My little home group that has been struggling with attendance lately suddenly had three newcomers show up the other night. A mother and two daughters came through the door looking for help for a husband/father and son/sibling who are active alcoholics.
The first night they didn't say much, but all of them indicated they were in a crisis. Last night, the wife shared about the husband's DUI and fears that he is going to kill himself or others driving drunk. The daughter shared about her brother who has severe health issues resulting from alcoholic drinking.
This sad story is repeated over and over again in countless rooms every day. The sad part is that the people who come to Al-Anon as newcomers think their story is unique. They are so demoralized and beaten down by their situation that they can't understand why any of the other people in the room could be smiling and actually enjoying life. All the newcomer feels is pain and desperation.
I know that when I first went to a meeting, I didn't want to hear the laughter or see the smiles. How could anyone possibly be happy when I was so miserable? Long before going to Al-Anon, I called the AA hotline hoping to get help for my wife. We had a particularly bad evening that night. Most evenings were bad when she drank, but this one was particularly volatile.
We had gone to a party and that meant there was no way to control her drinking. My whispers of "Don't you think you've had enough?" were ignored. She drank more, and my anxiety increased. When I was able to eventually get her to leave, she was angry, and so was I. The anger boiled over after we got home. Arguing with a drunk is pointless. I know that now. But back then, I didn't know anything except how to provoke the situation.
So I proceeded to tell her that she needed help; that she had a problem; that I was embarrassed with her drinking. She began to talk about wishing she was dead. She cried and ripped her silk blouse open, mumbling that she could see that I didn't love her. It was a terrible night.
After getting her to bed, I sat for a while in the dark. And then I decided to call the AA hotline. I explained what had happened and that my wife needed help. I remember the person on the line told me that my wife had to make a decision about going to AA--she couldn't be forced by me. And I was told that I was the one who needed to get help in Al-Anon. I could hear laughter in the background. That was the last thing that I wanted to hear. How could anyone be laughing when I was in such pain? And why would anyone suggest that I needed help? I just needed my wife to get sober, and I would be fine. I was more despondent when I hung up the phone. Feeling utterly alone, I remember sitting up until well after 4 AM, feeling as if my heart was being ripped from my body.
Today, so much is different. My wife has been sober for over 8 years, and I have been in Al-Anon for that long as well. I can laugh now. The lonely days and nights aren't filled with the anxiety of alcoholism. My situation wasn't unique. The common denominator was the fear and self-loathing that alcoholism creates.
I know that these newcomers will come to find happiness and will laugh again if they keep coming to meetings. It is a safe place where we are all equals and are on the same journey.