Please welcome Byron Hamel to #BeREALationships as he tells us how the relationship between two other men stuck with him over the years.
I’m sitting there wishing I was someplace else.
Circa 1996. A certain unnamed sobriety support group.
A bunch of people seated in a shitty broke down room, forming a loose rectangle we call a circle.
The air is thick with cigarette smoke; sour with despair.
Just a whole lot of hurt and messed up people trying to stay sober. Group therapy, if you wanna call it that. Maybe more of a place to go where there’s at least some people living through the hardships you are. Staying off the drugs. The alcohol.
Helpful at times.
This time, I find myself observing. Two passive aggressive guys. One’s in the big chair, leading the meeting from behind a desk. The other is right next to that desk, confined to a wheelchair. Let’s call him Andy.
So Andy isn’t happy with (let’s call the other guy) Randy.
Randy’s being a dick. He’s got this smug look on his face, up there playing a power trip, and he doesn’t even know he’s doing it. But I can tell. This guy just loves to be in charge. And tonight, he’s milking that fucking chair at the head of the room for all it’s worth.
I hate that chair. I’ve sat in it before. It’s shitty. Being in control of people. You know what that means? It means you take shit from everybody. Saying who gets to talk, when, and for how long. A necessary role, but a shitty one. Because when you’re in charge, someone, somewhere, somehow is gonna be pissed at you. It’s totally unavoidable. Whether you’re a dick or not.
Anyway, Randy IS a dick. And he doesn’t like Andy. So he has no intention of letting him talk tonight, and he is making it known to the whole room, which is humiliating Andy.
Now Andy does NOT need to be humiliated. He’s already sick of it. Living his life in the spotlight, stuttering, being pushed around in a wheelchair. Not that that’s somehow inherently bad. But he doesn’t need Randy’s shit.
Oh, and Andy has a terminal illness. So his days are numbered. Can you imagine the depth and scope of what went into the choice to stay sober for the rest of his limited existence? I know I can’t.
After a whole lot of Randy not calling on Andy to speak, Andy’s like “I’ve got something to say”. And Randy says “You have to wait your turn, just like everybody else, Andy.” But it’s not like there’s a line of people sitting there waiting with numbers in their hands. It isn’t first come, first served. One look at Andy that day, and anybody in that room would have let him speak his mind.
Except for Randy.
Randy doesn’t like Andy. So Randy calls somebody else to speak. Time is running out. The meeting is almost over. The room is filled with an awkward silence. That next speaker, who is NOT Andy, is a little confused, but after a few moments, she begins her story.
About three minutes into how shitty her childhood was, Andy, who I must now remind you, is confined to a wheelchair, shoots out of that chair like a cannonball, and shoves his limp sober fist right straight into Randy’s arrogant smirk. The two roll around on the ground for a bit before Randy realizes all he has to do is get up and walk away, leaving Andy on the floor in a heap of screaming rage.
And that was the last time I ever went to one of those meetings.
Here’s what sticks with me about that night, after 22 years of functional and content sobriety:
1. You can’t please everybody. Sooner or later, somebody’s gonna punch your fucking nose. Chances are, they will feel 100% justified. And maybe they WILL be justified. Your chance of getting punched in your stupid face is considerably lower when you are not in a leadership position.
2. Leadership is a service, and also a means to power. The power to serve is only a gift to those who truly wish to serve. To others, leadership may prove to be more of a curse than a blessing. You may also satisfy yourself by flaunting your position, but I would urge all leaders to examine whether or not doing so is practical.
3. Andy’s anger was a fucking miracle. Sitting there confined to that chair, the physical laws governing his lack of mobility were nothing, compared to his sheer rage. The anger was like gunpowder. Like thunder. It was a blast cap at the back of a bullet just waiting for that hammer to drop. With a single dragon punch, Andy taught us all the power of emotional content. Rage can kill you. It can stop you. But it can also propel you forward like a big ol’ magnet, electrified and crashing madly into the object you can’t stand to be away from for a millisecond longer. That collision can destroy you. But the will to collide is powerful. Heed this lesson. Anger is a miracle.
Byron is an award-winning journalist and independent filmmaker in Manitoba Canada, specializing in documentary films and the arts. He also writes poetry and songs, and is an outspoken advocate for protecting children from abuse.
As a multidisciplinary artist, Byron is fascinated by the work of sculptors, dancers, pyrographers, painters, musicians, sound engineers and writers. He is a founding member of the comedy folk music duo Ticklish Brother, the writer of Trauma Dad, and two books of poetry: Movie Poetry Volume 2, and Stupid Assassin (which is about to be released!)
Byron’s documentary film, “A Breaking Cycle”, follows Guardians of the Children, a group of tough bikers who help abused kids. The film is exclusively owned by the MTS series “Stories From Home”. His other work includes various short films ranging from noir to comedy.