Just for a Moment— How sharing a “dark” experience publicly helped curb my inner critic

I wandered around the perimeter of a christian church, confused. It had been almost a decade since I walked into a church, and I’m not terribly fond of them.

I began cautiously asking people walking into the building if they were there for a service, or the Al-Anon meeting.

I received blank stares…

For a moment, my heart sank.

I thought quietly to myself: “Maybe I’m not meant for this. Maybe this is the Universe telling me not to start this healing process right now, and that I should focus my energy somewhere else.” I felt like I wouldn’t be helped.

I had taken a momentary leap of faith when I heard someone mention Al-Anon. I felt in my heart I needed to go, even though my mind disagreed. I had stepped out of my own way to make it to the church.

I didn’t know what to expect, and wasn’t accustomed to having much emotional support for my childhood memories.

I said to myself, “It has to be here. They wouldn’t publish the location on the website if it wasn’t here.”

I wandered

In that moment standing on the church steps I felt the defeat of not finding the meeting room. I had felt the defeat of thinking I wasn’t worth it. “The Universe doesn’t want me to get better”—I thought. I felt the defeat of carrying around the weight of the emotional baggage of growing up with an alcoholic parent.

I felt it. Then I shrugged it off. “Not possible” I thought to myself. “I’m ready to let this go. There must be a way to find this meeting.”

In that moment alone I made a choice to keep going.

Images: Emelina Spinelli | http://instagram.com/ecspinelli | http://emelinaspinelli.com

Albeit the feeling of defeat, I would move forward and risk being wrong or not finding the room.

I was really risking my story that I wasn’t worth receiving additional emotional support and understanding. I was risking the pain I had become accustomed to clinging to for decades.

That pain often came in the form of independence. 

“I can do it all myself. I don’t need anyone to help me, not even God. Watch me do it.”

Independence by itself is an amazing trait. Independence out of the pain of never feeling loved, supported or cared for—not so much. Being independent to cover for an insecurity was my “M.O.” and I was over it. I wanted to let it go, and begin to receive the support I so deeply desired and deserved.

Wandering curiously around the courtyard, I saw a building, with dozens of people in it. “This must be it”, I thought. I asked a woman in white walking towards me if she was here for the meeting—she quickly said yes, and “shoo-shed” me as we walked in the door.

She communicated the gesture as if to say “This is an environment of ultimate respect. Respect the space and the room, and we respect holding this space for you in return.”

I walked into the room almost 10 minutes late. I took a set on the stage to the back of the room along side 4 or 5 other people. There were about 40 chairs situated in a circle in the center of the room in front of me. I listened to the musical chorus of attendees sounding off in unison “Hi, Mary. Welcome”. I listened as Mary read the rules of the meeting out loud.

Interesting, I thought. I had little idea of what this meeting would be, or even look like. I was curious, and open to learn. I was jittering with excitement because by this point I knew I needed to be there.

Everything in my body was saying—Yes! You’re in the right place! Even though my mind had no idea why and had no cognitive information to anchor the positive judgement… I knew I had to be there.

I felt an overwhelming acceptance, sense of peace and complete lack of judgement.

As the meeting progressed, I listened. Al-Anon meetings are mostly filled with “shares”. This is when attendees raise their hands, and volunteer to share anything on their mind.

The first woman that volunteered to speak had a tight bun, but relaxed demeanor, like she had done this before. She wore a bright green shirt and white pants, and took a break from taking a bite of home-made yogurt and granola to tell her story.

The woman spoke clearly and without emotion, but plainly told her dynamic and dramatic story of growing up with a father that was an alcoholic and that took his life. On first thought, I was surprised that she could speak about such a dramatic topic without immediately busting into tears, or projecting the emotions onto others in a moment of catharsis.

She then spoke from true wisdom and experience sharing her story, and the lessons she has acquired as a result.

She spoke in clear direct sentences that said exactly what I needed to hear. She shared insights that were almost identical to those I experienced through meditation previously that week. A little light went off in my head — “ooo, a kindred spirit” I thought.

Her share included phrases like “No one ever died of feeling or anxiety. So go ahead and feel what you need to feel”, “I can be in acceptance of what I can change—and that is my own attitude” and “I can accept being happy, if not just for this moment.”

I learned after the meeting that Al-Anon is known for these healing phrases and slogans.

This new experience had me lit up. I felt like I was immediately understood, even without speaking. I heard the very things I needed to in that moment. I knew that I was in a very special place that would help me grow in some way, though I had no idea how. It did become clear to me, that Al-Anon is a program that helps you cultivate your own relationship with a higher power and spiritual practice.

I was very equipped to hear about a relationship with a higher power, as a yogi, frequent meditator, and spiritualist. However, I had no idea it would happen in that room, at that moment.

“Wow” I said silently to myself. I had no idea that this program and support was quite openly a non-denominational spiritual program.

I listened more.

The shares continued. Some were like the first, well thought out and not emotional. Others included people crying because they were about to marry an alcoholic, or a loved one had just passed.

What I did notice is that no one was judged for speaking, thinking or feeling. Everyone in the room was completely supported to express themselves, in their light (positive traits) and to also express the skeletons in the closet without judgement. The room held space for each individual to feel what they needed to feel, share what they needed to share, and speak their truth no matter how ugly or raw it was.

“What a gift” I thought.

I felt all of this as a bubbling emotion of acceptance, and belonging. I felt at ease. I had been holding secrets and darkness in the shadows of my character, and emotionally towards past experiences for decades.

No one wants to share the bad stuff…

—the dark stuff

—the stuff that we “shouldn’t think” and “shouldn’t feel”.

—the stuff that happened to us that we wish we could re-write to be different.

This meeting showed me that the bad stuff only holds power over us when we feel like we can’t talk about it.

When something traumatic happens and we hold it all in, it creates a distortion in how we see ourselves. This little slice of trauma not expressed, causes a host of events and feelings that all stem around shame and a complete lack of self acceptance. Then we create addictions to avoid feeling the part of ourselves we won’t accept. These addictions can be as drastic as alcoholism/substance abuse or as normal as compulsively checking our email.

I realized all of this in a moment.

It was the moment that the leader asked if “newcomers” wanted to share. I don’t know what came over me exactly, but my hand shot up into the air before my brain could shut it down.

The lead called on me to share.

I quickly started speaking, and someone in the crowd interrupted me with a chipper voice: “What’s your name?”.

“OH!” I exclaimed. “My name is Emelina.”

The crowd responded in unison: “Hi Emelina, Welcome.”

My thoughts were racing along with my heart.

I started speaking faster than I could think. I felt my tongue tie in knots, but I kept going anyway.

I thought to myself: “Keep going. Besides, no one in this room knows who you are. You can f&$# it all up, and leave and never come back and no one would know the difference. Just keep speaking. You’ll release so much from your psyche just for sharing this experience, and it doesn’t hurt anyone. Everyone can learn from your experience.

Thanks brain for teaching me that failure is okay. I can do this…”

I spoke.

I told them that I had come to the meeting because the week before, I had a memory of my childhood enter during my daily meditation. It was a memory I hadn’t thought of in a long time. The amateur therapist in my mind thought that this single unresolved memory may be causing some current day dysfunction.

I remembered…

Hearing my mom yelling at my dad when he came home drunk. I was four or five years old. She had told him in that moment that if he didn’t stop drinking she would divorce him. That’s not the issue, although I’m sure it’s part of the problem.

The problem, is that in that moment I remember walking in the room and stepping in between my mother and my father to protect my mom from the obvious threat. Somewhere inside of me, I thought myself more capable of handling the problem, than my adult mother.

In that moment, I had decided that I had to protect my mom and younger brother. In that moment I had decided that I would be responsible for keeping everyone safe, and secure. In that moment I had decided, that my dad’s addiction was my problem.

That’s a lot for a four-year-old.

I told the room that through my understanding of psychology that this moment was likely the near beginning of my addiction to codependency, control, and over responsibility. I stammered to explain, that my codependency was showing up in relationships all over my life where I was taking on way too much responsibility for other peoples’ thoughts, feelings, and actions. It was showing up in my friendships, and with my clients, and I desperately wanted it to stop. It led me to this room, and this meeting.

I was constantly in a state of self blame, I admitted. If anything around me went awry or someone f&#% things up, I would blame myself. “I can be better, I can do better, I must be the best” I would think. Then I would seek to be better, do more, seek more approval, and live the lie that I am never enough. That I can’t just “be” to be loved. I had to “achieve” and I had to take everything on myself to be loved. That I had to do it all myself.

This is the independence I spoke of earlier. I have been notoriously independent not because I want to be, but because I felt I had to carry the weight of my father’s addiction in a small childhood moment. I had to carry the weight of the world, without assistance. This is a lot of stress for a kid.

As a child, I didn’t know what alcoholism was. I didn’t know it was a disease. And I didn’t know that I could step away from it. They say that alcoholism is a family disease, and now I believe this.

I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts.

I took a deep breathe, and said…

I’m really excited to be here, and to let that out. I’m excited to understand how this experience, and experiences like these may be impacting my current reality, today. I’m excited to learn how I can grow and become more confident, whole, and relaxed overall.

I also admitted that I wasn’t sure if Al-Anon had anything to offer me, because my dad was sober for most of my upbringing (15+ years) so I didn’t know if his alcoholism really affected me.

I ended my “share” and took a sigh of relief.

This was one of many experiences that I thought I would never share with anyone. And in that moment, it no longer held power over me. I let go of any self judgement where I would have held this in somewhere in the recesses of my mind to never speak or share.

I shared, and it wasn’t pretty. And that’s okay.

In fact, it was more than okay. In that moment, sharing the experience in the room had released it from me. I’m no longer ashamed. I don’t feel judged by myself or others for these experiences.

I accepted all of myself — the wins, achievements and successes. But, I also accept the shadows, the darkness, the secrets, and the “bad stuff” too.

I practiced self acceptance.

I’ve found that the problem isn’t the myriad of experiences we’ve had through our lives. The dysfunction stems from how we interpret these experiences— and what we decide about ourselves as a result.

I am reminded of what the lead-speaker said at my first Al-Anon meeting: “I can be in acceptance of what I can change — and that is my own attitude.”

I can’t change what’s happened.

I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.

But, I can change.

I can change my attitude. I can take responsibility for myself. And to quote Gandhi, I can “be the change” that I want to see in the world.

It starts with me. It starts with you.

As I share my own experience, I hope that you are inspired to accept more of yourself, practice more self-acceptance, and release anything that has been weighing on you,even just for a moment.

Thanks for reading, please share if you enjoyed it 🙂

Main Photo Kace Rodriguez