When my mum, Mark, and I attended Chad’s Family Weekend in Florida I was anxious and totally on self-defense mode. Talk about our feelings? Share our fears and hopes? Cry AND hug? All in the presence of complete judge-y (in my mind) strangers? I just wanted to eat, shop, and go to the beach (all while pretending my beloved little bro was not in rehab because “people like us” didn’t have those problems). I planned to sit back and go through the motions, I wasn’t going to get emotional as I was sure everyone else would. I was strong, dammit. I didn’t “do emotions” in front of anyone else (just call me Ms. Martyr). Little did I know it would be the weekend that would open the door to the recovery pathway, a door I didn’t even realize I, myself, desperately needed to walk through, too.
Basically, there was a metric ton of everything I assumed there would be that weekend: sharing with strangers, judging strangers’ life choices, pretending to be superior, and feeling like this surreal weekend was all a nasty dream. But then something happened. I cried from the core of my being with families, and after three days began connecting with other humans living the exact same nightmare. And it was powerful. Epic-ly so. There was much sharing at first about our loved ones and their treatment plans, however the very last exercise of the entire weekend was to go around and express our hope for the future, then the therapists told theirs for each of us, not the addicts, but US: the family members. I was sitting there on the edge of my seat,my stomach a churning ball of mush, psyching myself up to not cry when my turn came (you don’t cry in front of others unless you are a pansy was what I was taught growing up). I got all choked up and blubbered out my hope was for Chad to be happy. Nothing for myself nor my parents. I just wanted my brother to have one seemingly simple thing: happiness. The therapists were so amazing at acknowledging our hopes and then promptly crushing them by saying this, “Take care of you first. Everything else will happen how it will. Go to Al-Anon.” I remember feeling very confused at that basic statement, “Go to Al-Anon,” resounded in my head for a few minutes afterwards. Wow. Wow. Wait. Take care of ME!? But I am so fabulous at taking care of everyone else! It occurred to me after the therapists stated their message that none of the family mentioned any hopes nor dreams for themselves. It was 100% focused on the addict in every, single family. We were all stressed, exhausted (physically and mentally), and loosing our own beings grasping to control something totally out of our hands. I remember one father was so stress-ridden that his health was literally spiraling out of control and downhill, another mother could not stop crying the entire weekend and kept repeating how grateful she was for all of us because she had nobody to turn to about her son. Parents had gotten divorced, lost jobs, and were failing to love and properly care for younger siblings because they were so obsessed with fixing their addict child. It was heartbreaking and unlike anything I had ever experienced. For the first time, the crushing, debilitating reality of addiction and joyous optimism of recovery became very real to me. I knew I could no longer wake up and my first thought be about my brother and his recovery or relapse. No longer every time my phone buzzed, my heart would drop out of my stomach. This had to stop, I just wasn’t quite sure how.
Well after looking a hot mess crying alone in the airport, then most the flight back to Vegas, (massive self pity party) I decided maybe I could give taking the pros’ advice a shot. I really did like them, they seemed to know their shit, and at that point I really had nothing to loose besides what little sanity I had left. I got online to find the Al-Anon meeting schedule for Vegas, and I hesitantly attended my first meeting that following Wednesday, the 12th of December 2012. The meeting I chose was called Pathways to Discovery and was held at a Lutheran church not too far from my house. I remember very clearly my insecurity walking into the room, I was by far the youngest one in there, yet feeling an odd sense of belonging when I heard the people start to share. However, I was still not sold because I was a jaded skeptic who still hadn’t bought into (read: accepted) that Chad and my family were facing any real issues.
I cannot tell a lie, the first few meetings I was still sure I did not belong with “those people” who shared sappy stories of “experience, strength, and hope”. I was thinking, um no, your stories are not going to help me. I will read my books and cure myself all by myself because I am the best person fixer ever! Oh, they also mentioned the G-word. A lot. I am not really an organized religion type, which turned out I had a humongous God-shaped whole in my heart, but I didn’t learn that until much later and is an entry in an of itself. Anyway, this block made it tough for me, but for some damn reason though, I kept going; probably because I kept hearing,”Keep Coming Back,” from these amazing men and women who flourished in the midst of adversity. And I started reading. Everything from the daily readers to Love is a Choice; I was reading to learn about my behavior, which was totally foreign. And thinking differently; I was able to literally start seeing myself and others in a new light. And starting to feel like less of a co-dependent spazoid (that’s where Love is a Choice came into play). Words cannot express the feeling being in a room where every single person just gets it. No judgement, no criticism, no unheeded advice (which always come from people who know jack shit about the disease or living with it).
It has now been two years and 10 months since my first meeting. I have heard stories that have lifted my spirits, broken my heart, opened my mind, and truly changed my life. I have also had the privilege to encounter some of the strongest, bravest, and most beautiful souls in those rooms. It does sounds cheesy, yes I know, but it is the #truth. I would love to say that Chad’s recovery has been “perfect” without any bumps in the road, fortunately that is not how life works (no, fortunately was not a typo). The difference for me now is that if there is a “crisis”I don’t freak out and go into panic mode, my brain still tries believe that, but I am now able to take control of ME and handle my behavior. Without Al-Anon that simply would not be the case. I am becoming a better person in every aspect of my life, leaving Chad alone and giving him the dignity of working on HIS recovery, and being an example of, “The change I wish to see in the world”. I know, I know, cheese-tastic, but all true! It took me a long time, but I also eventually worked up the courage to get a sponsor. She helped me work my program to the necessary level for real change. It has been weird examining and exploring my own demons, but I had to and still have to walk through it to come out on the other side. I try to attend at least one meeting a week and I read my daily readers every morning. I have also made some great friends, they get me when nobody else does. That has been huge for me, simply having a common language and attitude with other people facing similar challenges.
The seasoned Al-Anoners suggest to try seven meetings before throwing in the towel, and I am ever-so-thankful that I took that initial piece of advice. Not only has my life improved greatly in all arenas, but working and focusing on myself gave me less time to “help” Chad with his recovery. I learned to give him the decency of his own dignity and have been able to watch him grow over these years as well. It has been purely magical. It sounds terrible to be grateful for something has terrible as addiction, but if Chad never went into recovery, I never would have either. I would still be an anxious, discontented person wallowing around in a giant pool of my own self-pity. Until I worked my 12 Steps and completed exercises with co-dependency material, I had no idea how much I was holding onto that was making me miserable. I am a completely different person thanks to Al-Anon, I am much more compassionate,non-judgmental, and open to life as a whole. I feel as if I were given a second chance to not only live a better existence, but become a better wife, parent, and friend. I also hope that I have helped others along the way by sharing my adventure in Self Discovery Land (that’s a real place, and it’s scary, man), especially those cynical newcomers as I was not that long ago. I tease with Chad all the time that we both, “drank the Koolaide” of Al-Anon and AA, and we liked it dammit! But all jokes aside, my life has become such a better place to live (I’m certain other around me agree), think I’ll, “Keep Coming Back.”
Be Good, Do Good.