Every once in a while, the fates will dole out a little dope slap.
A former neighbor, whom I hadn’t seen in two years, appeared out of the blue a few days ago (there seems to be a lot of that happening lately...). Her daughter and my girls had been good friends, and had spent a lot of time together before their family moved to another suburb. We kept in touch for a while after their move, but my last interaction with this woman had been a little bit tense. So I was mildly surprised when she seemed very, very glad to see me. She gave me a great big hug, even.
After the initial, “So good to see you! How have you been!” intro round, she cut quickly to the chase. She confided that her husband has finally agreed to go to AA, and he will be attending his first meeting this week.
Having lived with an active alcoholic for five years, followed by another five with the same one sober, I know a little bit about alcoholism and twelve-step programs. Long before they moved away, I became pretty sure that this woman’s husband was a candidate for the Bill W. club. Years ago, I had given her some of my Al-anon literature to read and invited her to a meeting, but she didn’t seem particularly interested at the time. I didn’t press the issue.
When people who need help finally find the courage to ask for it, it always seems like a joyous miracle. But at the same time, I know very well that the journey to that point is almost always long and almost always deeply painful. So her unexpected revelation brought a flood of mixed feelings.
“What happened?” I gasped, although I could imagine.
“It got so much worse,” she said. “What went on when we were living here, that was nothing.”
I nodded. I didn’t need the details. I knew exactly what she was talking about.
The dope slap part of all of this is that just last weekend I told My Ho that I wanted to get back into the routine of attending my weekly Al-anon meetings. Between the second job, him, the Demigoddesses, Friday night baseball games, and life in general, over the past year I have progressed from spotty attendance at meetings to, for the past couple of months, none at all.
For a while there, I was even mulling over the possibility that maybe I was done with Al-anon. Maybe I was tired of going over and over all the old ugliness again and again and again. Maybe I was through defining myself and my life according to the alcoholics I have known. Perhaps it was time to let it go and move on.
But I gave my notice at Old Navy last week (!!!), which means my weekends are mine again. And the reason I brought it up with My Ho was to let him know that my Friday night priority might be changing back to Al-anon meetings, partly to see if he would be cool with that. Of course, he was very supportive.
He asked me why, after almost nine years of meetings, I still felt the need to attend. What I heard myself say was this:
At this point, I know the steps, I know the slogans, I know the literature. I have the tools I’ve learned and I've become pretty good at using them, without even having to think about it much any more. But regular meetings help keep it all fresh and functioning so that I don’t slip back into trouble. And besides that, a very important part of 12-step programs is being there for other people. I have stockpiled a wealth of life experience, hope, and wisdom that I can share with newcomers who need it. But I need to be at meetings for that to happen.
Hello, former neighbor. Thank you for the smack upside the head. (Seriously.)
I invited her to my meeting tonight, and she said she might check it out. She said she has been to a few in her area, but hasn’t found one yet that feels like a good fit. “That’s really great,” I encouraged. “Try a few. You’ll find one.”
I’ll be there tonight, either way.