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  • It was the end of 1983. I was at the end of my line. I had been up to North Jersey from DC to visit my friend Joe , whose girlfriend was on her deathbed, another victim of AIDS. While I had gone there to comfort him, he wound up having to comfort me. I was a real mess. Almost 4 years clean and sober, well-known all over the country, as close to being a “celebrity” as you can get in the program, yet I was desperate. I knew something was wrong.

    I’d just blown another job. What was that – my 16th in 4 years? This was probably the worst one to blow, though. I’d worked for Larry for the past 9 months, at the clinics in DC, Baltimore, and Winchester, handling intake clients for the Drunk Driving Program he was the administrative officer for. It was an easy job, and Larry always let me take time off for conventions and conferences. Hell, he’d take me to them! But, I had taken off with that girl to Gettysburg, on a whim, never bothering to call in or even make an excuse. I’d just had to get away, and I took off with her. Now I was, once again, broke, no job, and bouncing all over the place. I thought things were supposed to get better! When was that going to happen?

    Riding on the train back South, I had a devestating realization. Nothing had changed. I was the same lost, lonely kid I had been at age 6. I was the same crazy, wild-idea’ed guy who had chased all over the country when I went AWOL in the Navy. What Dad had always told me growing up was actually true – “Pete, you’re a promising young man….always making promises, never delivering”. It was all true. Nearly 4 years of staying clean and sober, going to meetings everyday, helping to write the Basic Text for Recovery, being involved in all manner of service work, none of it had changed me. I was still the same lost, lonely soul.

    It was a crushing realization. I had no idea where I was going to go next. I didn’t want to go back to DC, to Billy’s place. I felt that I’d worn out my welcome there. I didn’t want to go back home…again. That would feel like defeat….again. I got off the train in Philadelphia, just to clear my head, get something to eat, and figure out my next move. There, I ran into Breen and Sherry. They insisted I come to her mom’s for dinner. They were going to the meeting in South Philly that night. They took me along.

    My last time there, I had been selling T-Shirts for the big convention which I was helping to run – I was a program big-shot. Now, I was just me, and a shrunken version of me, at that. He approached me at the door and said, “Oh, good, you’re here – you’re going to be our first speaker tonight”. I couldn’t say no. I had told my story at meetings all over the country, at conventions, I could do this with very little effort.

    But this night was different. The words were there – I knew them all by heart – but I had just had this devestating realization, and this was a different kind of meeting. I didn’t realize, at the time, that many of these folks had actually experienced recovery. They were well. They were here for the newcomer, not for their own selves. There was genuine compassion here.

    My words came out of my mouth, but they just seemed to fall to the floor with a dull thud - I actually had this visualization as I spoke. The old magic was just not there. I couldn’t believe my own untruth any longer. I never knew it was untrue until this moment. This was even more devestating than the train ride. Yet, all I could feel coming back to me from this large crowd of 50 or 60 in this Church basement was compassion, love, concern. But, I didn’t want that. Didn’t they know who I was?

    A young girl, maybe 18 if she was lucky, spoke after me. She’d only been around for 8 or 9 months. But her story was genuine, upbeat, she’d gotten here, gotten sponsers, went through the steps, and gotten well. It was refreshing and real and true.

    My 4 years meant nothing. All of those meetings I’d gone to added up to nothing. I could see the difference in that moment. It was over. I wanted whatever it was that kid had, not my “celebrity” status, not my name. I wanted to get well. But, I wasn’t quite ready for that, yet. It would take a little while before I could admit this to myself.

    I went home to hide and to try to figure it all out...again.
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