It’s been almost a week since the incident in our Al-Anon group. I’ve spent many hours praying, meditating and tapping to relieve myself of the trauma caused by your actions during our weekly meeting. It’s important for my own recovery that I become extremely clear on my thinking surrounding this incident as well as the motivation that prompts me to speak up. I’ve been haunted by the occurrence and my resulting reactions. Knowing myself well as I do, I work hard to clear these issues before speaking. It has been and will continue to be the best approach for me, to think before I speak.
But now, at this moment, I’m crystal clear on most of my emotions surrounding this and am ready to speak.
(In accordance to Al-Anon protocol, the members in this story remain confidential. I only identify them by first name and do not reveal the state or location of the group).
At a recent Al-Anon meeting which I sporadically attend, I was singled out and humiliated in front of the group for the location in which I chose to sit. I chose a seat at the edge of the group for reasons outlined below. The rest of the group (over 20+ people) were sitting at several conference tables pushed together and the meeting had already started as I was about 5 minutes late. I settled in, removed my coat and pulled my Courage to Change book from my purse. (Several times before when choosing this seat, I was asked, by two women in particular, to join the others at the table but declined with a no-thank you. It seemed to bother them each time but I dismissed it).
This last week, a member named Susie, got up from her seat during the meeting, came over to me, grabbed both arms of my chair and jerked on them. She says to me “We don’t let people sit back here”. I froze. In a split second I was triggered. I had been invaded in my safe space, without invitation, a clear violation of my boundaries. (She’s very lucky I have tamed my knee-jerk survival skills of physical aggression). When I didn’t budge, she continued to pull on my chair in some weird tug-of-war and I obliging stood up. She placed my chair where she thought it should be and I sat down. All eyes were on me. Whatever serenity I had achieved regarding my anxiety level was lost. My face flushed with shame, embarrassment and humiliation. I instinctively pushed my chair back from the table attempting to regain some safe space again. For a few minutes, I tried to center myself. The man next to me, who was also on the we-must-sit-at-the-table-with-our-hands-folded campaign, gestures for me to scoot up. I say No, thank you. He won’t give up. More words, more gestures. Now all eyes are on me AGAIN as he attempts to get me to comply. In a slow motion haze, completely triggered, I put my books in my purse and stand to leave. I do not hurl the words spinning in my head, I do not attempt to make my issues the issues of the group. I simply leave.
Dear Susie….here’s what you didn’t know or take the time to find out.
- I have logged over 25+ years in Al-Anon and am not a newcomer to the philosophies of the program. Having attended hundreds of meetings in many different locations, I’ve never had anyone question where I sat. In fact, most meetings allow for personal safety and comfort, making this a non-issue which has always been the beauty of this program.
- I am a trauma-incest-abuse survivor. That means I’ve maneuvered and survived masters of pathologies; narcissists, alcoholics/substance abusers, perpetrators of sexual abuse and violence along with the run-of-the mill shallow and unenlightened individuals. Acts of aggression which include the definition of assault, “Assault is an act which causes another person to have apprehension of imminent harmful contact”. If you lunge unexpectedly toward a survivor, especially using force to grab at them (in this case my chair), most times the trauma affected brain perceives that movement as assaulting behavior. In other words, you triggered me by your sudden moves, by grabbing my chair and with your words.
- I’m no slouch when it comes to personal development. My entire life is devoted to recovery, empowerment and mindful awareness. As a retired nurse, social worker, massage therapist and overall student of life, this has been my mission; transforming a childhood of trauma and despair to one that prospers in healing and kindness.
- I have a few residual health issues. The entire reason that I choose to sit in the periphery of the group is that I have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Perfumes and laundry detergent smells are the worst of dangers to me and are often a problem when I attend. Sometimes I take a pre-emptive antihistamine just to be present. Sometimes I sit by the window in case I need some fresh air or just need to not be stuck next to someone who wears perfume. To a MCS person, these smells are toxic. They can trigger many different responses such as asthmatic symptoms, headaches, dizziness. I know my issues as well as my boundaries on this subject.
- I struggle with anxiety. It takes me days sometimes to psych myself up to attend a meeting. As much as I’m a social person, I also, because of recent circumstances, struggle with isolation. Several women from the group gently nudge me to join them for dinners, meetings, gatherings. I adore them for that. And I work on centering myself for hours before coming to a meeting.
- I’m a writer and an advocate. I use my voice often even when it is scary to do so. It’s what I do. I have a blog dedicated to recovery of trauma. I serve as a moderator on a international FB page devoted to trauma recovery. I am a virtual assistant on Twitter for a national organization for Adult Survivors of Sexual Abuse. My voice serves as an advocate for those that can’t speak. I made this vow after recovering my own memories of incest. I will use my story to empower others, giving them a safe place to speak. I am not afraid anymore.
Dear Susie…..here are my direct words to you.
- Examine your own agenda and ego. Why would you make your personal agenda one that trumps an individual’s well being?
- Please God, tell me you won’t treat a newcomer like that. If I were a newcomer, perhaps filled with anxiety and trepidation about my life with an alcoholic, desperate for resources to help with a life filled with chaos, issues of personal safety, financial problems, would you treat a person with such disregard? I hope not. It goes against everything that these meetings represent.
- How dare you compromise a resource that I needed. At this point in time, I need community. I’ve suffered the devastating loss of my husband and his family. I need to know that there are groups that can support me during this time. I’ve reciprocated to support others during their rough times and now need that support myself.
- Are you speaking for the group when you say “we”? Are you the self appointed gestapo of the group or has this group named you the seating relocation person? This should be verbalized in the opening statements of the group each and every meeting.
- Wondering if you’ve reflected on your behavior at all. As of this writing, after receiving no response to my text to you, I called. At first you didn’t know who I was. When I explained the reason for my call, you did recognize me due to the circumstances. While I did receive a “please forgive me”, you also defended and back peddled a bit as to your position. Apparently, you felt justified in what you did.
- You given me the “opportunity” for growth and got me writing again. In Al-Anon as well as other self help modalities, we learn to thank certain opportunities for individual growth. This situation gave me exactly that. I got to examine the types of people I choose to be with as well as how to assert and protect myself. There is always room for growth and self reflection, thank you for that.
- Your actions and words could be viewed an act of aggression to me as well as many abuse survivors. While you didn’t realize I was a trauma survivor, you also didn’t approach me with respect either. We must entertain these possibilities when dealing with populations of this sort.
Thank you to my friends who have talked me through the triggering incident and the losses associated with it…y’all are my lifelines.
I’m hoping that this post serves to increase awareness about many topics. It is imperative that we practice compassion in the moments of our lives.
When we know better, we do better.