Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Friend in Need

I have written about a friend named Ted from time to time. Last night he called to tell me that he had just got out of jail. I was afraid that he had relapsed and went back to drugs and alcohol, but he assured me that he did not. He had gotten into a fight at an AA meeting in New York City. Someone with an Arab background had told him that he had no idea what suffering was until he lived as a Arab-American and a Muslim in the USA. Ted told him that everyone suffers and that he wasn't the only one. Things got heated and several other AA members all ended up in a physical fight and getting arrested when the police were called.

No charges were pressed and everyone was released the next morning. It was not the first time that Ted spent a night in jail but it was the first time since he became sober. One of the men who worked at the jail told him that the argument that caused them all to be jailed was happening everywhere in New York City although it was the first time he had heard it happening at an AA meeting he was sure it would not be the last. The guard said that most Americans were so mixed ethnically that it was hard to claim one ethnic group was better than another except that the Arab-Americans were finding themselves on one side and all other Americans including non-Arab Americans were on the other. Ted thought it was more of a religious thing than anything else. I didn't know. I don't even know any Arab-Americans although I have known some Iranians that I worked with when I worked at a hotel while in graduate school. That was before 9/11 and the last Bush Administration.

The guard was an AA member and cautioned Ted that the next time might not end so well for Ted and the others including the Arab-American who was also let go from jail without charges. Things were getting worse instead of better now.

Later all of them all went to a coffee shop and had some coffee even the Arab-American. He had to admit it was hard for him to admit he was an alcoholic since in his culture he was not suppose to drink let alone admit he was powerless against the effects of it. He had to hide the fact that he was going to AA meetings but he would lose his job with the city if he didn't. He thought the city was looking for reasons for firing him since he was a Muslim. He had no idea that Ted was a writer and was intrigued that Ted wrote about his bad experiences as a kid and made money doing it.

One member was part Irish and noted that there were a lot of Irish in New York and many of them had trouble with alcohol. Most of his relatives were with the police department but he was not. He was a butcher and was glad he was. When he was drinking he was always afraid he would cut off his hand while working. Now, he was more sure of himself although his wife left him because of it. She had remarried and refused to let him see his kids although he had stopped drinking several years ago. He even took anger management classes as he used to toss her around a bit before she left him. He did not know if she would ever let him see the kids but they were asking about him and he had his fingers crossed. Her new husband was not working and they all lived on his child support which really irked him, but he didn't lose his temper anymore although he wanted to. At least his kids saw him in a better light than his wife's new husband.

Another member was Italian-American and not anything else. His great-grandparents on both sides of the family came from Italy and he also had family members who had trouble with alcohol. His twin brother had more trouble with drugs and was into crack and was somewhere in Manhattan dealing and using the stuff. Family members expected to find his body in some drug house someday. The member was a pharmacist but lost his license when his brother stole some drugs from him and he could not prove it was not him. Now, he was a sales clerk in a video store which was going out of business. His wife was the one who really brought in the money that supported all of them. She was a elementary teacher in a private Roman Catholic school. She was very bitter towards his family for not doing more when he was arrested for his brother's theft of drugs from his drug store.

The last of them was disabled and on Social Security. He had cancer and it was a matter of time before it killed him. He drank to kill the pain since he could not get the pain killers as prescribed by his doctors because Medicaid would not pay for them. The law had changed and now he can take marijuana as prescribed by a doctor although he was forever getting busted by the police. He grew his own stash in a closet that had a special light. He wanted to grow it on the fire escape but kids were always stealing it. He wanted to buy it from a special store but the police often staked it out and then harassed him when he went in.

It occurred to Ted that the Arab-American still did not understand that all of them in one way or the other had severe reasons to drink but did not. He was so heavily enmeshed in his own tale of persecution that he could not see beyond where he was. Mohammad would just have to find his own way in his own time. Each of them did. Ted said he remembered a time when he thought he was the only one that had troubles as bad as he did. Since writing his first book, he hears from people with the same or even worse situations as he did.

Ted told me that when he was drunk or stoned, he would lie on the stone floor of the jail and wake up feeling so sick and achy in the morning that he would want to have a drink right away so the pain would stop. He would be dirty and filthy and he would feel ashamed. This time all of them just sat through the night talking to each other and listened to the drunks that were on both sides of them of them. The guard had put them in a cell by themselves. He even put the Arab-American with the rest of them. That was taking a gamble but it worked. They talked it all out and no one was going to hit each other in jail especially with other men in the other cells going through the withdrawal from alcohol and drugs all around them. The past memories were too real. The guard stayed around them. The brotherhood between the men were strong. They had more in common than ethnic bonds.

I thanked Ted for sharing what he did with me. He told me that every so often something in life happens that is special. If someone had told him that a night in jail was such a special event he would have thought that was mad. It was very special. All of them admitted that something had happened that they should all remember and include it in their road to sobriety.

I asked him why he was in New York City. He said he didn't know. He just said he felt like coming and would stay for a while. I told him to get some sleep.

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