We are about five minutes early for the meeting. This is not a bad thing, because there is an array of coffee and off-brand cookies in the kitchen of this tiny church room. The array is kind of sad and pathetic, but there is real milk instead of powdered creamer, and some nights are about taking what you can get. A few people address my father, who I am attending the meeting with, and he introduces me. They all smile, some shake my hand, some awkwardly touch my arm. One woman leans in close to my father’s face and says, “Did you hear about Liz?” My dad averts his eye contact in that way he does when he is a little uncomfortable, and says, “What, that she’s back with her husband?” The woman presses her lips together and widens her eyes, nodding very slightly. My dad smiles and takes a sip of his coffee. “What can you do though?” The woman has a thick Long Island accent when she says, “I guess so.”
My dad is not a huge gossip, and I can tell that he doesn’t want to speak ill about Liz. I guess so can this woman whose name I have forgotten, because she touches his arm and says, “We’ll talk,” and then she looks at me and says, “Enjoy the meeting!” And she departs.
Almost immediately after, though, a woman approaches me and my dad, and all the other people gathered in this kitchen, and says, “Alright guys, if you could all get in the circle, we’re about to start.” My dad grabs two more Newman-Os and we make our way to the chairs arranged in a circle in the room attached to the kitchen.
“Hi my name is Bill.” An innocuously dressed man addresses the circle of nervous looking people after everyone has sat.
“Hi Bill,” everyone responds. The general tone of the response is one of exhaustion and boredom. A few voices stand out from the others. They carry the energy of someone who has been waiting all week for this Thursday night Al-Anon meeting.
“The theme for tonight is acceptance.”
One man sits slumped in his chair. His bald head is tilted downwards, and I am reminded of the postures of the students in my Self and Society class. Totally and utterly checked out. His mouth is slightly open, as though there was a thought that got caught there a long time ago.
“So for our reading, we have one from the Big Book. About acceptance.” The man, Bill, pauses, as though not entirely convinced, himself, of his statement, or even his presence here right now. He puts on his glasses, wiry, flimsy-looking things, which sit very low on his nose, and proceeds to spend a solid minute finding the page. “Page four-seventeen, for those of you following along.”
He pauses, and for the first time this evening, scans the circle. “And our Thought to Consider for tonight, ‘Acceptance is not submission; It is acknowledgement of the facts of a situation, Then deciding what you’re going to do about it.’” He abruptly shuts the book, so that it makes that loud noise that sounds vaguely like a gunshot, which Big Books often make when they are shut abruptly. “Our leader for tonight is Amy, she is going to share some of her experience, and then we will open the floor for anyone else who wants to share.”
Immediately, though I have never met her before, and she has not yet spoken, I know who Amy is. Her left leg bounces violently, and she is smiling profusely. She is a heavy-set woman, wearing Sketchers shape-ups and a lot of makeup. “Hi, all, my name is Amy.” I recognize her voice as one of the more enthusiastic responders to Bill.
“Hi Amy,” we all say in unison, necessity and familiarity seeping from each word.
“Thank y’all for coming out tonight. You know, when Bill asked me to speak at this meeting, I said I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know what to say, really, about acceptance. But then, I started thinking about the serenity prayer. Specifically, the first line, ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.’ The alcoholic in my life is my husband, and wouldn’t you know, just this past week I found myself repeating this line to myself over and over.
“And so when he first started drinking, oh gosh, he used to tell me all kinds of stories! ‘No honey,’ he would say, ‘I just took a Benadryl,’ or ‘No honey, I am just tired.’ And I just wanted so desperately to believe them. You know what I mean? Because when I didn’t believe them, I would make myself crazy trying to change him.”
A few people nod in agreement. One young woman, probably the youngest in the room besides me, has her legs fully extended, her ankles crossed, her arms crossed. Her head nods very deeply, and I notice that she is probably the most engaged in the room.
Amy continues to delve into some precise moments where she found herself having to accept her husband’s alcoholism. I see that Bill is listening with his body, but that his mind is elsewhere. My dad, sitting next to me, flicks his foot in various directions, but he seems engaged for the most part in what Amy is saying. Everyone in the room looks pretty tired.
“Thank you, Amy, for sharing,” Bill says when Amy finally finishes. “Now, I open the floor to anyone who wishes to speak.”
A relatively young man raises two fingers, indicating that he would like to share. “Hi, I’m Tony.” His accent is also thick.
“Hi Tony,” we all say.
“So, uh, first off, thank you to Amy for sharing. That was really nice. You said a lot of really nice stuff.” He pauses, and him and Amy exchange strained smiles. “The alcoholic in my life is, uh, my wife. I just have a really hard time accepting her alcoholism, you know, ‘cause it really affects my mood. Like, uh, for example, just yesterday she came home. I said Stace, ‘I know you are drinking.’ And then, of course, she denied it, and I totally got into it with her. You know? I fed into the disease, and I let it get the better of my emotions. So yeah, thank you for sharing Amy. I needed to hear that.”
Bill smiles at him and says softly, “Thank you.” His smile is still plastered on his face when he looks out to the room and says, “Anyone else?”
My father is next to volunteer. “Hi I’m Sean.”
“Hi Sean,” we all say.
“My ex-wife was the alcoholic in my life. I have to say, when she started drinking, I completely refused to accept it. I thought that maybe, if I loved her enough, or scared her enough, or if I was angry enough, or sad enough, that I could change her. But then, I started coming to meetings, and I saw that I can’t. The only one who could change her was her. And I had to work on changing me. Once I accepted this, and I worked on finding my higher power, and realized that I was powerless over her disease, my life was totally changed. And so Amy, Tony, thanks for sharing. I really get where you’re coming from.” Everyone exchanges that tense smile, and my dad sits back in his chair.
A few more people share. Nobody says anything incredibly productive. Each input falls into one or both of the following categories: commenting on someone who shared previously, or sharing a story about a time when they learned to accept their loved ones’ alcoholism. Everyone sounds like they are trying to manifest rapture where it does not exist. Trying to sound less sad than they are.
“Now let’s all stand, join hands, and say the Our Father and the Serenity Prayer.” Everyone stands up, their motions bordering on mechanical. We all join hands and bow our heads.
“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.” Everyone opens their eyes. Bill assumes his position and addresses the group: “Thank you all for coming and sharing. There is still some coffee in the other room, please finish it so I don’t have to clean it.” A few release pitiful laughs.
My father and I go into the kitchen to grab a water bottle. We hear some women murmuring, and know immediately that it is gossip. A married woman and a married man stand near the entrance of the kitchen. My dad tells me that everyone knows they are having an affair. Some other woman is rubbing Amy on the back while she pinches the bridge of her nose.
Upon finally leaving the church, my dad says to me, “You know, I don’t know how I feel about Al-Anon.”
“Why?” I ask.
“Everyone is, like, depressed.”