JJ in AA, Again



A church basement. Upstairs is for those who fear going to hell. Downstairs is for those who’ve already been there. At least that’s what some people say.

After the meeting, Professor Tom stood with some members, laughing at the absurdity of the drinking life and the miracle of getting to live a sober life. JJ waited near the exit door, nervous, feeling he was lying in ambush. The meeting was good, his third since returning from Colorado. Lila was at the Al-anon meeting down the hall, her third since the return, too. It was early, but so far, so good. He hadn’t seen his old sponsor yet and was resolved to clean things up and get back to recovery work.

“I’m glad you waited,” Tom said as he approached JJ at the door. JJ put an awkward hand out but Tom brushed past it and embraced JJ. “Some never come back,” he said next to JJ’s head.

“I’m back for good,” JJ said.

“Or just for today.”

JJ smiled. “Yeah, just for today. A daily reprieve, right?”

“Based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.”

“Yeah, about that. I need to get back to work on the steps.”

“Listen,” Tom said. “I’m really glad you’re here, but I can’t sponsor you anymore. I’ve got three other guys and I can’t take time from them.”

“Oh,” JJ said and tried to disguise his disappointment. It was one of those moments, so common for him, when the path forward looked straight and clear, but then the world was revealed as more complex and contrary than assumed. He felt like a child discovering that all that stuff- the house, the car, the water(!)- actually cost money. There was always a price to be paid.

“What I can do is introduce you to a few guys.”

“That would be good.”

“Marty,” Tom called across the room. “C’mere for a minute.”

A guy, younger than Tom, closer to JJ’s age, broke off from another group of people and came over.

“This is Jason,” Tom said. “He just got back from…”

“Out there,” JJ finished, gesturing with his thumb out the window. “And Colorado.”

“Oh yeah? Welcome back,” Marty said, and they shook hands. “I lived there for seven years. The greatest and worst times of my life.”


“Yeah, man,” Marty said. “Listen, a few of us are going to get coffee. You’re welcome to come.”

Once again, a fork in the road. Take the easy way and scurry home to comfort with a residue of shame and self-loathing? Or go out and brave the company of actual people who are trying to do better?

“Last suggestion,” Professor Tom said. “Discard that first instinct. That’s usually your disease.”

He was right, of course. That’s the thing about these sober people, at least the ones who actually work it. They’re always fucking right.

“All right,” JJ said. “I’ll go. I just have to tell my girlfriend.”

“Great,” said Marty. “We’ll meet you in the parking lot.”

JJ in the 21st Century: Lila, Determined

Lila knocked on the door but no one came.  She banged, listened, and could barely hear a mechanical hum or whine coming from inside so she just opened the door and went into the farmhouse kitchen.  A panic or dread, a sudden fear, rose up from her gut and she remembered a recent dream about something like this.  In the dream, she passed through a door and someone was dead on the floor of a kitchen.

She found him in the upstairs bathroom drying money with a hair dryer.  There were 100s spread out on the bath mat and JJ was drying them, sweeping the hair dryer back and forth.  There was a soggy heap of 100s still in the tub.  JJ was crouching in a pair of gym shorts and his pale back was to the door so Lila could just watch and take it all in.

“What are you doing?”

JJ turned off the hairdryer and looked at her.  “Drying money,” he said.  “I started to take a shower but forgot about the money bath.”

“Money bath?”

“Yeah, that’s why I went to the bank.  I didn’t have enough to fill the tub.”

“Are you drinking?”

“I was,” he said.  “I’m not now.”


“Earlier, but not now.  Listen, I’m ready to stop.  I have to stop.”

“What are you going to do about it?”

“You’re going to drive me to AA.”

“Where’s your car?”

“There was an incident.  Listen, thanks for coming but you gotta bring me tonight, before I change my mind.”

There was something almost childlike in his earnest delivery.  Like, “The tooth fairy won’t come if you don’t put it under the pillow.”  He seemed detached from what he was saying, but serious, like he didn’t want to talk about the gaunt and crazy shell of a man in the same room.  He just needed to go.  And she was his ride.

“I can do this,” she thought and hope rose in her.  “Keep your expectations low,” she thought, recalling her Al-anon friend, Maria.  “Like Death Valley low.”

“OK,” she said.  “How long ‘til the meeting?”

“Two hours,” he said.  “Help me dry this money.”

She took a deep breath.  “Leave the money, JJ.  Get dressed and we’re going.  We’ll get something to eat and then we’re going to the meeting.  I’m going downstairs now.  Clean up and then we’re going.”

JJ stared and took his own deep breath as she clomped down the stairs, on a mission.  “This won’t be easy,” he said and scooped up the soggy 100s in the tub, put them in the sink, and started the shower again.

JJ in the 21st Century: Lila Eats the Whole Pint

Why was she always trying to fix him?  It was a compulsion, like knowing there was a pint of ice cream in the fridge.  Not healthy, but it’s there, so it must be eaten.  It ALL must be eaten.  The itch must be scratched.  The drunk must be saved.  Or not, apparently.

Lila walked her first friend from Al-Anon to the door.  Maria was strong, grounded, but moved like a soldier with an old wound, careful that it shouldn’t reopen, crouching against a wind that might whip up at any time.  Lila watched Maria get in the car with awe and pity.  Maria had borne a lot, actual beatings at the hands of some drunken ingrate.  Yet she loved this shithead and was herself addicted to trying to make him happy.  “Codependent” was the word she used.  Lila had heard the term, of course, but never quite got it.  But, now she did.  Basically, she had a stake in JJ’s drinking, too.  She cast herself in the savior role.  And, God help him if he managed to get well without her help.

Lila had shared at an Al-anon meeting called “Change”.  As in, “The Change Group of Al-Anon.  You are welcome to stay and change”.  She shared, “And he just sabotages everything.  He starts something beautiful and just fucks it all up.”

“Language, please,” the Chairwoman said.

“Sorry.  But, he just messes everything up and doesn’t give a sh…doesn’t give a crap about what I put into it.  He wins all this money and starts this farm project and I…”

“Is it the guy who won the lottery,” someone asked from the back.

“Please,” said the Chairwoman. “No cross-talk.”

Lila continued, “And then we’re almost together again.  Happy.  It was love again.  He came to mom’s funeral, mostly sober.  He was trying, in his way.  Then he just retreats to that stupid farm.”

“JJ,” someone whispers clearly.  “Lottery,” someone whispers.  Then, “I can fix him.  Give me a chance.”  Tentative giggling all around.

“Please,” the Chairwoman said.

Before Lila could dart away after the meeting, Maria put an arm around her shoulders and drew her back in.  “Not so fast,” she said.  “We don’t bite.”

The next day, Maria came over and told her story to Lila.  It was harrowing and violent, the guy now in jail for eighteen months.  “But, when I think of him, I start planning how I’ll clean the house and what I’ll cook when he gets home.”

After Maria left, Lila’s phone rang.  Caller Id: JJ.  “Detach with love,” she said to herself.  Loving detachment was the Al-anon way, the boiled down method to deal with a drunk who will take everything and leave your soul baffled, bankrupt, and battered.  “Detach with love,” she repeated out loud, but answered anyway.

“Only you can save me from me,” he said.  “I walked to the bank and back.  My feet are so cold.”

“Where are you?”

“The farm.”

“I’ll be there in 15 minutes.”