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Being a newcomer in the pandemic by Ashlei P

Finding the courage to attend an Al Anon meeting took me months. I was in denial about my situation, I was nervous about talking to people I had never met, and the COVID-19 pandemic was pushing across the country at an alarming rate. Now, I not only needed to find the strength in me to attend my first meeting, but I also had to find a place that was safe for me to attend a Zoom meeting, as my qualifier still lived with me at the time. There were many obstacles that I had to work around, including an old laptop that did not work the best, along with having to find a place where I could speak without fear of me being heard by the wrong person. Not to mention, there were so many Al Anon meetings listed online, which one do I choose?! How would I know which meeting would be right for me?

I now have been an Al Anon member for 4 months and I still have yet to attend an in-person meeting, as everything is still closed in my area due to the pandemic. I hear it often said of the other members, “if we could be in person, I would give you a hug right now.” I think that may be the hardest part of being a newcomer during the pandemic – no physical contact. There was nothing I craved more in those first few meetings than someone who could understand what I was going through and a loving hug as I cried.

At the beginning of my program, I attended many different Zoom meetings with many different groups. I wanted to find a group of people that I felt comfortable with and that I could feel was my ‘tribe.’ While I didn’t share very often at these first meetings, I listened closely, taking in any information I could from other’s stories, while also feeling the vibe of the whole meeting itself and the other people in attendance. There were some meetings that I knew right away would not be for me, and that’s okay. Not every group will be the right fit for every person. However, I still feel so much gratitude to those first few groups I met because, while they were not the right fit for me, they still encouraged me to continue going to meetings and to continue working towards a solid program for myself, and I can’t thank them enough for that support and encouragement.

Luckily, I was able to find the right group for me fairly quickly. And once I was in a meeting with them, I knew immediately that that group of people was the ‘tribe’ I was looking for all along. I felt more welcomed than I had at any other meeting before and I no longer felt scared to share my story. I felt safe with those people, even in a time where the feelings of safety were few and far-between. This group is where I was lucky enough to find my sponsor and they are still the main meetings I attend today.

Before I found the courage to attend my first meeting, I joined a lot of social media groups related to Al Anon and Alcoholics in general, desperately searching for the answer to solve my problems. I found a lot of groups on social media who would simply share their troubled stories, but no one was really offering advice or support to those in need. However, social media also helped me to find my home group. I posted a comment in a group one day and a woman I had never spoken to before reached out to me to tell me about a meeting that was going to be starting in 10 minutes from that time. At that point, I was still trying as many meetings as I could, so I decided to log on and see what that group of people was about. After all, it certainly couldn’t hurt to try a new one! It immediately felt like home and I am so grateful for the social media groups, as I never would have found that meeting on my own, as it is based out of Texas and I live in New Jersey! (Oh, and that woman who told me about that meeting? She just so happens to be my sponsor now).

Which brings me into the upside of being a newcomer, or even regular member, of Al Anon during a pandemic: the endless options available to every person who is willing to attend a meeting. I couldn’t believe the number of meetings that were available to me by simply googling it! I could find a meeting virtually any time of day or night and from any place in the world. While I live in the US, I have met people from the UK and Australia in my meetings! And, although I was a newcomer and didn’t have phone numbers of other Al Anon members to reach out to yet, I could simply log on to my computer and find a group of people who welcomed me with open arms and offered me a safe place to go.

I know that being a newcomer can be difficult. While I have been a grateful member for 4 months now, I still feel very much like a newcomer at times. It can be a frustrating feeling, seeing how well others are doing in their program and knowing how far you have to go to be able to get to your own place of serenity, but I can promise there is light at the end of the tunnel. Only 4 months in and I can already see it!

If you have tried some Zoom meetings and they weren’t for you, keep trying. Try some on the other side of the country, or the other side of the world. Try some in the morning, when you’re fresh and ready for the day, and some at night, when you’re tired and lonely. Reach out to members you’ve talked to a lot and reach out to members you may have never talked to before. Then, find yourself a sponsor. And I know, you are probably asking yourself, “where or how do I find one and how do I ask them to be a sponsor for me?” Well, I will share the secret that I so desperately wanted to know about in my first few meetings: just ask! Who? Anyone. If they aren’t able to help, they may be able to point you in the direction of someone who can. If they can help, great! If you have a sponsor and it’s not working, ask someone else! It’s so important to remember that this is YOUR program, we all have our own program to work and you have to find the parts that will be the most beneficial for you. My sponsor lives on the other side of the country from me but the great thing about having access to Zoom throughout this pandemic is that your sponsor doesn’t need to live in your town to be able to assist you through your steps and your program.

I know going to your first meeting is a little (or a lot) terrifying. I remember being in your shoes not that long ago. But trust me when I say, just give it a chance. If you’re not ready to talk, no one will force you to. If you are ready, I guarantee there will be people there listening to you who have gone through the exact same situation you are going through right now. Try a lot of different meetings; try as many as you can whenever you can. You can, and will, find your tribe, just as I found mine. The light may be small, and the tunnel may be long, but that first step is the most important. Don’t give up and remember: Keep coming back. It works if you work it.

Ashlei Porter

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Thank you for sharing . I have enjoyed meeting you.

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