“……and are there any newcomers joining us this evening?” asked the Secretary after her short introduction.
She scanned the room, squinting at us through bold tortoiseshell spectacles, every inch the headmistress who brooks no nonsense from her students.
Silence, bar a phlegmy cough and the clearing of a smoker’s throat. Then the scrape of metal chair leg and the newcomer got to her feet.
Insect thin, frighteningly thin – so frail and brittle looking she’d snap like a twig if she bent over. A tiny stomach in the shade of outsize breasts, no hint of any buttocks, bird-like feet slipped into tan Chanel pumps. Floaty white blouse – discreet navy blue monogram on each cuff - silk trousers and an abundant black wig, coiffed and shiny.
“My name is Diana…………” A hesitation. She wasn’t ready to finish the sentence. Instead, she forced a half smile. Her chalk-white skin was stretched so tight it seemed her face might splinter. Not a line, wrinkle, or blemish to be seen. Her face like a mask you’d wear to a black and white ball.
Her eyes said it all, blinking out signals of fear, hope, longing and bewilderment. Can someone please tell me, how did I, Diana, heiress, society lady, fund-raiser and philanthropist, end up in this airless church hall at five thirty on a Monday afternoon?
She reached behind and gripped her chair back with a bony left hand. A Cartier Baignoire hung loosely on her wrist and a diamond wider than her thumbnail sparkled in its chunky modern setting. She lowered herself down into her seat, the smile faded and she looked into her lap.
It was the last Monday of the month, anniversary night and there were two celebrants.
Sharon was first, collecting her one-year medallion. It had taken her six years to get one year. In and out, in and out. A couple of days sober, rest of the month seeking oblivion. But she continued with the meetings. For the smiles and laughter, the fellowship and stories of sobriety.
Then, a year ago yesterday, the voice that many of us talk about. Rising from the deep and forcing its way into her consciousness it had whispered that it was time. Change, or die, it said. It’s that simple.
She poured the vodka down the sink, closed her account at the liquor store and burnt her address book.
It had been the best year of her life, this last one. Life seen through a new and long lens now. Real and lasting sobriety a possibility, not a dream. Waking up each day in her own bed - no man whose name she couldn’t recall lying next to her. No hangovers, no dread. Confidence seeping back into her veins. She felt nothing short of blessed.
Then Laura took the floor.
Forty years sober last Wednesday. Yes, forty years. Two lifetimes for some of the kids in the room. Applause and wide-eyed amazement. Laura looked so young, must have got sober when she was two years old.
She stood there in front of us, nothing remarkable about her clothes, shoes, make-up or hair. But something preternatural about her demeanor. Serene, so comfortable in her own skin a saint would envy her. No grandstanding, no preening airs of look at me and all my sober years. Sobriety had set her free. Free from the sickness and free from pride.
She looked at Diana, caught and held her eye. If collecting this forty-year chip serves any purpose, she said, it’s to show the newcomer that a sober life is not only attainable, but wonderful.
It was a perfect first meeting for Diana, hearing those two women.
Later, she walked alone along the beach, her bare feet in the shallows. The sun was going down, the sea was calm and benign and she was filled with hope, She stopped and looked out to the horizon, where sea and sky met. For the first time in her seventy-one years she said to herself – “My name is Diana and I’m an alcoholic.”
She let out a long sigh as the relief washed over her. Next week she’d say it to the meeting.