|enjoying a bevvy|
Awakening to the ‘good’ in our lives and to the fulfilling sense of gratitude which follows often comes to us via the most simple and sometimes indirect means. I’ve found myself catalysing these freeing thoughts and sensations by attending Al-Anon meetings, which is a worldwide support group for friends and relatives of alcoholics. Al-Anon delivers a platform for attendees to listen and to speak with candour and honesty in a confidential setting with like-minded persons.
I’ve been to three Al-Anon meetings thus far over three consecutive weeknights. There’s a church up at Randwick that hosts both AA (alcoholics anonymous) and Al-Anon meetings on Thursday nights. My partner is in both AA and A-Anon. We figured that I might give Al-Anon a go – given I’m a blue ribbon qualifier - while she can choose between attending either AA or Al-Anon depending on her own needs at the time. She came with me to my first two Al-Anon meetings and went off to AA on her own on my third sitting.
Al-Anon, unlike AA, is a small group and maxes at about six or seven people on those three occasions I attended. I discovered quickly that there are ‘branches’ to Al-Anon with mine being ACA – adult children of alcoholics. ACA meetings are held around Sydney and I’m considering going along to one, partly out of curiosity and partly out of a want to experience some of this group’s emotional intensity.
This Randwick group is a somewhat generic Al-Anon group that welcomes all comers facing issues related to someone else’s alcohol use affecting their own lives. About half of the participants were in ‘dual recovery’, meaning they attended two (or more) types of support groups, invariably Al-Anon and AA. I certainly have nothing to do with either AA or NA (narcotics anonymous), but I’ve everything to do with friends or relatives or children of alcoholics support group.
I turned up on that first night wearing my new leather jacket. I’d come straight from work and I noticed myself to be better dressed than the other attendees (my groovy partner excepted of course). I felt overdressed and overqualified given that the men in particular were dressed like they were on parole, all nervous and fidgety in their trackies and hoodies. My leather jacket I’d purchased a few weeks ago at a second hand clothing store in Katoomba. I was really pleased to find a good, inexpensive leather jacket as I’d been meaning to purchase one for sometime. The jacket symbolised something, some sort of movement towards a greater “independence” of my inner ‘man’, and another ever-so-slight moving away from the cloistering or debilitating influence of being that child of an alcoholic. As I donned that jacket when walking out of that shop in Katoomba I felt a noticeable uplift and sense of authority. I love my leather jacket.
I enjoy these meetings. It’s great to hear people speak and to tell their stories, and I enjoy speaking myself. Perhaps I just like to hear the sound of my own voice. I attribute a sense of theatre with public speaking and it’s handy to have support groups as a means of improving one’s own speaking for work-related situations, even if this is only a secondary consideration. You don’t have to plan your talk when attending support groups; you just speak, and let the words and narrative flow through you, going where they may in the hope of getting a better understanding of your own processes along with hopefully inspiring the other participants in the group. I was unashamed and candid when speaking. I told them all about the slow-burn of my dad’s drinking, how he was enabled by everyone around him, that no-one even considered the word ‘problem’, or ‘alcoholic’, during his lifetime. I guess he was one of the last of that swathing generation of Aussie ‘blokes’ who carved their own meaning through pubs, schooners of “Reschs” or “New” and all that bullshit; ‘shouts’, ciggies, and finally coming home sozzled each and every night with that dark shadow shrouded over what was essentially a brilliant man of magisterial integrity, though who was to know, we certainly didn’t. He was everybody else’s ‘best mate’, not ours. When he came home from that fucking pub, we had a dead codfish in the house, night after night after night. I never had a proper conversation with the man in the entire time I knew him even though he was, incredulously, “my father”. A gruff pontification here and there was about the extent of any dialogue he threw my way.
A square grimacy smile surfaced on my face when I divulged some of the gory details, and when talking about the relief I felt after he passed, throwing his coffin in the hearse as one of the pall-bearers. I was quick to add that this didn’t mean I didn’t love him, rather, when a life is lived in a shell-like and destructive way then isn’t better for this energy to be freed, to move onto the next gig? I guess that physical death is a gift in its freeing-ness, and something we all face sooner or later.
A woman who turned up at that second meeting mentioned something about attending an ACA meeting in Bondi Junction the week before. She talked unnervingly about another attendee, a man, sobbing uncontrollably. I thought that there must be some heavy juice to ACA and it’s probably where the most painful ‘shares’ of Al-Anon are to be encountered. I’m an ACA, so I hope to go along at some point to speak and meet these people.
I didn’t discuss my dad much at all in that third and most recent meeting I attended. Instead I gave a summation of my situation as someone whose point of reference died twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five years is a long time, but it takes an equally long time for circumstances – and the facing of these circumstances – to play out. Sure, an alcoholic father may pass away, but this leaves the mother acting out her own denial in a tight-fisted and strangulating way, the siblings playing out their own worlds of bad marriages, instability, and anger. Partners are chosen on the basis of what you already knew so invariably these encounters are painful and soul-destroying, and friends and situations coalesce into enmeshments, fear, and conflict. Circumstances appear difficult, natural expression is repressed, and a shadowy fog of vague torment envelops your thoughts and emotions.
With that third meeting came the clear realisation that each individual present were in a lot worse situation than me, meaning that their lives were conflicted and problematic, now. I realised that despite the trauma of alcoholism in my family, and the negative circumstances and situations that played out thereafter, that it’s all over – I’m at the point in life where the negativity has played itself out. There is no one in my life who is reflecting active para-alcoholism (anymore). My partner is an alcoholic, but she’s sober and works the steps (creepily, she stopped her promiscuous drinking at around the same week my father died). My sweet mother is still in denial, though she’s getting old and her all-consuming focus now rests on her own health and well-being. Everything else that may have caused problems has moved on and sorted itself out.
I read, I’m educated, I noodle on piano, have a nice job, live close to work, have a lovely partner, and live in a nice-ish part of town. One has to count their blessings constantly, and at this meeting I felt grateful for what I have.
I haven’t come away unscathed. I have adult-onset diabetes which is very boring and unsexy and always has doctors asking me how did you get that? Well, I identify sudden weight gain at age 17 as the first signs of insulin resistance, meaning pre-diabetes. I finished school, and then blew up like a balloon. My parents didn’t notice, one was a pisser and the other a para. Fucking hopeless.
You crave love, but can’t receive it. You long to give love but you can’t find the key. You have an urgent desire to communicate and to be your natural ebullient self but the appropriate persons or situations never seem to manifest. Most of all you need a dad who’ll actually talk to you and help you along in his own loving, dad-like way. Didn’t happen.
This is where meetings are vital, they help you work through this stuff.
I look into my life and all’s clear and all’s good. I am alive and well. I am reminded of a meditation tape I have where Barry Long the speaker talks about releasing “emotional prisoners”. I play this CD most mornings as I’m preparing my oatmeal. Allow me to paraphrase according to memory, and with that I do acknowledge any copyright considerations in relation to the Barry Long Foundation International:
“Perhaps it’s the feeling that your mother or father failed you at some time in your life. Let’s say it’s your father. Smile. Forgive him. With love, not necessarily with love for him, but just love and goodwill. See that what you’ve been holding onto was your own self-centred expectation of what a father should be.
If he was not a good father, so what. It’s all behind you, and all the more reason to let go of him.”
I love that, if he was not a good father, so what, it’s all behind you…
Barry continues: “He gave what he could, all that his nature and conditioning allowed, just as you give…”
My dad’s worldview was simple – you got food, something to drink, a roof over your head, that’s all that matters.
He’s right.. fundamentally. Granted however it was my mother who was the one nervously scurrying around trying to balance the budget while my old man was blowing his own on booze cigs and horse races. If my mum weren’t so good of character and just plain amazing with managing finances then really we would be fucked.
That however, has passed, is past. I look now, as I did in that most recent meeting, and can see there is no problem. The alcoholism, the para-alcoholism, the cause and effect, the circumstances, are all behind me now. This I see clearly, and it’s a very good feeling. I don’t have a need to do the Steps to Recovery. All I need is to stay grateful, true, clear and Now, and be real. Life is good, and it has taught me a hell of a lot. But that imperative or necessity to stay true and present, it never ceases…
Long, B. 1983. Start meditating now. Barry Long Foundation International. Compact disc.