A big part of my recovery over the last 16 years has been the 6:00 A.M. meeting at the Mustard Seed in Chicago. There really should be a documentary made about this place. The Mustard Seed in Chicago is quite possibly one of the most significant sites not only in Chicagos’ history but in the history of recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous all around the world. In the hour from 6-7 A.M., M-F, on North Ave. just a bit West of Sedgwick St., in a nondescript brick building, miracles take place everyday, plain and simple. It is a certain type of drunk that comes to a 12 step meeting at what I refer to as the “ass crack of dawn.” The Mustard Seed has been around for almost 60 years and has always occupied a geography that could be considered both “safe” and in a “bad” neighborhood for those in need of the “tonic” dispensed inside the four cinder block walls of this sacred space. In 12 step language we have a saying, “Look for the similarities, not the differences.” This is one of the lesser used phrases in our lexicon, it makes people very uneasy to admit there is a mirror with someone that looks almost nothing like we do on the outside. It is in the 6-7 o’clock hour where the seeming differences between us melt away. It is hugely comforting to listen to investment bankers, worth tens of millions of dollars, share their stories and see men and women worth no more than 10 cents, nod knowingly. The kind of darkness that envelopes an alcoholic is singular in its descrimination, it needs only the tyrant alcohol on which to feed. These people share as if they had been “partners in crime” all those years ago and had shared the same experience. Misery loves company.
When a child is traumatized, it matters not one iota if that child is black, white, rich, poor, man, woman, Jew, or Christian, the result is the same. My therapist has taught me “those of us that had traumatic childhoods, have a little extra work to do when we are adults.” This is comforting to me and reminds me that it is ALL my experiences that make me who I am today. My life is the sum of every choice I have made from the day I was born to this moment. If I try to remove any part of my experience, good or bad, (according to my little pea sized brain) I am discounting who and what God intended me to be while on this earth. Not every traumatized kid becomes an alcoholic, but every alcoholic was traumatized as a kid. All of the traumatic events in my past have made me the resilient man I am today. This is only the case because I have addressed how these events manifested in my life in an unhealthy way. Now I have turned them into assets of my character. I am the person people can call when they are in crisis and need someone to help handle the big things. This is one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. I was not always the guy that could be counted on. When shit hits the fan, my family now knows where to turn for triage and getting back on the right track. My daughter Layla put it well after hearing me listen to her Nanny describe on the telephone a difficult situation she was going through. After I hung up, Layla said to me, “Daddy, it’s really good that Nanny knows she can call you when she has a big problem.” If you have a big problem or crisis, get a drunk to help you, chances are they have gotten themselves out of the same shitty situation, probably worse. We all are more alike than we care to admit.
Being an alcoholic means that, for years, we are the main tyrant in our own lives. We are constantly getting ourselves into trouble and therefore have to get out of trouble. We have perfected the art of getting out of jam! Repeating this cycle over and over for years and years, will produce an adult capable of weathering just about any storm. Being an active alcoholic can produce only so many different outcomes in one’s life. These outcomes include for the most
part… divorce, estrangement, jail time, ill health, broken finances, and strained relationships all over the place. The sad thing is, alcoholics are pretty much limited to these outcomes for their lives, at least that is my experience. Really people… the similarities are there and not the differences.
So when my friend Jamie tells me the story about how she ended up passed out behind a dumpster in an alley while her family ate dinner (she told them she was taking a nap!) at a restaurant around the corner, I nod knowingly, because I too found myself leaning up against a dumpster (while passed out) in an alley when I should have been going to the bathroom in the movie theater I took a date too. She never did find me after the movie and I never called her again. It makes no difference that Jamie is an African American lesbian that is significantly older than I. We all feel the same on the inside when we do shitty things to ourselves and others, unless of course there is a pathology to one’s behavior. That is a topic for another essay… there it is again, the similarities not the differences.