Thursday, February 7, 2013
The Story of Us - Friendship, Alcoholism and Recovery
We stamp our feet in the chilly drizzling rain, casting quiet, furtive glances at our watches. It's almost time.
Every detail is planned out, family and friends are gathered, and we're only minutes away. My stomach aches, churning with anxiety and anticipation. This part always feels hypocritical to me, even though I know we're acting out of pure, undiluted love.
"It's time," says Amanda, and we all clamber into cars and make the short drive up the street.
We're heading to an intervention for our friend Lisa, and my mind is swirling with a mix of hope and fear. Inevitably, my thoughts turn back to three years before, when Amanda stood grim-faced on my front porch with a determined set to her jaw. She was there to tell me I had a problem and needed to stop drinking. Amanda - my best friend and long time drinking buddy - telling ME to stop? She was supposed to be on my side. It took me a couple of rehabs to understand her firm stance about my drinking meant that she was completely, utterly on my side. Because of the seed she planted in my head that day three years before, my journey towards sobriety began.
The cars pull into the driveway, and we all step out into the rain and head up to the house. Amanda will lead the intervention, which is a total surprise for Lisa. Interventions don't work if they are anticipated, but it still feels invasive, wrong. I know it's not wrong, that our best hope lies in equal parts strength, stealth, love and consequences, but I wish there was another way.
Lisa opens the door and her mouth drops into a little "O" of surprise. What is this, she wants to know, of course. We silently march past her into the living room, clutching our papers that hold words of love and determination. Realization dawns on her face, and tears spring to her eyes.
As Amanda explains the obvious - why we're all here - my mind wanders again, this time to exactly eight months ago, when I received a frantic call early one Tuesday morning. It was Lisa on the line, and she sounded breathless, panicked. "Amanda's in trouble," she said, and went on to explain that my best friend had been arrested for a DUI, then released and was home now and in big trouble.
"It's time," said Lisa. "We've got to act now."
And act we did. The next day, a similar circle of concerned faces, sitting around a tiny table at Dunkin' Donuts, waiting for the appointed time. The same questions of doubt: is this the right thing? She doesn't know we're coming and it feels so wrong, followed by my mumbled assurances that this was the only way. I was faking confidence. Inside I was scared to death.
Amanda opened her door, took one look at the little assembly of family and friends and said, "Okay. I'll go."
We all sagged in relief, but I knew her journey was just beginning. Going to rehab is a critical first step, but the road is long and rocky and my heart ached for all she had yet to face.
As I dropped her off at the rehab the next day, I pressed a coin into her hand. Etched onto it was the serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
You can do this, I whispered into her ear, as we hugged.
I glance over at Amanda, sitting upright on a stool, lovingly but firmly asking each person to read their prepared words. My sober sister, strong and shining with love.
Lisa listens, silently, with tears streaming down her cheeks. I sit on the edge of my seat, scrutinizing her face. Will she go?
As the last family member finishes her statement, Lisa slumps just a little, contemplative. Will go you go? someone asks, I don't know who, my heart is beating too loudly in my ears.
"Yes," she whispers, then asks after the dog, work and other logistical things.
"All taken care of," says Amanda, smiling, as we rush to hug Lisa. I squeeze my arms around her and long for a crystal ball, wishing so much that our embrace and love were enough. It's just the beginning, though. Like with me and Amanda, Lisa's road stretches out in front of her, full of twists, turns, unforeseen obstacles and joys.
Please God, help her stay on the path, I think to myself, sending up a silent prayer.
A few days later, Amanda drops Lisa off at the same rehab both Amanda and I went to. Now it is Lisa's turn to begin a new life. Amanda pulls her into an embrace, and presses the coin into Lisa's hand.
"Ellie gave me this coin right before I walked through those doors," Amanda says, as she gazes steadily into Lisa's eyes. "I have carried it with me every day since. It has given me great strength and courage and now it's time for me to give it to you."
Someday, Amanda prays, Lisa will pass it along, too. Because that's how it works.
About a year later, on a stunning August day, Lisa, Amanda and I are laughing in the sunshine. We're sober, happy, relaxed and dangling our feet into Amanda's pool.
We've come from a meeting, where together we presented Amanda with her two year sobriety medallion.
"Who would have thought?" says Lisa, smiling her electric smile.
"Yes," I beam back at her. "Who would have thought, indeed."
"Yes, who would have thought life could be this good," Amanda says, stretching contentedly in her lawn chair. "So, so good."