If you want to help a friend in recovery, send a card


October 26, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

How do you know it's the '90s?

All it takes is an introduction. You meet someone. You say, "Hi, my name is whatever, preferably your actual name."

And he says, "Hi, my name is Bill. I'm a co-dependent.

You say, "Uh . . ."

Or he says, "Hi, my name is Bill. I'm an alcoholic. I'm a drug addict. I'm an infantilist. I'm a foot fetishist. I wet my bed. I used to date Geraldo."

Again you say: "Uh . . ."

What can you say in this situation? You'd like to show you've got the right kind of up-to-date empathy. "I've got a son who's an infantilist. Of course he's 8 months old."

Now, you don't have to say anything. You can just send a card.

Yes, America, it may be only 1992, but I've discovered a guaranteed entry for the decade's time capsule.

I found it in the Hallmark store the other day while looking through the exploding-cow cards for my nephew's birthday. There they were, two full racks of "Just for Today" cards. These are meant, and I quote, as a "support and celebration for people in recovery." Perfect.

Because everyone in America in the '90s is recovering from something. Maybe that's why Bill Clinton is doing so well. He's not simply a presidential candidate; he's running for group counselor. Can't you see Clinton in front of the mirror, telling himself, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, darn it, people like me." Listen to how soothing his soft, grainy, it-must-be-caring voice sounds. Say along with him: You must have the courage to change.

Better, say it with a card -- if you care enough to send the very best.

Here's a sample: "In this dysfunctional world, it's nice to know I have someone I can feel functional with."

There are buttons: "Vulnerable."

There are refrigerator magnets: "I reserve the right to be imperfect."

First rule of trends. You have to be very deep into one before you get to refrigerator magnets. My favorite in the cow refrigerator-magnet collection has this bovine saying, "Eat chicken."

There are cards to thank group leaders, cards of gratitude for sponsors.

There are cards just to cheer you up. Like this one. "Warning. I am in recovery. At any time I may:

1. Say what I think. 2. Do what I want. 3. Laugh out loud. 4. Get angry. 5. Sing. 6. Cry. 7. Hug you."

Feel better now? Want to send one back, an empathetic one? Like, hug somebody else, pal.

It's an old trend, of course. It must have started with Alcoholics Anonymous, where the one-day-at-a-time concept was made famous. And for people who slip, there are, of course, cards: "I miss you at meetings" is one.

I'm sure AA is wonderful. As much as anything, it gives people a place to belong, a place where no one has to feel like an outcast. And in these times of disconnection, a lot of us are looking for some kind community.

We wear clothes with names on them like Members Only or Russell's Athletic Club. It puts us on a team.

If we are too heavy, we look for others who live for a bite of chocolate, and who would forgive us our longings.

If we sleep on real ducks instead of down pillows, we know there must be others like us out there. Trying to get duck-less. One day at a time.

And then there's Sally Jessy Raphael to let us know we're not that messed up because she brings out the real sickos.

Have you caught her show? Men who have slept with their wives' mothers. Men who have slept with their wives' mothers' brothers. Klan wives who secretly feed their husbands gefilte fish while sleeping with their husband's dry-cleaner. And sometimes it gets really weird.

I'd like to see a show that puts together cravenly cynical talk-show hosts who feed on other people's psychoses. Or maybe just send them a get-lost card.

Anyway, my favorite recovery group is the co-dependents.

You think you've got problems? Try being a co-dependent. He's got your problems and his problems. He's got your problems, the guy down the block's problems, Manuel Noriega's problems and his problems.

But there are cards for him/her/them. One is the how-you-know-you're-co-dependent quiz: "Do you find yourself seeking out the shopping cart with the bad wheel so no one else has to suffer with it?"

All we need now is a card to invite a co-dependent to go grocery shopping with us.

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