A little history for you:
Bridging the Gap... A weekend retreat for Alcoholic and Al-Anon women in recovery.
This year marked the 17th, held in the mountains of Prescott, Arizona. This same type of retreat, although called different names, is held all over this country, as well as Europe. It was started by a small group of women in the first groups of Al-Anon in Texas over 30 years ago.
Things like this were not done then. The wives (and yes, at that time they were mostly wives) of recovering alcoholics didn't associate with the women of Alcoholics Anonymous. Marci W. from Texas decided it would be a great idea to start a retreat weekend conference for Al-Anon. While she was at it, she also decided to invite the recovering alcoholic women to attend as well. Prior to that, the AA women and the Al-Anon women did not mingle. That legacy has been passed down and around this country for, as I said, over 30 years.
My sponsorship line descends from that great woman. I can trace my Al-Anon family tree straight back to Marci. She was a member of Al-Anon before there even was anything known as Al-Anon in Texas.
This retreat is a safe place. It allows Al-Anon and AA women to come together and grow in their recovery. We bridge the gap between us and find safety and love together in recovery.
******Every time I go on a weekend retreat, or attend a special 12 step recovery event, I blog about it. I have a desire to share my journey with you. I love to write and my recovery blog is a wonderful way to let you see my recovery; the good and the bad parts of it.
This is my fifth year attending this weekend conference. We refer to it as a retreat because we seclude ourselves up in the mountains at a specific church camp. We’re not there for church, we are there for AA and Al-Anon recovery. And, though it is not church, God is present. He’s surrounding all of us the entire time we are there. I feel Him everywhere, and he touches me through the women that are there for those three short days.
The theme of this year’s retreat was:
“…our pick struck gold. Joy at our release from a lifetime of frustration knew no bounds.” AA Big book, pages 128-129
The first thing I want to tell you is that, for the first time in two years, I did not dread heading up to this conference. The last several events and conferences I attended, I grumbled the entire time and absolutely did not want to be there. This year was different. Needless to say, I am quite glad for that. I was just mellow. I packed and then I got in the car. One of the women I sponsor and my best friend were with me. It’s a tradition that my best friend and I drive together and we’re typically joined at the hip all weekend at these things. Two peas in a pod and I love it. We were friends before she entered the rooms of Al-Anon and I am forever grateful that she did. It’s like having the best of both worlds. She’s a gift from God for me.
So, what did I learn this weekend? Per usual, a lot. We’re told the first night to listen for a word or phrase that keeps coming up for us through the weekend. This year it was a phrase and, just like last year, it was on Friday night. Again, like last year, it was something the AA guest speaker said. She was sharing about doing her first 5th step with her sponsor; this was early in her recovery, over 20 years ago.
The 4th step is: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
The 5th step is: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
This means you read the inventory to someone you trust, usually your sponsor.
This woman is amazing. I’d not met her before or heard her story but I could relate to many things she said. She shared with us how she had read that inventory to her sponsor and there were so many ugly things that she had done during her drinking. Naturally, she felt a lot of shame about those things. Her sponsor said to her, “You are not what you did. And you did the best that you could at the time without God’s help.”
When those words came out of her mouth, as she stood at the podium in the front of the room, she may as well have been talking directly to me. I heard her…really heard her.
I am not what I did. Or what I have done. I did the best I could without God’s help. Now, the difference is, for the years that I have been in Al-Anon recovery, I have had God’s help. But, sometimes, even while in recovery, we still do things we are not proud of, or feel shame over. I have always had God’s help…when I asked for it.
The last two years, I was not asking for God’s help. Instead, I was running on complete and total self-will.
Wow! This was profound for me. I have to tell you, I think shame is a useless emotion. It does nothing but feed misery and guilt and ugliness inside. I have only felt shame one other time during my journey of recovery and, here I was feeling shame again. And, I didn’t even realize that I was feeling it. One more time, I am reminded that this disease, my disease, alanonism, is cunning, baffling and powerful.
I carried this message from her through the whole weekend. I cried and I laughed and I let those women fill me up. I also let God fill me up. And I felt whole again. Another thing I heard that same speaker say was: “God doesn’t teach me lessons, life teaches me lessons and God gives me the strength and the courage to get through it. If… I call on him."
I got the privilege to sit and talk to two other women that I know in program, but never had a chance to get to know one on one. One of those women I’ve heard speak and tell her story at an anniversary event almost a year ago and I’d written about her in this blog. It was cool to be able to share that with her and then read it to her. Amazing.
I got to see my newest sponsee experience the power of this weekend and watch that power fill her up completely. What a blessing and an honor to be a part of her life.
I got to go to sleep next to my best friend each night and, before we closed our eyes, talk about what we had experienced that day. We also giggled to the point of exhaustion. Another blessing.
I don’t have to do any of these things. I get to do them. I get to experience this.
Here are a few more gems that stuck out for me this weekend. Some were funny and some were very serious and profound for me.
“If you can’t laugh at yourself, then you’ve missed the joke of the century.” This made me laugh, and laugh hard.
“There is nothing that consumes a person more than the passion of a resentment.” Wow, yeah, that one was a great reminder.
“We cease fighting anything or anyone. “ AA big book
“You never need to defend yourself. If you are wrong, then you have no defense. If you are right, you have nothing to defend.” I needed this reminder, too.
My great, great, grand-sponsor shared something that she had heard a late, long time member of AA say years ago. “A big old fish was swimming along in the ocean, and he swims by three young fish and says: 'Hey, boys. How’s the water?' And then continues on past them. The young fish all turn to each other and say: 'What’s water?' They then spend the rest of their fish lives swimming around the ocean, looking for the water."
I have heard her tell this story before, but this year she added something. She said: “It’s the same for us right here in this room, in regards to God. He’s all around us; we’re already swimming in Him and His love. And many times we don’t see it and we keep searching for it. We don’t realize it’s already here. We’re already surrounded by it."
I always thought I understood what that little story was saying, but I realized in that moment I didn’t. Now I know what it means. God is all around us, and yes, sometimes we believe that he wasn’t there through the hard times or the horrible things that we went through, growing up or living as adults, in this disease. He was there and He is there now. All we have to do is invite him in. The late Pat C., a member of Al-Anon for over 30+ years, said it many times. “God is a gentleman and he waits for you to invite him in.”
Today, I’ve invited God back into my life and I’ve asked him for help. The release of my pain, my fears, and my anger is profound as a result.
I am not what I did or what I have done. It is not who I am. It does not define me. And my God loves me no matter what I did or have done.
He loves me and He forgives me. Clearly my pick struck gold and continues to strike it.
Much love and blessings to you all!