On a freezing Sunday night in January after our last show of the week, about six months into our run [of “The Real Live Brady Bunch’] at the Village Gate, we booked the back room of a restaurant in Soho for a private soiree. A couple of people rolled joints and passed them around. Just as in high school, the smell alone made me fear the cops would bust in at any moment—I had smoked pot maybe ten times in my whole life, and it never did anything but make me feel paranoid. But because I was just so tired of being the outsider, I took a puff when the joint was passed my way. I was that desperate to be a part of the group. I also wanted to feel altered. Or maybe I just wanted to feel anything other than what it felt like to be me.
I smoked myself into oblivion that night. I never even felt “high” but went straight to a place of even more severe loneliness and isolation. I hoped someone would notice when I just got up and walked out, but I made it all the way back to the Parkside without anyone catching up to me and asking me if I was okay. The real world wasn’t the Brady Bunch. I crawled into bed, just despondent. I had blown my year of sobriety, and for what? I still felt like crap, and even lonelier than I had felt before.
So the next morning, I got up, called Alcoholics Anonymous, and found a meeting. It was January 20, 1992. I was thirty-one years old.
I don’t remember my very first AA meeting, but I do know that I didn’t mess around when it came to working the program. To my relief, there was a recipe, rules to follow called the 12 Steps of AA. We all know how I love me some rules. I was no fan of the gray area. So I got the Big Book, I got busy, and I worked all twelve steps in about an hour and a half and said, “Okay, I’m ready to do some service.”
I adored going to meetings. Because of the Irish DNA dancing in my person, I’ve always been drawn to storytelling. The hero’s journey that Joseph Campbell talked and wrote about has always fascinated me. In the rooms of AA, I was captivated by the courage and the extraordinary effort it takes to face an addiction and come out the other side transformed. What is facing an addiction and getting sober if not a hero’s journey? I ate those drunkalogues up. They inspired me. I was convinced that in these meetings, the real stuff of life was going on and being talked about. The emotional honesty and good humor blew me away. I was all ears.
I did sometimes have a bit of drunkalogue envy. Had I known that in AA one of the things you do is tell your drinking story over and over, I would have made mine much more interesting. My own story was unmistakably bland. First, I drank only Miller Lite. Second, many of my contemporaries drank far more than I and were fine with themselves and their lives. They did not suffer it the way I did. In AA there would be one dramatic story after another, with people losing everything to drugs and booze. And here I was with my Miller Lite and morning hangovers and some occasional unremembered vomit in the bathroom. Some of the stories I heard in the rooms of AA were so endless, horrible, and tragic that I would have to stop myself from screaming at them “At what point did you hit bottom?!” I guess what I’m saying is: when I stopped, I had reached my limit. I knew that my mind, body, and spirit had just had it.
Despite being a girl looking for excuses to feel different, unworthy, and separate, my not-so-exciting drinking backstory did not prevent me from feeling a kinship. I felt the very same feelings many of the people in AA spoke of: alienation, self-contempt, and obsession. I felt like I’d come home and I couldn’t wait to get to a meeting every day, and sometimes I’d hit two.