I was not expecting anything like the events that have transformed my life over the past 30 years. My wife had decided to do something about her drinking–an issue we had been discussing for months–and discovered an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting near our home.
“Will you drive me?” she asked. “I don’t think I can do it myself.” To prove the point, she held her shaking hands in front of her. She found sobriety that evening and I took the first hesitant steps toward a spiritual and emotional makeover of my own.
But I wasn’t expecting anything of the sort as I followed her directions to something called the Gulf Coast Club in Southwest Houston. I remember a crowded parking lot, sitting in the car, and studying her hands clasped tightly on her lap. I thought she was a portrait of combined commitment and uncertainty, in equal doses.
“This is it?” I asked. I knew what her answer would be, but wanted to hear it from her lips.
“I’m not going back now. This is it. Time to turn the corner,” she said, and got out of the car.
Inside, a man behind the coffee bar nodded in our direction, taking us for what we were—two people looking for the answers to questions too difficult to put into words.
My wife was directed to an A.A. meeting: “Over there through that door. It’s a women’s meeting.” He walked her over and came back, turning his attention to me. “I suppose you want to go to an Al‑Anon meeting.”
I looked at him, waiting for some kind of explanation about why he thought that might be, but his attitude suggested my only possible answer would be “yes.” I suppose I nodded.
Al‑Anon—I was unfamiliar with the word before that moment.
He guided me along a hallway, until we came to a closed door. He opened and announced to the dozen or so mostly older women, “You have yourselves a newcomer.” I was in my 30s at the time.
I sat down and didn’t say anything. The details of a discussion I no longer remember whirled around me. I carefully avoided eye contact, not wanting to give anyone a reason to ask me anything.
Posters with the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions were on another wall, as was the reminder to “Keep Coming Back.” And there I was, glancing around, studying the faces, thinking to myself: There is nothing in this place for me.
What could I possibly have in common with these women? They might as well have been speaking Greek for all the sense it made. My package of dark moods felt out of place. There was one other man. Like me, he held back, giving the impression of a spectator, rather than a participant.
My wife’s the one with the problem is what I was thinking. Getting her to an A.A. meeting had been my good deed for the evening. Mission accomplished.
The meeting ended as many Al‑Anon meetings do, with everyone standing, holding hands, and reciting the Lord’s Prayer. I was urged to “Keep Coming Back” and get myself a copy of One Day at a Time (B-6).
I nodded politely, smiled, said, “Yes,” and then got out of there as quickly as I could.
A week later, my wife asked, “Would you drive me again?” “Yeah, okay,” I said, thinking that this would be it for me. I went to another Al‑Anon meeting.
Weeks later: “You want to come with me?” she asked, sounding like she didn’t really care one way or the other. I said “okay” without really thinking about it, but I realized later that I might have been feeling the first stirrings of a response to what I had been hearing at the meetings.
I thought I might as well try to understand the other side of this program to which my wife had so readily given herself. Besides, this stuff about feelings, well…it was interesting, kind of… hearing people discuss feelings that had been part of me all my life, feelings I had never felt comfortable discussing.
That’s how it began, one meeting leading to another. My connections with the thoughts floating out of the conversations came slowly, but they took shape as I began to tune in: discussions about insights that made a difference, little moments big enough to hang a life on. Moments that made people laugh, get angry, cry, or even rejoice. Like looking into a mirror and recognizing important stuff for the first time—little moments and big differences.
I would one day tell friends, as my sense of clarity developed, “God was talking to me and I began listening.”
I was beginning to feel less like a victim and a little bit more like someone who might just find the strength to push back against the forces that had shoved me in all the wrong directions for much of my life.
That’s Al‑Anon—my favorite one stop shopping place for life-altering insights.
By Phil H., Nevada
The Forum, April 2012
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