Illusions in Recovery?

mardisgrasHere is a reflection I wrote about 10 years ago while on a “retreat” in New Orleans . . . 


With my hands gripping the hot iron bars of the gate, I stare into the Washington Street Cemetery, looking for that brick wall where I used to sit and lean, drinking myself into oblivion when I lived in New Orleans over 30 years ago. I am not certain whether the oppressive late afternoon August heat and humidity or my failing memory keeps me from pinpointing the spot. I turn and walk down the uneven sidewalk jumbled and cracked by the roots of centuries old live oaks. The heat is so oppressive I feel faint. I approach the corner of Prytania and Washington and look toward the blue and white clapboard of Commander’s Palace and the Garden District mansions. I reflect on my changed vision with some 20 plus years of sobriety. As I turn on to Washington Street, a man in his mid-20s, dressed in a white t-shirt, blue jeans and ragged tennis shoes approaches. His hair and beard are cropped short. He gets to the point. “Hey man, can you give some money, I need a drink.” I am shaken from my reverie, caught off guard and silent. ‘I really need a drink,” he pleads. I get back in the moment, say that I am a recovering alcoholic, that I won’t give him money but I’ll take him to an AA meeting. I tell him about my recent reflections about 30 years past. He responds “Man, not drinking for 20 years don’t mean nothing to me, I can’t quit for a week – I’ve tried.” He offers excuses, and I remain adamant, reciting my recovery clichés. He relents, offers me a hip and overly complex handshake that I cannot quite get right, and heads down Washington St. I turn away to collect myself and hear his voice start his next hustle “Yo man . . . “ I turn to look and no one is in sight. The street is quiet and empty in the afternoon heat. Is this all an illusion, a daydream in my head, looking into a mirror from long ago? I continue on, now embraced and nurtured by the heat and humidity of the New Orleans that I have come to savor.

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