28 years ago, I walked into my first 12-Step meeting. I was there upon the recommendation of my doctor, whom I had been seeing weekly, as the result of a back injury. He would listen with patient kindness while I spoke despairingly about my life. Adopted at six, I had recently re-connected with my surviving birth family of father and two sisters, all of whom, like my common law husband, were practicing alcoholics. I felt like a shipwreck victim out on the high seas, clinging to a piece of wreckage, surrounded by circling sharks. I was a rampant people-pleaser with no idea of how to stand up for myself against the combined pressures of my partner and family members, and I was profoundly depressed. I'd carried for years the fantasy that when I met my birth family again, it would be a Hallmark sort of encounter. I'd been horrified and distressed to discover that alcoholism ran through my family like a genetic fault line.
At that stage of my life, my doctor was about the only person with whom I was able to be honest. I was too ashamed and embarrassed to admit to my friends any of the realities of living with, and loving, alcoholics. My doctor would hear me out, and then say patiently, 'I think you need to go to Al-Anon." His words soared right over my head, unheard, the first 50 or so times he said them. Then one day they registered, and I asked, "What's Al-Anon?"
He explained, and because I trusted him, I decided to take his advice. I went into recovery thinking that I would learn how to change the alcoholics; I had no idea that I needed any help. I was under the impression that I'd managed to come out of a painful, violent childhood in pretty good shape. I was in denial about a lot of my life, not just the part in which I tried to deal with alcoholism on my own. I was desperately unhappy, frustrated, and seething with an anger that burned like an eternal flame inside my chest. I was always angry, before recovery. I've learned that this isn't uncommon when a child endures sexual and physical abuse, as I did.
My doctor retired last year, and I made an appointment to go in and thank him, for having had the patience and tolerance to keep pointing me towards recovery, and a new and better life, even when I was unable to hear him. He smiled at me, saying he was delighted to see the person I have become. He joked that I'm one of his success stories. I feel like a success story. Recovery has given me a life I wouldn't have been able to imagine, let alone recognize or articulate. I have serenity, peace, and joy in my life, and both of my sisters are still actively drinking. What I've learned in recovery is that I can love them with all my heart regardless of their problems, and we can have the sisterly connection about which I'd always dreamt. I knew I had two sisters and that we'd been split up and adopted separately. Before recovery, I couldn't accept them for who they are, they needed to change before I could imagine being happy as their sibling. Today, I know that I am not their parent, I'm a fellow traveller.
I write a recovery blog today, called "Through An Al-Anon Filter," and try to share the experience strength and hope so freely and generously given to me by those who went ahead of me along this path. I have sponsees, and people who keep me centered and grounded in my new life. I'm grateful.