I spent the last two and a half years of my "official" adolescence as a
ward of the state of California and in a large group home or "open
placement". It was an "open placement" because it wasn’t a lock-down
down facility. The front doors were unlocked and we had rooms instead
of cells. It wasn’t really a home so much as place to house messed up
and throwaway girls who weren’t really criminal enough to require
full-time residence in juvenile hall.
girls were there due to drug and prostitution charges. Some were there
behind assault and battery or arson charges. Others were simply guilty
of bad attitudes, a lack of interest in any thing an authority figure
had to say and running away from crappy homes, using alcohol or drugs
to anesthetize intense internal pain and rage. I pretty much fell into
the latter group, having been deemed a "pre-juvenile delinquent" by the
social worker who placed me there. This meant only that I hadn’t been
caught doing something that would require my presence before a judge.
It meant that I was headed straight for juvenile hall and a life of
crime, if someone or something did not intervene.
so it was that I came to find myself at the tender age of 16 in an old
renovated convalescent home with 50 or so girls who were far more
knowledgeable about all things criminal than I had ever thought to be.
I was more rebellious than criminal, more interested in not feeling
than making money by selling drugs.
Being put into placement
probably wasn’t the best place for me at the time but there was no
other place for me. My father was a pedophile as everyone had learned
several months earlier and my mother was ill-equipped to cope with not
only the situation in which she found herself but also with a wayward,
angry, stubborn and do-it-my-way teenage girl who refused to listen,
conform or do anything other than look for ways to escape whatever
uncomfortable circumstances she found herself in, one way or another.
while the circumstances that brought me to the group home were
heartbreaking at best; and much of what I experienced while there could
be characterized as cathartic in some way, what I learned from being
among those girls wasn’t exactly therapeutic. What DID happen to me
there was I felt my first glimpse and experience with what
unconditional love and acceptance were from the woman who was charged
with dealing with me. I was allowed to to be who I was on any given
day. I received the therapy I so desperately needed. I learned my
freedoms and privileges hinged mostly on my behavior and attitudes and
I got the very first inkling that I had a problem with booze and
anything that altered my mind.
What follows is the story of how I found myself at my very first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I was constantly going AWOL and
coming back inebriated. The usual punishment for this was 50 demerits
and 72 hours restriction. Restriction meant you couldn’t go on group
activities or get phone calls or weekend passes. That kind of thing.
Well, on the fourth time in a week, my caseworker finally reached the
end of her patience and put me on restriction until further notice. She
told me if I went AWOL one more time or had my friends come to my room
window and hang out, she would not only move me to a inside room but
also send me to Juvenile Hall. Shit, foiled again. At least I could see
my friends at school.
week or so later, I’m going bat shit with nothing to do. It is a
Wednesday night. Almost everyone is on the go cart activity and the
only other girls in the place are ones I hate. I am in my room blasting
the Dead Kennedys, smoking a cigarette and wondering if I really should
get a mohawk like my boyfriend. I hear an announcement over the PA. I
turn down the boom box. "Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in the Blue Room
in 5 minutes. If you attend, it will count as 5 points off of your
demerit sheet.” I think.
minutes later, the PA booms again: "A Meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous
will commence in the Blue Room in 3 minutes. If you attend it will
count as 5 points off of your demerit sheet." I turn off the boom box
and think to myself "What the hell," and go down the hall to the Blue
Room. I am doomed. A whole HOUR with these weirdoes? I am certain I
will die of boredom. They ask me my name, I tell them. I want to leave
but if I do, I won’t get the five point credit. Shit.
of the women starts reading. Then the man reads some kind of Steps or
something that are talking about God. It’s making my butt itch. Then
the lady who read, asks if there any newcomers in the room. She looks
at me. I look back at her defiantly blank. Then the other lady starts
talking. She talks forever. Damn, I
forgot my watch and Stephanie broke the clock in here when she went off
in here the other day. What time is it anyway? Will this lady ever shut
up? She suddenly becomes very weepy about something and is
thanking God. I secretly roll my eyes become engrossed in the status of
my chewed up combat boots.
I tell them I did not hear the last question. The lady who was talking
asks me if I want to share anything. I say no but ask what time the
meeting will be over. At 9:00 PM, I’m told. Yeah.. like I know when 9:00 PM is, I don’t even have a watch. Shit. Then the man starts talking. I am so bored, I halfway listen. I light up a smoke.
talks about Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Led Zeppelin, sex, booze
and drugs. This is kind of interesting. I look more carefully at him.
He looks like he used to be a biker. I look closely at his eyes. He
looks stoned. He starts talking about being with the bike club and
jails and that he saw some people die from overdose. He say one died in
his arms and the other he woke up next to. Ewwww. Gross. Then
he lights up a cigarette and draws heavily on it. I hand him the coke
can I am using for ashes and butts. When he starts talking again, he
starts talking about God again and miracles and sunlight and daisies. What is it with these AA people? Just when the story is sort of interesting, they ruin it with God stuff. God sucks. I study my fingernails and wish I had a hit of speed. Why do they talk about this stuff? Is it a test? Now, I want to get loaded. I thought these meetings were supposed to stop you from wanting to do that. Biker-Dude drones on.
he stops, everyone talks among themselves and turn to ask me if I want
to take a newcomer chip and join their "Fellowship". Uh… no thanks. Then everyone stands up, so I stand up too. Biker- Dude is really tall. They ask everyone to join hands. Shit, I have to touch them, too. They bow their heads and one of the ladies starts reciting this prayer about serenity and power and change. Do they ever shut up about God? I look at both ladies and try to picture them as drunken punk rockers in a mosh pit.
and Crying Lady start picking up stuff and talking. The other Lady asks
me what I thought. I shrug. She asks me if I am an alcoholic. No, I
tell her, I am only interested in what they do at these meetings. I do
not let on I only came because I was on restriction, bored and bribed.
I am so crafty. She buys my story. She hands me a card with a name and
a phone number scribbled on it. She tells me she was glad I came and
that if I ever wanted to talk or go to a meeting, to give her a call. Does she mean meetings, like out of the building?
She tells me that’s what she means. I pocket the card and tell her to
have a nice night. I leave. I do not say goodbye to Biker-Dude or
A few days later, I have to get out of the
building. I pull out the card. The name scribbled on it is Rose. I ask
to use the telephone. Front desk staff say I have to ask my caseworker.
I go down the hall, through the cafeteria and knock on her door. It
takes her forever to answer. I go in and stand in front of her desk. I
tell her I want to call my AA sponsor and go to a meeting that night. N
looks at me very skeptically and repeats what I said. I tell her it’s
true and hand her the card. She looks at it and dials the number.
throw myself on the couch across from her desk, in disgust. I can’t
believe she doesn’t believe me. I am getting pissed. She asks Rose if
she knows me from the AA meeting. She asks how long Rose has been
sober. She asks Rose if she can come in and meet with her before the
meeting. N says Rose will be there at 5:00 PM and if everything is
okay, I can go to the meeting with her tonight. But I will not be off
restriction and I will not get credit for going. Shit.
5:00 PM, I am going down the hall to the cafeteria for dinner. I am in
my best pair of ripped up, safety-pinned and graffitied jeans, a giant
ugly, gray men’s dress shirt, and holey, safety-pinned Keds. I like my
new haircut. My friends and I cut the last class because I couldn’t go
out after school. So we all went to the drive up camera place where my
boyfriend worked hung out and cut my hair. It was short and spiky with
long bangs and a very long rat-tail. I bleached it out to platinum,
when I got back to the building.
As I round the corner of the
cafeteria, I see Rose go into N’s office. I eat dinner and go back to
my room. My roommates are in there with their friends listening to
Journey and doing their hair for activity that night. Shit .
I try to listen to Adam and The Ants with my headphones on but it
doesn’t work. It is Friday and Disco night. Journey is too loud and
they are all excited about going to the disco and meeting "cute guys". Yeah
right. Guys with long hair in Angels Flight polyester pants, hawaiian
shirts and jellybean shoes. I’d rather be boiled alive. They
ask me if I can go. I tell them no and I wouldn’t even if I could
because disco sucks. They say that they don’t want a freak with them
anyway. I tell them to fuck off and go out to the front desk. N calls
me into the front office and tells me I can go to the meeting. At least
I’m getting out of the building.
So, off Rose and I go to this
outside AA meeting. It is in this big church. We walk in and it’s like
a commune of really old hugging groupies while I stand around looking
like an idiot. Rose introduces me and I say Hi, praying nobody hugs me.
Rose tells me to make myself comfortable while she gets some coffee. Do
I want a cup of coffee? No, I say, I hate coffee. No problem, Rose
look around. There are a lot of people at this meeting. The noise is
incredible. There is no one my age there. Everybody there looks like 40
year old burnouts. I pull out a cigarette, find an empty chair and
thrown myself down on it, dramatically. A familiar voice tells me I
have to go outside to smoke. It is Biker-Dude.
realize what a horrid mistake I made. All I want to do now, leave, as
quickly as possible. He asks me how I am and that he likes the new
haircut. I say Sure. He says he is glad to see me there and hopes I
will enjoy it. Then someone is pounding on the podium asking everyone
to take his or her seats. More noise. More pounding. Sounds of chairs
being sat in. Then it is quiet.
The dude at the podium asks
everyone to be quiet for a minute for the alcoholic who still suffers.
Then he asks someone to read something. Again with the reading and the God stuff.
It goes on a long time. This time I wore my watch. I look at it. Only
15 minutes! This is going be a long one. A lady starts speaking when
the reading is done. She starts crying on the second sentence and I
cannot understand anything she says from then on. I try not to fall
asleep. Thank god, I can go out to smoke. Biker-Dude is out there
smoking too. He asks what I think. I tell him I’m sure it’s fine if you
are old and burned out. He laughs and says he knows he old and burned
out and that there other meetings for people my age that Rose would be
happy to take me to. I look inside. The speaker is still blubbering all
over the podium.
Biker-Dude says he has a kid my age who is
sober a year. Maybe I would like to meet her. Now I know I am in hell.
I am certain God is punishing me. I light another cigarette and stand
in the front door. The speaker has finished her crying jag and someone
is standing up there reading. Then everyone stands up and Biker-Dude
hurries over the back aisle and grabs a couple of hands. They say the
same little prayer and then everyone starts milling around. I find Rose
and ask if we can go. She says we have to help clean up the wreckage of
our presence. Shit. This meeting will NEVER be over.
go outside and smoke a cigarette and wait. When Rose comes out, she
hands me the Alcoholics Anonymous book and tells me to read chapter
one. I have news for her. It will be a cold day in hell before a read
anything out of the book. Rose says it’s ok. Keep it anyway. When she
drops me off, she tells me to call her again when I want to go to a
meeting and she will set it up.
Two weeks later, it is my
boyfriend’s birthday and he is throwing a party. He is turning 21. I am
off restriction and have behaved well enough to earn a pass. I say to
myself I am not going to drink. But I do. I get very drunk and run off
down the street with a bottle of wine and screaming. I am very loaded.
My friend’s pour me into my boyfriend’s rickety Studebaker and drive to
the group home as few blocks away. I am not only way late coming off
pass; I am way loaded too. They will get in trouble too and they know
we will not get to see each other. They drag me to the front door,
because I cannot walk, throw open the door real fast and push me in.
They race back to the car and drive off before they are recognized.
Night staff has come around the corner. They shake their heads and
launch into a lecture. I tell them to yell at me in the morning when I
will remember it. I am not feeling very well at all. I am searched for
contraband. I am going to be quite ill, I say. I go to the bathroom,
and throw up. I am too drunk to stand so I sit down in front of the
commode and flush. I am sweating like a pig. Mascara and eyeliner are
burning my eyes. I rest my head on the porcelain. It feels nice and
cool but I throw up again anyway.
Someone has called Rose and
suddenly she is standing in the door of the bathroom. She looks at me
for a long time, and then she says, "I want you to know that you never
have to feel this way ever again if you don’t want to." I heave again
and look at her out of one eye, sweaty and nauseous, breath heaving and
say: "Fuck you. I LIKE feeling this way."