I went to a meeting with a friend yesterday. It was early in the morning at our town’s firehouse. The firemen have lent a room to this meeting for 30 years. My friend was rattled and defensive. It was the first time my friend had been to such a meeting. We sat in a quiet corner. Most people sat against the walls, but a few sat at a table in the center of the room. There were women and men of all ages. The young man next to me fidgeted the entire 90 minutes of the meeting except when it was his turn to speak. A woman across from us knitted a brilliant red scarf furiously the whole meeting, stopping only when it was her turn to speak.

People took turns speaking. There was no particular order. A slight man in a baseball cap spoke first. He was wry and funny about the hash he had made of his life. Most of the people who spoke were wry and funny. One man’s voice shook when he spoke, and the man next to him reached over and put his gnarled hand on his shoulder.

Even though many of the speakers were wry and funny, their stories were not. Their stories were awful. Wives walking out the door with children, and police cars and police vans and police officers and court judges and probation officers, and broken teeth and bones, and having to camp in city parks, and companions who froze to death in alleys, and waking up in strange rooms with strange people, and your own children quietly locking the door when they saw it was you on the front porch, and security officers escorting you off the premises as you walked along with all the stuff that had been in your office cubicle now crammed into a big cardboard box, and walking out of meetings like this because meetings like this were for losers, not for you, and you didn’t need this vaguely religious holding-hands crap, and then sitting by the door so you could leave when it got to be too much, and then later taking a seat all the way inside, and maybe someday you will even sit at the table, although sitting at the table means you have to be savagely honest with yourself and everyone else about what you cannot do without help, and being that kind of desperately honest is unbelievably awfully hard.