mitch got a place together. I did that because I knew I needed accountability in my life. With you coming up on 18 months ….” He said and shook his head. 18 months to 2 years is the sweet spot for relapsing. You’ve been sober long enough to be out of the woods. You’ve also been sober long enough to think bad ideas are good ideas. You don’t think you’ve got your addiction licked exactly, but you do think that you’ve got enough of a handle on it to think you can maintain that handle without help. In short, your addiction starts playing tricks with your mind to get you to slip up. Pondering getting a place by myself, with a new job (that is, when I find said new job) probably ranks in the top three of worst ideas a newbie can have, the other two being leaving the country or attempting time-travel. Staying put for now is just prudent. Where I live now, there are two mammoth demons held at bay every day by my housemates. One is the loneliness that inevitably comes with living alone. And the other is fear. Fear of trying to do this myself. Fear of the boredom that would lurk around every corner. Fear of getting cocky and over-confident and … and you know where this is going.

Sometimes, the spector of guys who have come and gone in this house hang over my head. Sometimes, my tenure in this house plays tricks with my self-esteem. Sometimes, I feel like a sissy for cowering in this house when I should be out in the world trying to do this crap like a big boy. Sometimes, this place feels like a womb I don’t want to be born into the world.

I need to remember one, simple truth. Sooner or later, a baby does leave the womb. But not before it’s ready. Those that leave or are drawn out before they are ready don’t last very long.  I don’t think I’m ready yet.


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