The following sharing was contributed by a member from South Africa who served for the first time as a Delegate to the International Al‑Anon General Services Meeting (IAGSM). This is a biennial meeting of representatives from national Service Structures around the world. Originally expected to take place last year in London, the event was held online for the first time. However, because of the twelve different time zones of the participants, it was not possible to include video conferencing. All discussions were conducted in writing using the AFG Connects platform provided by the World Service Office. At the end of the event, participants were invited to offer their reflections on the experience.

Hello, my fellow travelers,

Why do I address you as travelers when most have probably not left home? If I were to meet you personally, somewhere in conversation I would have said that my life is but a journey. Along the way, I meet new people and we travel together for a while—sometimes for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

This is and has been an extraordinary journey, being brought together from all over the globe and possibly, like me, without even having left home. I have sat in my home office in front of my screen sharing my experience, strength, and hope, as I feel my Higher Power’s presence through this group conscience.

Written communication is my least favorite platform for discussion, never mind meeting. I have been enlightened as to the reason why I never had a pen pal—which was a craze while growing up. I need to connect, see your face, hear your voice, and embrace you with a warm, heartfelt hug. I have been spoiled during the hard lock down with access to a variety of video meetings. I live in Cape Town, South Africa, and I work by electronic means on several virtual platforms with my colleagues in Europe.

As a first-time Delegate, I was beside myself (excited) when I was nominated and elected to represent my country and Structure. I was going to be afforded the opportunity to serve at an International Al‑Anon General Services Meeting (IAGSM), which I had never even considered! I’d heard that this was a special experience and was so excited. Then, when our General Service Board, on the recommendation of the General Service Committee, made the decision that our Delegates would not attend the IAGSM due to the pandemic and travel restrictions, it was difficult to process and accept.

When the IAGSM Planning Committee communicated the decision to host the meeting virtually, once again I became excited—forgetting that attending the IAGSM through the communication portal AFG Connects would require hours of reading and typing. When left to my own devices, my perfectionism rears its head and does a good job of sapping the pleasure from participating in any task.

My first saving grace was trusting that I could express my feelings to my international Service Sponsor, which I did without restraint. I am grateful I was not judged as spoiled, complaining, or ungrateful, as I had already taken care of that myself. I am keenly self-aware and, of course, can judge myself harshly, especially when hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. The second saving grace was my community at home. Love and support were expressed in home-cooked meals, tea, coffee, distractions such as going outside and enjoying some sunshine, and even the sometimes not-so-subtle reminders that I needed to sleep. (“Even in London you would need sleep, darling.”)

My husband reminds me that I like to paint a picture when sharing an experience. This allows me to be present in the moment. My experience of the IAGSM has been like climbing a mountain. I have previously climbed several mountains for a variety of reasons including that I was invited, that I wanted the experience, that I wanted to see and feel the view from on top, and that I wanted to have the same shared experience that others reported. The kind of mountain-climbing experience I had was equal to the attitude I took along with me. Some of the experiences reinforced feelings of gratitude, appreciation of nature, basking in shared moments, joy, peace, and serenity. Other experiences were the total opposite—feelings of displeasure, unfulfilled expectation, ungratefulness, and displeasure verbalized to everyone. Much was wrong until I changed my attitude and focused on the present, remembering that this moment will never be repeated.

This IAGSM mountain was much of the same experience, with highs and lows shared with those closest to me. My fellow Delegate from my Service Structure has been a teacher, friend, and companion. I became reliant on our daily web calls to discuss, deliberate, and compose joint responses. Talking to each other and reasoning things out; we learned much about each other, our Structure, and the international structures.

Without my Higher Power, none of this would have been possible. For this I am indebted, and will continue to learn, share, and pass on the message of love, hope, and joy. Until we meet again, as I know this is only the beginning—warm hugs and much love.

By Madelein O., Cape Town, South Africa

The Forum, April 2021

Feel free to reprint this article on your service arm website or in your newsletter, along with this credit line: Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al‑Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA.