“Did you come up with that name?”
“Yes.” Mitch said.
We settled in to smoke our cigars. It was a little cigar bar just down the street from the ¾ house. There was a Texas Hold’em game going on the same room, so I felt right at home. I liked Mitch. He moved in to the house about a month ago. Tall drink of water, he got a job right out of the gate unlike some narrators I know. From Scottsbluff, NE on the opposite side of the state from Omaha (Author’s Note: Some of you may know that I’ve taken to calling guys in recovery “Mitch” if they have a less than admirable past so as to protect their innocence, if they have any left). Mitch didn’t (have much innocence left, that is. God I love parenthetical phrases).
I know nothing about cigars. I choose cigars like Patton Oswalt chooses wines. If they have a neat-o superhero on the bottle, Patton’s made his purchase. If I’m smoking a cigar, I’ve decided the darker the better. Mitch says the darker ones are “spicier.” Um, okay. What is “spicy” to him is “grittier” to me. I mean hey, if I’m gonna smoke a cigar, I want to feel as much like Tony Soprano is I can. And I’m a soul on the mend, so if smoking a grittier cigar is as close as I’m going to come to life as a mob boss, so be it.
The night before, me and Mitch and Mitch had a long talk until 3 AM about our varied pasts (I know, the “Mitch” thing can get confusing. Sorry. Just roll with me here, okay?) Scottsbluff Mitch (there, that should make it easier) was telling me and Grandma Mitch (I’ll explain in a minute) about his history as very successful, voluminous (literally) drug dealer that had gotten in some pretty sticky situations. He had been shot. He had traveled over state lines with some cargo. And one year previous to his sobriety birthday, his best friend had taken a header off a tall structure and ended his life.
Meanwhile, Grandma Mitch (He has been taking care of his grandmother for a few weeks while his parents attempt to find suitable in-home care for her) had his own checkered history (a lot more black squares than white) complete with dealing out of his parents’ house as his father slept with a pistol below his pillow in fear and culminating in his entering a treatment facility. He’s got a year or two of sobriety under his belt. I shared my story about the brain surgery, fall from grace, all of it. We shared stories about all our parents laying it on the line for us in the form of an intervention. And in the course of this conversation, I realized something very important about recovery.
Everybody has a different bottom, that goes without saying. And everybody has their own set of issues about dealing with the pitfalls of recovery. I dislike the Fox Hole and almost everybody I’ve ever met at an AA meeting there, including Mitch (Different Mitch, we’ll call him Monkey Mitch. He changes oil and stuff for a Jiffy Lube or something. Hence, Grease Monkey Mitch. Monkey Mitch for short) who I also live with. Scottsbluff Mitch told me that his sponsor knows Monkey Mitch and we shouldn’t take anything he says seriously because he’s been in and out of the program for years. Then there’s Moldy Mitch. He came to the house about a month ago too and recently told me he finally “gets” the First Step. Moldy Mitch is an old-timer in age only, been in and out of the Program many times as well. But I guess it’s better late than never. I mean good god, when I was Providence, RI last year and went to a meeting, there was an 81-year-old guy who came into the Program 16 years before. Let me reiterate that. He got sober when he was 66 years-old because he finally got the message.
I don’t know what makes a person decide to get sober. Some guys see a friend commit suicide. Some guys get into their late ‘60s and decide enough is enough. Some guys have brain surgery and still don’t get the message until 9 years later. But I do know that there is a certain way about a guy who has made the decision that is unlike others who are in the Program getting a court card signed. We have a certain quiet commitment to doing the deed others don’t have. And I certainly don’t think that I have sobriety figured out either. For me, it’s always moving forward. Going to the gym was a start. Sending an email to a local Buddhist temple to inquire about meditation sessions was the next move I took yesterday. Getting a job to get some money coming in in order to pay for yoga lessons is the next step. When you are early in sobriety, you are frantically trying to outmaneuver your demons. And sometimes, you are afforded the chance to share with others the intricate nature of the demons, what motivates you to keep them on the run. I told the Mitches about Him and they didn’t applaud my innovation. They didn’t look at me like I had 9 heads and a tutu on. They just nodded. They knew. I listened to their stories and shed a tear or two. I knew. With some guys, you just know.
I’ll go back to the cigar bar with Mitch. Probably try an even “spicier” cigar. And eventually, my life will even out from the tumultuous nonsense I’m going through now. There’s guys in sobriety you click with and some you stay close to and some, you don’t. But every last one of them has taught me what true suffering is and how grateful I truly am.