Once a month I find myself gravitating toward the most unique Coffee House/Cafe in Berkeley, CA. I discovered this special place for dining about eight years ago from the recommendation of a friend. This restaurant has long been known for its delicious cuisine and comfortable ambiance. I am drawn to this café for breakfast because of the calm, peace and beauty I feel when dining alone in the fireplace room. I don’t know of any other restaurant like this in the Oakland/Berkeley area.
Yesterday morning it was unseasonably cold in the Bay Area. Bundled in my thick fleece coat, I was on my way for an appointment when I realized I had time to enjoy this mealtime pleasure. The moment I put my foot on the front brick steps I felt as though I was on holiday in France. From the cream colored lace drapes to the amber wood floors I was welcomed by coziness. The smell of Eucalyptus firewood invited me to the back room. I noticed a woman and a younger guy warming themselves by the raging yellow-orange flames. They had pulled their small round table all the way up next to the fire screen.
My first thought was, oh darn, they are hogging the heat. I was so cold I decided to leave my table and stand by the fireplace practically on top of them. I made a quick assessment, albeit unfairly, and thought, what a motley crew. I wondered, are you mother and son? The woman with her flushed face, was disheveled, wearing only a thin sweater with several stains and scarf, while her hair was uncombed and stuck up in peaks at the top of her head. The guy had Dreads half way down his back and appeared half asleep. On any other day I would have stayed at my own table, relaxing and enjoying the fire from a distance. Usually I don’t want to interact with anyone because the very reason I go to this restaurant is to be alone with my own thoughts and visions. I don’t believe in accidents and there was a reason I lingered by the fire.
The woman, I will call her Cathleen, said to me sweetly, “Would you like to join us for breakfast?”
The Co-Dependent Me answered, “Thank you, that would be lovely,” while I was thinking, pooh, I wish I hadn’t said that. Still, to this day 20 years into recovery, I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. I thought of the two of them before myself; but as it turned out, it was serendipitous.
I didn’t even have to look at the creative menu to know what I wanted. Almost every time I go, I order the same thing; the sampler plate, consisting of two eggs, bacon or sausage, fruit and French toast. (They use special bread for their French toast.) It is yummy. The guy, I will call him Josh, ordered an omelet while Cathleen ordered a glass of Merlot; and no food. Josh asked her twice, “Aren’t you going to eat?” And then he asked again, “When are you going to eat?”
It was then that Cathleen started talking incessantly. She clarified that they had both had been up all night; not together, and that Josh was her neighbor. (I found out they barely knew each other and met on the street where they both live.) She had wanted to introduce him to Le Bateau Ivre. Josh is a musician and works painting houses. He indeed had been finishing the detail work on an apartment with a friend until the early morning hours. Cathleen’s hands were shaking but she managed to speak intelligently on so many subjects. We discovered we had known the same artists working in the 1970’s. I couldn’t deny I recognized all the signs of alcoholism in Cathleen’s mannerisms.
I have mentioned this before in some of my previous articles: I have to be very careful not to be swept up in the energy of others who are entrenched in their addictions, (whatever the addiction might be). It is almost as if I wear a light bulb on the top of my head. The light bulb goes off and signals to strangers who are into denial, but obviously addicted, that I am available to listen to their plight. I have come a long way since the days when I was equally as fixed in denial but at times I continue to be drawn to these individuals.
It is not uncommon for me to talk about my journey of healing, my documentary and web site. Yesterday I began spewing information without really realizing who I was talking to. Cathleen had many questions which I was happy to answer. She said very little about her personal life but I was quite impressed and interested in the plethora of knowledge she had about the arts. We exchanged phone numbers as I often do with fascinating people I meet. The shared breakfast was quite enjoyable and when the meter ran out I said goodbye.
Later on in the day Cathleen called me at 6:00 pm. She was very polite and appreciative for any time I could give her on the phone. Normally I am busy preparing dinner but last night my husband was out of town and Mariah and I had already eaten. I gladly took her call. I put on my ear phones and plopped myself down in the living room on my cushy sofa where I could be more comfortable. What proceeded was a two hour conversation. I am sure you have figured it out by now. She is in the depths of alcoholism, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually a wreck, very close to bottom (if not there now.) I heard every detail of her life for the last twenty years. She, like all the rest of us with addictive personalities, denies the truth before her. Yes, she admits she has a drinking problem but the pain is so great, she is stuck in DEPRESSION and DENIAL. I started noticing about an hour into the conversation I was getting a terrible stomach ache. Stomach aches have always been my signal that there is an imbalance surfacing within me. I needed to confront her with the truth from my prospective.
“Cathleen, you are powerless over alcohol. You need help.”
She said she had tried AA and was terribly uncomfortable. I shared with her that it took 6 meetings at Al-Anon before I got the message. I hated the meetings at first. Then I suggested, individual counseling, group counseling, Adult Children of Alcoholics, self-help books and on and on. I could see, as I have so many times in my life, she wasn’t ready to listen.
This made me sad but I also knew that each of us has a choice to end the suffering and move, one step at a time, ahead, to a higher and better thought, a better place. There is a bottom to the bottomless pit. When one hits that space, you can only go up. The universe is willing, waiting and anxious for us to have the desire and faith that we can be balanced and well. It is our divine right to be healthy. But it is our individual responsibility to gather the courage to send the arrow of desire out to the world and declare our willingness to heal. The part that is so hard for most of us is; to be open and accepting that we have the right to heal and are capable of healing. We can learn to love ourselves no matter how devastating, embarrassing, painful, or incriminating our past has been. This I know for a fact, because I lived that desolation for the first 40 years of my life.
I finished my conversation with Cathleen and wished her well. After hanging up the phone I held the picture of her as a balanced, happy woman. My dream is that somewhere down the road she and I will again have breakfast at Le Bateau Ivre. I am visualizing the next time we meet she is healthy and vibrant and able to appreciate the Sampler Plate. I am so grateful to be alive and conscious. Wow, what a contrast between my old life and my new life. I am hoping that she too will feel this way soon and together we can share in the light of the fire.