With so many people in pain from the misery of living with an alcoholic, I wonder what it actually takes for them to eventually realize that they too have been affected by the disease. Yet, day in and day out, they struggle along as a caregiver, angry spouse, unhappy person who puts on so many masks to the world so the world won't know how much pain and sadness the person has.
Leah Odze Epstein in Drinking Diaries tells what she found at a meeting and what she didn't find:
There, in that room, I finally found people who got it–who felt like me, alone and alienated most of the time, except there, in that room, when they told their stories. I felt those people could help me, if I let them. But I couldn’t bring myself to go back to that depressing room.
Nearly a decade later, plagued by some of the same issues that seem to haunt adult children of alcoholics (control issues? Check. Accept nothing less than perfection? Check. Alienated? Yup), I went to another Al-Anon meeting in the suburbs. Again with the dimly lit room. Again with the hard chairs. Again with the basement. Were we trying to re-create our childhood suffering through the setting? I didn’t get it.
There were only eight of us sitting in a circle, and I was the youngest. No one smoked or drank coffee. The energy in the room was flat. I couldn’t breathe. But I sat there and listened to the forty-something woman with the twisted hands talk about her crippling rheumatoid arthritis and her nightmare mother. I listened to the nearly 300 pound man talk about his bad mother, too. And the woman whose lips barely moved when she, too, spoke of her evil mother.
I never went back to Al-Anon after that. I’m not saying it’s not a lifesaver for many people. I’m sure it is. Still…
Sometimes, I fantasize about the kind of meeting I might like to attend. First off, I wouldn’t call it a meeting. Maybe a Girl’s Night Out. There would be women my age, maybe a bit younger, some a bit older. The women would be smart and funny. Some would have battle scars, but they’d talk about them with humor. Maybe we’d laugh until we cried, sharing our stories, and how we turned out after all that craziness. I picture sitting in a warm cozy place, maybe on a red velvet couch–My fantasy Al-Anon meeting takes place in a restaurant, or a bar.
I know that not all meetings are healthy ones. I have been to many that were not in line with the Traditions. I attended one a couple of days ago in which there was a lot of crosstalk and the main topic was suicide and not those related to alcohol. I shared about how low being affected by my wife's drinking had brought me--to the point where I didn't care if I lived or died and was contemplating my own death. Sometimes, what we say reaches the ears of someone who needs to hear it, just as I need to hear something that resonates with me. A lady came up to me afterwards and said that she understood more now about the suicide of her alcoholic brother--how complete loss of hope can bring one to make such a decision.
I know that Al-Anon is a program of attraction rather than promotion. And I know that there are other ways to get help rather than by working a 12 step program. But if you want people to talk to who are familiar with the disease and its effects on others, why not check it out and see if there is something in it to help you? Maybe bring a pad if the chairs are too hard. Or bring your own latte.
I get emails from people who say that they get a lot from reading my blog. They write that it helps them to know someone else who has been affected by the disease and worked to recover. And that reading the posts is better than going to Al-Anon. I don't know about you, but I read a lot of information on alcoholism before I went to Al-Anon and none of it brought me the peace of mind that I now have. I read books on co-dependence and still I didn't understand how to get free from the years of behavioral patterns or "isms" that seemed to make my life unmanageable. I don't write as much about alcoholism anymore. I write about living life on life's terms. And that, at times, can be wonderful or it can be difficult.
My older blog posts when I first started were about all the issues I had with a newly sober spouse. I had a lot of issues with understanding what serenity even meant. I didn't understand what a Higher Power was. I had no idea of how to "let go", detach with love, or accept others for who they are. Keeping the focus on myself was meaningless because I had spent so many years focusing on others that I cared about. I could focus at work, but no one knew how lost I felt on the inside or how sad I was some days. I had one confidante at work who I talked to mostly about his love for a recovering addict. I lost a good friend when I told him about the difficulties we were having coping with recovery.
But in all of this turmoil, I knew that if I kept going to meetings, worked the steps, and talked to my sponsor, I would feel better one day. Misery was truly optional. And it took me a while before I finally got the idea that I didn't have to focus all of my energy on another person. I could be my own person and have a life where there was happiness and even serenity.
For those of you who have read this blog or other blogs that focus on recovery, you'll likely find that we have discovered a way of living that isn't about how miserable our lives are. Most of us have jobs we enjoy or have had successful careers. Most of us have hobbies and activities that are a passion. Most of us get up in the morning and think about what is good about our lives and are grateful for those we love. Most of us have discovered that we can handle the ups and downs of this life without falling apart or sinking into self-pity and self-loathing. We have learned one day at a time to live life on life's terms.
The things that used to bother me aren't nearly as important any more. I still have my own shortcomings that I work on every day. I still forget to live in the day rather than project into the future. And I occasionally have an expectation about someone or something. But for the most part, I am living a much more balanced life than ever before. I realize that I only have a finite number of years in my life. And I am grateful for the help of those in Al-Anon who reached out a hand to me and to whom I now offer my own hand in return.