My journey in Al-Anon Family Groups began with a “Yes”

My journey in Al-Anon Family Groups began with a “Yes”
by a Humble Servant, Wellington

I saw an advert in my local community newspaper advertising an open meeting of Al-Anon Family Groups (AFG). My then partner (a member of AA) was going to go along and take a friend who he thought needed their help. He asked if I wanted to join them. I said “Yes”.

The three of us went along, listened to the sharings and had a cup of tea. We may have mingled afterwards, or we may have left straight away – I can’t recall because it was so long ago. What I do remember is that that night at that meeting someone I had never met before told my story out loud. She shared my secrets and it shook me to the core. I will never forget it. I spent much of the night blinking back tears pretending not to be affected by what I had heard. It took immense amounts of grit and strength to squash the violent wave of emotion that was threatening to erupt. But I held myself together, stuffed my feelings once again into that sad, dark and lonely secret place that lived inside me and I kept up appearances, just like I’d been taught to do at home: “don’t show you are hurt, don’t show your feelings, don’t let people know the truth, shhh. It never happened….” I was really good at that.

One month later, emotionally crippled from a breakup that nearly broke me, I walked into my first ‘proper’ Al-Anon Family Groups sharing meeting. I learnt in Al-Anon Family Groups that I had been ‘managing’ my life, not living it. I was controlling, passive and deeply fearful. To put it bluntly I had an illness and I had no idea that I was ‘sick’. I had been trying to run my life, his life, the dog’s life and I had run it all … straight into the ground. I was broken and battered, in a million little pieces. And I was in deep emotional pain.

That first night at my first meeting, someone offered me their phone number, I whispered ”Yes, thanks” and called them in tears a few days later. They were so patient, understanding and kind. They offered me words of comfort and hope where I had nothing. I kept coming to meetings, just sitting there, not sharing and leaving early. I desperately didn’t want to belong to these groups, or to relate to you people. But I felt better during each meeting. After many months I worked up the courage to ask someone to sponsor me. To my utter surprise and bewilderment they said “Yes” and we got to work straight away. I did the steps as suggested by her. She asked me to do some seemingly crazy tasks. I wrote columns, letters to a Higher Power I wasn’t sure I even believed in, wrote more columns, filled them in with all the bile I’d kept in my head for my whole life. My sponsor would ask me to do something and I would say “Yes”.

She encouraged me to do service. (I didn’t want to. What could I possible offer? Plus, why should I? What’s in it for me?) Then people shoulder tapped me. They saw positive capabilities in me that I couldn’t recognise in myself because I secretly thought I was worthless. I was asked to join committees; I said “Yes”, I was asked to take on a service role for my home group I said “Yes”. I was asked to help teens, I said “Yes”. A group had dwindling numbers I was asked to go along to boost numbers and serve, I said “Yes”. I was invited to Area Meetings I said “Yes”. I was nominated for Alternate Group Representative. I humbly and nervously I said “Yes”. I got busy and somehow, one day at a time, I got better.

I began to trust in this ‘Higher Power’ and wonder if perhaps just maybe everyone else was right and that I had some good qualities after all. My sponsor seemed to think so. I began to believe that perhaps I was capable and I was able to let go of my perfectionism a little bit more with each service role I was encouraged to take. I began to see my own growth, I received so many gifts from serving my group that I felt blessed. I read my service manual with gusto – there was so much knowledge, experience, strength and hope in its pages. I could learn so much. Our fellowship had so many riches to share with me I need only open the pages of the service focused literature to find them. Page after page revealed to me the truths, the solutions and the assistance of everyone who had gone before me in their journey of recovery in Al-Anon Family Groups. I was inspired to keep going.

“I got busy and somehow, one day at a time, I got better.”

Members asked me to sponsor them. I was sure I’d make a rubbish sponsor, yet I still said “Yes”, hoping for the best, asking my sponsor for help and praying for guidance. This is when I received yet another priceless gift. The gift or bearing witness to another’s journey from despair to hope. And I got to hand them the lifeline. I had found another role within Al-Anon Family Groups that it was ok to simply do my best at. My best really was good enough.

I began to notice that where I stretched myself and my capabilities in service was precisely where I saw the most growth and received my richest rewards. I began to trust this God and to think that just perhaps He had a wondrous life planned for me if only I was willing to open my heart and my mind a little bit more each and every day. To ‘let go’ a little bit more every day. Let go of perfectionism, my expectations, others expectations of me, to let go of what other people thought of me, judgement, fear, outcomes and control – you name it and I had to let go of it. I was learning that service gave me a safe (and yes – sometimes challenging, but always loving) place to practice this. To practice using my new found Al-Anon Family Groups tools and principles.

The Regional Service Seminar* came to my Area, I was asked to be on the committee, I said “Yes”. Then I found out that the committee members had to stay overnight – I grumbled about the demand on my time, the extra cost I hadn’t budgeted for, the extra work, but still I said “Yes”. I was asked to run the ‘fun night’. “Yes” I said with excitement! I made a pop quiz, and dressed up with two enthusiastic co-hosts in crazy costumes – it was fun, it wasn’t perfect, still everyone smiled and had FUN! Especially me. That weekend something changed for me and in me. Service became fun, I also realised that it was not an ‘optional extra’ of my recovery. Service WAS an integral part OF my recovery.

The three Legacies began to mean something very profound to me. They became a touchstone for my serenity. At the Regional Service Seminar* I met members from across the country, people with a depth of understanding of the traditions and the concepts unlike anything I had ever seen before. I was around others who felt the same. We enjoyed fellowship of like minds, people passionate about working their programme through service. We laughed, we learnt, we shared and we cried. It was like an adrenaline shot of recovery straight to my heart! I made new friends, and deepened ties with people in my area who shared the same experience as me.

I was asked to work with Alcoholics Anonymous on the Convention Committee – twice. Wow – what a rich experience that was. My love and gratitude for that fellowship grew beyond measure. I was asked to stand for Area Delegate. I didn’t even know what that was. I had never even really listened to their reports at Assemblies before. I never thought they concerned me. I was too focused on myself and wondering ‘what’s in it for me?’ I was terrified so I quickly said “Yes” before my head could talk me out of it. I got voted in. I had no idea what I was doing. I asked for help, I got a new service sponsor. I did what I was asked to do, wrote a report, read submissions, read reports, looked at my service manual a lot!

I flew to Auckland to meet ‘Them’ – the Board members – those cold, distant, scary people who were at the top of Al-Anon Family Groups. I realised very quickly that I had it all wrong. I had been using my old stinking thinking – this was Al-Anon Family Groups after all – and it turned out that this bunch of people were my equals, they were human, like me, they were simply Al-Anon Family Groups members serving the fellowship. We laughed, we cried and we worked hard on building a future for Al-Anon Family Groups and looking after the (sometimes boring) admin side of this seemingly unorganised organisation, never losing sight that our Higher Power was guiding us and that the true power in Al-Anon is with the groups. The Board members were all my Al-Anon Family Groups members that I just hadn’t met yet. They welcomed me with open arms and let me learn, grow and make fabulous mistakes in the process, and guess what? They still loved me and said “Keep coming back, you are doing a great job.” They encouraged me to keep growing, to keep learning and to stay connected to my Higher Power.

I was asked to help start a new meeting with a different format I said “Yes” with gusto and poured my energy into researching meeting formats, learning from the Al-Anon Family Groups history and reading so much Conference Approved Literature that my head spun. It was exciting and my brain was an eager sponge mopping up the wisdom of members from days gone by. I read Lois’ wisdom, found out her intention, her guidelines and was reinvigorated yet again. I became Group Secretary to this new group and watch as it flourished, attracting newcomers and other members to the unique format. I was asked to stand in as temporary Area Chair, I said yes. I was asked to stand for the role of Area Chair and said ‘Yes’. I didn’t get the role and I learnt so much about what service is and what leadership is. I’m stilI learning and I kept trusting God. Very shortly after that I was asked to stand for Central Regional Board Member – I could hardly believe it! That was not something I had ever imagined for myself, so I knew it must be God’s will – not mine. Naturally, I said “Yes” and filled in the form perfectly imperfectly.

This is where I find myself today. An Al-Anon Family Groups Board Member, an equal, a member of a home group, a sponsor, a sponsee and most of all a humble servant who goes where God wants me, not where I want to go. If I left it up to MY will I would have left these rooms and never come back a long time ago, and as for service “HA! No thanks.” Luckily for me God had other plans. Somewhere along my journey in recovery God and I have become friends. I have gone from not being able to speak his name to being his humble servant and trusting him completely (no matter how seemingly important or unimportant the outcome). I have come to realise that in Al-Anon Family Groups ‘humble servant’ is about the highest position you can attain. After all, we all know who the Master is and honestly I don’t want that job anymore, I tried it in my early twenties and I was rubbish at it, so I had to let it go.