Thursday, June 4, 2009

Comfortable at meetings

I received a comment on a post yesterday about not feeling comfortable in meetings:
"Despite attending quite a few different al-anon meetings, I never found one where I felt comfortable. I felt a profound emotional disconnect at all of them. I'm wondering now whether that disconnect was me all along, not the meetings."

I can remember my first meeting really well. I can't say that I felt comfortable because it was difficult to walk into that room by myself. I was at such a low point that I'm not sure that I felt comfortable with anything in my life.

When the chair asked if there were any newcomers, I raised my hand. She asked me to talk about why I was there. I can't remember the exact words but do remember saying that I was at the end of my rope--angry, confused, hopeless, and feeling that my marriage was a failure.

A lot of people told me to "Keep coming back". I wasn't sure that I wanted to. I thought that it might be a mistake that I came at all. But a good friend had told me that I needed to be there. He said that it would help me. I believed what he said. So I went and kept going.

As I continued to go to that one meeting a week, I listened intently when individuals shared on topics and their own situations. I began to hear some of myself in their stories. They talked about things that I had been feeling. Listening to others helped me to learn about myself.

I met my sponsor at my third meeting there. I felt comfortable with this person. I had begun to see the individual personalities emerge after a few meetings. I knew that I wasn't going to mesh well with everyone. I felt comfortable with the fellow with the kind smile and warm eyes. His calmness and composure, and laid back attitude were things that made me know he would be the one that I asked to be my sponsor.

I continued going to that meeting for over a year. Eventually, I found other meetings that I enjoyed. My sponsor introduced me to my home group. And from the Al-Anon schedule I began to go to a number of meetings in the district. Although each meeting was slightly different, alcoholism was the common bond that brought us together.

I now go to 3-4 meetings a week as well as meeting with sponsees. I have come to see that meetings are part of the recovery process for me. They help me to look beyond my own narrow individual limits for help, understanding, and support.

I have seen lots of different personalities emerge in meetings. And the traditions at some have been disregarded. Some meetings have definite leaders who exert control and don't always "walk the talk". In many ways, those individuals have replicated my family of origin and have taught me about healthy boundaries and to "take what I like and leave the rest".

The consequence of coming, keeping and open mind, applying the steps, traditions, concepts, slogans, philosophy, literature and advice from my sponsor is that my life is much less reactive and more appropriately responsive to events that go on about and around me, in the rooms or not. If the truth is that those who have come from the disease and suffered the most have done so because of inappropriate and unacceptable choices and behaviors, then I don't need to have unreal expectations that they are going to immediately be okay because they are at a meeting.

Here are some things that I have decided to do in order to get what I need from meetings:
  • Be the change I would like to see in the meeting.
  • Keep the focus on myself
  • Share my Experience, Strength and Hope and keep an open mind.
  • Let go of expectations and Let God.
  • Adhere to the Traditions myself
  • Be of maximum service


  1. There are many meetings (in most towns), newcomers should try different ones.
    My initial feeling at meetings was relief that no one pushed anything on me. I was not ready for the program, that took a few more meetings. But no one tried to force it on me, and that is what kept me coming back.

  2. Being able to go to meetings when and where I want was important to me, I needed, initially the flexibility - but these days I need to fellowship I get from being around others who are similar to me. The meetings - I go to 2 a week consistently now - always the same place help to keep me grounded in my ultimate work - on myself.

  3. My experience with both AA and Al-Anon meetings parallels what you share. Certainly what propels me in recovery today is practicing the principles you outline in my meetings and everywhere else in my life.
    Interesting that, sometimes, the hardest place to practice those principles is in the meetings where I've learned them...
    Blessings and aloha...

  4. My first meeting, everyone was about 40-50 years older than me, and I felt very uncomfortable for a short time. But the warmth and acceptance was palpable, and I soon began to relax.

  5. Oh how I can recall my first meeting, which was not that many months ago. I too was at my ultimate lowest point..EVER and I felt that possibly, I'd find some hope there. I had no idea what to expect and actually thought like so many others that they'd tell me how to fix those addict/alcoholics in my life. Boy was I surprised when we were learning to change OUR lives, attitudes and action. I recall being so distraught...but I HAD to share what was happening in my unmanageable life and they seemed like kindred spirits, so I went ahead and unloaded what I could in my 3 minutes! Then...I just listened and cried. Week after week I did the same, while reading every bit of material I could get my hands on and I began to change my thinking, and attitude and the way I responded to those "qualifiers" in my life. I keep going back and knew that I was in the right place with understanding, loving and giving people who had been there in one way, or another. It was the fellowship and understanding people that kept me going back week after week. You know though...I think I caught on quick to the idea of "program" because I had been on a spiritual path for sometime previous to Al Anon, so the concepts were not foreign to me. I put them to work quickly and began to get better. Life is still improving as I let go of my tight grip of control and let God handle it for me! Blessings to you for a great post which I hope will create enough comments to help those who need the program to stick with it! Lisa

  6. Syd, as you know my struggles are not with Alcohol yet your writings always help me, this line stood out to me,

    I began to hear some of myself in their stories. They talked about things that I had been feeling.

    Listening to others helped me to learn about myself.
    Rading your posts and others has helped me. God Bless

  7. ESH?

    I've been to less than a dozen Al-Anon meetings now, 4 of them 2 years ago. The rest all at the same group within the past 8 weeks. I am comfortable there, but am trying to mostly listen and learn. I do think I'd like to add another meeting to my week, but I'm not sure how. Job, 3 kids, etc. Doesn't make for a whole lot of options. But I think I'll get the list out and look again.

  8. Thanks for this post. One thing that I've thought of lately is that I've been uncomfortable at most meetings that I go to. First of all, I've been uncomfortable all of the time and anywhere for a few years. Then when I reached such a low that I was blessed to seek out Al Anon, I was uncomfortable because I had to change EVERYTHING that I'd been thinking and doing. Uncomfortable too! So, I'm lately trying to embrace the change and welcome the dis-ease about my disease. And searching for serenity and ease. Or something like that...not exactly focused!

  9. Hi Syd, I can really relate to the idea of being uncomfortable at meetings and most of the people I know would be surprised to hear me say that because I'm a good/smiley/welcome the newcomer/service oriented gal. But like Glimmer (comment prev. post), I also wonder if it is me disconnecting? On balance, I think that I'm allowed to like what I like. I like recovery centered meetings not disease centered meetings. And I like those little feet (in the pic) being held by the big hands, I could SMOOCH them! That's not the remark of a disconnected person, now is it?

  10. thank you for your words, syd. as usual, they resonate with me well. this program has helped me grow in ways i could have never imagined.

  11. Hate to say this, but I am more comfortable, feel less threatened, at an AA meeting than sitting in my La-z-boy at home. (And I am NOT going to see a shrink to figure out WHY!)

    But not so for my first 15 years in AA...fear, paranoia, I was SO sick, some thought I'd NEVER make it through to real happy sobriety.

    I got wind of that, and set out to prove them wrong.

  12. Syd, this is a wonderful post, and I bet it is one that people who need help will find their way to for many years.

  13. "Be the change I would like to see in the meeting." That is a hard one for me to remember, so thanks for the reminder.

  14. This was really good to read Syd- I've only been to OA but also never felt quite comfortable- that in itself was helpful to me in terms of learning more about like you said, taking what I could and leaving the rest". I think it was definitely more 'me' than the meeting itself- i am a firm believer that if people around me cause me to disconnect or feel some emotion, it's because I see parts of myself in their words/actions that I recognise in myself.

    Enjoy your day!

  15. Great post, very helpful, and thanks.

  16. I have always heard people in AA talking about feeling "at home" the first time they attended a meeting. "I had finally found a place where people really understood me...", is another classic example.

    I have yet to feel that intrinsic kinship during an AA meeting. However, I did experience that distinct feeling at a CoDA meeting last week. It was quite bizarre, but comfort had settled on my brain like some what of a snow globe!

  17. My first meeting at Alcoholics Anonymous was just after a holiday I had completely destroyed for my family when I had spent the entire week totally drunk.
    It was a disgusting end, degrading but my new world I had offered hope, a walm light...
    I really enjoyed reading that Syd

  18. Oh my gosh, you are exactly saying what I believe is important to do when attending meetings. This is as true online as in face-to-face. Folks will sometimes say that they don't like the way a meeting works. Well I ask them, what don't you like about it? If they answer honestly, I will say, "Have you ever thought that you must be the change you want to see, whether it is here or in any group that you join, where the goal is change?"
    I have never heard anyone use Ghandi's slogan in the 12-step context before, and am glad we share that in common!


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