In 2006, I found myself at a crossroad, agonizing over which direction to take. My marriage was disintegrating and I was profoundly unhappy. My husband was a self-employed contractor who worked hard and played hard. His drinking was a priority that ranked well above family life. I was a shy, stay-at-home mom who had very little experience with the world beyond my home. As our differences grew, I approached my breaking point.
When a friend mentioned I might find help at Al-Anon, I scoffed at the idea. These were private, family problems, and I had no desire to share them with our small community. This friend was wise enough not to push me, but began sharing some of his experiences as a member of AA. He was a recovering alcoholic and provided some insight from the opposite side of the table. As I listened, I began considering attending one meeting, just to check it out.
I made plans to attend the Wednesday afternoon meetings time and time again. Each week, I would find an excuse not to go. It took over a month for me to find the courage. As I drove to the church, I fought the urge to turn the car around. My heart pounded in my chest as I pulled into the gravel parking lot. I watched people laughing and chatting as they walked into the small church. Taking a deep breath, I got out of my car and joined them.
I stood in a small kitchen off the meeting room, my hands shaking as I poured myself a cup of coffee. I needed something to do with my hands. An older woman introduced herself – first name only – and took me under her wing. She handed me a book and led me to the meeting. Once she told me I didn’t have to participate if I didn’t want to, I relaxed.
The meeting began with the Serenity Prayer and although I have never felt any particular connection to a prayer before, this one resonated with me. I relaxed yet a little more. Looking around the room, I saw mostly older women, but there were a few women my age and one man. We read a story from the book and then people began to share.
As I listened to their stories, I was struck by the fact that the only responses to each person who spoke were words of encouragement. No judgement. No advice. I could identify with some stories. Others weren’t part of my reality. There were some “slogans” that rang true. The most vivid one was to stop looking out the window. Part of my normal routine had become looking out the window, waiting for my husband to come home. It had never occurred to me not to. The other slogan was “Keep Coming Back.” I did.
Most meetings, I would simply say my name, and then say “Pass.” It took weeks and weeks of meetings before I was ready to tell my story. As I heard my own shaky voice, I somehow felt detached, like I was listening to someone else. It was difficult to look at anyone as I spoke, but the older woman whom I first met, and always sat beside, held my hand. The floodgates opened, and I cried openly in front of these strangers that somehow had become allies. I felt a tremendous weight being lifted off my shoulders when I left that day.
I continued going to meetings for the next year, eventually finding myself looking forward to them. I applied what worked for me to my situation, and through that, found the strength to make necessary changes in my life. What had been an unbearable situation led me to a place of reinventing myself. It gave me a compass to guide me in a new direction.
While Al-Anon is certainly not for everyone, it helped me become the person I am today. It also helped me appreciate the positive things in life. Today, I am divorced and remarried, and after an initial rocky period, my ex-husband and I are on very good terms. He lives his life as he wishes, as do I. He still works hard and plays hard, and my children could not ask for a more devoted father. When life gave us lemons, we made lemonade. Our recipes are just very different.