Thursday, November 18, 2010

"It's All Too Vague -Tell Me Something I Can Use!"

Many years ago, that sentence positively burst from a newcomer to Al-Anon, at his first meeting. It was as though he'd been sitting there listening, while the shares went around the table, becoming angrier as he heard each person speak. A gentle request from the chairperson for further information, unleashed a tsunami of words. He'd come looking for help, and all we were doing was yakking about how it had been for us when we'd been new to program, what use was that to him? He needed something concrete, something he could use, a list or something. At that, he began to weep, red in the face, and horribly embarassed. Someone passed him the kleenex box, and we sat in silence, waiting for him to regain himself.

After he'd been in program for a few years, he'd laugh at how angry he'd been with us, and then how embarassed - a middle-aged man, crying in front of twenty women! He'd speak of how he'd left that meeting convinced that Al-Anon was utterly useless, and he wasn't going back. Only to find himself driving to the church at the same time the next week. He'd sat in his car for a few minutes, trying to get up the nerve to walk into that room full of women again.

My sponsor saw him there, opened his car door, and gave a gentle pull on the shoulder of his jacket, saying "Come on, dear, don't think about it for too long, you won't do it, out you get, you can slink in behind me."

He'd said stiffly, "I was a jerk last time."

She said, "You were in pain, as we all were. We love you anyway; come on."

He'd asked plaintively, "What if I cry again?"

She replied, "You'll live. What's worse, embarassment, or no help with your partner's alcoholism?"

He loved to recall this, and say, "It was a no-brainer."

He became a regular at our meeting, and would set other newcomers at ease by passing them the kleenex box, saying gently, "I cried at my first meeting, too; it was the first time I cried since I was six."

I learned several valuable lessons from this man - I learned not to be too vague when talking about what program has given me, when I speak to a newcomer. I realised that we each have our own way of dealing with intolerable pain; some shut down, pull the facade into place, and become unreachable, some are despairing, some are furiously angry.

There is no right or wrong to this - we feel what we feel. If we  keep coming back to meetings, and we keep an open mind, we will find help.

From Courage to Change, page 322:

"Keep coming back" is a phrase we often hear in Al-Anon. Why is it so important? Because many of us have grown so hardened in our fights with alcoholics, or flights from alcoholics, that we literally found it difficult to sit still for the process of recovery. We had to have answers right away or take action right away. Yet we felt just enough relief at our first meeting to come back once more. and then again, and again. Slowly we learned to sit still, to listen, and to heal."

I like that. I was definitely "hardened" - in my anger, my thinking, in my habits. I needed to first accept this, as just the way it was, before I could begin to work to change any of it. Step One was surrender for me  - I admitted that I was "powerless over alcohol, and my life had become unmanageable." This surrender freed me, from the ghastly struggling insanity in which I'd been entangled. Step One was the equivalent of flopping back in my chair, heaving a heavy sigh, and saying, "I give up; I can't do it anymore, it doesn't work anyway."

When I was a newcomer, I didn't understand anything but the fact that at the meetings, I felt safe, I felt heard, I felt understood. That kept me coming back. I'd shoot out of the room after a meeting to avoid all that wierd hugging that went on, but someone would always ask, "See you next week?" as I almost ran out the door, and I'd always fling back over my shoulder, "Yep."

Notice your newcomers; welcome them. They are the new blood of your meeting, and of this great program. They have wisdom to offer which you may not have heard before, and they offer you a chance to pass on the gifts you have received. Don't let a newcomer sit alone in their car, trying to work up the courage to come in again, while you walk past, see them there, and just keep going. Do what my first sponsor did - pay attention, and if they need it, give them a boost over the threshold. Love them in a very special way.


  1. This post is an excellent example of what I love about your blog: well written stories which are emotionally engaging and demonstrate solid recovery principles.

    You rock!

  2. Sometimes the program seems so complicated and sometimes it seems so simple it depends on where my head is. I cried my first meeting after it ended I kept it together until someone said, how are you. I had been alone with my problems for so long and I had no place else to go. I thought I was the only one.

  3. Wow, what a very powerful post. I loved reading this. I remember back when I was a newcomer and I sobbed my way through my first several meetings. I felt like I was dying from the pain. Literally. However, there were kind people there who told me it had been like that for them too, and it was ok to cry, and to focus on just today. My God, my gratefulness runs deep for those precious souls who were there to greet me. Who just let me be exactly where I was and didn't tell me what was right or wrong about it.

    YES! reach out to the newcomers in our groups...they need us, but we need them too.

  4. It is so difficult to walk into a room of strangers and bare such pain. I see the pain with newcomers and remember mine. I am glad when they come back. I hope that they find a solution as I have. Alcoholism is the great leveler. But so is recovery.

  5. Thank you so much for this. Such an important topic. I have always been uncomfortable around strangers and as a newcomer, I must have been a real challenge for the women who reached out to me. But they were magical and they kept me in the rooms long enough to get started on my own path of recovery. Now, I'm still uncomfortable with strangers, but now the strangers are the newcomers. But I owe it to them to reach out and find some way to connect that makes them feel comfortable. And makes me get out of myself and work my program, which is always a good thing.

  6. Thank you so much for your post. I can vividly remember my first six months in recovery. I cried every meeting. I wouldn't talk to anyone. I ran out at the end, but then did everything I could to get back the next week. I thank God that the people (all 40 of them) in that room loved me. Loved me like I had never, ever, ever been loved. I was unlovable. Then by the Grace of God I went to a different meeting. There was three people there, me and two women over 70. I was FORCED to speak. I haven't shut up since. I am very blessed.

    Thank you for your spirit.