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Al-Anon and Alateen Family Groups in Santa Barbara

Keeping the Doors Open

My name is Frank. I have been a grateful member of Al-Anon since 2005 and have had the privilege of serving as the district representative for my district since January 2011. As the district's DR many issues seem to fall on my lap.

One such issue involved a meeting on July 4th.

One of our district groups voted to cancel their July 4th noon meeting since the church that hosted that meeting was closed for the holiday. Service representatives for the meeting did an excellent job in getting the word about the cancellation out to the other meetings. All seemed well.

But I was not comfortable. How could everybody know? What if one or more showed up in need of a meeting? What if a newcomer showed up? Would the newcomer ever try again if their first try at an Al-Anon meeting was met by a closed door? I decided to show up at the meeting "just in case." Carrying copies of our Service Manual and Courage to Change I arrived at the church at 11:45 and waited with little expectation.

Right at noon a pleasant looking woman walked my way. I have seen the prototype of this woman so many times before in Al-Anon: scared yet determined, distraught yet hopeful. If she wasn't a first time newcomer, no one was!

Sure enough, Jeanie introduced herself to me and asked about the meeting. I told her it might just be the two of us, but, by gosh, we are going to have a meeting. Shortly thereafter two "old timers" showed up, both admittedly in need of a meeting as well. And what a meeting we had! Deep, personal, loving interchanges and multiple shares. Jeanie shared too and cried as well. When it was all over I walked Jeanie over to a nearby church to show her where that evening's meeting was scheduled and told her about the beginner's meeting the following night.

Hi, my name is Jeanie. Waking up on the fourth of July after yet another night of little sleep and with a deep sense of desperation, I opened the local newspaper to see where I could send my teenagers for a parade. Anything to distract from the pain our family was going through because of my spouse's spiraling alcoholism. Right next to the parade route listing I noticed a listing for an Al-Anon meeting that was scheduled for that very day. I had thought of going to an Al-Anon meeting a year before but was so much in denial that I never went. This day - this July 4th - was different. I was driven to go, I had to go, and someone had to be there. Thanks to what I now realize was my higher power's design, Frank was there with the message that, yes, it does get better. It was an awakening that I will never forget. Someone was there sharing a program of hope and change - for me and my family.

It turned out that being there for Jeanne was a special holiday gift to me. I had long recognized the extraordinary satisfaction and recovery that comes from Al-Anon service. This service episode, however, was uniquely satisfying in that I expected so little, did so little really, yet accomplished so much.

Little did I know that the story was just beginning.

I gave Jeanie my email address and cell number "just in case." On July 6 I received an email from Jeanie, excerpted as follows:

"Oh Frank... As I walked away from my first meeting where you just felt you should be there to check on anyone who might still come I was thinking don't look back because maybe he was really an angel and was just there for that moment for me! Now five whopping meetings later I know we are all very real and understand the love, acceptance and commonality we have in the family groups. The beginner's meeting was amazing! I look forward to it next week..."

I ran into Jeanie at a meeting on July 12. She shared that she had been to 14 meetings in only 8 days and that her life had been markedly changed by the program. I was proud of her, but even more proud of the program I am so privileged to serve. Her tears and pain on July 4th had given way to an entirely new profile of hope and strength on July 12th.

Another email from Jeanie arrived on July 16. An excerpt:

"...I am blessed Frank. Through all this pain I am so grateful and blessed. I would NOT be here without Al-Anon and a wonderful man who waited for a desperate person named Jeanie that didn't hear the announcement that the meeting was cancelled. My despair sometimes turns to pin pricks of hope but then I think back to the fourth of July and know I can be free of it as it is now. I plan on being a "lifer" too as I heard someone say! It Gets Better! It already is. I feel so loved. Now I will ask for help in loving myself."

I knew I had to keep going to meetings. It was like a craving that had to be satisfied. I remember fearing that other meetings could not be as good as the first miracle group I met with but it was just the opposite. Subsequent meetings and their messages to me built on that first miraculous meeting. I attended one to three meetings every day for 17 days. I kept going back and sharing my pain and crying and - to my surprise -I shared at a meeting and actually laughed! I am still amazed by the immediate acceptance and love that engulfed me in every group - no matter the differences in rooms or personalities.

Like a glowing comet, Jeanie's stay in our district was bright but short-lived as she returned to her home town, about 200 miles away, after 17 days in our local program.

But the lessons learned from her stay will never go away. One lesson seems obvious: never, ever cancel a meeting even if it means that one person has to stand outside the door of a closed meeting "just in case" someone shows up.

In Al-Anon we are advised to avoid "what ifs," but I demure: what if there was no one there on July 4th to meet Jeanie? What if Jeanie never tried another meeting and never knew the blessings of Al-Anon? What if Jeanie's qualifier and her children were not exposed to the strength and hope that Jeanie has subsequently brought to their household?

A more significant lesson also emerged. A mild, gentle exercise of service can have a profound effects: akin to teachers and their students you simply do not know where one's good deeds are likely to go. As a now loyal program member, Jeanie has already affected many through her shares, individual conversations, and glowing optimism. Who might she touch in the future? Might she herself be a sponsor? Or get involved in service work? Or simply continue to share her hope, strength and experience with others. A chance meeting on a sunny July 4 may ultimately touch the lives of many.

I was afraid to leave my beloved meetings and new friends after only 17 days but have found by attending as many meetings as I can in my new location that the Al-Anon message is the same everywhere - there is hope and I am taking it one day at a time. My family has noticed a difference in me. I think about that Fourth of July meeting and realize that it was my day of freedom and independence from living with the effects of alcoholism. I will be forever grateful to that angel who was led to be sitting beside a locked door waiting for someone in need. It does get better - and, for me, it started on the fourth of July.