I found SIA in the winter of 2019. I had been sober for some years and worked recovery on my childhood trauma and resulting survival skills through another 12-Step program. I knew the steps were transformative. I had known them to heal and change me on a core level.
But that is not the story I want to tell.
When the pandemic of 2020 hit, I was a newcomer in SIA. I had a sponsor. I attended meetings. I had only begun to work step one. I learned from the old timers, who had been around the rooms for decades about my powerlessness over structural violence: how we were survivors of it, but how, as survivors, we had also become perpetrators of it as well. Life had become unmanageable. Suicide seemed like an option. For many, homicide seemed viable. Some had done time in prison. Most of us lost sleep and peace fantasizing about revenge. We needed a new meaning for justice. We grieved and we made amends.
I quickly became dependent on the community in the rooms. We laughed a lot. I had felt alone and crazy. Now I was among fellow star beings and magical, mystical wise ones. My heart cracked open as I heard them share what they had survived. I looked up to the elders there: to Juno and to Dido and to Britomart and Manel. Camilla, as always inseparable from Gallia, took me into her rough arms and then sat me beside her from day one, grinning and winking at me. The other newcomers, Andy, Cly, and Xan met my eyes deeply.
There were many more beautiful folks in the daily meetings. But these were mine.
I was home.
It was weird, but I kept returning to the dingy room and the cracked cushions on the seats. I drank the bad coffee, with the dried creamer, from the chipped cups.
So when, in March, the pandemic hit and we were told to shelter in place, alone in our homes, I was pretty scared to lose all of that. I went dutifully indoors. I checked the news. I shook my head in amazement at the toilet paper shortage. I did what we all did. I waited for my government to set up testing and to provide guidance. Like everyone, I waited in vain.
My AA and ACA went on Zoom, but when I called my SIA sponsor, she said, “Come on down to the meeting.”
Stephen was there planting flowers when I got there. He smiled his gappy grin. He laughed his hoarse laugh. He had a hard time staying sober. But we had been friends in the rooms for years.
I knew not to hug him. I can still remember the last hug I had had: on March 11th at an AA meeting. Les. Even then, I was afraid one of us would get the other sick. Somehow, I already knew that the asymptomatic could be contagious.
My sponsor met me at the door with a carton of disinfectant wipes for my hands. Then she gave me a lightweight, clear plastic, strappy gizmo with a cylindrical center full of what looked like dirt.
“Put this on.” It was a mask. “Keep it watered. Report in here tomorrow at 6 a.m. for service work.”
And that is how I learned how the SIA meetings and the quiet garbage collectors were related. The very next day, I was assigned a shift in my neighborhood.
Gloved and masked in mycelium tech, we went about in our competent way, rounding up the city waste for free.