Ugly Surprise

I was emptying the trash into our outside bin just now and what do I find but a can of beer stuffed into one of his brown bag lunches that he just tossed. And we’ve been doing well. Ugly, ugly thing. How strange that when I see you, you now represent an absolutely unwelcome guest, something that I would gladly kill so that I wouldn’t have to see you again. And because of my program, I have more calm and clarity now than I did before, and I don’t transfer my anger and sadness to the alcoholic. But my heart still drops to the ground. I still feel some kind of defeat.

Just last night I went out with one of my girlfriends and had a beer for the first time in three months. The restaurant we went to carried my favorite kind, and I hadn’t drank in so long in support of my husband’s sobriety. That amber in that cold glass was so so good. I only drank half the pint and stopped because well, that’s all it takes and I don’t need more. Beautiful beer in a cold glass. But when it shows up in or around my house, it is nothing but a threat. It’s a reminder that we are still fighting this thing I can’t easily see, especially when it has its hooks in my husband and makes him lie, quietly, and expertly. I hate that empty can in my trash outside. But I love my husband. Will bring this up softly tonight and see how deep the hooks are embedded. I know that I’ll be able to tell very quickly by his response. Good times. One day at a fucking time.

When My Higher Power Said Hi

At Al-Anon meetings, we’re encouraged to share stories of strength, hope, and courage. And two months into going to meetings, I finally have such a story to bring to the room.

I’m a newcomer to prayer, on Step 3, and my words to God aren’t nearly as eloquent as those I’ve heard from prayer warriors. This past week has been a difficult one, and after hearing the shares of fellow Al-Anon members, I started asking God for guidance. This usually happened before I went to bed or when I awoke in the mornings. Please guide me. Please help me find my way. I can’t do this on my own. Over and over. I told you I’m not eloquent: these are early attempts at asking for help.

Yesterday, we spent the majority of time cleaning house. Early in the morning, my husband brought down a few things from the attic, one of which was an empty frame, no glass, no cardboard. I had no idea why it had been up in the attic. Since I couldn’t think of a use for it, I put it in my Goodwill pile and kept cleaning.

Later that evening, I was rearranging pictures in different rooms. One of our family portraits had been neglected in a side room, and I brought it to hang in the dining room. It’s a Christmas shot of of us at home in front of our Christmas tree that I had transferred to a large canvas. Everyone looks relaxed and happy. I hung it in the dining room but it didn’t quite fit. Something was missing.

My gaze fell on my Goodwill pile and at the empty frame that somehow made its way down from the attic that morning. That’s way too lucky, I thought, but as I eyed both, they looked like they might fit. I brought the frame over and the canvas fit in perfectly. The hue of the frame even complemented the colors in the print.

Stunned at that point, I said “Thank you” quietly as I stood there staring at the newly framed canvas. This is what is important, something told me. I started crying.

It may not sound like much to someone else, I realize, but I’m not a lucky person. I don’t win things, I rarely have coincidental moments. I believe this was the guidance I had asked for. In my angry brain, I’ve still weighed the pros and cons of a life separate from the alcoholic. In weak moments, I feel like I want to throw everything out like a useless empty frame. The message I received instead was a beautiful gift and reminder.

When my husband came in the room, I asked him if he noticed anything different with the canvas portrait. He looked at it and then stared at me blankly. I explained briefly what had happened, and he shrugged and looked at me like there should be more to the story. Seems like the story would go downhill here, but this is what I quickly understood: the message and gift were for me from my higher power. It didn’t matter if anyone else understood it or not. I could not change how my husband saw it, and that was fine. I could still bask in it and it was certainly no less of a gift. The person I was before Al-Anon would have let my husband’s reaction depress me, then anger me. This time I chose Serenity, and it made the rest of my day happy.

So there it is. My first story of strength, hope, and courage. I hope there are more to come.

Different Rooms, Different Vibes

Places come with their own personalities, then they’re further altered by the group of people who fill the space. Al-Anon rooms are no exception. I’ve been trying out different meetings recently to see where else I might fit. If you haven’t been to a meeting, here are things you might notice:

(1) Some groups are largely composed of a particular age group. This has happened to me a few times. I step in, and I’m the only one under the age of 50, sometimes 60. If you are not elderly and are not sure how you’d fit, stick it out–some of the old timers have the best wisdom to share, especially the ones who have been working the program forever. They’ve got the Serenity deal DOWN. Also, it’s amazing to watch people accept their coins for their 30+ years in the program. I personally feel strange about taking an Al-Anon coin, but I enjoy watching others do it.

(2) Some groups rely heavily on the Al-Anon literature. If you don’t have your own books yet, you can sometimes borrow them at the meeting or share with someone sitting next to you. If you’re tight on money, look for them at your local second hand stores. I found three of the main books that way for a quarter of the cost. The groups that focus on the literature inevitably take turns reading. If you don’t want to read, you can say “Pass”.

(3) Certain groups feature different things. One I visited allotted 5 minutes for group meditation. Another group has hug time in the middle of the meeting. Regardless of the smaller features, all of the groups I’ve visited stick to a familiar structure. Serenity Prayer, the welcome, self introductions by first name only, Al-Anon announcements, then possibly a topic or a literature reading, followed by sharing. Sharing takes up the majority of the time. At midpoint, the collection basket is passed around: Al-Anon is a self-supported organization. At the end, you’re reminded of the importance of anonymity and encouraged to take what you like of the talks and leave the rest. You end as you began, with the Serenity Prayer or perhaps the Lord’s Prayer.

(4) During sharing, there are people who keep talking, regardless of how many people are in the room. Some groups use an actual timer with beeper to give more people a chance to share. Other groups just remind people to keep shares under x minutes. There are people who keep going and going, even after the timer goes off. I am thankful to the ones who tie it up quickly and allow for others who haven’t shared yet to have a turn. Oy. Still, the shares to me are invaluable. The raw honesty keeps me honest with myself. The openness allows for us to see our commonalities and we support each other, not caring about the differences.

I also led a meeting for the first time this past week. It was very impromptu, as no one was scheduled to lead, so at the beginning of the meeting, I said why not. Decided to go with the topic of detachment and someone else thankfully had a handy reading regarding just that. I helped shepherd the meeting along and it really wasn’t that nerve-wracking! Afterwards, it was really nice that people came up and thanked me for leading. I feel very humbled and so grateful to be part of my home group.

Are there things that have stood out to you as you explore the different rooms? I’d love to hear your experiences.