Tackling a difficult subject

Recently I had a chance to catch up with an old friend.

Every so often I’d see him at a distance – perhaps even exchange a few words – but he always seemed eager to hurry off and I, to be truthful, was no better. So, as it does these days, time passed with ever increasing velocity.

One day we stopped long enough for me to comment how good he looked for it was obvious Bill had lost quite a bit of weight.

I quickly got the feeling he would have preferred to have avoided me and then realized it wasn’t just I. He had grown quieter and definitely now seemed withdrawn. Not the ebullient fellow I recalled!

Then, quite recently, he stopped me, eager now to chat. The difference in him was astounding. His eyes sparkled, smiles (when had I last seen one of those?) came easily and now I recalled his distinctive robust laugh. Sharing that again made me happy too.

What had happened, I eagerly asked.

“I’ve discovered Al-Anon.”

It wasn’t a term I knew. That’s not the one for the problem drinker, is it? I queried. Had he been hiding an alcohol – or worse – dependency?

Bill rapidly set me straight. “While there probably isn’t anyone who isn’t familiar with AA – Alcoholics Anonymous – Al-Anon sadly seems a very hidden and misunderstood organization for families and friends of alcoholics though,” he added, “it now encompasses any kind of addiction including drugs, or even food.”

I was confused now. If he wasn’t drinking, why did he have to go to meetings?

“It’s a support group. Don’t think people like me need that, Susan? Then you don’t understand what it’s like to live with, in my case, someone who couldn’t control her drinking. To be honest, I had no idea how common the problem – and my experience – was until I started going to Al-Anon. Living with that eventually saps everything out of you.

“Attending,” he continued with relish, “gave me the strength I needed to start rebuilding my life. It’s a good group. We can share our experiences and gain confidence from the support given as we grow close to those living in similar circumstances. I can honestly say I count these men and women among my closest friends. It feels good to be able to open up, to learn that nothing that’s happened to me has to be kept a secret.”

Whoa! I didn’t like the sound of that. This is hardly a big-city area. Wasn’t Bill afraid that some of what he shared might get tattled back to the community? What would happen to his business were that to occur?

He quickly assured me that was not a problem. People know each other only by first names and anonymity is guaranteed.

I had to acknowledge the changes – all good – that I could see in him. Did this mean the group had told him to leave his wife? I’d known (and liked) her almost as long as Bill.

“Definitely not,” he hastened to reply. “We listen to each other but do not offer advice. Through the meetings and suggested readings, each of us grows, taking back the person we were before alcoholism defeated us. I’ve learned to take care of myself, to see my needs and to deal with them. You see, once again I have hope for the future.

“And that future? God only knows – and I mean that just that way,” he added. “For now it’s one day at a time.”

He flashed that charming grin and suggested we connect again in a month or two. He was confident he’d be able to report progress though unsure what that might entail.

I’m definitely looking forward to that meeting.

Susan Crossett is a Cassadaga resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com