Tag Archives: recovery

Masks and Face Coverings

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. 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 new ones, Manel 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.

Anyway, hindsight.

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.

12 Steps for Survivors of the Isms Anonymous

The reader walked up the concrete ramp, sliding her hand along the chipped and smoothed paint of the metal railing, past determined roses and sunflowers on ragged plants that needed to be deadheaded. She stopped to cup one bright beauty in her brown hand and brought it to her nose.

“So sweet,” she whispered to the plant.

Under the awning of the old stone church with its desert pink stucko joints and decorated with long-necked statues of monsters that gave the church its nickname: the Pink Gargoyle Church, she was met by friends on wide wooden benches around the patio. People stood up from conversations to embrace one another in warm, chaste hugs. They looked into each other’s eyes and exchanged the coded banter they had learned in rooms like these, rooms like the one she now entered through glass doors.

She stopped to introduce herself to the grim young man sitting just inside the door, shaking his hand warmly. “Welcome home Sebastian,” she said.

Inside, against a wall decorated with two plain banners—The 12 Steps of SIA, The 12 Traditions of SIA—she sat among more friends, smiling around a fold out table in a circle of thrifted chairs. The meeting began over the quiet clink of metal spoons stirring sugar and the powdered cream into chipped mugs at the coffee pot.

The last bits of chat quieted slowly as the leader said, “Will you please join me in a moment of silence for the still suffering, followed by the Serenity Prayer.”

The quiet came deep, willing, communal. She could feel the flutter of anxiety rise and still as her breath came all the way in, all the way out. She concentrated on the words as she spoke them, trusting the one she said them to, trusting the evidence in the room. Trusting the wisdom and the freedom that they requested in unison.

The readings went as usual, read every meeting, reminding her every meeting. She let them flow around her.

“We meet to share the experiences we have as survivors of the isms of a society built on dominance: colonialism, racism, binarism, heterosexism, ableism, classism…

“Those experiences infected us as children and continue to affect us today…

“One. We admitted we were powerless over the isms and the effects of growing up in structural violence and that our lives had become unmanageable.

“Two. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity…”

“Nine. We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all…

“Suicide, addiction, harm to ourselves and others, anxiety, depression…

“We lived life from the standpoint of victims…

“We take our own inventories and leave the rest to our higher powers…”

And then, after the readings, in the familiar format of the meeting, wise, brave, petty, self-pitying, humble, comfortable, familiar, humorous, vulnerable, honest, and sometimes also still in denial, the people spoke for their three minutes, each as their ticket number was pulled and called from an old coffee can.

She looked out the window at the blue sky, at the tree waving in the breeze. She looked at the speakers. She nodded. She smiled. She felt moved. She felt glad it wasn’t her. She felt grateful. She opened her heart. She resisted. She checked out. She checked in. When the Newcomer Sebastian shared, choked with grief, she nodded with the room when he said, something about walking his neighborhood in fear for his life, about “the plundering of black bodies,” and “Black Lives Matter.” The hour gradually passed.

“Number 68,” the ticket person said.

The reader looked up from her folded hands and smiled. Her number had been called.

“My name is Juno and I am a Survivor,” she began.