The next few days had flown by for Jenny, who was busy working on three different projects for one of her biggest clients. Before she knew it, Tuesday evening had rolled around and it was time for another support group meeting.
Dreading seeing Phil, Jen had arrived early but was standing outside the hall working up the courage to go in. While she was internally debating her options, a car roared to a stop across the road. Jenny glanced over, and saw Grayson get out of the car. He locked it, checked for oncoming traffic, and then walked across the road humming a familiar tune. That’s Outkast I think? Roses? Jenny looked over his shoulder, checking whether Adelaida was sitting in the passenger seat.
‘Hey Gray,’ Jenny smiled at him as he came closer.
‘Howaya, Jen? Whatcha doin’ standing out here?’
Jenny felt her cheeks burn. ‘Oh, um, nothing. About to head in. You came by yourself today then?’
The two of them walked up the steps of the hall, and Grayson looked at her before opening the door to let her go ahead. ‘Yeah, I’ll be driving myself from now on. Me and the missus broke up in the weekend.’
‘Oh Gray, I’m really sorry!’ Jenny said, stopping just past the doorway. ‘Are you okay?’
Grayson nodded, smiling broadly. ‘I’m grand.’
He resumed humming his earlier tune as they approached the circle of chairs, where Petra was already sitting waiting. And staring into space.
Jenny suddenly remember the lyrics to Grayson’s tune, and giggled out loud. I know you like to think your shit don’t stink, but lean a little closer see, roses really smell like poo, poo poo.
Grayson and Petra both turned to look at her in surprise. Jenny winked at Grayson. ‘Just worked out what you’re humming, is all. It’s obviously an ode to someone?’
He smiled back at her, and took his seat, drumming his fingers on his thighs. Jenny started to wipe down her chair, and looked over at Petra who was once again staring into space.
‘Um, hi Petra.’ Petra looked over, and Jenny winced at the sight of her puffy red-rimmed eyes.
Sitting down, Jenny leaned towards Petra’s seat. ‘How are you? Did you get my message?’
‘I’m okay.’ Petra sighed heavily, and rubbed her eye sockets with her knuckles. ‘I did get your message, thanks for that. I just wasn’t really up to replying.’
‘That’s okay. I just wanted to make sure you knew I was thinking about you.’
‘We were all thinking about ya, Petra.’ Grayson said from behind Jenny, and Jenny nodded her agreement.
Petra shook her head. ‘I can’t fucking believe I came to our meeting high. I don’t even know how it happened. I mean, I know how it happened, I just can’t really believe I got back in that state. I was doing really well…’
Jenny and Grayson both smiled sympathetically. Petra looked as if she was about to say more, when the hall door swung open and the rest of the group filed in, followed by Maddison. They were all chatting amiably as they walked in, but fell silent when they saw Petra sitting in the circle of chairs. Maddison cleared her throat, and increased her speed to reach the circle of chairs ahead of the others.
‘Welcome back Petra,’ she said, laying a hand briefly on Petra’s shoulder before moving to her own chair - the disgusting old armchair on the opposite side of the circle from Jenny. ‘It’s great to see you back here.’
Petra pursed her lips, and nodded. The rest of the group took their chairs, and said their hellos to those they had missed on the way in. Even Suzanne, aka The Formerly Angry Brat, smiled over at Jenny and gave her a little wave as she sat down. Jenny smiled warmly in return, briefly admiring Suzanne’s harem pants and high heels before glancing down at her own jeans and trainers combo. I must remember to ask her for some outfit advice for my blind date.
Maddison cleared her throat, signalling that they were about to start. Jenny looked over at Phil, ready to give him a sorry-about-you-know-what-hope-this-isn’t-awkward-and-we-can-still-be-friends smile, but he wouldn’t make eye contact with her. Jenny shrugged her shoulders slightly, and tried to focus on what Maddison was saying.
‘It’s great to see you all again.’ Maddison was looking at each of their faces in turn, pausing for a few extra seconds when she looked at Petra. ‘And I am especially pleased to see Petra back with us. I think you’ll all agree that everyone faces ups and downs on this journey, and it’s extremely courageous of Petra to pick herself up and attend our meeting tonight. ’
The rest of the group nodded their agreement, and there were a couple of claps amongst the murmurs of encouragement.
‘This is our sixth meeting, which means we’ve been getting to know each other for three months already.’
‘Feels like three feckin’ years!’ Grayson sniggered, and a couple of others in the group laughed.
Maddison smiled at Grayson. ‘You’re right, it does feel a lot longer than only three months. I actually just wanted to take a moment, before we get started, to say how proud I am of each and every one of you. I’ve been watching and taking notes, and I have been really delighted to see the progression in each of you. To see you all working through your issues and addictions, facing them in all sorts of different ways.’
Jenny blinked in surprise, as Maddison looked at her directly. ‘You’ve all taken steps, whether big or small, towards your own personal goals, and I am extremely proud to see the way you have formed such close and supportive relationships amongst yourselves. I hope you can continue to do so, long after our group sessions officially finish.’
Anthony, sitting on Jenny’s left, cleared his throat. ‘Maddison, when do our sessions finish? My psychiatrist thinks I’m making progress, you know, not stealing as much, and that this group has been really good for me. But, I’ve still got a long way to go, you know. When this group finishes, can we continue on, or do we join a new group? How does it work?’
‘Those are great questions, Anthony.’ Maddison consulted her ever-present clipboard. ‘After tonight’s session, there are four more sessions to go. I’ll be starting another group, two months after these sessions finish, and any of you are welcome to sign up for these. However,’ she looked around the circle, ‘you might also like to set something up individually yourselves. A sort of supportive social circle. Which is what a lot of my groups have done in the past.’
‘Right, okay, thanks.’ Anthony looked over at Phil, who was surprisingly quiet. ‘Phil, you’re the super-social organiser, you want to set that up?’
Phil shrugged. ‘Yeah, maybe.’
Anthony blinked slowly. ‘Right, well, someone else might want to do it this time.’ He turned back to Maddison as she started speaking.
‘Okay, so let’s have a few updates from the group. I was thinking we could go around the circle and give a brief update, before we give the floor to someone for their individual story.’ Maddison looked to her left, at Phil. ‘Let’s start with you Phil. How is your goal coming along? How have you been since our last meeting?’
‘Okay,’ Phil crossed his arms, and looked around the circle, avoiding Jenny’s eye. ’I ‘spose I’m doing okay. I’ve got my fitness test next week, and by all accounts I should pass with flying colours.’ Phil attempted a smile as the others in the group clapped, though Jenny noticed his dimples didn’t seem as deep as usual. ‘Had a bit of a setback over the weekend though,’ Phil glanced at Jenny and then looked at the floor, ‘suddenly found myself driving to every takeaway restaurant I could find, and ate myself into a coma for a couple of days.’ Phil looked over at Petra, who was looking back at him with sympathy. They shared a mutual smile of acknowledgment. ‘Anyway, I was a sad fat git again, but I’m back on the wagon.’ He smiled again, this time genuinely, ‘I ran sixteen kilometres yesterday. That’s my personal best.’
‘That’s wonderful Phil, well done.’ Maddison smiled encouragingly. ‘This is an exceptionally good example of how much you’ve progressed Phil. You’ve acknowledged the set back, and you’re moving forward.’ Maddison looked at Petra, who was next in the circle. ‘Petra, would you like to say a few words?’
Petra nodded. ‘So… I lost my shit for a few weeks, I’m a fucking wreck and the withdrawals are excruciating, and I can’t fucking see my kids right now. But, I’m clean and sober.’ Petra slumped in her chair, indicating this was as much information as she was going to give.
‘We’re all proud of you, Petra, for getting through this and for coming along tonight.’ Maddison looked at Ellen. ‘Ellen?’
Ellen smiled at the group. ‘Well, I’ve been really busy at work, and it’s kind of keeping me occupied. That plus these meetings and this group, and AA, and I think I’m feeling quite content. I don’t know that I’ve felt like that in a long time. My parents even invited me around for dinner the other night, and complimented me on getting my shit together.’ Ellen was quiet for a moment, smiling to herself at the memory. ‘Oh, and I haven’t had sex in three days. So I’ve sort of already reached my goal.’
‘Ellen, that’s wonderful,’ Maddison responded, ‘you should be extremely proud of yourself.’
Anthony leaned over Jenny, careful not to touch her, and gave Ellen a high five.
Jenny realised she was next. Sure enough, Maddison turned to her. ‘Jenny?’
What will I say? What will I say? Don’t vomit. Do not say butthole. Everyone’s looking. Just. Say. Something.
‘Well, I recently told my judgemental family to go fuck themselves. Er, excuse the F bomb.’
There was a collective sharp intake of breath around the circle, and Grayson and Anthony started laughing. ‘Well done, Jen!’ Anthony said beside her.
Maddison frowned slightly, and checked her notes. ‘Jenny, how about you tell us your story tonight, after we’ve had everyone’s updates?’
Oh shit! My turn. Am I ready? ‘Um, okay. I haven’t really prepared myself or anything.’
‘That’s okay Jenny, you can say as little or as much as you like, about yourself and what’s happening in your life at the moment. We’ll come back to you after everyone has given their updates.’ Maddison turned to Anthony, on Jenny’s left. ‘Anthony?’
Anthony ran a hand through his salt and pepper hair, and Jenny thought for the millionth time what a silver fox he was. Not her type, obviously, she could never do facial hair and the germ army it would harbour, but that didn’t stop her appreciating his rugged handsomeness.
‘I’ve just finished my six weeks of performance management at work, and I’ve still got a job.’ Anthony smiled as some of the group gave a few claps of congratulations. ‘I haven’t taken anything in a while now,’ he looked thoughtful for a moment and looked down at his pocket, ’okay, I haven’t taken much lately. So I definitely feel like there’s some kind of improvement happening. My psychiatrist says I’m learning other behaviours to cope with stressful situations.’
‘That’s great Anthony, you really are making excellent progress.’ Maddison turned to Grayson. ‘Would you like to give us an update Grayson?’
Jenny noticed that Grayson’s fingers were still drumming on his thighs, and before he started to speak he crossed and uncrossed his legs. ‘Right, yeah, okay,’ he started, bobbing his head up and down. Jenny looked away, sometimes he made her feel a little seasick. ‘So, my big news. I broke up with me moth.’
‘Your “mott”?’ Anthony asked, and the others looked confused.
‘No, me MOTH,’ Grayson replied, pronouncing the ‘th’ sound carefully. ‘You know, me bird. The wife, like.’
The others, excluding Jenny who had already heard this juicy piece of gossip, gasped in unison.
‘What happened?’ Ellen asked.
Anthony clapped him on the shoulder in sympathy. ‘Sorry, bud. Did she dump you?’
Grayson shook his head and smiled broadly. ‘She didn’t dump me, it was me that gave her the flick.’ He looked at their surprised faces, and shrugged. ‘It’s grand, I’m delighted with meself. It happened a few days ago.’ He looked thoughtful, and then blinked in surprise. ‘I haven’t placed a bet since we broke up, actually.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that your relationship has broken down, Grayson. You seem to be coping surprisingly well, but bare in mind it’s still early days.’ Maddison looked at Suzanne, who was next in the circle.
‘Er, I’m doing okay. I just…’ Suzanne looked unsure what to say, whether she should continue. Whether to smile or frown. After a second’s consideration, her face shut down and she seemed to have chosen the latter. ‘Just trying to get my olds off my back. Trying not to get into too much debt. The usual.’
‘Thank you, Suzanne.’ Maddison turned to Jonty, who was sitting quietly as usual. ‘Lucky last, Jonty. How are you doing?’
Jonty turned his pale face towards the group, and smiled thinly. ‘Okay. Still not drinking. Shit I could use a drink. A large, stiff whiskey. Or a cold beer. A glass of wine even.’ Maddison coughed quietly, to interrupt his train of thought. ‘Right, sorry. I go to AA meetings, I come to these meetings, I visit the Work and Income office every week and I get turned down every week, and I watch a lot of TV. Nothing new really.’
Jenny winced, as she thought about Jonty’s sad existence, and felt a guilty rush of relief that she wasn’t in the same predicament. At least she had a good job, which kept her busy. Her own addiction didn’t stop her from getting – and keeping – a job, nor from saving money and making something of herself. It also didn’t threaten her health and wellbeing. Not really. She smiled sympathetically at Jonty, and he nodded back at her.
‘Jonty, by no means do I want to minimise the challenges you face, but I do want to point out that you’re clean and sober, that you have voluntarily joined this support group, and that you actively take part in it. I believe you’ve really made some good progress since these group sessions started.’
The others in the group nodded their agreement, and Jonty smiled in return. A genuine smile, which reached the corners of his eyes. His very very unusual eyes, Jenny noticed them for the first time. They were almost golden, with flecks of brown. Jonty raised an eyebrow at Jenny, and she realised she had been staring. ‘Sorry’ she mouthed in embarrassment.
‘Now, I believe you were going to tell us your individual story?’ Maddison looked directly at Jenny, whose heart started beating so fast she thought it might fly out of her chest. She wiped her clammy hands on her jeans, and looked around the group nervously.
This was it. Time to tell her story. Gulp.