A very long year. I celebrated my year birthday of recovery in Al-Anon, which is the 12-step program for friends and families of alcoholics and addicts. In our group, when it’s one’s birthday, we give a 5-10 minute talk about what it was like before we began the program, what it’s like now, and share a bit of our hope and strength. Not sure I shared any hope and strength, but I did share. And it’s time to share here because I’m burning up inside.
When I first came into the rooms of Al-Anon, I didn’t know what I was going to find. I’d been dragged to some groups by my mother when I was younger, but as most preteens in alcoholic homes, I was recalcitrant and unwilling, especially since my mother didn’t invite us, she took us. I remember sorrow and gloominess and lots of self-pity. A year ago, I didn’t really care what I would find, I just needed something to give and change.
I was living in a home full of chaos, with a husband brimming with hostility and misery, children who were struggling with seeing their parents unable to navigate a relationship, and I was numb inside and out. I walked through the door and sat down and found myself breathing. Just a little, in case there might be judgment or attack around the corner. A few things are crystallized in my memory about that evening.
I sat across from the woman who would become my sponsor and grew excited as she told me of the night she came to her first meeting, and asked for the workbooks and worksheets so she could DO IT RITE from here on out. Where were the checklists? She was ready to do it differently and WHERE ARE THE MATERIALS that change everything? I waited eagerly to hear her answer, because she spoke the words from my heart. I knew that if I could just get a hold of how to do it differently, do it right, do it THIS WAY, then things would get better. Tears welled in my eyes and in hers in response when she revealed that there is no right way. That there are no workbooks and worksheets and no answers. I may have felt worse in that moment than I had before I came. “Why am I even here, then, if not to get answers for how to fix myself and my family?” I thought.
Another memory from that night – a man sitting next to me silently offered a piece of gum. He slid it into my view and raised his eyebrows. I kept that wrapper for months. It was the first gift I could remember receiving in years that was given freely. It didn’t have any expectations or strings or blowback. It was just a stick of gum, and it wasn’t going to be referenced in a future argument or be held over my head or mentally tallied in his head as $.04 that I owed him.
In the closing statement, the chairperson told me to come back, to attend 4 meetings before I decided Al-Anon meetings weren’t for me. I went back, partly because they told me do but mostly because of that breathing thing. I started to look forward to those weekly meetings and crave that space to sit and not have to meet anyone’s expectations and still feel love and acceptance. No one kept score.
I heard then, and I continue to hear now, about how physically ill so many members were when they first came into the rooms of the Al-Anon Family Groups. I remember thinking how grateful I was that I had gotten into a place of help before I became sick. I knew I was depressed, I knew I was struggling, I knew I was miserable, but I could hold on to the idea that “at least I got here before I compromised my health”. Somehow, that gave me redemption or expunged some of my guilt for what my children were going through.
more to come…