Back from my first AA convention, and it’s been a pretty nice weekend. The location of the convention was an interesting and charming place. C and I arrived at the nearby town late on Friday evening, to find that only one train would take us to the holiday park where the convention was being held. The train we found was an old London Underground train, somehow supplanted from London in the 1960’s onto this island in the modern day. I felt like I was stepping into history. I’ve always wanted to see what an old tube train looks like and to experience a ride on one. How exciting it was!
After an hour we got to the holiday park, and were a bit panicked to find that registration for the convention had closed. We would have to wait half an hour for a security guard to show up and open reception, so we could pick up the keys to our chalet. While this was going on other alcoholics walked up and down the park’s main thoroughfare, on their way to the evening’s meeting. I’d like to have gone to the meeting, but I was too concerned about getting the keys. So I stood outside in the cold with the bags and waited, while C walked about looking at random things. Already my anxiety levels were being exacerbated: was it going to be one of those weekends?
Eventually we got our keys and could unpack in the chalet, which we found to be rather pleasant, spacious and warm. I’d never stayed in a holiday park before, so didn’t know what to expect. It was the kind of place I could see myself staying in on future holidays. After unpacking we sat in front of the Friday night TV for a while, before deciding to go out for dinner. We could have eaten in the park’s restaurant, but C knew a nice place in town where he’d eaten during past conventions. We finally sat down to dinner at around 10.30pm, very tired after a heck of a long day. Luckily the Indian food that we ordered was excellent.
Yesterday morning we both got up early in preparation for another long day. A few meetings were scheduled, as well as a disco in the evening. We hadn’t mixed with any of the fellowship at the convention yet, and it seemed a good idea to attend all these things. The first meeting of the day was like no AA meeting I’d been to before. Four very important looking people sat at a table at the front of the large congregation hall, with microphones in front of them. Each of them would share their story for twenty minutes; there’d be no sharing back from the crowd. The sharing from the four at the front was more polished than the type of share you’d hear in a normal meeting, though nerves were still obvious, especially in the speech of the first speaker, who only had a few year’s sobriety. I say that as if it’s not a significant amount, because as the meeting progressed, each speaker turned out to have more and more sobriety, until it came to the final one, a man in his 70’s who’d been clean and sober for over 40 years.
In my time in the fellowship I haven’t seen very many people with that much recovery. I know it happens, but statistically it is incredibly rare, and it’s a pleasure to listen to someone that far down the line. I’ve noticed recently that old timers are generally more sure of themselves when they share, in comparison with newcomers like me. That’s the power of the program, that’s what recovery can do, and I want it, I want 40 years under my belt. They were like Gods and Goddesses sitting up there, and yes, I did idolise them for a bit. I don’t know if I could ever be like them.
All the sharing I’ve heard this weekend has been wonderfully inspirational, especially from the women speakers, for some reason. The first woman to share yesterday, with just three years’ sobriety, talked about overcoming nerves and resentments to make friends in the fellowship and build a real life for herself. She compared herself to a butterfly, saying that she has a tendency to flutter about and not settle down anywhere for a long time, but I read deeper into it; like a butterfly, she’s clearly come out of a coccoon and blossomed.
Another woman that we heard today had thirteen years sobriety, and mainly talked about her improving family relationships, which set me thinking because I definitely don’t have the relationships with family that I’d like. This woman had last year got married to the love of her life, who she’d known since childhood, and who she’d spent years losing over and over again due to alcohol. Her description of the wedding was mesmerising: it was held in the garden of another alcoholic, someone she’d been friends with in the fellowship since the beginning. To end with she said that this is what fellowship really is, and I believed her. In the fellowship there is love like nowhere else, and the program works for us when we work through it together. I hope I can make it to ten, twenty, thirty, forty years sober, so that I come out of my shell and find that kind of true friendship. I realise I’m already beginning to find it, but there is still a lot of work to do, and I want to do it all.
Yesterday afternoon we missed a couple of meetings because C wanted to go to the zoo, to see some tigers. He has a thing about tigers, and the zoo there is alleged to have the largest collection of them in Western Europe. Despite the rain and the extreme cold, I agreed to go to the zoo, not wanting to stay at the convention on my own. It was a long walk up the deserted promenade to the zoo, which we were convinced we’d have to ourselves. The weather was so bad, hardly anyone was around. It would be our only chance to visit the zoo as we had just one more night left on the island. So we went in and headed for the tigers, which turned out to be well worth the trip. We saw a very rare white tiger, that looked completely at home in its smallish enclosure. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, so majestic and powerful, and also quite cute. All the other tigers were equally mesmerising, just centimetres away behind enforced barriers. I never thought I’d want to stroke a tiger but yesterday, I nearly did! I managed to take some great pictures on my mobile phone, and if I can, I will try and put them up here later.
We stayed at the zoo for an hour in the pouring rain, almost unable to tear ourselves away. When we got back to the convention, things were gearing up for the night’s disco. I’d been looking forward to this part for weeks. I hadn’t been to an AA disco yet, and I’d heard mixed things about them, so I wanted to find out what they’re like for myself. At 8pm after a quick microwave meal at the chalet we headed to the disco in the main hall, where the chairs and tables had been cleared to make way for a small dancefloor. A DJ played cheesy tunes from all the decades, and straight away I wanted to dance, but I couldn’t, because C was refusing to and I had no intention of venturing onto the dancefloor on my own. For three hours we sat sipping coke, watching everyone else have a good time on the floor, jitterbugging to Bill Haley and twisting to Chubby Checker. I love all that kind of music, and it would have been a dream to find someone to swing and fly around with, but it wasn’t to be. I’d have to wait for another dancefloor at another convention.
Our original plan had been to go with more people – it would have been great last night if there were four or five of us, as I certainly wouldn’t have been tied to C the whole time – but everyone we knew was too busy this weekend. I almost got upset last night, but in the end, I realised something very important: there will be more conventions. It would have been nice to mix and make new friends last night, after all that’s what conventions are designed for, but there’s no use beating me or C up over what didn’t happen. We weren’t there for long enough to pluck up the courage to meet people. If it had been a week-long convention I’m sure it would have been different.
At least I got to enjoy the music in my seat nonetheless; at least we had a good time at the zoo, and at least we’ve been to some very inspiring meetings. To be able to put a positive spin on the weekend is, for me, a breakthrough. In the past I would have felt ever so let down, because everything wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t the best weekend ever, I didn’t do all the things I would like to have done. Last year I’d have been so resentful, thinking I’d never go to another convention. Today, I can tell myself useful and realistic things about how it really was. Last night wasn’t the last chance I’ll ever get to dance to Bill Haley, nor was it the last chance I’ll ever get to make friends.
The convention ended this afternoon with a meeting that was open to both AA members and their relatives in Al-Anon. For the first time all weekend, we heard speakers from Al-Anon as well as AA. I’d never heard anyone in Al-Anon share before, mainly because I’ve never been to an Al-Anon meeting. This young girl talked about her alcoholic father, how his illness had made her feel whilst growing up. It was a touching and tragic story, with a positive ending as she came to speak about the strength that the fellowship of Al-Anon had given her. I never knew that Al-Anon features a 12-step program similar to that of AA. For the first time, I was listening to the story of someone affected by alcohol indirectly; a family member who’d witnessed the worst effects of the disease and who could remember all of it. When the whole thing was over and we were going home, that girl’s story stayed with me; I couldn’t stop thinking about it all afternoon.
Eventually I came to the conclusion that I’d been there to hear that story for a reason. I began to wonder what it must have been like for my mother, during my drinking years. Up until now I’ve never really considered her side of the story. I always thought that I was hiding my alcoholism from her so well. In reality, I probably managed to hide about 90% of it, which is incredible compared to some in the fellowship. There were only a couple of times when I slipped up and let my mum see me drunk. Usually I’d end up with some guy in a club, who would take me to his place, meaning I’d sober up away from home.
I still owe a big amends to my mum for what happened in Edinburgh, back in 2004. That dark, long weekend when I stumbled about in the hotel in the middle of the night, demanding to be given money. Occurrences like that were extremely rare, which I thank God for. Yes, I was usually too careful to let my mum see what my drinking was really like. Until now, I thought that meant that it couldn’t have affected her that much. She’s never told me how it affected her, so I’ve naturally assumed that it didn’t. What I heard today has made me question whether my behaviour actually did affect my mother in an indirect way. Perhaps she can’t tell me how much I hurt her, perhaps she wants to but doesn’t know how to say it.
Thoughts like this are scary. Because of the nature of our co-dependent relationship, the idea that there are difficult things my mother is keeping from me is quite painful. The idea that she’s kept things back, bottled them up, whether for my sake or hers, nearly made me cry on the train today. Luckily C was very comforting, suggesting that an Al-Anon meeting might be able to help me and my mum.
As an idea, it doesn’t seem too wild to me at the moment. Maybe Al-Anon would do my mother the world of good. Maybe it would finally help her to open up about things; maybe she’d finally make friends. She must have been so lonely all those nights I was out there, drinking and partying God knows where. She works full time but she has no friends. She never goes out in the evenings or weekends. She’s incredibly, painfully shy.
If AA could help shy old me to find a solid support network of friends in eight months, then I’m sure there’s a chance something like Al-Anon could help my mum out. A year ago, a thought like that wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. If someone had suggested taking my mum to a support group, I’d have thought they were insane. Just the thought of broaching the subject with her would have sent shivers down my spine.
In truth, it would probably be a slightly embarrassing and awkward conversation. As you know, my mother and I DON’T have conversations like that. We never talk about anything serious. But recently I’ve been trying to include her in my life more, by telling her little things about what I’ve been doing. She knows where I’ve been and why this weekend. Last year, I’m sure I would have been very vague about it, saying something like: “I’m off to stay with a friend”. I don’t want to be vague with her any more, I want to be honest. I want her to know what’s going on for me. It’s going to be a long and difficult journey, this one that I’m on with my mum. A lot of things have to change, and with any kind of change, there’s ALWAYS pain. But won’t the pain be worth it, if it actually works out? Am I mad to dream of having proper adult conversations about life with my own mother? I’m not entirely sure now.