As a young woman, I spent a lot of time in church basements. This was a direct result of having previously spent a lot of time in bars. I had made a mess of my life and had stumbled through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous as a lost soul, a penitent into a house of worship. Here was something I could fix; I could stop drinking. I had no idea whether drinking was the root of my problems, or merely a symptom, but I was pretty sure that no one’s life had ever been made worse by getting sober.

I was living in New York City, where there seemed to be an AA meeting on every corner. These meetings were filled with an unlikely cross section of life in New York: you’d see a high-powered attorney sitting in a metal folding chair, his sleek leather briefcase leaning against a Hefty bag stuffed with all the belongings of the man next to him, whose home was a subway grate down the street. You’d see former child actors, cops, schoolteachers, musicians. Everyone had a story, and a reason to tell it. The stakes were high. In many cases, the stakes were life and death. People had grown-up problems. Busted marriages, lost children, financial doom, ill health. Little more than a child myself, I listened hard. I felt at home, welcomed, deeply relieved to be among people who were trying to tell the truth about their lives.

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