"There is no way around the hard work. Embrace it."
I have gone to thousands of A.A. meetings over my 22 years in the program. Thousands. And I have experienced the same basic things in every single one of those meetings. The wonderful sense of community. A feeling of being at home. The uncomfortable metal chairs. The crap coffee in the crappier cup. A shade with the 12 steps printed on it. The "We will love you until you can love yourself" sign on the wall. A smattering of the Big Book. A prayer or two at the end. The apprehension about being that honest in a room full of strangers. Yes. It's always the same and yet it's always different. Every single A.A. meeting I have attended is similar but also stunning in its uniqueness.
The repetitive, over and over again nature of A.A. always makes me think of my sports idol, the tennis GOAT, Roger Federer. Yes, yes, I know, Roger has that pesky Spaniard and the ferocious Serb nipping at his heels for the GOAT title but in my mind he will always be the Greatest Of All Time. Also in my mind Roger and I are besties. I invite him to lunch at my house and in return he teaches my kids tennis. Just because - you know - that's what besties do. Roger wouldn’t remember me but I'll never forget our chance encounter years ago. I had the great good fortune of being alone with Roger once, just the 2 of us in a photo studio in New York City. He was there shooting the cover of American Vogue and I was probably shooting a cat food commercial. I can't remember exactly what I was doing there but I can assure you it was not nearly as glamorous as what he was doing. What I do remember is standing next to him at the studio's coffee bar waiting for the barista to come help us get our coffee. There was no one else there. Just me and the GOAT. He was wearing a million dollar tuxedo - open at the neck, his bow tie jauntily, yet perfectly, undone. He had been groomed to within an inch of his life, his long hair brushed back, thick and lustrous. He looked like the James freaking Bond of tennis. So, he sidled up next to me and after a minute he asked me with that rich hot chocolate voice of his "So. Do you know where is the coffee?" I was so star-struck that I felt paralyzed. He had won the U.S. Open the night before and I had been there to watch his glorious triumph in person. I could have said something, anything. How about "Congratulations on last night's win.” or "You're the man!"? But no...that's what a normal person might have done left alone with Roger Federer. Instead I looked at this amazing specimen of athletic perfection, opened my mouth and barked at him, volume 11, "The coffee is in the bathroom!!!" Then I turned and ran and locked myself in said bathroom where I hid for 5 minutes, praying that he would leave the coffee area and I could scurry like a rat, back to my studio, drenched in shame.
But I digress. So, I have been watching Roger play tennis for a staggering 25 years and it never gets old. Every time he plays it's always the same few strokes on repeat over and over and over again. The flawless serve, the powerful forehand, the crisp one-handed backhand, the stunning drop shots. He plays the same game again and again with basically a handful of shots in his arsenal. That's it. He has used those same few shots for the past 3 decades and he is still out there swinging. Serve, forehand, backhand, volley, overhead, repeat. Ad infinitum. Watching him play tennis and be so wildly present during the game is exhilarating. How did he get that way? By sitting on his fine Swiss ass? Mais non! He got to where he is with work. Hard work. With practice. With determination. He had a little bit of luck and magic (as do we if we end up in the rooms) but he never stopped working. He never took his eye off the ball. He has been hitting tennis balls over a net for the last 30 years of his life. Is he bored? I don't think so. He certainly doesn’t look bored when he's out there. He looks as if he is where he belongs. Where he is his best self. His most present self. And because he puts in all the hard work he has become a gift to the world. I believe we can all do that, be a gift to the world and the people we meet here. But not if we're wasted.
When people ask me why I still go to meetings I wonder if anyone ever asks Roger why he still practices. Or maybe they know he does the hard work because he wants to stay there, as the best possible version of Roger. That makes sense. But why do we do it? Continue on with A.A. meetings years after putting down the bottle? I do the daily work, the sometimes boring and repetitive work of A.A. because, like Roger, I want to be the best version of myself. The best possible Blenderhead. Sometimes getting to meetings feels like a drag. And I'm sure that sometimes hitting a forehand over a net for the 10 millionth time under the blazing sun feels like a drag too. But the payoff from doing the work is not a drag. Not at all. Roger has said he likes to keep his practice varied and creative so he won't get too bored. And we can do that too. If our home group begins to feel boring and too "always-the-same" we can find another meeting, try out a new group, where it will all be exactly the same but miraculously different.
Like Roger and his hard-earned GOAT status, we have to work for our sobriety. "It works - if you work it - so work it - you're worth it" is phrase that we sometimes say at the end of an A.A. meeting. I'm sure there are days when poor Roger just wants a goddamn break. Maybe he doesn’t want to "work it”. Maybe he just wants to sit on a yacht eating bonbons and counting his gold and his trophies. Why doesn’t he? Just stop the grueling routine and kick back? I don't really know Roger, except for that one time we had coffee together (which is what I call our encounter) but I imagine he does the work because being that best version of himself brings him joy. For me, being the best version of my sober self brings me joy. No one can play tennis for Roger if he doesn’t feel like playing one day. No one can do the work for him. And no one can keep me sober except for me and my higher power. No one. We need to put in the work, day after day, year after year, one day at a time. We experience the blood, sweat and tears of crawling our way out of active addiction. It's not easy but it’s well worth it. And the best part is that, unlike Roger standing out on that court by himself like a modern day gladiator, we don't need to do it alone.
Roger continues to practice. Happy, sad, tired, bored, once young and now older he practices on, driven to be the best version of himself. I need to be like that with my sobriety. I need to keep my eye on the ball and I need to stay connected. I need to go to meetings, which is fine because thankfully I like to go to meetings. I need to put in the hours. When I'm happy, sad, tired, frustrated, thrilled, or bored by life, I just need to keep going. Because at the end of the day I would like to be the GOAT at living my own life. In fact, I think I might be the perfect person for the job.