Twenty-four years ago when I first started attending A.A. meetings in Manhattan, I was given this brusque welcome at one particularly colorful meeting downtown. "Listen you, like it or not, you are now part of the NO MATTER WHAT club. You don't drink and you go to meetings. You got that? NO MATTER WHAT! You lose your job? You go to a meeting. You get dumped by your soulmate? You go to a meeting! Your ass falls off crossing 57th Street? You pick it up, put it in a bag, and bring it to a meeting! That's how we do it here. So, pay attention! And welcome to the club.”
As a visual person, the whole concept of having my ass fall off while innocently crossing the street in midtown Manhattan intrigued me. Would it just slide off my body like an ice shelf, rapidly melting under the relentlessly rising temperatures of Mother Earth? A smooth bloodless sort of detaching of one's gluteus minimus and medius from the gluteus maximus muscles? The round unsuspecting cheeks, in one or two pieces, clothed or naked, I know not, landing on the sidewalk with a soft yet pronounced fleshy thwack?
Or would the ass-loss be more dramatic? A wrenching, ripping, excruciating sort of experience? With the attendant hysterical shrieks and 911 call? Red and purple-veined tendons flying in the wind with the horrified onlookers gasping “who knew that an ass could just fall off like that?"
What sort of bag does one carry their own ass in? I wondered. Once it has, indeed, fallen off. I asked around and was gruffly and resoundingly told "don't worry about the details lady, just pick the fallen ass up, NO MATTER WHAT and get to a meeting, case closed".
I’ve taken that advice through all sorts of life's and up-and-down-heavals. Four lost pregnancies, familial mayhem, career crises, moves, births, deaths. Through it all, the good the bad and the ugly of life, for the past twenty-four years, I’ve just kept going to meetings, NO MATTER WHAT. Even, believe it or not, during a period where I was not being truthful or sober. I just went, day after day, week after week, eventually fessing up to my own lies, deceptions and bullshit. I think that has saved me. This NO MATTER WHAT attitude with regard to A.A. Because what I have learned is that attendance at meetings is not so much about me trying not to drink as it was when I first entered. "I came for my drinking and stayed for my thinking" is one of the cheesier A.A. refrains that, for me, is absolutely true. My drinking and drugging was just a reaction to my disordered thinking, which I still have. Now that I have learned how to not drink and drug my thoughts away, I have learned in A.A. how to manage them, how to tackle them, indeed, how to solve them. It’s certainly made this wild ride called human existence a bit smoother. A bit easier to digest at least. And now, suddenly, years after having been admitted, I’m quite happy to be a member of the NO MATTER WHAT club. I see that going to A.A., the actual physical act of dragging my still attached ass to meetings is a commitment to holding on to hope. To holding on to faith. To holding on to peace, NO MATTER WHAT the universe chooses to heave rudely in my direction on any given day.
And I’ve seen miraculous things in the rooms of A.A. Group members who have gone through the worst things. Terminal cancer. Horrible and bitter War of the Roses divorces. Desperate drug-addled children. Bankruptcy. Total estrangement from friends and family. The things we as humans are not great at managing. And then there's the worst thing. The very worst thing imaginable ever. The final NO MATTER WHAT. I have friends in A.A. who have lost children to suicide. And after that soul-crushing experience, when they are left to abandon life or pick up the shattered pieces and move on, they come to us, to their family in the rooms of A.A. There, they are able to talk about their experience. They tell us about the pain, the grief, and how they are able to get through it. And I marvel at that strength. They were once, like us, merely carbon-based entities. But then they are squeezed by such intense pressure and emotional pain that they emerge, once the dust has settled, as diamonds. They sit with us, glittering, mysterious, powerful. A sparkling talisman. Proof that the human spirit is stronger than any of us might choose to believe.
But it's not just the devastating NO MATTER WHATS that bedevil us addicts. The heartaches, the losses, the failures. We need to be aware of the joyous NO MATTER WHATS too. The unexpected windfall, the “perfect romance”, the victory fought for long and hard. Those are part of the NO MATTER WHATS as well. Because, as addicts, when we are in pain, we want to dull that with drugs and alcohol. And when we are flying high, we are usually not satisfied with that either. Like Icarus, we will always want to soar blindly, to fly recklessly, to get higher, and the results will be the same. A painful, if not fatal, crash landing.
So, when that tricky part of my mind begs me to take a break from A.A., skip a meeting, sleep in, go tomorrow, or the day after, or next week, I quickly shush that voice and put my boots on. Knowing that as a long term, card-carrying, quite satisfied member of the NO MATTER WHAT club, that here, in this club, is where I belong.