Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Experience, Strength, and Hope. (Or Not.)

I was in the city (not the one we're moving to, but a much larger centre a couple of hours further away) overnight on Monday, got home yesterday, and called an Al-Anon friend to talk about the Al-Anon meeting I attended when I was down there. I've been to this meeting a few times over the years; each time I've gone to this city and stayed overnight, I go to a meeting. I like the freshness of different viewpoints of recovery.

The meeting on Monday was a Christmas candlelight meeting - a custom at quite a few meetings in that city, during the holiday season.

I can honestly say that this was the very first time in all my years of attending Al-Anon meetings, that I've gone to the meeting in a positive frame of mind, and left feeling brought down. I found it depressing. Out of 25 or so people attending, there were only a couple of members who when they spoke, shared their experience, strength and hope - the rest were unremittingly negative. I sat and listened to a litany of complaint, blaming, angry ranting, pessimistic projections about how awful it was going to be on the day, cynicism...I felt myself slowly being dragged down to the level of the general mood in the room. After an hour and a half, with 10 or so members still left to speak, I quietly excused myself to the gentleman next to me, and slipped out the door. I had to get out of there. I walked out to my car feeling unsettled, and mildly depressed. I drove back to my hotel room wondering what effect that meeting would have upon a newcomer to Al-Anon.

I suppose I'm much more accustomed to Christmas meetings in which members discuss the ways they get through what can be a difficult time of year with their sanity intact, by using the tools of Al-Anon. I've heard people share about ways they take a few minutes to regroup when they feel challenged, perhaps nipping upstairs to read a page in their ODAT, then taking a few deep breaths and going back to the family gathering, or calling a program friend to share a quick, rueful laugh about the ways Christmas, and family, can challenge even the strongest program.

I'm more used to members offering what has worked for them at this difficult time of year, so that I've gone home from my Christmas meetings feeling revitalised, having heard useful suggestions for coping with a stressful situation in an Al-Anon way. I've heard quiet gratitude, and loud laughter. I've heard holiday stories told to illustrate the way Al-Anon has made it possible for Christmas to be joyful again. I've told my own turkey story, (which is too icky to be shared here, but if you truly want to be grossed out, you can email me, and I'll share it with you) and heard a zillion others. I've always, and I am not exaggerating for effect, always, left a Christmas Al-Anon meeting feeling happy, peaceful, and full of serenity.

I felt sad that this was so lacking from the meeting I attended in the city. What help are we to the other members of an Al-Anon group, if we only complain and blame? They, and we, can get that negativity anywhere and everywhere. Program is for " that lead to serenity."

I drove back to my hotel, took my little dog for the last walk of the day, then sat in my room and prayed a heartfelt prayer that the members of that group would be granted serenity and peace this Christmas.

I drifted off to sleep bathed in gratitude for the positive attitudes, help, and support I've received from Al-Anon, in the years I've been a member. I know I tend to repeat myself about this, but it's a huge part of my life, this gratitude. I remember very well the angry, resentful, defensive, deeply unhappy person I was before program, and I know that I am who I am today, only because of 12-Step, and my Higher Power.


  1. I like to do Al-Anon tourism in other cities when I travel. I've had some incredible experiences as a result. And one awful one, similar to what you described. All the members talked about their alcoholics, and not about themselves. None of them had anything good to say about the alcoholics, either. I sat there wondering if my Higher Power had sent me there for a reason. Tentatively and humbly I said my own share, stressing the positive and the way the tools had worked for me. I left feeling dirty, like some of the mood of the room had rubbed off on me. But I wonder... is this what Old Timers experience all the time? What keeps them coming when everyone else seems to have less of the serenity than they do? Or do they experience it completely differently?

  2. I think that it is up to me to share the solution and not the problem. And eventually, that will rub off on others who have yet to see that there even is a solution. I keep coming back because I am reminded that I could go back to being a person who is stuck and I don't want to be there again.