I have always been a "connector." A "meaning-maker." It's really ironic, because I do not find myself to be religious, or even spiritual. In fact, I believe that life has no meaning; that life is mainly a set of unrelated events and experiences that occur for random and meaningless reasons. I believe that humans strive to make meaning out of chaos because that is what flight or fight, evolution, instinct, or whatever you want to call it, has predisposed us to do. No matter how much I try to fight the urge to see a pattern, or an explanation why bad things happen to good people (though mostly, I wonder about why good things happen to "bad" people), deep down in my belly, flickers a little candle in the residence of a little voice that says, "This is all happening for a reason and one day it will all make sense." The voice echoes in my empty stomach, so the connections fill me up.
However, while I do believe that life could ultimately be meaningless, everyday events occur in life help us all to understand, connect, empathize, and learn so that we are all bonded together while we do navigate this confusing and undefined bumpy, gravel road. I have experienced and felt many of the common maladies that people encounter: loss, heartbreak, grief, physical pain. I thought that all of these feelings were the absolute worst a human could live to tell the tale of, but also emotions that I knew others easily could identify with. Now, I suffer from maladies that most people can't identify with, and negative emotions that greatly exceed the feelings I once had when I went through a "common" scenario. I feel, almost on a daily basis, misunderstood, powerless, and as if no one understands me. These feelings are, hands down, no question, some of the most frustrating, isolating, lonely, hollow, vacant, and sorrowful feelings I have had. I can only explain those feelings like this:
I hate the cold, and I live in Chicago. On most winter days, it's really cold and it really sucks. But most people experience some cold in their life, so they get it and its manageable. These are like your standard emotions. They suck, but everyone gets them at some point, so you bundle up and muddle through, because you know, from other people and experience, that it gets better. In turn, you feel better because you know you're not alone.
But lately, it's been really cold here in Chicago - almost a -40 windchill on a few days. Fewer people get what that feels like, unless you live in Chicago, or Alaska, or Antarctica. These are uncommon emotions. They really suck, it's harder to find someone to identify with, and all you do is pity yourself because you think you have it sooooo much worse than everyone else. But even then, you know you don't (cause it can always be worse), so that depresses you, too. And sometimes, it tricks you, because when it's 0 degrees outside, you think, "Wow, it's so nice out!" It's not. You've just had a life lesson where shitty things don't seem so shitty anymore compared to the even shitter things that have just happened in your shitty little life.
So what I am trying to say is, I knew I could not do this alone or I was going to freeze to death. And it isn't as simple as calling up one of my lady friends and saying, "Hey, boo. Let's watch GIRLS and eat a pint of Ben and Jerry's and cry this shit out." I'm past the point of crying into ice cream. I don't even think I am capable of crying anymore - I am at a dangerous low where crying just seems futile and pointless. I knew based on the severity of these emotions alone, as well as the changes in the way I viewed life, I needed to find someone who could say, "I get what it feels like to be outside in -45 degrees. Take my gloves." Not that friend who you skype with in LA who says, "Man, I feel for you, it was 60 degrees and rainy today!" She doesn't even own gloves! And yes, while I need her, too, and it isn't her fault that she can't get what hypothermia feels like, it also isn't fair for me to keep expecting that from her. My friends have been awesome and nothing but supportive, amazing people. But my friends also aren't experts, they haven't gone through it, and they certainly don't know what to say to me when I call them crying because Jeff drained my bank account buying booze while I was out of town on a work trip.
Enter the Support Group. Finding a Support Group is a lot like dating. And just like dating is pretty much the same for everyone, man or woman, it's the same for the addict and the person who loves the addict. You have to find something that feels right for you. I tried a lot of support groups at first. I went to a Depression/Bipolar Support Group for Friends and Family. I went to Al-Anon. I went to A.A. I actually went to a ton of different A.A. meetings. And I finally found a good fit for me, in the place I least expected.
Before we both really came to terms with the fact that Jeff is an alcoholic, I tried a support group for mental health. It was helpful and the people caring, but I had a hard time finding someone like me to identify with, as the groups were mostly parents dealing with mentally ill children. I felt a common bond, but I was really looking for a spouse of a mentally ill person. I also knew that alcoholism was Jeff's primary issue - I think I was just really scared to enter the world of alcoholism and recovery at that point. It was still really new. AA was something I had only heard about in jokes on in movies - which now seem really insensitive and poorly timed.
At first, I was really standoffish about Al-Anon. Mainly because I was worried that I would still feel isolated, due to the varying nature of people impacted by addiction, just like the experience I had with the mental health groups. I was also worried about attending meetings with people who were being impacted by alcoholics, as I wanted to feel empowered and not somber. Not everyone in Al-Anon is dealing with someone who is active in recovery. I'm still trying other meetings, but the meetings I have attended so far were filled with kind-hearted, like-minded people.
I attended an A.A. meeting on a fluke, and it was really scary at first because I didn't know what to expect. The outpouring of support from people was tremendous. Best of all, none of the people I have met have made me feel unwelcome for attending a meeting without being an alcoholic myself. Mainly, it's a really positive support environment in which people rely on each other to keep themselves accountable, gain positive support and ideas, and share feelings and emotions. It's the place where I have come to identify the most, and so, I keep going back. I'm not sure if I will give up drinking forever, or if maybe I will find an Al-Anon that is right for me. I just know that right now, I am really happy to have found a place where I don't feel like I am outside in the cold, all alone. It's also helped me come to realize that while I can't control Jeff, I can control me. Best of all, I've stopped looking for someone who "gets" my experience. I've realized that I might not need someone who already knows my story, inside and out. I just might need to find someone who can tell me their story, to help me realize that it might not be -40 degrees, after all.
Want to hear Jeff's side of the story? http://www.lifeimpaired.com/1/post/2014/02/keep-coming-back.html