Hi, My Name is Josselyn

and I’m pretending to be an alcoholic.

 

By Jamie-Lee Josselyn | “Joss elyn Joss elyn ” I recited, looking at my watch. I couldn’t remember the last time I was up so early. I had plenty of time, but continued to hurry across Philadelphia’s 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 wasn’t 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 weren’t 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 do—to myself and them. I made a list of things to be careful of:

1. Forming bonds with others. 2. Leading others to believe that I’d 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 I’m an alcoholic,” a man in front began.

“Hey Gerry!”

“What’s 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 um, hi, my name is Josselyn,” I said. I clasped my sweaty hands together in my lap. That’s all you’re getting out of me, Ger, I thought to myself.

“Hi, Josselyn!”

“Hey, Josselyn!”

“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. I’ve just been so busy with work and with my daughter.”

If he hasn’t 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, I’d like to introduce today’s discussion topic—fear. Perhaps we fear alcohol itself, fear not having it, or fear the relationships we hurt because of our addictions. Who’d like to speak first?”

The woman in front of me raised her hand. “Good morning, my name is Meredith, and I’m an alcoholic.”

“Hey Meredith!”

“Well, fear’s 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 must’ve eaten a half-pound of chocolate.” She snickered. “But, I didn’t drink!”

Everyone laughed.

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! You’re 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 don’t 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, you’d think I wouldn’t 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, ‘Daddy’s home!’ I get more scared than ever. If I went back to drinking, I’d hurt her—and that scares the hell out of me. There’ve been days when I can’t 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 wasn’t ashamed. “I’d 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. Don’t drink. Let us support you.”

Others spoke: Ron, who recalled “growing up” with Stan at AA and how at first they didn’t think it helped, but “after a few months, we noticed that our friends and families weren’t 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 you’ll 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, “I’m the last person to judge, so don’t worry,” and Barbara, who handed me a business card with a note on the back: “Please call me if there’s anything I can do. Please come back!”

My heart pulled inside. I was misleading them. These weren’t 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 everyone’s 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 didn’t want to leave the security that those people provided. I wanted to find out how Meredith’s meeting went and see pictures of Stan with his daughter. What if Meredith, Stan, and everyone else were thinking that they’d like to get to know me better? What would they say the next morning when I wasn’t 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
of strangers.

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.


2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 09/02/03

FIRST PERSON: Essays

Notes From the Undergrad: Impersonating an alcoholic

Alumni Voices: Nick is gone

Elsewhere: Riding with the bulls

Expert Opinion: Are you an Influential?

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