This year the 13th Western Area Conference of Young People in Alcoholics Anonymous (WACYPAA) was in Eugene, only two hours from home. Mark invited me because it’s an event open to everyone, including non-alcoholics like me, and this way I can share a bit of his life. Mark prefers men’s meetings, so yes, I am often excluded from whatever he’s doing in AA.
I should have guessed – it was a WILD party! (granted, wild for me, a girl who has never had to see true wildness the way many addicts have) There were at least two thousand young, prior addicts and drinkers there for four days, round-the-clock. The average age had to be about 22 years or so, and these kids were on a high they probably never guessed was possible without mild-altering substances.
I keep assuming that a non-drinker is a mellow person. NO. I should think of it as that people on the edge are often prone to drinking or using. Take away the booze, and they’re still on the edge. The drugs don’t create the original pain.
There were sobriety meetings all day long, all night long. A new meeting every hour. Everyone we spoke to decided their goal was to stay awake the entire four days. Why? I guess because they were 17 years old, or 23 years old. Needless to say, the amount of coffee and Red Bull consumed in Eugene that weekend probably quadrupled. There were dances and raves, poker games, dominoes, and these awesome 5-foot-long nerf dart machine-guns that were going off into random crowds. There was a movie room, a TV for the sports fanatics. A piano was resting in a corner and random people would decide to sit down and play, and immediately be surrounded by a group of people who wanted to sing. Every 20 minutes, someone would shout “Wacky Wacky Wacky!” and hundreds would shout back “Paa! Paa! Paa!”
There were guest speakers that had the crowd laughing and crying. Every gathering had many speakers. As everyone knows, speakers stand up and say, “Hi, I’m Anna, and I’m an alcoholic,” and the entire room says, “Hi Anna!” At WACYPAA, there was an elaborate ritual that goes well beyond ‘Hi Anna,’ and includes arm movements and getting up out of your seat and a lot of shouting. A few people had those horn-in-a-can things that sound like a semi-truck horn inside a Hilton conference room.
I watched a skit presented by the East Bay group (North Cali) that had me bawling. Dude. Bawling my heart out. I felt a little less like a marshmallow when I saw all the tough guys in black leather with neck piercings bawling right next to me. There were no words. The actors danced out a story of a girl trying to get to AA from her horrible life. Ok, Ok, you artists, you win! Without words I could understand. Usually, I never understand what these people are talking about when they tell me their story. My insane, overriding urge is to say, “If you hate drinking, and the only thing you want in your life is to stop… then freaking STOP.” They tell me that’s what “civilians” always say. So I watched this skit and sort of got it, and got how hard it is, and how many times they have to start over and start over, and how it seems hopeless even when they are close, because it’s too hard to see the way out. Anyway, I’ll try to find a video of the skit for you and post the link later. But watching it on You Tube won’t even come close to sitting in a room with two thousand sober brothers, and sisters, all feeling the same thing. That kind of energy is important to the experience. I wish you could have been there.
Mark hawked his new “knuckleheads” sweatshirts. That’s the name of his rowdy home AA group. I did the art for the back. There was a contingent of LA knuckleheads, and they all put in orders for sweatshirts as well. Mark is charging $4 extra per sweatshirt, so he can use the profits to buy more AA Big Books for the new guys.
There weren’t only young people there, of course. Mark and I were near forty, and we talked to several men there who were in their 60s and 70s. And kids about 12 or 13 who were trying to sober up because they lived a life of hell. Doesn’t that just break your heart to think about? Nearly everyone was in black, and was tattooed and pierced, and had streaks of blue or red hair hanging over their emo face. And there were lots and lots of beautiful girls and women, and homosexual and transgender members. There were mostly young men steeped in testosterone though. It filled my heart to see these men in honest, earnest, fellowship with every other human in the building.
Despite all that, I was keenly aware of being an outsider. Not because anyone treated me that way, of course, but because I couldn’t know or feel what they knew and felt. I was clearly an anthropologist in ethnography mode.
The weather was gorgeous for January, and by that I mean – warmer than 32 degrees. I asked around town and found out that there’s a bike path by the river that apparently took me directly to the University of Oregon campus, home of the Ducks. So I left Mark to attend more meetings, and I went on walkabout.
The bike path was nice to follow, and I was pretty damn happy until I had walked about two miles and spotted the “O” on the other side of the river! Arrrgghh! I cursed the woman who had given me directions. But it was a decent day and I prefer fresh air to being inside a hotel any day. Besides, I wanted to see the UofO stadium, and was hoping something would work out.
I’m glad I’m a glass half full person, because after another half a mile, there was a walking bridge across the river! I crossed the river, crossed through the trees, and viola! There was the stadium.
At Gillette Stadium, one can walk right up to the gates and see the whole place from the outside. Not so in Autzen Stadium. I saw one tiny rectangle of green that I assume was the football field. Ah well.
The next morning, Mark and I were up early (because we had not made a pact to stay awake for four days straight, and went to sleep instead). In the hotel lobby was indeed full of bleary-eyed, super-amped young people who were looking for fresh coffee. They greeted each other with “Get any sleep?” “Hell no!” It was funny. Weather was even warmer, so we went for a walk to kill time till restaurants opened. We found the “5 Market” lit up and beautiful and empty.
It was a great weekend.