When I was going through my rehab souvenir box last month on my sobriety anniversary, there were few surprises. A skimpily-used sketchbook, the folded daily schedules, a menu for one of the weeks, a rock, a piece of origami...all things I still had pretty vivid memories of. But one thing that I had forgotten about jumped out at me: a black lanyard.
Upon admission to the nervous hospital, I was issued a photo ID. It came encased in one of those folded pieces of plastic that then clipped onto my shirt collar or pocket...the kind you might get if you were an attendee at a business convention. My ID had to be worn any time I was outside my room, which meant pretty much all the time, because every day was a long work day -- 7am to 9pm every day unless your mother was visiting. I got used to checking for my ID at the end of every session, after each meal, before I left my room in the morning, after running around a grassy field with a blindfold on (don't ask)...always patting myself down to make certain I had my ID.
Newcomers were recognizable by whether or not they had made it to the campus bookstore to purchase a lanyard. IDs could be clipped to the lanyard and worn like a necklace, rather than randomly clipped to wherever it would clip. I made fun of the lanyards for a few days; I thought it was a silly way to establish myself as a "longtime" resident. But I kept losing my ID. It didn't want to stay clipped to my shirt pocket and I had to go wait in line to get another one each time -- it was like going to a DMV for incredibly fucked-up people. So by my fifth day there, I was ready to part with three of the precious twenty dollars that I had brought with me and get a damned lanyard. I dutifully purchased a black one -- there were several color options, surprisingly -- and never lost my ID again.
At the end of my time there, I was required to give back my ID. I thought about passing the lanyard itself on to another person, someone new, to save him the trouble of navigating the first few days lanyardless, but in the end I decided to keep it and into the rehab box it went, un-thought about for a full year, until this past August 12.
I went out to visit my rehab alma mater a couple of weeks ago. Every Friday, everyone who is currently under care divides into loose groups and all alumni are invited to attend the groups as well, where they answer questions about life after rehab. I've been to a few of these and am usually too stage-frightened to say much, though I've noticed that I don't mind fielding the questions about day-to-day processes rather than the loftier ones about spiritual matters. If someone asks "what should I do if I'm invited to a wine-tasting?" my hand shoots right up.
This visit went the same as the others; I answered a few general questions about how and where to find meetings, how to train your car to not drive to the liquor store (the answer is "get a new car") and how to navigate meeting friends after work for a drink. The time went quickly -- it always does at these -- but it didn't take long to feel like I was where I was supposed to be, among the people I was supposed to be among, doing what I was supposed to be doing. At the end of the hour, I stood up to leave and touched my chest, checking, of course, for my lanyard. It wasn't there -- as a visitor, I wasn't wearing one. But I also knew that it really was there, and it was there forever, a piece of rope connecting me to the people in that room and all the people in all the rooms just like it from here on out.