Cold and grey outside, vaguely alarmed by military jets shooting past in the grey skies (the airforce training pilots from Scotland I am told), but sweltering in the the kitchen with smoke detectors flaring up in shrill outcry as I brown deer meat for a venison supper tomorrow night. Vegetarians scroll past.
There is bacon, leeks and red onions chopped for sweetness, mushrooms browned separately, plenty of red meat. A small glass of red wine to deglaze the pot in which I browned the meat, and two litres of chicken stock, homemade. A little cinnamon bark, juniper berries, a little ground coriander, some dried origanum, bay leaves, cloves and garlic. Here’s hoping.
To a meeting last night where we talked about insanity. The way some of us felt we were liars from childhood and had distorted patterns of thinking long before we picked up that glass of wine or bottle of beer for the first time. Others who went crazy and watched our lives vanish with each bout of drinking, losing all power of coherent thought. Some of us felt restored to a clean-living sanity we had known long ago. Some of us felt we became crazier in sobriety, more outrageous and outspoken, but in a creative, eccentric and growth-filled way.
The people I mix with in AA are very free and outspoken, not herd-like at all. When I read critiques of AA groups I can’t recognise the AA I know in what is being described. The women and men I sit with drinking coffee and eating biscuits each week are not God-pushers or holier-than-thou or advice-givers. They are simply making the best of tough lives and staying sober by helping others to stay sober one day at a time. They are funny and caustic and self-deprecating. One woman rescues battery chickens. Another plays golf in the nude on deserted courses by moonlight. Another is an artist whose partner doesn’t understand why she still needs to come to the rooms now that she is sober and ‘recovered’. Another is an agnostic grandmother who quarrels with her grandchildren and loves them to bits and is grateful they have never known her drunk. Another is a priest who dislikes God-talk but who is lit up somehow from within by a radiant loving power.
Everyone in the rooms with me has something I want. And I will go to any lengths humanly possible to get the same quality of sobriety and to pass on the same hope.
Now the venison is simmering away at the back of the stove and I am watching to check it does not catch and burn. I enjoy cooking for others, feeding friends and those I live with, preparing food as a comforting and pleasurable ritual of love and togetherness. When we pause at the beginning of meetings to spend a few minutes in thought for the still-suffering alcoholic, I always wish I could bring all those still demented and trapped by the craving to drink, blocked by shame and denial, bring crowds of them into the kitchen and feed them soup, a great pot of bean soup, with hunks of freshly baked bread on the side and mugs of steaming tea. Welcome them home to a place of rest and the cessation of cravings and running away.
How I ran away from life — right from early childhood. I too may well have been an alcoholic waiting to happen. I can believe that I sipped a small glass of sherry as a child at a festive table with relatives all around toasting each other with jolly red faces and uplifted shining glasses while I thought somewhere deep within: ‘This exotic delicious elixir shall become my great escape, my way of being left alone.’ Sipping it obediently like poison.