Monday, September 23, 2013
Yesterday, I went to my second Al-Anon meeting at the School of Social Work. I started with a group of a hundred or so and then broke off with a smaller group of 25. I won't tell you much because the meetings are confidential, but I will share some of my experience.
Because last week was my first visit and new experiences can be intimidating, Ann went with me, and we went to the meeting in the building at the UW where I take classes: the meeting space was familiar because it was the lecture room where I'd taken Biology for Social Workers.
I figured we'd be able to park right at the curb and go in. When we got to the building, however, all the curb spots were taken, as were all other nearby spots, so we had to find a place to park a couple of blocks away. "Who are all these people?" I wondered aloud. Ann supposed they were all people at the Al-Anon meeting. "At 8:30 on a Sunday morning? I don't think so."
As so often happens when I doubt Ann, she was right. We took a crowded elevator to the third floor and joined about a hundred people for this meeting. I felt like I was at a top secret rebel meeting, with all of these people showing up on a Sunday morning even though no one was taking roll, but it was all Al-Anon. These people looked like me: they were around my age, professional types. I felt that perhaps I belonged here.
Outside the meeting room, a book table was set up. (Books! An indication that I was in the right place.) We walked past the table and asked the man sitting there if this were the Al-Anon meeting. Recognizing us as new, a woman gave us a free copy of How Al-Ananon Works for Families & Friends of Alcoholics. We said, "Thanks. Just give us one. We can share." What I was really thinking was, "I'll take one to be polite, but it's probably promotional stuff disguised as a book, and I'll never read it."
We sat down in an empty row, and as more people filed in an acquaintance from church years ago sat a couple of seats from us. It was nice to see a familiar face.
At the beginning of the meeting, the secretary read a pre-written statement, something like, "We come because we and people in our lives have been hurt by alcohol." My chest tightened like it does when I'm going to cry (which I don't do often), and that was enough to tell me that this was a good place for me.
I have visited AA meetings, so the readings from a notebook and the "Hi So and So" responses to anyone introducing themselves didn't surprise me. Another woman we know came in a little late and sat a few seats down from us. Another familiar face. We gave a little wave.
Some people shared stories of why they came here and then a small break-off group went to another room while those of us in the giant room listened to a reading from the AA Principles and then had ten minutes to write our own reflections (Writing! Another indication that this was the right place), followed by time to share if we wanted to. Ann and I stayed quiet and listened as others shared.
At the session's end, Ann and I talked with the women we knew and another woman I knew came up, greeting me with a giant hug. I felt welcomed and said so. These people were my peeps. There's no such thing as too many peeps. A whole room of my peeps, and I never knew they were there meeting in secret.
I've started reading the book I never thought I'd read. I'm a newbie to any understanding of alcoholism, so the things that struck me might seem elementary to you, but I'll share them in case you're a newbie, too, or in case you're wondering what struck me.
1) My experience in Al-Alanon is for me to understand my own experience and to understand more about alcoholism, not to provide any advice or opinions for anyone else. (That sounds good to me. I'm not much of one for accepting or dispensing unasked for advice.)
2) Many people who come to these meetings have or had a close relationship with someone who is an alcoholic, but some never even knew a drinker and have been affected by people who have been affected by alcoholism. A person whose parent was not a drinker but whose grandparent or great grandparent was a drinker might still be affected by the alcoholism, for example.
3) Sometimes someone close to the drinker wants them to get sober in order to stop drinking and making a mess of things, but that person can feel left out when the drinker stops drinking and changes in ways that they hadn't anticipated. Also, that person can feel left out by the new community that a newly sober person can connect with.
4) Alcoholism, like cancer, is a serious and complicated disease. Drinking is only one aspect of being an alcoholic, and becoming abstinent does not address all issues of the disease. The non-drinking alcoholic still has lots to learn about living without alcohol.
I'm excited about this new opportunity to learn and to connect with people as we share our stories. I'll go again.