The man in the cafe car orders a double whiskey with his morning muffin. A few feet away another fellow peruses the Canyon Ranch website on his laptop. I am buried in a book of sober meditations, hoping to morph into a saint before the Acela reaches New York, praying that I will stay straight and behave myself at Thanksgiving dinner. If I have learned anything at all in recovery it is to focus on getting my own act together and not worry about what others will do. There is plenty of work to be done.
This will be my first holiday season without alcohol. I am five months sober.
Thanksgiving is, above all, about showing up. That’s what all of us on this train are doing. Whether we’re drinking or sober, anxious or calm, angry or contented, dreading the family reunion or anticipating it with joy, we have decided to show up somewhere and connect with our fellow humans on this day dedicated to gatherings of relatives and friends.
Showing up is the first step in behaving well. Showing up is where the healing begins with other people. You can’t make friends if you don’t show up. You can’t mend fences without showing up. You cannot feel the growth and change in yourself and others if you don’t show up.
The first thing anyone said to me at an AA meeting was: “Keep coming back.”
That advice saves lives. Alcoholics don’t like to show up. We tend to fear other people. We are afraid they will hurt us or that we are not good enough. We fear shame, embarrassment, hurt feelings, anger, resentment. We fear bad interactions. We fear our own weaknesses and shortcomings, especially our addiction, and the trouble they cause. So we isolate, we give excuses, we avoid the people who could take away our loneliness and help us. We drink, become increasingly morose, and isolate even more.
Showing up is the antidote: Taking a train, a plane, a car, a bicycle, or our own feet out of the house and into the larger, livelier, warmer world.
When we show up, we give ourselves the chance to be courageous, be loved and be truly grateful.