My name is Ryan, and I am not an alcoholic. In fact, I’ve never even been drunk. No seriously. I felt a little tipsy after a particularly strong margarita once. But too much alcohol gives me migraines, so I purposely stay well within my limits.
But, to be honest, I’m kind of a mess. I’m slightly overweight and really out of shape, and it’s very difficult for me to get back in shape because of residual damage done to my lungs when I had pneumonia as a child. I have sleep apnea, so it’s physically impossible for me to get a truly good night’s sleep. And then there are all my food allergies. None are very severe, but are enough to make ordering dinner at a restaurant rather tricky.
And not to mention all my psychological and emotional issues. I have general anxiety and panic disorders, which means that I spend way too much time and energy overanalyzing everything, and then have moments where I just want to hide under my desk until the latest fight-or-flight rush subsides.
I’m a mess. But when people find out about my anxiety issues, they are often surprised. I tell them, jokingly but not really jokingly, that I’m on good medication and have a good therapist. Both these things are true, but I’ve just become very good at masking it.
But in a place like Boston AA, I would not have to mask my feelings of panic and anxiety. I wouldn’t have to make jokes to keep myself from exploding internally. I wouldn’t have to reserve the truth for frantic text messages or emails to a few close, understanding friends.
Because Boston AA is a place that is safe. It’s safe to be real. It’s safe to be honest. It’s safe to be screwed up because everyone there is a little (or a lot) screwed up. See, “no one ever Comes In because things are going really well and they just wanted to round out their P.M. calendar.” People Come In because they are at the end of their ropes and need a safe place just to be.
We need more places like this. Places where those hiding secret pains or anxieties or struggles don’t have to hide them anymore. Places where people like Don Gately, Ken Erdedy, Joelle Van Dyne, and Poor Tony Krause can feel accepted. But also somewhere that I can feel accepted.
Because it’s hard to walk around being normal all the time. It’s hard to mask the anxiety (and believe me, mine is pretty minor compared to some others that I know of. I can’t even imagine the effort that goes into masking their troubles and struggles). It’s like what Meredith Rand’s (from The Pale King) soon-to-be husband says: It’s a lot easier for those with physical illnesses and injuries to be honest about them and to get help because you can see the physical evidence of their troubles; you can’t very well hide a broken arm or sprained ankle. Not so much for those with emotional illnesses and injuries. There is no physical evidence, so it’s harder for others to understand, but easier for the sufferer to hide. But that hiding and masking, after awhile, begin to take their toll.
So I wish we had more places like Boston AA. Places where the seemingly normal among us are allowed to be not normal. Places that are safe and free of judgment. Places where we can just be.