The Serenity Club

I was in Clearwater.  Claude, a recovering friend who is a cardiologist, was staying w Barbara and me because of the renovations to his newly purchased condo.  We decided that we wanted to go to a meeting and I had noticed the Serenity Club in the Pinellas Meeting List.  So we showed up Sunday evening fifteen minutes before the 8:00 p.m. meeting time.  It was only a short distance from Island Estates but world’s away, most everything is world’s away from Island Estates though.

There was a large wooden sign “Serenity Club” on the small front lawn of what looked to be a small house in the old downtown neighborhood.  There were a couple of people outside smoking and we said “Hi” and they responded amiably.  We entered a large very high ceilinged room that could have once been a small church hall.  I introduced myself to the people setting up the meeting.  It was a pretty eccentric meeting room.  The group members were lighting candles that had been placed on the tables down the center of the room and on each side.  Turns out it was a brand new format for the Sunday Night meeting, a candle lit A.A. meeting.

On the front wall behind the chairperson’s table was a twenty foot rendition of a signpost with “Bourbon St.” on one sign and “Turner St,” the location of the Serenity Club on the other, facing in opposite directions.  Midway down the pedestal of the signpost it said, “We stood at the turning point…” a quote from the Big Book.  On the left of the signpost was a large framed rendition of the Twelve Steps, not the usual pull-down shade, but something that someone had spent some effort on.  Similarly, on the right hand side of the front wall, was a large unique, rendition of the Twelve Traditions.  On the back wall on a sea green, shell-strewn background, were the “Promises” hand lettered and disappearing into the wainscoting.

The meeting started pretty traditionally, except all the lights but one were out and the candles rather than bringing light, seemed to intensify the gloom in the relatively large space, Claude and I introduced ourselves as visitors, the Serenity Prayer was followed by a moment of silence.  Chips were distributed for different lengths of sobriety and a guy I’ll mention in a moment picked up a 24-hour chip.  The chairperson asked Claude to read the “Promises,” someone else read, “How it works,” and as requested, I read from Daily Reflections.

You really couldn’t see the participants and there weren’t that many, 12 maybe, scattered throughout the large space. A guy from behind us kicked off the discussion with what came to be the topic and generated a lot of “cross talk” despite the fact that the meeting introduction suggested refraining from cross talk.  The guy, speaking quietly and passively, said he didn’t know if he could make it through this night.  He was on the street, had nothing and wanted someone to help him.  Talked about the fact he’d been on the street for a while and he just couldn’t take it anymore, didn’t know what he was going to do.

From that point on the meeting attendees responded directly to the speaker.  Some were empathic, “I’ve been there. You can make it.” some offered strategies, “Go pound on a squad car and the cops will take you to jail for the night.” Or “Try the detox at Morton Plant Hospital.” One guy in particular offered only tough love, “Hey pal, I’ve been where you are.  I was on the street.  I had to decide, do I want to drink or get sober?  There are five meetings a day here.  This isn’t the old days. I don’t think anyone’s going to take you home for the night.  If you want it bad enough you won’t drink tonight and you’ll come back here.  Eventually you’ll get what you need. Go down to the beach and sleep and come back tomorrow.”  It was difficult to gauge if the guy on the street was known to the group or not, sometimes that’s the case.

Eventually the chairperson, who said he was sober six months, called on Claude, “Hey you, the guy from Boston, got anything?” Despite being surprised, its not good A.A. manners to do that to a visitor, could drive them away.  Claude did pretty well briefly describing his own struggle to get well and directing his comments to the whole group not to the first speaker.  The meeting broke up with the lights coming on, and a group circle with the familiar recitation of the “Our Father.”  I didn’t quite see what happened to our unfortunate colleague.  I thought of giving him a dollar, you wouldn’t tempt anyone with more, but the guy had disappeared.

You certainly wouldn’t want to go to the Serenity Club for your first meeting.  There’s no question that this meeting could easily produce the famous remark, “When I get that bad I’ll come back.” But for me, as dissonant as the experience could have been, it was reminiscent of the heterogeneity of meetings that I went to in early recovery and still, obviously, go to from time to time, despite long-term sobriety.  It really was an excellent “remember when” and a reminder that there are so many very damaged people out there for whom coffee, a sandwich, and people who are “just like,” them, are available and only a few weeks or months ahead of them..  Some of these people get well and they probably wouldn’t without the Serenity Clubs of the world.

Claude had a cigarette in the parking lot and we drove back to Island Estates in his rented Impala.  Despite his elevated cultural and professional status Claude had ended up in an environment similar to the Serenity Club, a halfway house on Long Island in Boston Harbor. It was after a more clinically appropriate stay at Betty Ford.  Somehow the MA Professional Recovery System (MPRS) felt he had to go somewhere after Betty Ford and inappropriately placed him there.  It worked for Claude because he has such a capacity for adaptation and such a strong desire to recover.  It wouldn’t work for most recovering doctors.  On the way home we both agreed it was good to be sober and the meeting was an excellent meditation on gratitude.  
Premium Drupal Themes by Adaptivethemes