My friend John missed his Monday 12-step meeting this week, because of the coronavirus outbreak. Since the meeting is at Suffolk County’s Yaphank correctional facility and John, sober for 13 years, runs it for inmates trying to construct a sober life, you might guess the loss is more theirs’ than his. He is probably not on the verge of a slip, while that verge is these inmates’ emotional home.
But the meeting keeps John sane and sober, too. He does this service work, for them, for himself. It is a beautiful and daunting aspect of 12-step programs, which I’ve been a part of for 16 years, that you cannot keep the gift of grateful and serene sobriety unless you work to pass on that gift.
Coronavirus is making that sharing far harder, but not impossible, to achieve.
The first rule we are taught is that we do not use under any circumstances. The old-timer saying is, “If your ass falls off, you don’t drink. You put that ass in a wheelbarrow and roll it to a meeting.”
So what do you do when the governor cancels the meeting? The best you can.
Last Friday, with the Melville church where we usually meet closed, six of us ended up in our friend Dan’s backyard. We put some space between us, laughingly, because we spend so much time together that if one of us had coronavirus we likely all did. I see these guys most Wednesdays and Fridays for meetings and a diner meal afterward, at a minimum.
And one of the things that’s been highlighted to me in this very difficult time is how lucky I am to have received one less-discussed gift of 12-step life.
Many men don’t have close friendships. Most adult men in 12-step programs do. I communicate with Dan, Bob, Dennis, John, Kevin and Mike daily. We know each others’ struggles, and triumphs.
It was never enough, for the men I know, to quit using alcohol and drugs. We had to address the things that made us alter our consciousness so much. It is a disease, but it is also a behavior. We needed to be kinder and more serene, responsible and grateful. We needed those who came before us to teach us how, and people coming behind us whose need for our help would keep the lessons fresh in our minds and hearts.
Coronavirus has made that harder, but not impossible. And it has not made sobriety nearly as difficult as the agony of active addiction — the pain springing from fear, self-loathing and loneliness my friends and my program continue to help me overcome.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.