Sunday, February 7, 2010

May the Circle Be Unbroken

My husband and I just got back from a business trip we take every year to my home town. When we go, I always try to gather up old friends.

In a way, it's a marker of my progress in Al-Anon.

My mother moved during my senior year in high school. Our new home was only about 15 miles away, so I was able to finish my senior year and graduate with my friends. But then it got harder to keep in touch. I worked for a couple of years, then joined the Navy. No one heard from me again for the next 20 years.

I'm not sure why, really. It was part of moving on. The beginning of a long string of "geographical cures." There was the Navy. I got married. Had a child. Got out the Navy. Worked and went to college. Divorced and became a single parent. I was busy. That much was true. But mostly, I was in the process of closing the door on my past.

The past included alcoholic parents, a suicide attempt, my own substance abuse and drug- and alcohol-fueled bad behavior. I guess I thought I could leave it all behind and my life would be better. It was and it wasn't.

I first reconnected with one of my best friends in high school at my 20-year reunion. It was great to see her, and we spent most of that night talking. That was before e-mail. We exchanged phone numbers and addresses and promised to keep in touch.

She called once after the reunion and left a message. I meant to call her. I really did. But for some reason the phone seemed too heavy to lift. Time passed. Enough time that I was embarrassed. Then I couldn't have found her information if I wanted to.

About eight years later, a couple of years before Al-Anon, I was possessed by the idea of writing a memoir. I don't know why, but I felt driven to do it. The only problem was there were big gaping holes in my memory. I needed help.

I found my friend through the internet. She was beyond gracious. The next time I was in town for this business trip, we got together. We visited the grave of a childhood friend together. She answered my questions with patience and love. This time we stayed in touch.

Fast forward again a couple of years. I hadn't made much progress on my memoir, but I had researched my past and my family history. I had read microfiche copies of my hometown newspaper. Located a few other friends and asked them for help in filling in the gaps. They were always generous with their help. And they always wanted to get together.

I had no desire to get together. I don't know why. I had just wanted answers to my questions. But I felt obligated, so I got together with two of my other oldest girlfriends and it was amazing. We had been strangers for almost 30 years at that point, but they told me the most intimate details of their lives.

In the process, the name of an old boyfriend came up. I could barely remember him. It occurred to me that I had a big hole in my memory. He was a central figure in my suicide attempt and there were questions no one else could answer. One of my girlfriends knew where he was and what he was doing. I found him on the website of his employer, but it listed only a phone number, no e-mail address. I knew I'd need to talk to him at some point, but I wasn't ready to do it yet.

Fast forward another couple of years. Now I'm in Al-Anon. My 30-year reunion is coming up. I'm working on my fourth step, and my girlfriend calls to say that she just spoke to this old boyfriend--a complete chance encounter--and my name came up. Oh, and by the way, she had his number. Did I want it?

That contact turned out to be a key moment in my recovery. An example of God doing for me what I could not do for myself. But that's a story for another time.

The part that is important here is that I organized an unofficial reunion of all my friends. Most of us hadn't seen each other in nearly 30 years. Getting everyone to agree on a time and place was a little like herding cats, but nearly everyone made it. We spent three days together. It was a moving experience for all of us.

I had just finished my fourth step, which had already begun to transform me. But I still felt a lot of guilt and shame over the things I had done. The reunion went a long way toward helping me reconcile with my past.

I had remembered all the bad things that had happened. I remembered myself as bad. But these people didn't remember those times or me that way at all. In sharing their memories of me, they gave me the best and kindest version of myself. They simply loved me.

Just as cleaning my closets can feel like a mental housecleaning, this reconciliation with my friends helped me make peace with my past.

The section of the AA Big Book that talks about steps eight and nine, promises that by the time I am through, I will no longer regret the past or wish to shut the door on it. When I first reconnected with my friends, that didn't seem possible. But that promise has come true for me. Just as the others have.

So every year when my husband and I come to town, I gather my friends. They are like no other friends in my life, because they have known me better than anyone, and for longer.

My husband looks at us and can't see what drew us together. On the surface, we are all so different. But we share a common story. We bear witness to each others' lives. We love and understand each other the way no one else ever could.


  1. Awww. That's beautiful. Thanks for sharing that, Kathy. I have had the same healing experience with high school reunions. Not what I had expected at all.

  2. I have never once cleaned a closet; I just moved. Kept moving from place to place. Didn't have to clean anything out that way. Inside too. Moved on. Left behind the people who let me down. That way I didn't have to learn how to stick with someone or something, didn't have to work on things within my sick and sorry self. I so like how you walk us through the steps you took to reconcile with your past.

  3. I moved every 2/3 years as an Army brat. I was conditioned to leave it behind, and start new. I've never had a high school reunion. I used to think I was missing something, but now it does not bother me. I had the experience of living all over the world, and seeing many cultures up close.

    I understand what you are getting at however.

  4. that's so wonderful. i'm happy for you that you have had this experience reconnecting to your past, to yourself, and to old friends.

    an inspiring experience. thank you for sharing it.

  5. I absolutely loved this sharing. Thank you. I could relate to so much of what you wrote.

    Since I am doing my fifth step tomorrow, it was really helpful for me to hear about the growth and peace you have attained through doing yours. This fourth step seems like it just about killed me... and like it would never be over.

    Now there is a blizzard here which is not supposed to be over until tomorrow night. I'm worried that I won't be able to get to my sponsor's house (which is over 25 miles from here) to do my fifth step. It feels like postponing it would be impossible.

    But eventually it will be done and I have hope that I will feel better - and maybe even gain some new insights.

    Thank you

  6. It is so wonderful when we get together with old old friends.. I was wondering what is the difference between AA and Al Anon?