Feeling the Fellowships

Fight Club begins with Brad Pitt cruising various Support Groups and Fellowships and feeding off them like a emotional vampire: Or is it Ed Norton who does the cruising? Who ends up with Helena Bonham Carter? It’s years since I saw the film and I have still to read the book.

Support Groups and Fellowships became part of my life when I gave up drinking seven years ago; first it was AA, then it was Tough Love for a problem child, then a faith-based support group, and now Compulsive Over-Eaters Anonymous.

Some  might argue that attending Mass on an almost daily basis was also a Fellowship, although I had little choice in the matter until I left home at which stage I promptly became semi-lapsed until I had children when I set the example of faith – although once a week was enough, I felt, in addition to their church schools.

Never mind that: the point is that groups and programmes and fellowships do not work for everyone, although they are generally full of the sort of people who, love or loathe them, make for wonderful character studies.

Tough Love is a support group for parents of abusive children: it’s a problem seldom discussed by the Middle Class – we blame ourselves if our children hit us, steal from us, do drugs, lie, and all the rest of it – but it is just as prevalent behind high walls with electric fencing and laser beams along the top as it is in the squatter camps.

The group we went to was run by a sanctimonious veteran, a woman who used the group as her own way of offloading all the shit that had come her way that week, and for ever. Personally, my sympathy soon lay with her son the drug addict who stole money to feed his habit and was still living at home in his late 20s, unemployed and unemployable.

His mum had problems with all her children, none of whom seemed to care for her, but at least the addict formed the focus of her woes. ‘They say addiction is a disease,’ she informed us,’Rubbish! It’s the sign of a week and immoral character.”

Since I always left the Tough Love group early to go next door to the AA meeting – as she knew – I was unimpressed with her views. And God help anyone who contradicted her! Most of the members had children who were addicts and addiction was the focus of the discussions: addiction is genetic, or a symptom. Or a sign of sinful moral degeneracy.

When my problem child left home for residential university 1000 kilometres away, we were glad to stop attending, although AA was still a big pat of my life with four meetings a week. But the problem is the AA Fellowship can consume lives – some old timers attend at least seven meetings a week, and do central council service as well.

As a newly recovered alcoholic hearing the humiliating memories of a successful person 20 years sober is an inspiration: he was homeless! He lay in the gutter and shat himself in the middle of town! He was fired and drank so much he forgot he’d been fired and turned up at work the next day! He was divorced five times. He went through 15 jobs in two years…

Alkies are generally fun people with a sense of humour and a marked sense of the absurd: you laugh until you cry at their stories of stripping at the Christmas party, of drunkenly going on air or on stage, or of catering a huge party for the Oppenheimers drunk.

Being drunk at their own wedding and getting the vows wrong, drunkenly attacking the teachers at a PTA, Meeting the in-laws for the first time, plastered, arriving tipsy for the first day of a new job – these stories are hilarious for the first  and second hearing, funny for the third and fourth, mildly amusing for the fifth and sixth, and then just plain boring.

Many old-timers in AA sit through meetings without listening just to bore most people but inspire and amuse the few new comers with their stories of addiction and recovery. My goodness, how you laugh the first few times. But by the third month you decide to find a new meeting. Or maybe decide you can do without AA altogether.

AA is the most successful recovery programme for addicts but, in real terms, even it has only a 20% recovery rate at best. Many addicts were Catholics, and blame their faults on the strictures of the church. As a not yet Catholic-hating Christian, it is hard to hear all the hatred and resentment directed toward the faith of one’s youthful innocence.

Never mind Catholic, most Christians have heard spurious and scurrilous charges leveled at the Christian faith. The best way to counter this is to attend a faith-based group where all manner of opinions, beliefs and criticisms are discussed.  Where doctrine is debated  and, in a microscopic way, encyclicals are challenged.

However, it appears some people who join faith-based groups are either rabid converts or the clinically brain dead-walking dead who will never challenge the steps, traditions and gifts, even if they fly in the face of every day logic and reality.

For others, the meetings themselves are enough, they are a new addiction, a place where they can find reaffirmation and strength and community. Hugs, kisses, telephone calls and friendship. BUT, only providing they push the right buttons in their listeners.

Believe me, there is nothing so lonely as being ignored or excluded from a fellowship of those who blame loneliness and exclusivity for their problems.: those who say no-one listens and do not listen themselves, who are merely waiting for a pause to launch into their own tale of drunken driving or arriving drunk at their wedding.

Everything, everyone, deserves a chance;  so I have committed myself to Mass and  Fellowship for the next few months. Jobless, I have no excuse. Theoretically, I should be thin, sober and serene soon. I bcan only say, wait and see.

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