When my husband went to rehab over ten years ago, his counselor urged me to try Al-Anon…a support group for family members affected by a loved one’s addiction.
The last thing I EVER wanted in my whole life was to be a part of Al-Anon.
Add it to the list of things in my life that weren’t going according to my master plan.
The first time I walked into an Al-Anon meeting I wore my martyrdom like a giant puffy coat.
Surely everyone felt sorry for me.
Clearly I had the saddest, most pathetic story there.
Certainly I had every reason to skulk around in my giant puffy coat-of-pain. Hood pulled up tight over my head. Hands stuffed deep within my pockets.
That way I wouldn’t have to get too close to anyone.
That way no one would really be able to reach me.
That way I could sit in my giant hot and sweaty pity-pot feeling sorry for myself.
A walking puffy-coated tragedy!
But then it was my turn to speak.
I trembled a little as I stood at the podium to introduce myself. And I launched into my background and all the awful details of my life’s current situation.
I expected everyone to gasp.
I expected tears.
I expected clicking tongues and shaking heads and clutched chests.
But mostly everyone listened intently and offered knowing smiles. Their eyes looked at me with encouragement and love. Many nodded.
NODDED their heads!!!
Frankly, I was a little pissed.
I stood up there in my giant puffy martyr-coat and started sweating with rage.
Didn’t you people hear what I just said?????
My husband is an ADDICT!!!
This is happening in my HOUSE!!!
With my HUSBAND!!!!
I have two little boys and I’m working my tail off at work and my entire life is falling apart…
Why are you all just sitting there with those contented smiles on your serene little faces??
I DON’T WANT TO HEAR YOUR ‘ME TOO-S’!!
You should all be as shocked and appalled by my life as I am!!!
But they weren’t.
I sat down with a huff.
I wanted to cry.
But for some reason…I kept coming back.
Maybe it’s because of all those sayings (that initially made me angrier).
Keep coming back.
It works if you work it.
Keep it simple.
Just for today.
Blah, blah, blah.
But I did.
I showed up.
Week after week after week.
I read their stupid books.
I started listening. REALLY listening to the awful, terrible, tragic stories of the people sitting right next to me. Worse…so much worse than my own!
I noticed how the people with the most painful stories sometimes had the most serene smiles on their faces and how they leapt to help the next person in line.
And one day…I took off my coat.
I hung it on the rack and noticed the entire coatrack was full.
Suddenly I could give better hugs.
Suddenly my hands were free to grab the hand of the person sitting next to me as we said our closing prayer.
Suddenly I wasn’t alone.
Suddenly, for the first time ever, I realized…we are not supposed to live this life alone!
Suddenly I couldn’t wait to help the next person in line. In Al-Anon…and everywhere.
Suddenly I found myself smiling at the newcomers. And nodding my head. And wondering how long she was going to wear that puffy coat. Wasn’t she hot???
Suddenly I found myself walking away from meetings and smiling contentedly for no reason at all.
I bet my face even looked a little serene.
And now, more than ten years later…a good story is still my favorite thing in the whole wide world.
Painful and sad and hilarious and ironic and bittersweet and tragic and happy and exhilarating and heartbreaking and TRUE.
I love them ALL!!!
And I just bet YOU have your own story to tell. We ALL do.
So, take off your coat.
Stay a while.
Grab my hand.
I’ll be here listening when you decide to share.
I’ll be nodding with encouragement and love.
Let’s just live this REAL-life story exactly the way we are meant to live.