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Not Thinking Straight by Madelyn Arnold
One possible ending
by Madelyn Arnold - SGN Contributing Writer

It wasnt a hangover; she never had hangovers. She had simply woken up with an odd feeling which grew into a sense that there was something in the corner, or on walls....

As she entered the kitchen it became clear what it was. All the walls were crawling with dots... crawling from below to above, from the floor to the ceiling and everywhere at once. She knew perfectly well there were no insects there. And they couldnt have all grown up overnight.

So she decided to try a scientific experiment  the way she had been taught. Although it was 6 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, not a time she was accustomed to hard drinking, she took three fingers of gin to see if the bugs went away. She drank and they went. And she thought: Now what in Gods name do I do?

She was supposed to report to work at a place called Pathologists Central Laboratories, for which she drove a daily route, picking up specimens and delivering reports. But her hands were shaking. She was afraid the boss would see. She needed a drink to stop the trembling, but didnt dare start drinking because she knew she couldnt stop.

She didnt believe in driving drunk  although she didnt see any other way to drive. So at the door to work, she stopped, unnerved. Maybe a walk would help. And around the corner from the office she found a door she wouldve sworn wasnt there. It said Alano Club. The name meant nothing. But under the name Alano was printed, very small, Alcoholics Anonymous.

Then she was at a desk behind which was a merry, gaudy woman with peroxide hair. Was this really Alcoholics Anonymous? - yes of course. I have to be at work in a few moments - when are the meetings? The woman pointed to many, many pamphlets showing many, many times, laughing. Well, Im Gay, and I dont feel like running into people who are going to hate me when I feel like this& As a matter of fact, laughed the woman, theres a whole section of Gay meetings. Theres a Gay club. Now youre out of excuses! Another laugh.

Actually, she hadnt been looking for excuses.

The odd feeling in her head and the shaking in her belly didnt go away, in fact was getting worse; the next day she left the house two hours early in order to take in an AA meeting. And every single moment burned itself into her head.

THE OLD CHURCH
Meetings then, in 1979, were held in the dark dank basement of the bedraggled old church behind Group Health on Capitol Hill. She wandered around the building for a while, looking for the right door, and finally figured it must be a green one: it led directly down dark-painted stairs. It was a bright day, so, unused to the darkness, she half-fell down them. The basement smelled moldy, and there were several doors; one held vague instructions. She chose that one. Inside, it was like a bat cave.

In the middle of a room crammed with folding chairs sat a long table. At the far end was a lectern, and a man stood behind it, shuffling papers. She said Hello, and no one answered. There were about ten people in the room, almost all men. She took a seat near the lectern, near a tall, dour man.

Looking out from his paper, that man said Whats a three letter word for male swan? Cob, she said. C-O-B. He looked surprised and decidedly impressed. It fits, he said, and went on with his puzzle. A moment later the man behind the lectern reached out to hand her a book. Read this, please, he instructed. Dutifully she read through a number of paragraphs with the kind of information she expected from AA; she started to hand it back, and he said with some impatience: No, I mean to read it aloud when the meeting starts.

Still mystified about what should happen meeting-wise, she read aloud when called upon to do so.

NINETY MEETINGS IN NINETY DAYS  OR SO
She was advised to make ninety meetings in ninety days, i.e., once a day for three months, but there were three meetings a day during the week, so she made well more than 90. The meetings took on a different character at different times of day: morning (noon) meetings, everyone looked tacky. Most of the people slumped in like unmade beds. They slurred their words. Noon meetings were punctuated by long and clumsy silences, and lots of smoke.

The suppertime meetings were brisk affairs. Half the people wanted to go home to dinner. Most everyone wore work clothes and looked interested, and then there were the folks left over from the morning meeting.

Evenings, most men and all straight women dressed up formally. The women would say they were there because they felt safe in Gay AA. Lesbians dressed however they happened to feel. And then there were the permanent fixtures, left from morning. It would have been easy to believe the Early Folks never left the place, except for the fact that the door was locked for hours in between.

She came to close to 270 meetings in 90 days and therefore had the time to look around. She had become afraid of alcohol, as were others.

There were also hangers-on who preyed on the New Ones shaking hearts, on the psyches of the easily influenced or coerced. And it was strange to see how many Gay people were volunteering they were lushes. In the bars all you heard was how they could leave it alone if they ever wanted to.

Attending at night were the arrogant types who made fun of the sickest drunks  which made her angry, but she figured she deserved no better company.

THERE WERE THE GAMES
One was make fun of the illiterate lesbian lush. She herself was apparently exempt ... many of the evening males played it very freely. Another was who tells the most dramatic story. That one would have played well in a bar. And who had been the biggest drunk overall, who started youngest, and who fell the furthest distance from what height. Although it was the same group nearly every day, a new competitor won nearly every night.

After a while she went to fewer meetings. And after three years she didnt go at all. Six years later she took her first few drinks again.... She went in and out of heavy binges for years.

What finally happened was a miracle.

THE IMPOSSIBLE ENDING
The problem ended. After craving alcohol from the age of twelve, one day she awoke and realized that for some long time she had had no cravings at all. She was taking dozens of medicines for various different conditions, and its possible that one or all dried up that desperate thirst. Its a thirst like the strain for air when somebodys actually drowning. For some incredible reason that thirst was gone.

And she was free to drink. She could have a martini and finish it ... or not. She could drink a beer or two, or just drink water. Drinking didnt change her mood or set off terrible thirst. But when she mentioned this to AA folks, they said it couldnt be true.

Most of all, they were sure it shouldnt be true. No one in AA will forgive her for being able to drink; and most of all for being able to stop.

But it happened. Honest to God, its really true.... It happened to me.

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