She’s from New York, but moved out to Minnesota a few years ago to begin to recover and raise her teenage son. We ran into each other at the large coffee pot before the meeting. She was wearing the neatest wide-brimmed straw hat, calling it “my country-girl look.” She is a great addition and blessing to our Wednesday 10:00 a.m. AA group–colorful, unpredictable, not afraid to share her vulnerability or hesitant to ask if anybody needs a little time before we begin. Last Wednesday she shared with the group a recent embarrassing public incident that almost landed her in jail but turned out for the best. The story initially made her look weak and powerless, but upon reflection, it empowered her and us. The power wasn’t coming from her, but from her Higher Power.
This week she shared a story titled “Back in Fifteen Minutes.” I asked her after the meeting if I could use it in my writing and she agreed. Our meeting topic was humility in our recovery. She told us that in the midst of the darkest period of her addiction she owned and operated a shop in New York City. She would often find herself hiding beneath the table in her shop, not wanting to see or speak to anyone. She regularly locked her shop and put a sign on the front door “Back in Fifteen Minutes.” She would escape to the bar just down the street, exceeding her fifteen-minute limit by hours, if not days. She said, “I would always keep putting that sign on the front door. Back in fifteen minutes—back in fifteen minutes—back in fifteen minutes. That’s how I lived my life!”
Wow! That phrase slipped beneath my defenses and I pondered my own “back in fifteen minutes” signs I frequently post. Think of those dark times of escape, hiding, running, avoiding, stuffing, burying, and so much more, cavernous depths of mere existence, on the edge, teetering, almost gone. Places where we could have gone either way, where we could have slipped into oblivion.
It is empowering to see my friend’s smile, encouraging words, and bright colors almost every week now. Her brutal honesty and self-effacement strip away much of the darkness I find myself still wanting to hide in, under the table with others walking all around me. She is refreshing, even on her fragile days when she needs more time—perhaps especially then.