(Note: Recommended to read Parts 1 and 2 first, so you get the full effect of my cranky desperation)
“Good morning and welcome to day three of our conference,” said the convention host from the podium while the straggling crowd picked over their breakfast. The room was set for all 500 or so who’d registered for the conference, but less than half the seats were full. It’s a fair guess that many delegates were sleeping off their celebrations from the previous night.
Morning has come to mean a lot to me since I quit drinking. I prepare a pot of coffee before bed each night, and waking up to the aroma makes up for the other self-depravation I wrestle with. I’d already had two cups in my hotel room while getting ready for the breakfast meeting, and now I was enjoying the better quality brew in the dining room.
I was looking forward to the morning speaker, former CBC host and social media guru Tod Maffin. I’d heard him a few years earlier and knew he was an engaging, interesting lecturer. This time, he had lots of fresh new ideas and I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation. So much so in fact, that I headed downstairs afterward for his follow-up seminar, and perched in the front row.
When he asked for questions my hand shot up. I admit I was star-struck in the way only a Canadian can understand – even a former not-for-profit-radio host leaves us tingling. Maffin is especially deserving, though, as his style is quick and funny and completely accessible. I asked a question about licensing, and he replied with a story (and note: I am paraphrasing to the best of my recollection. Apologies to Tod Maffin if I recount your words imperfectly.)
“Great question, by the way,” he started. (I blushed demurely. I have so many great questions, Mr. Maffin. You have no idea.)
“Let me tell you a story about a funny little video I created last night and tried to upload on my Facebook page,” he said. “I had used a piece of music in the background and Facebook recognized it and prompted me to either purchase the rights or change the music.”
(Fascinating – I never thought of that but it makes sense. Interesting.)
“The music was pretty famous – “Spanish Fly” by Henry Mancini,” he went on. Then seeing that the crowd was wondering what kind of video someone would make alone in a hotel room and set to the song “Spanish Fly”, he realized he had more explaining to do.
“No, no, it was nothing kinky. Your conference organizers very kindly left me a nice gift and a bottle of wine in my room. I don’t usually like to go into this but you need to understand that I am in AA and I have 2 years of sobriety and I really, really want to get to 1000 days so it is very important that I cannot be alone in a hotel room with a bottle of wine.”
Oh. My. God. Did I ever understand! I was making it through the conference okay but my patience for the never ending flow of booze all around was waning and I was already dreading the evening ahead. My ears perked up. I wiggled in my seat. I tried to look calm and politely interested in order to maintain my cover, but inside I was squealing. Here is someone who is in AA! Here is someone famous (Canadian-famous, at least) and he is talking about his addiction openly and it is not hurting anyone’s impression of him – only strengthening it.
“So I took that bottle of wine, and I snuck out into the hallway, and I pushed the elevator button. When the elevator arrived, I set the wine right in the middle of the empty elevator floor and pushed the buttons to send it away. I pictured how happy it would make someone to find it – what a nice surprise for someone who would be waiting for the elevator and when the doors open there is a bottle of wine for them– and also it solved my problem because I really couldn’t have it around me. I filmed the whole thing and turned it into a funny video and that’s what I was trying to post online.”
Then he moved on to answer other questions but my mind was reeling. For the first time ever, I was face to face with another person in recovery. This was my chance to speak to someone, to say, “I’m like you” or “You’re like me” and not even have to worry what he’d think of me because he didn’t know me from Adam. Or, well, Eve.
When the session wrapped up, I waited until the room had cleared and tentatively approached Maffin while he packed up his gear.
“I loved your story about the wine bottle and the elevator. I write an anonymous sobriety blog and I’d love to include it. Would that be alright with you, or would you rather it not be shared?”
My knees were shaking. I couldn’t believe I’d just said that.
He smiled broadly and said I was welcome to write about his story and reference his name. “Are you in a program?” he asked.
“No, but I have 181 days of sobriety,” I said, disbelieving my own courage. It was a relief to say it aloud after a difficult weekend at the convention.
“What?!” he shouted. “Oh, come here and give me a hug! That’s six months! That’s huge!! Good for you!!!”
He zipped around the table and threw his arms around me. It was all I could do not to sob, but I did my best to stay very present in an important moment. Someone who’d been through what I’d been though was listening to me, was hugging me. Someone was celebrating an achievement I’d been keeping to myself. Someone who didn’t even know me was happier for me than I understood I deserved. (And not just anyone. Tod Freaking Maffin!)
We talked for 15 minutes or so and I was utterly invigorated by the encounter. What a gift! It gave me fresh energy to survive the remainder of the convention.
It also helped me understand the power of AA in a new way. I have not gone to a meeting, and although I respect the program and have learned a great deal from some of the principles and strategies used in AA, I am not sure it is a program I need. However, I also held an image in my mind of it as being a group of messed up people trading sad stories and now I know otherwise. There is incredible power in the honesty required to speak from the heart and to listen openly.
I have had many brilliant Twitter exchanges with recovery folks who are both in and out of AA, and their help has been essential to my journey. They told me I needed to find a group, to have someone to speak to. I always knew they meant well, but this day gave new understanding of their words.
I got through the day but later into the evening I began to feel my armour slipping just a little. It was about 11 pm and the delegates were gathered in the soaring lobby of the hotel for cocktails. There was a lot of schmoozing and buzz. Everyone was tired from the weekend’s events yet reluctant to leave, as it was the last night to see each other. I was standing with a group of people who all had a drink in their hands, when one of my competitors approached. This fellow and I compete very strongly against each other in our local market, and we frequently butt heads at industry committee meetings. “Oh jeez,” I thought. “This is just what I freaking need. Here we go. Be nice, now.” I smiled and shook his hand.
“You don’t have a drink! Here let me get you something,” he offered, digging in his pocket for his drink tickets. It was almost too much. After three days of standing tall in the face of all that temptation, I broke. My chin quivered momentarily and my eyes threatened to water. I quickly shook it off, but not quickly enough. He saw. He knew. Shit. He’s one of the people I work so hard to never let my guard down around, and he’d just seen everything.
“I can’t,” I said. “I…don’t.” I forced myself to look him in the eye.
He got it, and he responded with unexpected kindness. “It’s okay,” he said quietly. “I’m still going to go get you something. How about a Diet Coke? Would that be okay?”
I just nodded. I couldn’t speak. (As I write about it now, I am having a good snotty cry. Little gestures. Little gestures…)
I will always remember that conference with gratitude. I am glad it wasn’t easy, because I had to learn to cope. But mostly, I am grateful for the gifts from others along the way – my husband’s support, the openness of a stranger, and the kindness of a friendly foe.
What a way to celebrate six months of sobriety.