Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone,
Susan the plans they made put an end to you...
...I always thought that I'd see you again.
James Taylor, "Fire and Rain"
In 12 Step Recovery programs there are, of course, the 12 Steps. These were initially developed by the writers of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) (primarily Bill Wilson), and derived from the spiritual principles they had discovered in an outfit known as “The Oxford Groups”. The Oxfords were a throwback to early form christianity, and had become a going concern in the early 1930’s. They were very active in both New York City and Akron, Ohio, among many other places. As it turned out, the two men who would eventually meet and inadvertently start the movement that became AA, had both had encounters with the Oxford Groups prior to their meeting.
In New York, Bill Wilson, a former Wall Street analyst turned hopeless drunk, had been approached by a former drinking buddy, Ebby Thacher, who had “found religion” through the Oxfords, and gotten sober. Bill, a devout agnostic, was aghast at Ebby’s proclamation, but before long, Bill had a “mountaintop” experience, a spiritual awakening after which he would never drink again.
Meanwhile, out in Akron, Bob Smith, aka “Dr. Bob” and his wife had gotten involved with the Oxfords. Bob had a serious booze problem that was beginning to impact his ability to perform as a doctor. He simply couldn’t stop drinking, even with the religious influence he had tried.
Bill discovered that working with other drunks was keeping him sober. For months, he worked with hopeless drunks – not one of them got sober, but the work was keeping him sober. He got back on his feet, and got a job again on Wall Street. They sent him out to Akron for a proxy meeting. He found himself tempted to go into a hotel bar to have a drink, when he realized “a drink” would turn into a drunk, and he’d be back on his ass. So, instead, he pulled out a phone directory, looked up churches and began asking if they had any members with a drinking problem. He needed to go work with some drunks.
That’s how he found Dr. Bob, and AA was born. Bill met with him, worked with him, and Dr. Bob got and stayed sober. The rest of it all sprang from their first meeting. First AA, then all of the other 12 Step fellowships that sprang out of AA. All discovered that the 12 Steps that Bill and AA had developed, worked for all sorts of maladies and addictions.
But, this story isn’t about those 12 Steps. The “13th Step” is what they call it in the rooms when an experienced member takes advantage of a relatively new member, and gets involved romantically with them. It’s considered to be a really bad idea, for a number of reasons. The experienced member generally has an unfair advantage in the relationship, as they are standing on firmer ground, in terms of sobriety, and not quite as likely to go out and drink or get high when things go badly in the relationship. Of course, like all such unwritten rules, this one is often abused and overlooked, sometimes with little or no consequence, other times with devestating consequences. Some beautiful relationships got started this way – some relapses, and even deaths, have occurred as a result. Like life itself, it’s always a roll of the dice.
I was still pretty new to A.A. I had been in and out of the rooms, mostly staying sober, but was still getting high for most of those first couple of years. I had finally come to realize that I could ill afford to do any form of mind or mood-altering substances – whatever it was, I was going to become hopelessly addicted to it, if I did it at all – it was just a matter of time. I had become convinced of this, and was now back, and deadly serious about staying clean and sober.
I was at the 12 Keys AA Clubhouse in Levittown, Pa, when the clubhouse phone rang. Nobody else was around that part of the club, so I answered it. It was a lady I had seen around at meetings. She’d been in the program and sober for a long time. She said she needed someone to come talk to her – she’d had some sort of a tragedy go down, and was planning to get drunk. Would I come talk to her? She said, don’t tell anyone else, and don’t bring a crew – I need to talk to you. I think you will understand what I’m going through. I need to talk to you, or I will get drunk.
I knew this wasn’t right – I’d been around long enough to know you didn’t go on a “12 Step Call” by yourself, especially if you were a guy and the caller was a girl. But, I saw a great opportunity – in my mind, I was thinking it was an opportunity to be a hero. In other parts of my still sick psyche, I was sensing a much different type of opportunity. While the lady was older than me – mid-30’s to my mid-20’s – she was still fairly hot-looking and, I thought, pretty god-damned sexy.
It could be a “two-fer” – I could help her stay sober and get laid, all in one fell stroke. A more experienced member, and younger guy like me, Chris, saw me hang up the phone, and asked, “Who was that?” I was going to tell him the whole story, and ask him to come with me – but, instead, I said, “Oh, that? Wrong number. I gotta go”, and I was out of there in a hot flash.
I got to Susan’s place, and she was a crying mess. She hadn’t started drinking yet – good! I had no idea what I was doing, but I talked to her for awhile, and got her to agree to not drink, and that it would not solve or help anything. She was so grateful, she pulled me to her and gave me a long, soulful hug - then she looked into my eyes, and asked if I thought she was pretty. I told her I thought she was beautiful. She smiled, and planted the biggest, wettest, juciest kiss on me that I’d ever had. I was in heaven! Damn, whoever made that 13th Step rule was nuts, I thought. This is the life!
Of course, after a wild night of unbridled, uninhibited sex with this amazing creature, in which we both cut it all loose and just kept at it all night, the next morning, she had fallen into a deep depression. Oh, shit, what do I do now? She was all clingy, and wanted me to stay with her. I hadn’t signed on for all of this! I had done my deed – kept her from drinking last night, like she asked – I had gotten what I’d hoped to get out of it – laid but good, much, much wilder than I had possibly dreamed sober sex to be possible. But, now, in the naked light of day – I had no intention of going any further with this one. For starters, she certainely didn’t look all that sexy or desirable, now. She looked old and scary. I was out of there!
I avoided that clubhouse like the plague for the next few months. After that, I got heavily involved in N.A., and didn’t even go to AA anymore. I completely lost track of Susan. I would inquire of my friend Rich, who still went to AA and hung out at the 12 Keys, about her, periodically. I'd always felt a little guilty about the whole affair.
It was nearly a year later that Rich asked if he could come over to my house on the little farm in Ivyland. He had a funny look on his face as he started talking. “Hey, I know you had some feeling for Susan once (I really hadn’t, beyond wanting to help her to stay sober, and to jump her lovely bones, and then the subsequent guilt feelings). I just wanted you to know – she died last week. She had a brain aneurism that burst, and killed her instantly”. She was only 37 years old.
This news hit me like a sledge-hammer. I shouldn’t have cared, but I did. I had never had a former lover die before (that I knew of). I didn’t know what to do with this information, or what it was that I felt. I really just wanted to explode.
I ran out of the house, and fell onto my knees in the middle of the horse corral, looking up to the sky, and having no idea what to do next. I asked Rich if he knew where she was buried – he did. He’d been to the funeral. She had been a friend of his. He drove me over there. He told me how much she had always thought of me, and how she always told him and others about the time I saved her sobriety. Damn, that just made it worse. I felt like the biggest hypocrite in the entire world, as I fell down in front of her grave stone, and begged her forgiveness.
That's when I fully realized why they had the 13th Step. I didn't drink or get loaded - but I sure wanted to. I stayed drunk on crazy emotion for a little while, then I moved on.