Archives for posts with tag: Al-Anon

At my second Al-Anon meeting someone gives me a bookmark, or I purchase one, that says “Just for Today.” Below the title the following text is printed:

Just for today I will try to live through this day only and not tackle my whole life problem all at once. I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.

Just for today I will be happy. Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.

Just for today I will adjust myself to what is, and not try to adjust everything to my own desires. I will take my ‘luck’ as it comes and fit myself to it.

Just for today I will try to strengthen my mind. I will study. I will learn something useful. I will not be a mental loafer. I will read something that requires effort, thought and concentration.

Just for today I will exercise my soul in three ways: I will do somebody a good turn and not get found out: if anybody knows of it, it will not count. I will do at least two things I don’t want to do — just for exercise. I will not show anyone that my feelings are hurt; they may be hurt, but today I will not show it.

Just for today I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress becomingly, talk low, act courteously, criticize not one bit, nor find fault with anything and try not to improve or regulate anybody except myself.

Just for today I will have a program. I may not follow it exactly, but I will have it. I will save myself from two pests: hurry and indecision.

Just for today I will have a quiet half hour all by myself and relax. During this half hour, sometime, I will try to get a better perspective of my life.

Just for today I will be unafraid. Especially I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful, and to believe that as I give to the world, so the world will give to me. *

(* This material comes from the literature of various 12-step programs. I am not the copyright holder.)

This list of aspirations or intentions helps remind me not to criticize Johnny, but to be aware of my own tendency to be critical. It instructs me to focus on being pleasant and courteous myself rather than on focusing on how others are treating me. It emphasizes things I can do. Apart from not criticizing and fault-finding, I find it challenging not to show my hurt feelings when I am hurt: I have the kind of face that shows every feeling I have and I don’t relish the idea of covering up how I feel, but I don’t have to dwell on my hurt feelings or broadcast them.

When I get home after the Al-Anon meeting and my busking shift I find an email apology from Johnny for the events of Saturday night. He apologizes for being sarcastic, for being unkempt, for criticizing my sleeping posture, for talking too much about the movie he was watching. He says he is having a hard time. He points out that he is often considerate, compassionate, polite and generous, which he is when he is at his best. He also points out “in the past you have overreacted to me having a few drinks.” He closes with “I still love you.”

I write back to tell him “This is a beautiful letter.” I talk about how I react to the smell of stale alcohol, to the sight of lots of bottles, to any sign of anger in a person who has been drinking. I promise not to make trouble for him at this stressful time. I tell him I want him to succeed and that I love him.

Johnny does not answer my email, nor does he call me. I do hear from his bass player that afternoon. He has not heard from Johnny for three days and they have a rehearsal that afternoon for a double CD-release party for the clients Johnny has been working with for months. The bass player tells me he will hold the rehearsal without Johnny but they need him on the gig. I tell the bass player that Johnny and I have been fighting about his drinking, but that we are not fighting now and I am going to Al-Anon for help in dealing with my feelings. He tells me Johnny does have a drinking problem, says he is worried about Johnny’s health. I tell him I will call him if I hear from Johnny.

I don’t hear from Johnny. When I call to leave messages I discover that his voicemail is full. I send him an email each day, keeping them cheerful and positive: “I love you. Never doubt it. Many others love you, too.”

By Saturday morning I am wondering how to get in touch with Johnny’s younger brother: I send a Facebook message to his niece, asking for her father’s email address or phone number. I play a shift at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market and then go to Down Home Music in El Cerrito to the first of two CD-release events. The bass player holds the musicians together, Johnny’s clients sing an entertaining duet of Hank Williams’ “Move It On Over” that Johnny had arranged for them, plus cuts from their new CDs. Johnny does not show up at all.

I leave that show uncertain about whether I will attend the evening show: I’ll need to find a ride and money is tight — I’ll be leaving for France in four days. In the end I stay home and have a phone conversation with Johnny’s younger brother Peter. It comes out in our conversation that Johnny received two tickets for driving under the influence of alcohol, that Johnny has previously expressed suicidal ideation and discussed means of suicide. Peter tells me that Johnny has a pattern of falling apart when he has an important gig or other important project.

That night I email the bass player to see if he wants to go out to Johnny’s the next day to check on Johnny. I do not hear back from him. I do hear from Peter by email: he thinks I should find somebody to take over for Johnny for the June 16th memorial for Les Blank. He is concerned how Johnny’s being a potential no-show will affect Johnny’s career and his standing in the community.

I tell Peter I can’t begin to find a sub for Johnny, that I don’t know who to ask, don’t know who is on the committee for the memorial, have no contact information for either the musicians or organizers. I remind him that I am flying to France in two day’s time.

Next I hear from a filmmaker, a colleague of Les Blank’s. She wonders what is up with Johnny. I tell her he has experienced a lot of recent losses, that he has been drinking and incommunicado and that he has just blown off a gig that was months in the making. She tells me one of Les Blank’s sons will go to check on Johnny. We email back and forth and somehow I hear that Johnny has phoned his brother Peter. I give the filmmaker my contact information and tell her I will be away until June 26th, on silent retreat in France.

At an Al-Anon meeting on Monday someone suggests that I do not have to make any decisions if I am not ready to make them. This is helpful: I decide not to decide anything until I return from France. I also decide to stop calling and emailing Johnny — enough is enough: I leave in two days. I must do laundry, pack, exchange dollars for Euros, check in with my airline, mail a check to Johnny.

I get all of that done on Tuesday. I am just settling down to write about how hurt I feel that Johnny has not called me before I leave for France when the phone rings.

It’s Johnny.

“Hi Sharyn. I wanted to call you before you left for France.”

We talk for about an hour. Most of the conversation is about how much he misses his brother David who “always knew the right things to say” to him. I am grateful to hear from him and manage to remain calm. We do not talk about his drinking. I do not talk about my hurt feelings. He is sad and shaky.

“Call me when you get back,” he says.



After our Saturday night date on June 1, 2013 I started researching Al-Anon, reading about it online, looking up meeting schedules. I knew that Al-Anon was a 12-step program for friends and family of alcoholics. I wasn’t enthusiastic about going to a meeting, but I also knew that I had reached the end of my coping strategies: nine months with Johnny hadn’t taught me how to deal with his drinking. He still drank; I got upset that he drank.

Tuesday evening found me catching the bus to a beginner’s meeting at a North Berkeley church. I walked across the path that bisected the green lawn and entered the building, climbing the stairs to a hallway with doors on either side.

I found myself in a white room with rows of folding chairs in a semicircle, facing a small podium and the door. A wall of hopper windows at the back of the room tilted open to let in the late spring air. I took a seat near the end of a row and watched as the room filled with people. A woman went to the podium and began to read a welcome. She said that people who had lived with the problem of alcoholism could understand others who lived with it.

That seemed reasonable to me: I hadn’t known what I was up against with Johnny until I saw him slide from punctual, reliable, good-humored Johnny to a sarcastic man who did not bother to eat, shower or change his clothes and could not keep track of time.

The speaker went on to say that we could find contentment whether the alcoholics in our lives were drinking or not. I found this harder to accept: I wasn’t happy at all with the changes in Johnny’s behavior and condition. But when she said “living with an alcoholic is too much for most of us” I said a silent (“Yes!”). Then she read “Al-Anon has but one purpose: to help families of alcoholics. We do this by practicing the Twelve Steps, by welcoming and giving comfort to families of alcoholics, and by giving understanding and encouragement to the alcoholic.”

The speaker left the podium, walked to the end of the row and handed a printed copy of the twelve steps to the person sitting there. That person read aloud: “One. We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.”

“Really?” I thought. “I’m not powerless over alcohol. I can take it or leave it. Johnny has a problem with alcohol and I have a problem with Johnny.”

The reader passed the paper to the next person, who read “Two. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

“Wait. I’m insane now? I’m not insane. I have a real problem. Never mind ‘Power greater than ourselves’”

“Three. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

“Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. I’m not turning over anything. I don’t believe in God.”

I had spent part of my childhood and teenage years in the Episcopal Church, drawn there by an opportunity to sing in the junior choir. I went through a fervent religious phase in tandem with singing the music of Byrd, Vittoria, Bach, Handel, hymns, Gregorian chant and service music by Healey Willan, augmented with stained glass windows and the poetic language of the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. But when I was nineteen my atheist father died and the church offered me no answers for what would happen to him now. I began to leave out sections of the creeds when I recited them, doubting many things I had once believed. Plus, I had been curious about sex and wanting to find a love other than God’s love, which seemed completely out of reach.

Now here I was in a plain room without the music, poetry and stained glass, hearing people talk about turning their lives over to God. They continued rolling through the steps. “Seven. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

“Why is this about me? Now if God wanted to remove Johnny’s shortcomings we might have something to talk about.”

The next two people read steps eight and nine about making amends.

“Unclear on the concept,” said the voice in my head. “I am the victim here. I am the one who has been harmed.” But underneath that I knew that I did not always use what Buddhists call “skillful means” — I suspected there might be better ways to respond to Johnny’s behavior than what came naturally to me: blaming, accusing, judging. When I thought I had made a mild suggestion that Johnny come up with a better way to handle his stress, he said “That’s some cold shit, baby.”

“Ten. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”

“Uh-oh. Do you know what happens in my family if you ever admit you are wrong? Ridicule. Punishment. No thanks. It is not safe to admit you are wrong. People are out to get you.”

“Eleven. Sought through prayer and meditation…”

“Okay. Meditation. I’m down with that. Meditation is helpful. I can do that. Maybe I should go back to sitting everyday.”

“Twelve. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

“Geez, Louise. How is this going to help me with Johnny. This sounds like a cult…”

Someone began to pass around a second sheet in plastic. This one was called “The Twelve Traditions.” Someone read out number six, the designated tradition for the month of June, something about cooperating with A.A.

After the communal readings, the moderator said, “The meeting is open for sharing.”

A man raised his hand and received a nod. “Hi, My name is Bob…”

The entire population of the room except me chorused “Hi Bob” before he could finish a sentence. We were back in full cult territory.

I had a sudden flashback to an evening in high school when a girl I liked invited me to an est or Erhard Seminars Training meeting. Est looked like a cult, smelled like a cult, rows of people gave rapt attention to the speaker, repeating whatever words he asked them to repeat.

The “sharing” continued, each time with the same formulaic call and response between the sharer and the group: “Hi, my name is ex,” followed by “Hi ex!”

I found this pattern unnerving and longed for someone to say, “Please don’t do that.” But I tried to listen to the stories people told, hoping that I would find a clue to dealing with Johnny in one of them.

I don’t. People talk about gratitude and letting go. People talk about their Higher Power. People talk and talk, the beginning of each story punctuated by the ridiculous echo of the speaker’s name.

When the time for sharing ends, the moderator reminds us that the meeting needs to be self-supporting. I dig in my jeans for a couple of quarters when the money basket goes around. “This is like church,” I think.

The moderator chooses someone to read the closing statement. It contains a message to newcomers like myself: “A few special words to those who haven’t been with us long: whatever your problems, there are those among us who have had them too.”

The meeting closes with the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” People join hands before they recite it and when it ends they squeeze hands and say “Keep coming back. It works.”

I do not know if it will work. I do not know what to hope for. Without speaking to anyone, I walk out the door. No one notices because most people are staying for another meeting. I walk down the hall, down the stairs, up a block and across the street to the nearest bus stop where I wait for the last bus home. But I don’t have anything else to do, no bright ideas of my own for solving my problems with Johnny so I get up the next morning and catch another bus at 6:40 AM to go to another meeting, taking my guitar with me so that I can go straight to my busking shift.

Before I leave for the second Al-Anon meeting of my life I write Johnny a long email before six in the morning. He has sent an email at 3 AM while I am sleeping. He is still angry that I refused to speak to him when he called me from a bar. He is angry that I wrote to him asking him how he would like me to endorse a check repaying him the loan for my air fare to France. He is angry that I closed that email with “Sincerely” rather than “Love.” He is angry to learn that I have gone to an Al-Anon meeting where he imagines I have talked about him, that I have called him “an alcoholic” and “a rock musician.”

I tell him I did not break up with him, that we are in this together until one of us says that we want or need to break up. I tell him I will call him after my morning shift if he wants me to. I tell him I love him and, this time, I sign the email “Love, Sharyn.”