What these cryptic symbols mean

Everybody has a different idea of how the program works.  A lot of people think it's magic, or that there's actual divine intervention.  It's easy to see how they came to believe that:  For years they were in the grip of an addiction that they couldn't control, that drove them to the edge and then kept on driving and driving despite all their best efforts, and then, somehow, something made it possible for them to stop.  If I couldn't stop myself, they ask, who did?  

A lot of people don't think it works at all.  I had a friend who was so possessed by that idea that we found him hanging by an extension cord from the clothing rod in his bedroom closet.

My take on it, not that anyone cares, is that it's descriptive, not prescriptive.  That is, it's not so much, "follow these twelve steps and you'll get sober," as much as it's, "once you have recovered from this illness, you will look back and realize that your recovery came in stages."  There aren't really twelve of them, either.  There are probably only four or five.  Bill Wilson just liked the number twelve.  

If you're the kind of person who will either go into the rooms or die, you will, if you're lucky, go into the rooms.  It's a world of its own.  It's so tiresome and boring.  It's so endlessly fascinating.

It's full of people who are contemptuous of authority and desperate for structure.  A guy who gets into fistfights with cops ("I'm allergic to alcohol," the joke goes, "it makes me break out in handcuffs") makes sure the meeting doesn't close until someone reads the ninth-step promises.  The group hears stories that would make civilians' hair stand on end and laugh at the bitter jokes.

The jokes.  "What's the difference between a crack addict and a meth head?"  "A crack addict will steal your drugs, and a meth head will steal your drugs and then help you look for them."  Before you even have the twelve steps committed to memory, you learn that 13, 14, and 15 are "sleep with a newcomer, fix your teeth, and get a job."

It's the best entertainment dollar in San Francisco, and the worst.  It's also one of the only places in the city where you'll meet people who are genuine.  It's self-selecting:  the phonies all either go out or die.  

I can't even begin to describe the joy that comes from knowing that people I met in my first year are alive and happy today.  It's the best thing that has ever happened to me.

John Darnielle is a hero to a lot of us.  He walked where we walked, and he took notes.

   I am drowning, there is no sign of land
   You are coming down with me, hand in unlovable hand
   And I hope you die
   I hope we both die

You might think it's weird to joyfully sing along with something like that, but it's not, especially when you're looking at it in the rear-view mirror.

 (A brief aside about "yajna":  It's a Sanskrit word, and it refers to a ritual, or devotional offering, done before a holy fire.)

I say all this because I don't know a better song about meth addiction than this one.  It perfectly captures the misery and squalor and boneheaded stupidity that comes from making your brain run around and around in tiny circles for four days at a time, and it's absolutely joyous.  There's a wild-eyed optimism in it.  

Why on earth would someone write a song - let alone an entire album (We Shall All Be Healed, which this is from) about meth?  Because of something that Bill Wilson said in 1939:  So that victory over this difficulty can bear witness to those he would help.


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