When I walked through the doors of Al‑Anon, back in 1988, I came because I was looking for someone to tell me how to keep the alcoholic in my life from drinking. After a while, it began to sink in, little-by-little, that my coming to Al‑Anon could not change the alcoholic’s thinking, but if I kept coming back, maybe it could help with the changes I needed to make for me!
As a newcomer, I was encouraged to use a number of Al‑Anon tools, such as the slogans, the Twelve Steps, and Al‑Anon Conference Approved Literature (CAL). Members also recommended I attend different Al‑Anon meetings. That last suggestion, in hindsight, introduced choices and different ways to listen and participate. All these ideas encouraged new ways of behavior and thinking which I now realize helped me to see I was not alone. They nurtured a hope that my life could be different.
This new thinking was hard to believe at times, because I never thought I had choices. Before recovery, I felt as though my life and my actions were controlled by various situations or crises that occurred in my life. My Sponsor assured me that I would eventually grow to understand that making choices and decisions for my life were my responsibility, and that when I chose to let another person, place, or thing influence those choices, I would be unhappy. As I grew in the program, I noticed there were times when I grappled with an inner struggle that I have since identified as my will. I learned when faced with this struggle to look to a Power greater than myself for the direction I was seeking. This lesson has served me well with many “newcomer moments” in my life. One significant example was when I accepted a position offered to me at the World Service Office (WSO). This decision meant I had to uproot and leave a place that included a fellowship of friends who I loved dearly.
In my new city, I found that the Al‑Anon meetings were different than what I was accustomed to. I realized during meetings that I was looking for familiar voices. Sometimes I caught myself longingly wishing for familiar faces in these new rooms. I slowly began to realize why I was so miserable—I was comparing my longtime meetings to these new meetings, and I had decided they did not measure up! I called my Sponsor, who lived in the city I left, and after I had complained ad nauseum, she said, “The same Higher Power you found here is there with you. Remember your Higher Power accompanied you on your trip and is there where you live—at your new meetings, your new home, and your new place of employment.” It was at that moment I realized my problem was that I needed to change my thinking. I decided then I would take this experience and treat it like I was a newcomer! I remembered I had choices and with that came the responsibility of how I wanted to navigate this new experience. From that point on, my meetings became better, since I was no longer searching for “my familiarity” when I walked through the doors.
As I attended each meeting, I remembered to practice bringing a conscious and fresh perspective. I needed to continue giving myself the permission to trust that my Higher Power would help me transition through this change—this direction that I decided to take in my life.
Because the WSO had relocated from New York to Virginia Beach, the office primarily consisted of brand-new staff from all walks of life and all different backgrounds. Some jobs required membership in Al‑Anon and some did not. Although I was not a newcomer to the “language” of Al‑Anon when I started at the WSO, I found that the ability to rely on the basic foundation suggested to me in my first year—the slogans, the Twelve Steps, CAL, and attending lots of different Al‑Anon meetings—were now needed again to help me navigate my new work role. I was reminded once more of my primary reason for walking through the doors of Al‑Anon back in 1988: I came to find out how to change the alcoholic in my life. And now, because of that decision, I was experiencing yet a new opportunity; and all because walking through the doors of Al‑Anon changed me.
By Marsha W., Director of Programs
The Forum, May 2021
Feel free to reprint this article on your service arm website or newsletter, along with this credit line: Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al‑Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA.