It’s Always Messy

It’s Always Messy

The Serenity Journals
Shalvah means Serenity, Support for Recovery

It’s happened a few times but always de-stabilizing. Someone comes to the meeting drunk, smelling like drink anyway and acting strange, I assume drunk. As do several others around the table. We are all authorities on drunkenness, as it were.

Still we say it out loud and clearly in our opening: the only requirement for participation is willingness. If they are present, we assume willingness. Generally no one says anything, unless there’s a disturbance.

Generally there is a disturbance. It’s alcoholism or addiction or substance abuse or mental illness, whatever it’s called it’s always messy. It is always messy. So someone came to the meeting smelling of alcohol. She cried, teary through the lead, and punctuating the speaker’s words with her own grunts and acknowledgments. It was uncomfortable but no one said anything. The woman sitting next to her passed her some Kleenex.

She was, of course, one of the first to speak in the sharing. She gave a lecture. Entirely theoretical against defining a human being in any way other than beautiful, I am not my problem, etc. We all get this, of course, but we let her go on with the theoretical part of the meeting.

There is no theoretical part of these meetings. We are always speaking about our own experience and what we have learned from the poetry of our own lives. We never talk theory.

I was reminded of Dr. P of blessed memory, our beloved teacher of theology in rabbinical school. He was a great theologian. Once early on in our training, he said this, something I didn’t really understand at the time but I remember specifically him saying it at the beginning: theology is story telling for adults.

I get now what he meant. We are not talking theory about Godliness or the nature of God or even the nature of human beings, we are basically talking about how it feels for us to be in the world, what the nature of existence feels like to us. Is it God-full? Is it fear-full? Is it in need of repair? What does it require of us to lead an authentic existence? What to do? In the daily sense, the every day all day of getting up and getting on with it. It is so non-theoretical, as in this theology my friend posted this morning off a wall in a coffee house:

Wake up.

Kick ass.


That’s a theology. I think in all my years doing this work, no one has come to me with a traditionally theological question. It’s always this: is it safe? Existence. Is it meaningful? How? How to make meaning when I lose the sense of meaning. Is it God-full? God hidden? How to coax God out of the hiding places. How to interpret the hiding places, how to read the texts of our own lives. So non-theoretical: how to live.

I didn’t say all that. I thought it.

After the meeting, the woman who was melting couldn’t find her car. Some of us didn’t think it was such a good idea for her to drive and I might have not told her where her car was if I knew her name or how to get in touch with someone, but she found it and whoosh – she was away.

I had given her my phone number and I really hope she calls me. I think she is in danger.

Maybe the hardest part of the night was the two new people who came, young girls, in their Twenties both of them. It couldn’t have been easy for them to come to that room, it’s a big vulnerability to walk in for the first time. But they did. And they saw. I talked to them afterwards and I think they’ll come back.

What I’ve learned: the mess of that meeting that night, the source of it, she may be making mess everywhere in her life and maybe for years like plowing a wake through the waters of existence, this may be her way and she could do that a long time. Until it’s enough. When it’s enough — God only knows.


She called the next day, The ship of her life has plowed enough water. She asked: Was I inappropriate? I don’t know the protocol.

The protocol is simple, I said, we read it at the beginning of every meeting. I will make a suggestion. Come and listen. Listen first, talk later. Listen for a month. I have found that we learn first the art of listening. Then we learn the art of talking.

I’ll be there, she said. She hasn’t been back. She calls every now and again.