It was a year ago when I first came to the 12 Steps. Like so many others who find themselves sitting around that folding table, in cold metal chairs, and drinking bad coffee, I came broken. My life was rapidly spinning out of control, and for the previous 2 years I had kept it just barely – barely – within my grasp. But, by the time I finally stepped through those doors, smelling of cigarette smoke and terrified of what I might find, my interior world had reached a fever pitch of pain.
In that first meeting, I took a deep breath, and I started to share – an act that terrified me; laying my soul bare before these strangers. I shared how I didn’t know how to go on. That I was fighting to death to maintain healthy relationships. That my anxiety was so huge, it was putting everything in my life at risk – my new job that I desperately needed, my relationships, my sanity. That I felt like my very psyche was constantly torturing me – like my brain was on fire – and I didn’t know why. That I was deeply in love with my boyfriend, and deeply terrified of how deeply in love I was.
I shared all this, and then the group said to me three beautiful, life changing words: “Thanks for sharing.” And that was all – no advice, no cajoling, no preaching. They had listened in silence to every word of my suffering, and then they thanked me.
That turned out to be one of my favorite things about the 12 Steps – the way we hold each other through the darkness. Many people come to meetings at their darkest, living through nightmare pain. They share about heartbreak and devastation and anger and the brokenness of their own bodies. People weep and curse and yell, and always, always, the response is the same: thank you for sharing.
Over the past year, the meetings have changed me. That sacred space of holding one another’s stories in perfect silence, in perfect listening – it started to heal me. I slowly got my sanity back. I recovered my job. I’m learning about relationships and self control, and how to not be so terrified of loving. I’m learning to forgive others and, most of all, myself.
I try to bring to the rest of the world whatever I learn in the 12 Steps, however imperfect my attempts may be. I try, as hard as I can, to listen intensely, to not run away from the pain of others, and, instead of responding with fear or resentment to what others say, to instead respond with, “thank you.”
Now, a year after that first, terrifying meeting, I am thankful. I am thankful for a wise sponsor who has guided me, for the 12 step community and the lessons the Steps have taught me, and I am thankful for my partner who has been with me the whole way. I am thankful that, when the darkness of hell came for me, I chose to go to the nearest, tiny light: a gathering of strangers, sharing their stories.