Today I decided to go to an Al-Anon meeting—my first. Al-Anon is a meeting for the families of alcoholics: mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, partners. I didn’t know how go about it, so I called the number on the Al-Anon website, looking for a meeting. I got a recording—one of those computer voices saying nothing but “Leave a number.” I hung up. I persevered, though, and managed to find a meeting within twenty miles of my place. I went—past the farmstands (now closed), dodging the dry old leaves rolling out into the street in packs, like tiny people running from a fire.

I’d tried to go a meeting when I was a teenager, but couldn’t: that is, I went once, and found it unbearable—I was young and hip and full of promise, and the people there were old and looked like they’d spent a lifetime being beaten with baseball bats.

Today, I sat among them, and, it’s still true, they all looked pretty much like a bunch of old potato sacks, though this time I saw that some of them were sane and kind. After one meeting, I couldn’t tell you what they do there, but I tell you what: they all really feel helped by Al-Anon. One woman, whose mother had been an alcoholic, said it was like her spirit had been in a box when she was a kid, and now it wasn’t. Another woman told how she’d taken her two teenaged children and moved them into a hotel three nights before, to get away from her husband, who was abusive when he was drunk, and was always drunk. She said that her seventeen-year-old son was proud of her. I think we were all proud of her.

I came home and started to read through the literature, which sure does talk a lot about God (the “higher power” is a big part of the program). I don’t believe in God, at all. I know I can make my way to the higher-power thing, but, sitting on my couch with all the literature, I was thrown back into being an arrogant and angry teenager.

In any case, I started to waiver about the whole enterprise, when my phone rang. It was a woman on the other end, who said, “Did someone there call XXX-XXXX this morning?” She gave a number, and I figured it must have been that Al-Anon number I’d called. I said, “Are you calling from Al-Anon?” And she said, relieved, “Yes, sorry—you can’t say that, because sometimes you don’t know….” I knew what she meant. I tried to get off the phone. I felt like I was talking to someone who was trying to sell me more channels, before she’d even asked if I had a television (or a bank account with any money in it). I said, “Yeah, I found a meeting. Thanks.” She said, “Was it your first?” And I said, “Yes, it was,” and she said, “Good girl. Keep coming back.” And I felt… I felt… I felt… so praised by those words: Good girl. For the child or wife of an alcoholic, both of which I have been, “Good girl” means a lot.