I went to a meeting today on the slogan “Together We Can Make It”. It's not as well known as the other more famous slogans but it embodies our way of healing. This new slogan comes to Alanon through Alateen, where it first originated. Thinking about how young people are hearing this slogan and how they're putting it to use in their own lives gives me hope for the future of this disease of alcoholism. When I was growing up I didn't have a program and I had few people in my life who really understood what was going on behind the closed doors, as a result I felt completely isolated. On top of that, I never let anyone in to my life or my heart because my classmates saw me as the 'weird one' or 'quiet one'. I had too much on my mind to talk to anyone or make friends in class, so a lot of time I sat alone at school lunches and after school I came home and sat in my room with the door closed.
These were really stunted years of social growth for me and I don't think I ever really got over the amount of walls that I built up during those years. I eventually started talking more and making new friends, but it wasn't until I was in college that I came into Alanon and found people who were like me and had gone through what I'd been through in my own life. I wasn't the weird one anymore. I didn't feel like an alien in a strange world.
I remember the first time I went to a meeting I felt so welcomed just because when I asked if anyone was sitting in one of the seats a woman smiled at me and jokingly invited me to sit down, telling me, “We were saving it for you.”
I try to tell that to newcomers now and pass along the message. That empty seat? It's for you, welcome, sit down, put up your feet and enjoy the ride of getting to know us and getting to know yourself. As it says in the Alanon closing, “After a while you’ll discover that though you may not like all of us, you’ll love us in a very special way - the same way we already love you.”
That unity is one of the many special gifts of Alanon – something I probably would not have understood if there weren't people who had walked the path before and were willing to show me a better way of living than the one that I grew up in.
Now a decade later and I'm still going to Alanon and continuing on my path. I stopped going for about two years. I wasn't living with any active alcoholics. I moved out and I thought I had moved on with my life to the point where it wasn't necessary for me to continue healing. My mother eventually died and with that I became an orphan at the tender age of 29. I survived my entire family of alcoholics: my sister, my father, my mother. Once again, I was finding myself alone and getting really depressed at the thought of not having a home anymore; even if my family was chaotic, it was still a place I called home for the first (almost) three decades of my life. My friends would often comment on the fact that I was a miracle, how it was incredible that I survived the hell of my past and how it must feel great now that it's over and I'm the only one left.
It didn't feel so great to be honest. I was depressed much of the time. I felt like I was an alien again-- like Superman, the last survivor of an ancient race of alien beings. The part that they don't tell you about in the comics is how isolating being the last on anything can be and how dreadfully confused it can make you feel. So many questions still fill my head with no one to even talk to about the disease and the toll it took on me. To make matters worse, the man I was living with was a stranger to me and our relationship was built around walls. Most nights I spent on the front porch-- starring at the sky and wondering if there was someone out there I could talk to that might understand.
I had forgotten “the understanding, love and peace of the program” which had caused this “miracle” in the first place. It took me a while to remember to “keep coming back” but gathering my wits about me I decided to go to a meeting this week. I also found out about the phone meetings (www.alanonphonemeetings.org) which were so helpful since I don't have a car at the moment. All it took was picking up the phone and talking to people who've been there before-- listening to them and letting them listen to me.
Alcoholism is a Me-Disease.
It's all about me, me, me.
All the time.
The same is true even if you're not the actual drinker in the family disease. It's easy to get wrapped up in depression and anxiety, making it hard to focus on anything other than the isolation and the feelings of abandonment that many of us as left with in the wake of the traumas of our lives.
After going back to the rooms, I'm starting to remember that I had serenity once and that it was created out of the strength that the other people who attended Alanon brought into my life. And how easy it is to return to that peace if I just get out of my own way and let people into my life. Once again, they've offered me a rock to cling to in the middle of a stormy time; no questions asked, no refusal to help just because I turned away from the program for so long-- they were there when I needed them before and they are there now. The program is one of the few things in my life that is always there when I need it. I'm starting to realize that the things and people that welcome me back with open arms, no matter how long I've been away, are the things I will return to in my life time and time again. Thank god for them.
The meetings have been a lifeline to me because it's inside these rooms that I start to understand the meaning of “we”. The family disease of alcoholism is said to create a sense of being special-- so special indeed, that no one could ever hope to grasp an understanding of us. The depression sets us apart from the rest of the world, holding us apart from the unity and community of the whole by telling us that we are something different and foreign. However, when I listen to others share I am struck by the way that my story and my separate and “special” brand of pain comes out of their mouths. Their stories may not be exactly the same. Sometime the qualifying alcoholic is their child or spouse-- a case I've never lived myself-- but the worlds we inhabited and the emotional turmoil felt are so similar that for an instant we are connected. We are one. We are part of the larger circle of life.
And if we can't give voice to these feelings yet because we are still so new to acknowledging what we are going through, having someone else speak those words can be all the more life affirming. Someone has spoken. Someone has said what we felt and what we may not have even understood about ourselves-- but it is put out there in the safety of the rooms and we can now give voice to the elephants that have taken up space in our living rooms.
What's more is that if we listen to others in these rooms we not only hear their pain-- a pain that is so close to our own-- we hear also their triumph, their ways of climbing the emotional mountains that seem to be so unsurpassable. We don't give advice in Alanon but we do share our “experience, strength and hope” and show each other that yes, it is possible.
And yes, we can do it.
And yes, together we can make it.
When newcomers come to Alanon, they are often told about a Higher Power that will guide them through the most difficult things they have to face. It's not a religious thing. It can be anything that is stronger than them, a force for the better that will pull them through-- so often, newcomers choose to call the rooms their Higher Power. In these cases, G.O.D. can simply stand for 'good orderly direction'. We can make it together-- with each other's support and especially the support of our sponsor.
When we are all working together, we understand the need to lean on each other, help each other through the rough spots and listen to each other. It is said in the closing, “Talk to each other, reason things out with someone else, but let there be no gossip or criticism of one another.”
It's a rare thing in my life to be given the opportunity to speak my mind and be heard. My alcoholics didn't listen to me, my peers rarely did and very few of my ex-boyfriends did either. My voice was starting to get soft and quiet and my boundaries unheard. Alanon reminds me that I am as important as everyone else though, and that respect for my opinions is vital. No one is more important than the rest. We don't have leaders, we have peers who do service.
A study of the 12 traditions teaches us about the important of cooperation and unity. They teach us how to interact member-to-member, within our group, with Alanon as a whole and the outside world as well. They contain important lessons not taught in my own family about leadership, finances, membership, public relations and anonymity. It is through these traditions that we make sure that Alanon continues functioning, thriving and working together. In this way, the program will continue and future generations will continue to be able to learn from our collective strength and find the hope and serenity we have been so privileged to enjoy. Together with our newcomers we can make it into the future.
I haven't even been back to Alanon for a week now, but I can feel the dusty parts of my brain starting to wake up again. I was reading a blog today (http://al-anonfilter.blogspot.com/ ) about someone's experience with her own sponsor. When she came to an impass in her own problems her sponsor said, “You're like a drowning victim, going down for the third time, blindly refusing to be rescued, because you're still convinced that you can do it on your own!” This was definitely very close to my own experience, and I bet there are many in Alanon who can relate.
We will most definitely drown if we continue to believe that we are alone. I know in my own life there were times when the whirlpool of depression got so strong it very well might have pulled me down under. There were times when I was in relationships where it was very true actually, that I was alone and I was trying to pull us through by doing all the work myself. This caused a lot of the depression and a lot of the need to depend only on myself and build my walls. Even then though, I put too much emphasis on myself. These were bad relationships to be in and eventually I found that out.
I strive to be healthy now though, to move towards healthy people and healthy groups. To make sure that WE make it. I don't have to do it all by myself. The question to think about now is are we working with the people in our lives, in our jobs, in our relationships or against them? Are we pulling our own weight? Will we allow those around us to help us and share their experience, strength and hope with us? Will we keep coming back to what is healthy and strong so that the miracle can have time to happen?