A newcomer asked that question when some of us were together for coffee, after a meeting. We asked for clarification, what did she mean by a "bad meeting?"
One where we came out feeling worse than we'd gone in.
For me, once. One single time in all the thousands of meetings I've attended. I've written about it elsewhere on this blog, but can't find it, and am not in the mood to hunt.
It was in a large city a few hours from here, and I've attended it several times over the years of travelling back and forth, and found it a positive and inspiring meeting. This night, it was a relentless recital of misery and hopelessness, around the room, one after another. I could feel myself slowly sinking, as another person spoke and was, in turn, negative and blaming.
When I was walking back out to my car afterwards, I had to make a concerted mental effort to shake off the weight of all that negativity. I went back to my hotel room and read my Al-Anon Courage to Change, until my usual more hopeful and positive mood reasserted itself. I took my little dog out for her late night relief walk, and stood looking at the patterns of the streetlights shining through the trees and onto the wet road, as I waited for her to do her thing. I felt enormous, powerful gratitude, which was so strong it brought tears to my eyes, that the very first meeting I'd attended had been full of uproarious laughter.
Those women gave me hope, when they howled with affectionate delight, as a member spoke ruefully of the insanity of her thinking, and how she'd thought it quite reasonable at the time...reminds me of an AA tape a friend lent to me, in which the speaker recounts a story of that sort of loopy reasoning, and at the peak of it, the audience is laughing so hard the speaker has to stop for a moment, until they regain themselves, and when they do, says, "Normal people wouldn't find that funny."
I went to my first Al-Anon group every week, not only because the women were so loving and supportive of me, but because they laughed so much. I love to laugh, and somewhere along the path of living with active drinking, I'd lost my sense of humour. I was a bitter, blaming, resentful, angry soul, and those women folded me seamlessly into their positive and loving meeting. I'd never had that kind of acceptance, and it quite overpowered any judgements I might have made otherwise. Love and acceptance work to thaw and grow us, where nothing else can. I've never forgotten how powerful that laughter was, and how it taught me that, as the suggested Al-Anon meeting opening reads:
"We, too, were lonely and frustrated but in Al-Anon we discover that no situation is really hopeless and that it is possible for us to find contentment and even happiness, whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not."
I try to remember to be an example of that, when I speak at meetings, and write on this blog. I may not always manage it, but I try, the same way others have tried, in the countless meetings I've attended, and the blog posts I've read. A recital of misery may make the speaker feel better for having vented, but it's not exactly "sharing experience, strength and hope."
In a meeting or out, what I need, is for you to tell me about how you had a moment of clarity, which brought you to a place of gratitude. Tell me about the way you suddenly saw how crazed your thinking was, and how it made you laugh out loud. Tell me about how a piece of Al-Anon literature gave you serenity and peace, when you were struggling. Tell me of the way program has changed your life for the better, and you have "...contentment and even happiness, whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not."