What if someone sees me?
This was the concern that stood in my way each time my therapist suggested I try an Al-Anon meeting. I was desperately trying to find a way to manage my extreme discomfort with the discord in my marriage. More often then not our sessions involved me venting for an hour, hardy pausing to take a breath.
“You are not alone in this,” Karen, who I had be seeing regularly for about five years, gently reminded me on more than one occasion, “I think you would find Al-Anon to be helpful. It wouldn’t hurt to check it out when you are ready.”
The thought of going to Al-Anon scared me. I had looked at the website and often contemplated going but each time I convinced myself my situation was not bad enough to warrant a twelve step group.
Until the night, I found myself sobbing silently on the bathroom floor. The night, after a particularly difficult interaction with my husband left me feeling depleted, hopeless and alone.
“Mommy, what’s the matter? Are you coming out?” Brennan, who was eight years old at the time asked in a wavering voice while trying to turn the knob and open the bathroom door. “Are you ready to read a story with me?”
The next night I walked into my first Al-Anon meeting
(Journal excerpt, November, 2011)
As I drove toward the church on the dusky warm October night I desperately hoped the meeting would be canceled. Or maybe no one would show up. I felt the knot in my stomach start to tighten as I pulled into the parking lot spattered with cars, dread filling my body like helium in an empty balloon. With ten minutes to go until the meeting started, I sat in my car scanning people as they walked into the basement of the church, praying I wouldn’t see anyone I knew. What would they think if they saw me here? They would KNOW. They would gossip. I had to remind myself of the desperate, tearful promise I made to myself while on the bathroom floor the night before.
I got out of my car and reluctantly walked into the meeting feeling like a kindergartner on the first day of school. My head down, avoiding eye contact with anyone in the room. Chairs were set up in a circle, a box of tissues and a white clock placed in the center. People of all ages, gender and ethnicity were talking animatedly with each other while holding white Styrofoam cups filled with coffee and hot chocolate. It felt more like a social event than an twelve step meeting. I quietly took a chair, hoping to make myself invisible to those around me. The meeting started by introducing ourselves. I felt like a character in a sitcom as I said “Hi my name is Sherri” and the group welcomed me. The Al-Anon twelve steps were read and words like peace, serenity, and hope were spoken as if those feelings were part of their everyday life. If these people are peaceful and hopeful then their story cannot be as bad as mine I thought to myself. My life was spiraling out of control with no serenity in sight.
There I sat, an anxious, short tempered, sleep deprived wife and mother, exhausted from pretending my life was as perfect as I made it appear on social media. I don’t belong here. But as the group members started to share their stories, my heart began pounding and I felt the goosebumps break out on my arms. One after another I heard my story. Different but the same. Experiences so similar to mine being shared with love, compassion and yes, serenity. I absorbed every word. As I listened to the familiar tales, the tension started to drain from my body like air from a tire. I felt the years of bottled up anger and resentment being pushed aside like dirt from a budding flower and in its place, grew a glimmer of hope. I was not crazy. I was not alone.