Last night I attended my very first Al-Anon meeting. It only took me 34 years to get to one. After treatment it was my plan to find Al anon and hopefully go share my experience of being a COA (child of alcoholic). Al Anon is a branch of AA. In my opinion, if a family member is an addict or alcoholic you probably want to visit Al Anon someday. It helps in the same way AA is crucial in the recovery of so many alcoholics. Alcoholism is a family disease. I’ve been thinking about disease lately. Mainly because I have extended family that do not view addiction or alcoholism or even mental illness in the disease model. It’s tough for people who haven’t experienced depression, addiction, or…life. Ok,yes… I’m being a bit cynical. I have resentments built up toward these family members. I can’t give anyone perspective. I wish I could write a prescription for a “daily dose of perspective” for a few of my well-meaning family members. Why some can’t register that addiction is truly a disease of the mind, body and spirit in this age of medical and technological evolution is beyond me. We all of us have our own crosses to carry, absolutely. But some of our crosses are too heavy to do it alone, without a kind understanding, an empathy. My alcoholism and mood disorders make my cross extremely hard to drag all my little lonesome. I’m not being totally honest. I am so grateful to my husband. Giving, loving, caring in the ways he knows how to be. And that’s all anyone can do. I am eternally in debt to my magical therapist and wise doctor and sweet, but tough New Englander sponsor.
Al -anon, a resource for children living with an alcoholic parent or caregiver, or a mom with a son addicted to pain pills, or any family member, relative, loved one of the “alcoholic/addict”, uses the same 12 steps of AA and the same path to recovery through acceptance of a Higher Power. Higher powers that guide our self-will, mold our destiny and bring relief to long nursed resentment, anger, guilt and shame. Being in that first meeting, surrounded by people who love an alcoholic (as I love my dad) was strange for me because I’m an adult. Now I’m the alcoholic. NO longer the child of an alcoholic; forever the child of an alcoholic. And this is why counselors in treatment recommended Al anon. We read from their book of recovery and discussed the 12th step. I LOVE the 12th step! It’s the Omega to the Alpha: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Sitting around the table with gray haired ladies, a teen with her mom, and a husband, a young woman and me…not focusing at first on the message. Listening to the group take turns reading. Ughh. My idea of a test of patience is sitting in a group meeting while others read from a book. Correcting in my mind the syntactical errors, the language, the pause not made after a comma and the unfortunate soul that struggles to pronounce words like, “bereavement”… the moment was lost. I gained it back though. As it happened, I read the last part of the night’s reading. And the words formed a well inside me, where my peace and serenity could be accessed from inherent aquifers of love, compassion, empathy and spirituality that dwell deep within each of us.
My own pain from childhood, the brain chemistry that over years of anger, resentments, fear, guilt and shame has altered the way I interact, respond and live in this life…this wonderfully complex and beautifully simple life, is not a pain that has to be carried alone. And one sweet day, a pain I pray will no longer be something to carry like a cross but appreciated for what it has given and taught me. Function out of dysfunction. Regeneration from grief and loss. Empathy grown from the rich soil of my past experience that has shaped the me I am today; but now I’m calmed, reassured that the Potter’s hands are on this clay. Child of an alcoholic, but more to the point, a child of God.