An Al-Anon Love Story

By Shari Albert 03/14/16

I don’t know why I am wired this way, but I am. I find alcoholics sexy as hell.

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When I first met T, it was on the corner of 19th and Irving Place in New York. It was our first date. We had exchanged some emails via an online dating website and I was struck by two things: 1) He was very funny. 2) He didn’t drink. I liked this because my history with active alcoholics was chaotic, as it is by nature. I am the kind of girl who, at a party, will find the alcoholic in the crowd and start dating him.

Either that or they’ll see the large bullseye on my forehead, approach me, and then…I will start dating them. Before my relationship with T, I was no stranger to Al-Anon. However, I had only “done it poolside,” like how my grandmother would get into a pool just to her calves and proclaim, “Oy, that’s enough. I just wanted to dip my feet in.” That’s how I approached the program.

Years before T, my former therapist suggested that I check out Al-Anon. I had been obsessing over a man I dated for two months, a man who repeatedly and pointedly told me he did not want to date me—but I would still wait for his calls.

The first time I heard him say, “My name is T and I’m an alcoholic,” I got turned on.

Cut to about ten years later—after discovering yoga, lots of therapy and a smattering of Al-Anon—when I felt "ready" to have a real relationship. I mean, I was 37. If not now, when? I "met" T online and when I saw him for the first time, his bright blue eyes sparkled with mischief. His smile was wide and welcoming. We went to a restaurant and I ordered a glass of wine. He did not.

I looked at him and said, “So, you don’t drink. Why?”

He looked at me and made a drinking gesture with his hands to his lips and said, “Well, too much of this glug glug glug.”

I asked, “Are you in program?”

He said yes.

He tells me the next word I uttered under my breath was “shit,” but I don’t recall that.

We connected on so many levels, and he was so cute. I wanted nothing but to kiss him. So I did. Then we fell in love.

It was the kind of romance where both people are so overwhelmed by the amount of feelings coursing through their veins, that we’d weep openly with joy that we finally found each other. He’d buy me flowers and say things like, “This is not like me.” I took it as a compliment instead of a truth. We were always saying how right it was that we found each other at this later point in our lives. We were both convinced we were soul mates. This was not wrong.

At that point, he was seven years sober and had a great program, as far as I could tell. He held a high-pressured job as a lawyer at one of the top firms in the city and went to meetings a couple of times a week. He had a sponsor and had worked the steps. I went to open AA meetings with him and here’s a true confession: the first time I heard him say, “My name is T and I’m an alcoholic,” I got turned on. I don’t know why I am wired this way, but I am. I find alcoholics sexy as hell.

In my family, my mother is the alcoholic. She is active yet manageable as long as I stick to my program and she doesn’t have any hard booze in my presence. Alcohol turns her into someone who makes Joan Crawford look like a farm girl from Iowa.

It seemed as though T knew himself. He had worked through so many demons and the craziness of hardcore addiction, along with other very intense family issues. I admired the hell out of him for his bravery and fortitude. I still do. His willingness to get help for his addiction was huge, and I felt this was someone with whom I could go the distance.

I decided that I needed to go back into the rooms of Al-Anon because I really wanted to have a common language with T. I also wanted to pull my weight and not let the spectre of codependence rear its ugly head in this union that I had waited my whole life for. I got a sponsor and attended regularly.

During this time, the love fest continued. T wasn’t ever very effusive with his feelings, instead keeping them close to the vest and allowing his eyes to do most of the talking. But when he was, it was so beautiful and touched my heart in a way that made me want to open it even wider than my chest would allow. I was in deep. We both were. I was convinced this was the man I’d spend my life with.

My first experience with T shutting down was on a gorgeous spring day a couple of months after we met. We were walking around Manhattan after brunch and I was holding his arm, as lovers do on spring days. When I let it go to look at a store window, he had walked away, leaving me in the middle of 5th avenue. No word, not “Hey, I’m feeling overwhelmed, I need to hit a meeting.” Just poof.

I was shocked and upset. I remember calling an Al-Anon fellow and they suggested I give him space and that if I didn't hear from him in a bit, text him an “are you ok?"

I found out that he did go to a meeting when he called me later that night to apologize. He said what he did wasn’t right and that it wouldn’t happen again. I felt this was a red flag that I was in for a roller coaster ride. But I was willing to strap myself in.

I fell deeper in love with this man, but I always felt like I was walking on eggshells, never truly allowing myself to let my guard down. It was as if deep down I knew that if I did, I’d be rejected or abandoned.

I learned in Al-Anon that this was my stuff, my baggage, and that he wasn’t responsible for handling it. The program also revealed to me that my abandonment issues originated from my mother, and no matter what T did or did not do, I would have to learn to manage these insecurities. I took my "crazy" to the meetings and not my relationship, to the best of my ability.

After T and I took a trip to Europe, I constantly thought he was going to break up with me. He had stopped saying “I love you” and was becoming more distant. I still wasn’t comfortable in the relationship, yet still wanted to be with him. I continued to work on my issues with my therapist and in meetings. I noticed T was shutting down more frequently, yet his body would still be present. He would say to me, “I just want to feel close to you,“ yet at the same time, he’d shut down.

These tensions culminated during a conversation we had about my abandonment issues with my mother. He said, “I just wish you’d catch up to me.”

It took me a couple of days to process this statement, to figure out why it left me feeling like the relationship was all dependent upon my behavior and as though it was solely my responsibility that he feel for the closeness he craved. I wanted to feel close to him as well, but it’s a two-way street. He wasn’t in Al-Anon but claimed he was doing "the work" about our relationship with his sponsor in AA. I didn’t take his inventory, yet, in my experience, I saw no evidence of this happening.

Filled with fear, with the encouragement of my sponsor and therapist, I asked him, “If you don’t feel like we’re equals in this, then what are you doing here?”

To which he responded, “I guess you’re more committed to this relationship than I am.”

This devastated me. We went to a few sessions of couples therapy. They said it was up to us whether we wanted to “hold hands and grow up together, or not.”

I wanted to. I was willing to. I knew I was far from perfect nor well-versed in intimacy, but I wanted to learn with him next to me. I wanted to traverse the rough, yet beautiful, waters together—helping each other navigate an interdependent relationship, not a codependent one.

He did not.

He told me that quitting me was going to be harder than quitting drinking.

He decided to leave.

Al-Anon saved me.

I did a 90 in 90. I worked the steps. I cried every day for a year straight. I felt like my life and any chance of a happy future was over.

I remember sharing this in a meeting. I said, “I thought that a sober alcoholic would apply the same zeal with which he got sober into working on their intimate relationship.” This drew knowing laughter from the crowd.

I will spare you the details of the years that followed this, as they were fraught with mixed messages and on and off intense contact—true to what they say in Al-Anon, that you can never really "lose" an addict.

However, because of all the work I’ve done on myself and all the dark nights of the soul, after all the hours spent on my knees asking for God’s will for me to be revealed—after six years, I finally met a wonderful man and am in a healthy, non-codependent relationship.

Does it feel as intense as the one with T? No. But I do not walk on eggshells with him or fear that he will disappear on me. I can be myself completely and not judged for how I express myself. We communicate well, and I don’t try to control or manipulate him or our experience together.

Will it last? Only time will tell. But I do know that without that profound experience with T , Al-Anon, or my connection to my Higher Power, I would not be in a place of allowing myself to love and be loved, the way I am now.

Shari Albert is an actor and writer living in Manhattan.

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