Hi, My Name is Josselyn
Ö and Im pretending to be an alcoholic.
By Jamie-Lee Josselyn | Joss Ö elyn Ö Joss Ö elyn Ö I recited, looking at my watch. I couldnt remember the last time I was up so early. I had plenty of time, but continued to hurry across Philadelphias Walnut Street Bridge, mentally reviewing the persona I had invented for myself since deciding to infiltrate an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for a writing-class assignment:
Josselyn was my first name. I was 20 years old, and thought I might be an alcoholic. My mother was an alcoholic, and I was afraid I would become one, too. I had gotten drunk by myself several times. I wanted to do something before it was too late.
I wasnt lying completely. Just about my own drinking. While I was growing up, my mother went to AA, but never for more than a few weeks at a time. I suspected the alcoholics I was about to meet werent honestly trying to stop drinking, but were there because their spouses or jobs forced them. Despite my skepticism, I was also nervous about the harm my presence could doto myself and them. I made a list of things to be careful of:
1. Forming bonds with others. 2. Leading others to believe that Id be a committed group member. 3. Lying too much. 4. Telling different stories to different people. 5. Giving out my phone number.
Reaching the church at 19th and Walnut where the meetings were held, I paused and then proceeded down a stairway that led to the side door. The room inside was exactly what I expected: rows of folding chairs and a cluster of people gathered around a coffee urn. I sat in the chair closest to the door.
Good morning everyone, my name is Gerry and Im an alcoholic, a man in front began.
Whats up, Ger?
Mornin my man!
Pep was the last thing I expected from a group of middle-aged alcoholics at 7:15 in the morning. Gerry smiled and quickly read over the AA Preamble. When he was done, he looked up. Is there anyone here today who has never attended a meeting?
My body tensed. My neck became warm and my hands moist. I raised my hand from my distant chair.
Young lady? Gerry smiled. Could you introduce yourself?
Sure Ö um, hi, my name is Josselyn, I said. I clasped my sweaty hands together in my lap. Thats all youre getting out of me, Ger, I thought to myself.
Good to see ya, Joss!
I plastered a smile on my face. They loved me already.
Any anniversaries today? Gerry asked. A tall man with salt-and-pepper hair, who was wearing a suit, raised his hand. Stan?
Today is 14 years of sobriety for me, Stan said. The room erupted in cheers. The woman next to Stan threw her arms around him. Stan smiled modestly and shrugged. Today snuck up on me. Ive just been so busy with work and with my daughter.
If he hasnt drunk in 14 years, why does he still come to meetings? I thought.
Congratulations, Stan, Gerry said. May you have many more years of sobriety. Now, Id like to introduce todays discussion topicfear. Perhaps we fear alcohol itself, fear not having it, or fear the relationships we hurt because of our addictions. Whod like to speak first?
The woman in front of me raised her hand. Good morning, my name is Meredith, and Im an alcoholic.
Well, fears been a common emotion of mine lately, she said. Her voice shook as she explained that she was recently rehired at her job. Today she had a meeting with her supervisor. As she spoke, she pulled at her beige scarf with clenched hands. Her skin was cracked and pale, lined with prominent blue veins. Everything is on track, but I worry. I barely slept last night. I mustve eaten a half-pound of chocolate. She snickered. But, I didnt drink!
I was handed a pen and paper. Fourteen Years of Sobriety, the paper said. This certificate is presented to Stan on the 25th day of February, 2003. On the back, people had written Stan messages. Congratulations! Youre an inspiration to many.Josselyn. I wrote, making sure I left room so all the legitimate group members could sign.
I guess all I can do is continue to take it 24 hours at a time, Meredith said. I dont always feel OK, but I have faith. She sounded like she wanted to have conviction. I wanted to tell her that her meeting would go well.
Later, Stan spoke again. At this point, youd think I wouldnt be afraid anymore. But, I am. I have a three-year-old daughter. Every night, when I come home and she runs into my arms yelling, Daddys home! I get more scared than ever. If I went back to drinking, Id hurt herand that scares the hell out of me. Thereve been days when I cant do it for myself, so I do it for her.
Stan, whose broad shoulders and strong jaw suggested complete self-sufficiency, was supported by a three-year-old. And he wasnt ashamed. Id like to tell the young lady here today, it gets easier. Stan looked at me. I became fixed on his blue, passionate eyes. Keep at it. Dont drink. Let us support you.
Others spoke: Ron, who recalled growing up with Stan at AA and how at first they didnt think it helped, but after a few months, we noticed that our friends and families werent avoiding us, and who welcomed me and wished me peace through sobriety. Mitch, who described coming to an AA meeting for the first time as the damn scariest thing youll ever do and assured me Meetings get easier. You make friends. These people are your family. Jason, sitting next to me, who thanked the group for having taken many of my fears from me, and squeezed my shoulder. Diane, who gave me her phone number and promised, Im the last person to judge, so dont worry, and Barbara, who handed me a business card with a note on the back: Please call me if theres anything I can do. Please come back!
My heart pulled inside. I was misleading them. These werent the lazy, depressed drunks I expected. They were the most spiritually aware people I had ever met.
At the end, everyone gathered in a big circle. I stepped into it and the people on either side of me took my hands. They began to recite a prayer. I bowed my head, but looked around and saw peace on everyones face. The prayer ended and the circle broke up. People began to leave. I felt hands squeeze my shoulder and pat my back as people walked by me to get to the door.
Please come back!
Good to meet you, Josselyn!
See you soon! Come back!
I swung my backpack over my shoulders and went outside. I didnt want to leave the security that those people provided. I wanted to find out how Merediths meeting went and see pictures of Stan with his daughter. What if Meredith, Stan, and everyone else were thinking that theyd like to get to know me better? What would they say the next morning when I wasnt at the meeting?
I waited for the light to turn green at the corner of 19th and Walnut,
while everyone else from the meeting headed in the opposite direction.
I crossed the street and ducked into a crowd
Jamie-Lee Josselyn is a junior English and French major from Epping, New Hampshire. She would like to thank the Sunrise Semester Alcoholics Anonymous Chapter for their compassion.
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