The Company You Keep

Instead of binging on Grey’s Anatomy and jelly jars of Chardonnay, I spend my nights reading.

(I’ll spare you the part where I talk about how I used to love reading and how I got away from it and how, now that I’m sober and have some time on my hands, I’ve taken it up again. You know all of this already.)

Unless I’ve come across a really special book, such as Vincent Deary’s “How We Are,” I don’t limit myself to reading one book at a time. (Again, sparing you commentary on my dislike of moderation.) Instead, I have a little book buffet on my nightstand and each night I choose a book based on my mood, how tired I am, stage of the moon, whathaveyou.

After a few weeks of humming right along in my sober reading ways, this week I found myself thinking about jelly jars and how are effective they are at helping me Zone Out. On Wednesday night, instead of pursuing my book buffet, I was instead in my kitchen eating a brick of cheese and feeling very sorry for myself.

Why? Why now?

I could just toss it up to the notion that “these things happen” but really, no, there is something going on here. So instead of picking up a jelly jar, I went back to my books and found a nice little Overlap. (Overlaps are, quite simply, my favorite. They offer some meaning in the chaos. A once-hidden pattern now brought into bold relief. In my experience, you cannot find Overlaps if you’re hung over all the time and just trying to get through the day so you can trash yourself again that night. Overlaps require some attention and quietness – two things lacking in a life of overindulgence and self-loathing.)

In her fantastic essay “How to Be Friends with Another Woman,” Roxanne Gay provides 13 suggestions for success. Item number 13: “My mother’s favorite saying is “Qui se resemble s’asseble.” Whenever she didn’t approve of who I was spending time with, she’d say this ominously. It means, essentially, you are whom you surround yourself with.”

In her book “Stitches,” Anne Lamott writes: “If we’re pressed for an answer, most of us would say that most of the time we find plenty of significance in life as it unfurls in front of us like a carpet runner – at least when it goes as expected, day by day, with our families and a few close friends.”

And finally, at the AA meeting I drug myself to on Thursday afternoon, there was Isaac, a weathered and optimistic black man, sharing on his seventh sober anniversary, talking about “my drinking associates” and chuckling at his own dismay when those “associates” ended up drifting away after he got sober.

The overlap: it’s the company you keep.

The company I keep, the company I work for, is coming apart. A chronic lack of leadership has a left us adrift and directionless.

We are a charity. Charities attract a certain kind of employee. We love the underdog and want to help her. By seeking and accepting a job at a charity you have to be, in some ways, attracted to brokenness.

When the company, as well as the company’s clients, are both broken – well, that is a lot of suffering. My coworkers are smart and tired and all done. A malaise has taken over. It’s not an actively toxic environment. It’s more like Stepford Wives in Haiti. We’re going through the motions, but our hearts aren’t in it. And this kind of work is all about heart.

For me, newly sober, this environment is actively toxic. The malaise seeps into my thinking, which starts to go something like: “This is stupid. This isn’t working. Being sober is stupid. Being sober isn’t working. Why try so hard? Just forget it. Let’s get the fuck out of here and fire up a jelly jar.”

Hence Wednesday night and a brick of cheese.

Here is where I want to write that, armed with this powerful insight, I am quitting tomorrow or that, better yet, I will single-handedly rally the troops and set the ship back on course.

Alas, no. Extremes no longer suit me. Armed with this powerful insight, I am going to begin to make some small, incremental changes to get me to a better place, in better company. I want my next destination to be somewhere specific, not just somewhere else. I want my next company to be worth keeping and worthy of me.