I just returned home from a service commitment I do every week at a hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. Like, moments ago. I love this time. A bunch of guys I care about deeply go with me to share their stories of addiction and renewal with other great people who are suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction themselves. As you might have guessed, our commitment is at a treatment center in the hospital.
My friend, Eric, picks me up the same time every Wednesday in his blue Subaru wagon with Tennessee plates. (He went to Hazelden, like me, to get sober. He lives in a sober house in St. Paul.) After sharing our weekly nice-to-see-you-again conversation, Eric picks up a couple of other guys living in a different sober house. (St. Paul is filled with them. Ahhh, Minnesober.)
The weather is perfect. I should be grilling. But here I am.
Why? Just read on...
We get to the hospital. He parks the car and we walk pass the Dorothy Day house downtown with run-down folks waiting in line to get their supper. We walk to the hospital entrance on Exchange Street and talk about the weekly chatter in the recovery community: another guy in the sober house has relapsed. This time, it's a guy who went on a $1K crack binge in Minneapolis. We shake our heads and stand there, thankful, that we are sober, realizing how close all of us are to that rocky cliff.
When we pass the hospital cop, he waves to us. He knows our faces. We're there every week. One of the guys tells a joke and laughter breaks out in the elevator as the little bell rings, telling us we're on the second floor.
Floor two is abandoned, except for the southwest corner, the CD Unit. A friend is there waiting for us and we find out he's celebrating sixteen years sobriety. He gives me a hug and tells me, "Good to see ya, brother. How you been?" I tell him that I'm fine. More than fine, actually. I'm great. I feel special, mostly because he's a really cool black dude from St. Paul and he likes me. We're both damaged goods. But, here, we are brothers who have found a new life.
The nurses station has a tired, middle-aged, Asian woman sitting behind the desk. A subtle Mona Lisa smile comes when she sees us. "Nice that you came. We really appreciate you." No, Ma'am, I appreciate you. I know that addiction is everywhere and your job will never go away. I know that you clean up puke and deal with assholes like I was in the throes of withdrawal, the wee hours of detox, the early sunrise of recovery.
Another nurse takes us to the group room, which is a long, yellow chamber with nothing but old chairs circling it, like an eighties, institutional asteroid belt. The "patients" trickle in. They are a cross-section of St. Paul: blue collar, aging drunks from the eastside; tweakers from Minneapolis that somehow ended up east river; an attractive, twenty-something Hmong woman comes in--is she pregnant?; young white guys who shoot Heroin-the old problem that is now the new problem in the Twin Cities, thanks to Mexican gangs who discovered a new niche; but, all of them, once babies who were rocked to sleep by their mothers. They are worth it, because I am worth it. Because God says we have value and I believe it.
We share. We cry. We recite How it Works and the Twelve Steps. More importantly, we share what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now. I try to make it simple as possible. I remember what I was like and I know that I needed compassion and acceptance, as well as hard, harsh honesty.
We talk about God, prayer, and all that spiritual stuff. Some of the folks shudder. It's not where they are coming from.
A realization comes to the guys I came there with and we seem to get into a theme with our sharing: spirituality shouldn't be religious wackity doo-doo. Spirituality is just about life. It's finding the center that has always been there, but we often don't hear because our fears and our self-will run amok yells too loudly.
The people start to listen. We are listening to ourselves as we share this. We know it's true and it's a truism that has been hidden somehow. Like a shadow in your peripheral vision, spirituality as "simply living" is something you know to be true, but you somehow just don't want to accept how easy it really is.
We finish with the serenity prayer and people come to us, thanking us that we came. We thank them and they look at us perplexed. Yes, you keep us sober. The Spirit is alive, because pain shared is somehow less painful. We are on the journey together and we feel as one.
Spirituality is just learning to live, finding our true selves. It's the best high you can ever get. And it's natural and free.