A Lonely Beginning
Many of us come to the doors of recovery feeling very alone. Addiction brings an isolation so deep, that those who have not been there themselves can scarcely comprehend the complete aloneness and despair that many of us arrive with. Hiding becomes a way of life for an active addict. We do not want to be seen in our sorrowful state. Shame lurks in the corners of our lives, blocking us from any real connection with others. We have lost our sense of being in community. It feels safer to be alone than to have our behavior seen as what it is; out of control, dishonest and pretty much completely crazy.
One of the gifts that come with finding a recovery community to be part of is the power of being understood. Shame and guilt are common feelings for addicts in recovery. The shrapnel of past choices still leaves their mark on our consciousness. Having others around you that understand what you have been through and see you as a whole person despite past choices and consequences is vital for healing to take place. We do not recover alone. The words “me too” have tremendous power to comfort us and bring hope.
Taking a Chance
I remember walking into my first recovery meeting full of fear of the unknown. Prior to that evening, I had found some support through online groups and blogs, but I was lonely. Also terribly afraid of seeking help in “real life.”I had a preconceived idea that I would not fit in at AA. That I would hate it and that the people at the meeting would be old, sour faced and grumpy. Maybe even aggressive or judgmental. As I walked into the room where the meeting was held, I heard peels of bright laughter and friendly voices. It was a women’s meeting, and the scene that met my eyes as I entered the room was not at all what I expected. Women of all ages, comfortably chatting and laughing over cups of steaming tea and coffee. I would never have guessed as an outsider looking in that these women were alcoholics. Stereotypes already being shattered, I took a deep breath and found a seat.
Taking a chance on trying out in person recovery meetings felt like a big, scary thing to me. I was actually quite terrified. My palms were sweating and heart beating fast. I am so thankful that I was willing to take that chance. So thankful I showed up on that day, to that meeting, with those women. I felt a sense of connection and of being seen and understood by a community of women who really got it. They knew firsthand how I felt, how afraid I was, and what I had been through to get there that night.
As the days, weeks and months went by, I came to see more and more how much I had in common with the women I grew to know in that meeting. Our stories were vastly varied and different. We all had our own experiences to learn from and share with each other. But
There is something powerful and healing about sharing vulnerable and hard to speak truths with another person. Maybe those truths feel so scary and so ugly that on some level you feel they make you unlovable. Being brave enough to speak those truths and having them received by another person is such a gift. When they meet your eyes with kindness and a gentle touch and the magic words “me too” a miracle takes place.
It is in this space of being accepted as I was, that I began to be able to talk about my past. My sorrow, my losses, my alcoholism and its effects on my quality of life. I learned, to be honest with myself and with others through the voices and kindness of apparent strangers that are now dear friends. Sometimes the “me too” is in shared experience of tragedy or trauma. Sometimes it is accompanied with snorts of laughter “oh yeah, I did that too!” In finding this common ground of shared experience we learn that we are not unique. That we are not lost causes. That we are not alone. This is so important. The disease wants to make us believe that we are alone. The community formed with others in recovery helps us know we are not.
Community Needs Nurturing
I have seen many people not make it in recovery. They come for a while, hang around the edges of the meeting, do not really try to connect. That may be all they know how to do in their present situation, and that is ok. We all do what we can with what we have. I think to have the type of community and relationships that will be there to hold you up when you feel like falling down, you have to put in the work. You have to go to the meetings. Talk with people, reach out and open up. It takes love, nurturing and true vulnerability to build those deeper level friendships. Trust me, it is worth every bit of energy you put in.
I sometimes laugh as I think how my whole life and all my years of drinking, I wanted so badly to be one of those women with a plethora of friends to laugh and bond with. And I have found them. Not in the bars or social scene, but in the rooms of recovery. Yes, in a church basement, this very unchurchy woman has found her tribe. Life certainly is full of surprises.