Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and mature content.
"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."
Rhys' leg bumped Leah's and he recoiled apologetically, drawing his knees closer together. She had forced him to sit in the meeting circle, with her on his right and the chairperson - a skinny man in his early thirties with bad teeth, thin stringy hair, and wide brown eyes - on his left. Rhys' grip on his paper cup of coffee tightened and he forced himself to breathe evenly through his nose, swallowing his rising rage. He had chosen to come to the meeting, but now he would do anything to be able to walk out the door without consequence or question.
It was time for the readings. Leah was first, reading the short passage titled Who is an addict?
"Most of us do not have to think twice about this question. We know! Our whole life and thinking was centered in drugs in one form or another—the getting and using and finding ways and means to get more. We lived to use and used to live. Very simply, an addict is a man or woman whose life is controlled by drugs. We are people in the grip of a continuing and progressive illness whose ends are always the same: jails, institutions, and death."
The chairperson then went down the list and the corresponding member holding their hand-out read the appropriate passage: What is the Narcotics Anonymous program, why are we here, how it works and the twelve traditions of NA.
Rhys leaned back in his chair and stared up at the ceiling as the chairperson chose a friend to do the reading from the Basic Text. They were doing literature study of step one: we admitted that we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
Rhys snorted. His life sure was unmanageable, alright. He stared around the room as he ran through the facts in his head - he was an alcoholic and a cocaine addict, a liar, a bum, a high school dropout, an asshole - sitting in the basement of a church. The ceiling was low and the metal chairs were arranged in a circle near the right wall of the room, with additional seating lined behind the circle. Across the room was a closet where the AA and NA meetings stored their material (pamphlets, coffee, laminated readings, NA literature). On the wall to the right of Rhys was a TV advertising the church's Bible study group. Rhys stared at it, tuning out the reading from the Basic Text until it suddenly ended and the room was plunged into silence. Rhys, startled by this sudden lack of background noise, snapped his attention back to the group, training his eyes on the floor in front of him.
He was surprised when the figure to his right started speaking, Leah's soft voice filling the room. "The first time I noticed my life was unmanageable, I was in active addiction and living with my abusive father. I thank my higher power every day that I was lucky enough to survive and escape that situation. I have a friend of a friend who's going through a tough time right now - their mom did some pretty horrible stuff, and hearing about it just reminds me so much of my own childhood, of my own active using and how I felt so lost and hopeless all the time. Sometimes, things happen to you that cause your life to be unmanageable; things happen that are way outside of your control. And you aren't responsible for those things or those people, but you are responsible for how you handle it. Just like you aren't responsible for your addiction, but you are responsible for your recovery. There's almost always a way out."
Rhys shifted in his seat as he processed what Leah said and the room was once again enveloped in silence. He thought about the night at the gallery, his embarrassing behavior - how out of control he was and how unmanageable his life really must be. It felt like he was all turned around, like he was drowning and had no idea which way was up, that no matter which way he swam he was always sinking lower. The same cycle of using, being clean for a week or two, then using again; living to use and using to live, as unpredictable as his mood swings.
He was always chasing that mania; when he was in a low swing he used more coke to make himself feel good, and when he was manic his using remained constant to try to keep himself in that upswing. But he hated the in between the most, that lull in between episodes when he wasn't quite low but wasn't quite high; when using gave him nothing but fast-paced anxiety, when everything was just gray and dull and boring, when he wasn't so low he was suicidal or so high he was loving life; just the in between where he was merely existing. He hated that the most, and the alcohol, at least, numbed it.
Rhys took a long drink of his coffee, wishing somebody would speak to fill the oppressing silence. It pressed in on him like expanding foam, sealing him up inside the sleeping bag of himself, padding his throat so he was unable to speak and more importantly unable to breathe, having to force oxygen in and out of his nose through short spurts. He was gasping for a cigarette; already there were only twenty minutes until the meeting was over.
He dreaded the silence so much his mouth started moving, making noise against his better judgement. He was speaking, a soft monotone drone as he delivered his impromptu speech to the ceiling, which he was staring at again as he spoke.
"Sometimes, it's all so random. The way we find ourselves having our lives changed in a single moment, the span of a few seconds shifting our entire worlds. How we enter an event as someone and re-emerge afterwards someone else. It's like walking through a mirror, where you see yourself approaching and you think you know who you are but then you reach the other side and things are so much different. You stare at yourself long enough to see yourself become the demon of your nightmares. We are never defined by a single moment but by a series of events in which we are monumentally shaped by the most insignificant details. You can be a boy your entire life, struggling and unsure and pre-puberty, voice cracking, crying all the time; and then you wake up one Tuesday and you're a man. Sometimes, Tuesdays change everything."
He could feel everyone in the room staring at him so he kept his eyes trained unseeingly on the ceiling, his heart racing as he blinked back tears. He fought to keep his nonchalant appearance, arms crossed over his shoulders and his body leaned back in his chair, forcibly relaxed. The silence now was more of a stunned variety, a certain, non-hostile tension in the air. Ten minutes later, the chairperson brought the meeting to a close. Someone handed out key tags, they read the Just for Today portion, and then they stood in a circle with arms clasped around each other's shoulders and recited the twelfth tradition:
"Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities."
Rhys broke away and headed outside immediately, lighting a cigarette the second his boot hit pavement. He forced himself to suck in several deep, even breaths as he fought the urge to sob. He took a long drag off his cigarette in an attempt to calm himself down.
Leah joined him a minute or two later, surveying him evenly as she lit a cigarette and he paced beneath the church's overpass. He didn't meet her eyes.
"That was something," she said eventually, flicking her ashes. "Quite a little monologue."
He shrugged, not saying anything. They made their way silently to the Subaru.
"Are you okay?" Leah asked as they pulled out of the parking lot. Rhys stared out of his window.
"I'm sorry about your dad," he replied, rolling the window down to flick his ashes out of it. Leah glanced at him and then back at the road, shrugging a bit.
"It's fine. He's a transphobic ass, I got out as soon as I could. We don't talk anymore."
Rhys took a long drag off his cigarette and was silent the rest of the way home.