That Time I Accidentally Joined a 12 Step Group
A poor choice can occasionally be wrapped in, what appears to be, a healthy choice. For instance, when the leisure-suited decade of the 1970's ostracized beautiful, creamy butter in favor of that chemical stick-of-shit called margarine, that was a poor choice wrapped in a metallic wrapper of falsely promoted healthfulness. People didn't buy sticks-of-shit because they enjoyed the taste, nay, they bought sticks-of-shit because they were led into believing it was healthy for them. Sometimes even when a person is making a concerted effort to make good choices, those decisions don't always work out in their favor. It might be fair to question then, given the trajectory of my life, if some of us are penalized for attempting to make positive life choices. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I should put in for an early retirement.
Churches come in all shapes and sizes, and I've explored plenty in my day. I have attended itty bitty churches where, if you didn't make an appearance on Sunday morning, a couple of matronly parishioners would show up on your doorstep later that day with homemade bread shaped from a loaf pan. (Whether it was coffee bread, banana bread, cranberry bread, whatever bread, you could bet your sweet ass that it would always be of the loaf variety. I can only imagine that there was an extended period of time when loaf pans were considered the preferred baptismal gift for Protestants. As soon as you'd pop back up out of the water -- here's your pan! If you ever go to a Protestant household and they don't own a loaf pan, you should assume they are closet Catholics.) The stated purpose of the uninvited loaf bearer was to "check in" on your well being, because obviously one would have to be terribly sick to miss Sunday morning church service. It's not like one could ever be just too fucking lazy to get out of bed for Sunday morning church service. Obviously.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are megachurches, whose weekend attendance numbers exceed 2,000 people. Unlike the itty bitty churches who always know when you're absent and who try to guilt you with baked goods, megachurches don't know you truly exist, you are more theoretical than personal to them. You could be a 20 year member with a perfect attendance record at a megachurch, get abducted by aliens (with said abduction wrecking your perfect attendance record), and no one from the megachurch will come looking for you. And that's exactly why I called a megachurch my own for many years. I didn't need the stress of uninvited loaf bearers peeping through my windows, especially after I went gluten free. Additionally, with thousands of people attending the same service, the odds are in your favor that, no matter how late you are, there will be someone doing the walk of shame long after you are comfortably seated, which technically made you early. What megachurches lack in intimacy, they more than compensate for by giving you a larger pool of underachievers, which means your lackadaisical ass has the potential to be nudged upwards on the Bell Curve. Numbers are a beautiful thing.
I'd like to take a moment to pause here and address the shock some of you may be feeling right now over the revelation that I attended church. It's okay. We can break for as long as you need. Deep breaths. Better? Glad you survived, you judgmental bastards.
So, as I was sitting in my megachurch one Sunday morning at the conclusion of service, announcements were flashed across the holy jumbotron:
- More donations needed for the food bank. Yep, I can do that.
- Trip forming to visit the Holy Land. Nope, not signing up for any church group trip unless one of my fellow trip goers can turn water into wine. If Jesus signs up, I'll go.
- Volunteer needed for childcare rooms. I would rather stab my own eyeballs out.
- Women's study group forming. Interesting. Do you want better relationships in the coming year? Yes. Do you want to work through any hangups from your past that could be limiting your current potential? Yes. Do you want to become the woman God wants you to be? Yes...as long as God's vision for my future includes pizza.
The women's group that was being launched sounded right up my alley. I've always been a proponent of self improvement. Yes, I decided it would be a good thing for me to pursue, therefore I signed up the same day. Then I called Erin (you remember her as my friend who hosted the sex toy/moonshine party).
"Hey, there's a new women's group starting next Sunday morning. It sounds fun. I just signed up, you should join me."
Erin hesitated. "I don't know if I want to join another group."
"Aww, come on," I said. "It'll be fun!"
"What's the group about?"
"Well, the description was sorta vague. It stated something about learning to let go of past hurts and wrongs and becoming a better person. It sounded very positive and uplifting."
"Okay, I guess we all could use that in our lives."
The only information given to me prior to the introductory meeting was the building and room number on my church campus where the group would meet, the time we'd be meeting, and that I needed to bring $6 or $7 in cash for my own individual book. Hmm. Not much communication from the group leaders, but that's okay, I'm sure that will change once the group officially begins.
When I walked into the room, it struck me that I didn't know a single soul in the group, and the two group leaders (I'll call them Thelma and Louise) seemed atypical based upon all my previous experiences with Christian women's small groups. Huh. But then my friend Erin arrived and I got distracted with talking, forgetting all about how something in that room seemed a bit off center.
Shortly after Erin's arrival, Thelma and Louise began distributing the books. They told us not to open them at all, that they needed to go over a few ground rules first. Ground rules? Given the militaristic overtone of Thelma and Louise's body language and words, I quizzically looked around the room, but no one else seemed unsettled by the way this gig was unfolding. And it had not escaped my attention that Thelma and Louise seemed angry, like really fucking angry, so I just sat back and kept sipping my Starbucks as things got curiouser and curiouser.
The class room we were relegated to was smallish and had folding metal chairs backed against each wall, leaving the middle of the room completely open. Every seat was occupied, which probably totaled 20-25 women. Thelma and Louise occupied the center, ever ready to spin around towards any specific group member and scare the shit out of her. And these weren't petite women by any means. Thelma and Louise were largish, and they wore comfortable shoes. Comparatively, I had on heels, so I knew if running predicated my survival at some point in this jacked up women's group, I would be looking at an end of life scenario.
As they launched into the ground rules, Thelma and Louise worked in tandem. One would declare the rule and the other would expound upon it. For example, Thelma said that we weren't allowed to comment on any other woman's story during circle time or any other time. Circle Time? WTF? Allow me to paraphrase: Louise then fleshed that restriction out more by saying that we weren't there to be enablers, and we weren't allowed to do any of the shit women normally do to show support to one another. If the woman next to you starts crying during circle time, let that bitch cry. If the woman across from you drops her pencil and it rolls directly and conveniently in front of you, tough titties, let her get her fat ass outta the chair and pick it up herself. And absolutely, under no circumstances, were we allowed to hug, pat, or utter any words of encouragement or sympathy. It didn't matter if one of your group sisters was a woman from the Congo who was brutally tortured, and whose entire family was murdered right in front of her, that room had a suck-it-up-buttercup policy, so she had to figure that shit out for herself. Don't even offer her a kleenex or a look of pity.
Well, damn. That doesn't seem very Jesus like.
Thelma and Louise then told us we were all fucked up in the head (I'm still paraphrasing) and there was a divine purpose for each of us, that it wasn't an accident any of us signed up for that group. (Now, that was a deflating moment for me, as I was just waiting for an opportune time to raise my hand and let them know I had mistakenly landed in their classroom and that I was now going to mosey on out.) I began thinking about how isolated our room was in relation to the other Sunday morning classes, and how I'd never even been to that part of the building before, so deep in the bowels of the basement...where no one could hear you scream.
As Thelma and Louise continued to address the group with their disorienting talk, we were told to open up our book. That's odd. I've never seen the serenity prayer in a bible study guide before. Thelma then began lecturing on codependency and how she had been codependent on her husband for years without realizing it. Husband? I did NOT see that one coming.
The more they talked, a realization began surfacing in me, ever so gradually. Thelma and Louise led us in the Serenity Prayer, and the entire room chanted:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Weird. I feel like I've seen this in a movie somewhere... Hmm. Was Al Pacino in that movie? I wonder if he's still alive because I haven't heard his name mentioned for a while.
Louise then said something that snapped me to attention. 12 Step. Excusez moi?
Soooo, I had accidentally signed myself (and my friend Erin) up for a 12 Step program. My bad.
I do recall the group being advertised as a "Step Study," but nowhere did it explain what the hell that meant. A step is a step is a step. There was no reason for me to correlate that with an addiction recovery program. That was some straight up shady shit advertising Thelma and Louise used to lure unsuspecting women into this group. I looked around the room to see if anyone else was sharing my outrage over being duped. Nope, no one seemed ruffled.
Horrified, I looked at my friend Erin, who I had cajoled into signing up for this group. She whispered, "Are you trying to tell me something?"
But before I could respond, Louise had decided to begin the purge, and by the purge I mean that she was starting to go around the circle expecting that each woman divulge what brought her into the group that day. Holy shit.
"Excuse me, I'm sorry to interrupt, but I didn't realize this was a 12 Step class. I thought it was just a women's bible study group."
Louise gave me a scrutinizing look before sternly stating, "There are no mistakes. You aren't here by accident."
Thelma gave Louise's words an energetic nod, then added, "You were meant to be here today. You were meant to hear what's being said today. Just stay for the entire class and give it a shot. We all have issues we need to work on."
I wish I could say that I packed up my shit and ran out of there, but I did not. I began wondering if Thelma and Louise were correct. Maybe I was more fucked up than I realized. Did I have an addiction I didn't readily see -- a stealth sickness preventing me from becoming awesome? Could the cosmos have a bigger plan in store and ground zero was this forlorn room where common courtesy was a no-no? Thelma and Louise sure the hell seemed confident that I belonged there.
As the purge went round, and the confessions came forth, I started thinking that maybe Thelma and Louise were full of shit. They didn't know me. They weren't aware that I was the misadventure queen, and that most of my good intentions just ended up getting me into a hell ton of trouble. The women in that room were seriously seeking help and here I was struggling to come up with something, anything, that I felt powerless against. What was I going to say...sugar...reality shows?
When it was my time for the purge, I didn't have anything authentic to contribute. I didn't do drugs, didn't smoke, rarely drank alcohol, wasn't promiscuous, didn't gamble, and wasn't a shopaholic. So, I was honest and said that I couldn't think of one thing that I felt I was addicted to, that I truly had just signed up for their group by mistake.
That's when Thelma and Louise looked at me as if I were in denial. And all the other women looked at me, some with contempt, others with impatience, as if I were hiding from my own demons. Seriously??? If I were a crackhead or drunk, I would let everybody know. Trust me, I'm not shy about divulging my shortcomings. Soon thereafter, I felt as if Louise earmarked me as most dysfunctional by saying, "Sometimes the people who need the most help are the ones most reluctant to admit they have a problem."
As I was sitting through their silent judgment, all I could think about was what piss poor luck I have in life. Not many people unwittingly sign themselves up for a 12 Step program, thinking that they are going to be sharing a Sunday morning class with fellow likeminded women on how to bring about positive changes in our personal lives, while inspiring others to do the same. In that moment, I didn't feel positive or inspirational. I just wanted to go home, eat ice cream, and watch The Real Housewives.
Once I was finally freed from that initial subterranean ordeal, I thought I would never return. But I did. I went back the following Sunday.
I guess Thelma and Louise were convincing enough, a seed of doubt germinated in my mind about the possibility that I am extremely fucked up and I just can't see it. I think it is the obligation of every human being to be open to that possibility. If someone tells you that you're fucked in the head, you should take a step back to contemplate and assess the feasibility of their claim, before dismissing it outright.
The second meeting began with a set of rules, because we were about to enter circle time. Circle Time!!! Each woman had to bring her chair towards the room center and create a circle, which left no comfortable distance between you and your neighbor, and no easy means of running away unless you were super athletic and could hurdle bodies in chairs. I already don't like circle time.
Rule number one was that we were not allowed to give any feedback or commentary on anything that is said. You can't ask questions, no matter how valid the question. We weren't Dr. Fucking Phil, after all. We were only allowed to open our mouths when it was our turn in the circle, because this wasn't going to be interactive. Now I really don't like circle time.
Rule number two dealt with outlawing nonverbal feedback. Not only were you forbidden to verbally acknowledge the story of any co-member, but we were not allowed to express emotion through our body language. You'd better wipe that sad, pitying smile off your face, and, God forbid, no hugs or handholding.
I saw immediately that circle time would present challenges to someone such as myself, who has trouble keeping quiet. Ugh. Fuck circle time.
The circle time question was a two parter: 1). Name all the things you do not control in your life 2). Name all the things you have control over in your life.
Okay, that seemed easy enough. I like lists, because they are quick and get to the point. Maybe circle time won't suck as much as I thought it would...
My misadventures have taught me much in life, reminding me that not everyone thinks like I do, and that normal is a relative term. But I was shocked to hear the other women rattle off the things they felt they had no control over:
- Having anonymous sex
- Substance abuse
- Time management
- Poor relationships with family
- No friends
- No job
When they answered the second part of the question regarding what they felt was controllable in their lives, I was dumbfounded by how many women couldn't come up with one item. Not a damn thing. They felt like they were a victimized bystander in their own lives.
My friend Erin finished out the group, not because she needed it, but because she knew someone in the group and didn't want to make that woman feel awkward by jumping ship right after she ran into her. Plus Erin wanted to be there to support her if possible. Erin is kindhearted like that. She also didn't hold it against me that I had unintentionally signed us up for a 12 Step program.
As for me, folks, I was done after circle time. I have no understanding as to why people make the choices they make, so I don't feel qualified to judge how much nature versus nurture contribute to the way the human brain is wired, and to what degree each person is culpable.
In case you're wondering how I answered the circle time 2-part question:
- The things I do not control in my life exist outside of me. I don't control how other people feel, think, or act. I don't control the physical environment at large -- the sun will rise and the stars will shine regardless of what I do.
- The things I do control in my life would be my own choices. I choose what I think, what I say, how I behave, and how I respond to any situation.
I walked out that day and never returned. I'm not sure if Thelma and Louise thought I left because I was hiding a harrowing addiction, or whether they came to accept that I sincerely did signup for no other reason than I sometimes do stupid shit like that. But just to be on the safe side, I did give up my regular afternoon visits to the local ice cream shop.