By: Whitney McKendree Moore
Isolated in the Group?
When I finally found my way into Al-Anon, I began to see what Lily Tomlin may have meant when she said, “We’re all in this alone together.”
I had grown up in functional alcoholism and had then married it, so heads were nodding as I introduced myself as a Newcomer in the circle of recovery.
Apparently, there were people in the world who could understand exactly what I was talking about (which, for me, felt like the first time in my entire life). Their stories echoed mine, except for one thing: they were okay; I was not.
No Longer Isolated Thanks to Caring People
The main difference between them and me was that they knew how to survive (and even thrive!) despite the heartbreak of addiction in a relative or friend.
Some of what they were sharing was stranger than fiction; all of it helped me realize that I was NOT alone, after all. This was a newsflash because I had always felt isolated as if all by myself in a deep, dark swamp.
I had considered myself terminally unique, but that was a lie for which I had fallen hook, line, and sinker. And by it, I had sunk. Deep. Deep in the muck. So deep that I’d not been able to hear that others were also wandering in that same pulsating swamp.
Imagine the relief to find people so welcoming, and soon I was laughing more than crying.
These people were sharing their dirty laundry, which was shocking to me who had grown up with the idea that personal things were not to be divulged — certainly not in public. Ever.
Hearing secrets shared so openly was verboten in my family of origin. Verboten! This, on its own, became hilarious as the dirty little details I’d privately thought so unusual turned out to be pretty commonplace.
The whole meeting howled one night when we discovered that all of us could hear the difference between ice cubes clinking in a glass of vodka (versus ice cubes in a glass of anything else). Secrets so pathetically true were surprisingly funny. There was a cruel kind of radar in us, and a zillion similar symptoms of contagion.
I once shared about the “cocktail hours” of my childhood home: how we three children would fill the ice bucket nightly (plus all the decanters) while our mother bathed upstairs, or how our father would return from work to don his “smoking jacket” as our mother came downstairs all dolled up for the happy hour(s). I can still hear the sound of my father mixing their drinks in a silver cocktail shaker.
Giving me the Tools I Needed
By the time I was forty, I, too, was thoroughly mixed with alcohol. My marriage (and my world) were both being shaken, and I was hungry for the help I needed. Long-timers and Newcomers (and people at every possible stage in between) were sharing their experience, warts and all!
They talked of tools I had never even heard about — invisible tools; tools made of wisdom. I felt like Luke Skywalker learning to use a Light Saber (so to speak). It was as if I was being taught by Yoda, but it wasn’t just one squatty little teacher, nor was I, as a pupil, the only one learning. Everybody in the meeting was, and no one was claiming to be an expert.
“I don’t think anybody knows anything until they’re forty,” said someone at a noon meeting. Hilarity ensued – again (I have come to expect laughter in recovery meetings). Less amusing was the slogan, “Nobody graduates.” I guess it takes a while to catch onto what is sinking your ship and then to stay on top of your own shenanigans. Denial doesn’t help. It seems to come with the territory, like a hovering/covering fog.
I’m Stronger Together, Not Alone
I practiced walking through the swamp, and I got better at cutting away the tendrils that were lashing out at me, trying to pull me into the quicksand. “Let the Force be with you” (so to speak) is essentially what I heard in Al-Anon, and it’s what I hear still.
Also, I hear “Keep coming back” from these wise friends who are, to me, God wearing skin.
I am no longer alone. Instead, I’m like the description of a handful of pencils.
“You can snap a single pencil easily,” this person demonstrated. “It just breaks right in half. But if you put two or three pencils together, you can’t do that.”
Maybe that’s what Lily Tomlin had in mind when she said, “We’re all in this alone together.”
Bio: Whitney McKendree Moore
Whitney was born in New York City to medical parents — her mother an R.N, her father a neurologist following the footsteps of his father. Back in those days, physicians lived under an awning of prominence.
Both her father and her grandfather were treated like demi-gods at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, where the phrases “wonderful bedside manner” and “dear and glorious physician” were said aloud and a lot by her mother, who was also highly regarded as “possibly the world’s best Head Nurse.”
The young family lived directly across the street from the Hospital’s main entrance. Whitney remembers sitting in front of a big picture window on the lap of her nanny “Mrs. Marmalade,” eyes riveted on the Hospital’s grand doors. Her debonaire parents would emerge together each night, hands joined and arms swinging as if they were dancing across the street. Occasionally, when her father was detained, Whitney knew to watch a different set of doors — the doors of The Psychiatric Institute, which she called “The So-Quacky -Quacky.” This malapropism greatly amused her parents.
Voice and pen became Whitney’s personal ways to be heard. After she married in 1971, she published an article every year as she pursued her professional career and she continued to “sing constantly.”
Whitney Starts Her Recovery
A turning point for Whitney came in 1989, when she found her way into Twelve-Step recovery. There, people were sharing “dirty laundry” and seeking God’s guidance to overcome. Now her writing is focused on encouraging others that God is still in the miracle-making business. Her books are categorized as “inspirational” and her style has been described as “a rather rollicking read.”
Whether singing or writing, Whitney’s niche audience is Christian women in Twelve-Step recovery. She says, “People in recovery are used to rigorous honesty like those who faced the truth when the Emperor did not. They are my Tribe.”