Friday, April 16, 2010

All By Myself

When I was in my early teens, my mother’s boyfriend told me I was aloof.

I was horrified to hear that. I didn’t want to appear aloof. I desperately wanted to be popular. But I felt socially awkward. I didn’t feel like I fit in.

When I got older, I decided that I preferred to be alone. It was easier than being with people. Being with other people wore me out. Trying to think of things to say was exhausting. I longed to escape to a mountaintop or a book or just to be alone with my own thoughts.

At the same time, I was lonely. I had a rich fantasy life that revolved around a mysterious soul mate, who would one day discover the beautiful person I was inside and love me and make me feel whole.

My soul mate would be handsome and wear sweaters. He and I would drink coffee at the edge of the lake a sunrise, take long walks through the woods in fall, read the Sunday paper on lazy Sunday mornings. We never had to talk.

In Al-Anon, I discovered that I’m not alone in this. Many of my fellow Al-Anons, particularly those who grew up in the disease, have what we often refer to as “a tendency to isolate.”

It’s not very mysterious. Like most of my character defects this tendency began as a self-defense mechanism. If I don’t let you get close, you won’t hurt me. If I don’t let you inside, you’ll never know how hollow and rotten it is in there.

So my relationships were a combination of holding you at arm’s length or creating just enough drama to keep you there. Until I got too scared and I blew the whole thing up. Because if I was the one to leave, you couldn’t leave me.

Not long ago, my husband and I attended the wedding of a friend I have known for maybe a dozen years. She was a bridesmaid at our wedding. She told my husband that she used to pour her guts out to me.

“Do you know what I got back?” she asked. “Nothing. I got nothing. Kathy never told me a thing.”

What she said shocked me, but I had to admit it was true. I gave nothing away. Not even to my closest friends.

I took that with me into Al-Anon, and hung on to it for a long time. People would say they found friendships and love in the program. I didn’t know what they meant. I found help, yes. But that magical feeling of fraternity eluded me.

Until I got involved.

I put off service work until I got to step 12. I am, after all, a commitment-phobe. I didn’t mind helping, I just didn’t want to commit to it.

Silly me.

Once I took a service commitment, everything changed. My schedule had changed and the meeting that I would be most likely to attend regularly was a new meeting for me. But it was clear it should be my home group, so I started there.

I started with set up, because I’m compulsively early and because it would give me something to do. I wouldn’t have to talk to anybody. Only when people saw me setting up, they’d ask me questions because I looked like I knew something. So I’d try to be useful.

Next, I decided to really push my boundaries and be a greeter. Of course, I felt shy and awkward, but I remembered how the greeters in my former home group hugged everyone that came in. I remembered how that made me feel, and decided I would do the same.

I’m not afraid to admit I was more than a little nervous about it. My new home group wasn’t a huggy bunch. But I called people by name and hugged them and, to my surprise and delight, they responded warmly. Before long, they were hugging me.

Each time service commitments came up, I picked something different. Before long, the group representative was asking my opinion about things. I realized I finally felt a part of things. Each Monday night, I walked in and felt welcome by people who really did seem to care about me.

Of course, faith played a part. As I started to fill up that God-sized whole with my higher power and stopped trying to fill it with another person, I naturally lost interest in selfish things, just as the Big Book promised. I became interested in other people. I sought out the newcomers. I tried to be useful. Like everything else, that new attitude has bled into the rest of my life, and what a difference it’s made.


  1. You have a good way of walking us through your circumstances and allowing us to see how you felt along the way as well as what you thought. I like when you say "stopped trying to fill it with another person". What a good lesson to learn.

  2. That is a beautiful lesson. I it not always bad to be an introvert but I am glad that you have found a spiratual community in alanon.

    I too have been told that I am aloof.

  3. What a great testimony of how God and the program helped you. :) I used to be shy and isolating, too. Now, God has changed me. I have come out of my shell. Thanks for sharing.


  4. Kathy, this is wonderful. I can relate. Thank you for continually being an encouragement to many. Blessings.

  5. Service work saved my life and taught me how to interact with other in healthy ways. I learned I could do a job and make a mistake and no one would judge me. Alanon is truly my family. Great post1


  6. This is one of the most brilliant pieces of writing I've read in a long time regarding the manner in which we are in our recovery and in our lives pre and post recovery. Thank you!
    Much love

  7. I can relate so much. I always felt like an outsider and didnt even realise that I turned myself into one! In romantic relationships I didnt realise that I kept him always at arm length or dancing the dance of distance. LIke you I choose service work, like you I became greeter of another group, in addition starting to blog helped too. It helped to stop focusing on a great professional life and therefore denying the desastrous private personal side of life. It helped to live with a heavy problem drinker re-living the childhood drama of emotional abuse. Now I am well on my way. You have come far and you explain it well. Thanks for sharing! Hugs to you

  8. i was leaving my home this morning, heading to my 6th AA meeting. i decided i'd look at your blog before i left and found just what i needed. thanks this post, at the meeting i was friendlier and just a teensy bit more talkative. when i got home i called and spoke to several individuals from my meetings. thanks for letting me share in your thoughts.

  9. I'm always learning something from you...

    I'm a serious isolator and it hurts and protects me at the same time.

  10. what a great post, kathy~ i appreciated hearing about your history with feeling isolated and how you came to be closer to others through the program, and getting involved with service. something comforting about your process. wishing you well! :)

  11. Kathy,
    i really enjoy your stories...i'm thankful for the program and i'm thankful for you.

  12. Kathy, thanks for sharing yet another great post, this rang a bell (as usual) as I identified with the whole isolation bit (as many others, I'm sure). Just this weekend I told someone that I am always the first to leave a relationship to avoid being hurt, and how tiring it is to be around people and how I crave my own space. So your post made me smile in acknowledgment .