Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable.

I have a problem. I drove around the church a few times trying to figure out where to park, eventually deciding on street parking. I fumbled with my cell phone, searching the Internet and trying to find a map of the church grounds as they were larger than I’d anticipated. Giving up, I braved the rain and walked toward the basilica not knowing where in hell Room A was. Not in the basilica, that much I figured out. Standing in there, surrounded by all the holy figures had me wondering if I’d be struck down for believing new age and yogi principles rather than Catholicism; the guilt remained ingrained somewhere in my Irish DNA. Regardless, I’d completely forgot about God being a forgiving God and left the church with my heart racing.

None of those things were my big problem.

I found a building in back of the church and entered. The business-like atmosphere of offices and a receptionist had me hoping this was the place for the meeting. I asked the woman at the desk where Room A was located.

“Take the elevator up,” she answered, motioning to the steel doors behind her.

I hated elevators more than I hated admitting I have a problem.

Reluctantly, I got into the tin box and my brain went completely stupid as I stared at the three choices on the button panel–1, 2, and B. Not rocket science, that was for certain. I had no idea what to expect at this meeting and somehow pushing that button–whichever one it was because my brain failed to remember what the receptionist had said–meant that I was a few steps closer to admitting my life had become unmanageable.

The doors closed, my memory returned, and I pressed “2.” The elevator groaned, grinding metal on metal, and I thought, That’s it. God hates me. He knows I’m a fraud and that I don’t believe in the whole Judeo-Christian system. He’s going to drop me into the basement of hell and this elevator is going to crush me to death.

Continuing its protest, the elevator brought me to the second floor and opened its doors, welcoming me to the new challenge of finding the room and not a metal-twisted hell. The second floor corridor was open, exposed to the rainy day with a row of doors to my left that were dark, ominous and certainly had nothing good behind them.

With trepidation I walked, passing rooms D, C, B, and finding A—the very last door. Taking a breath, I peered through its rectangular window and saw a large room with foldable tables set in a square with people sitting, all facing each other. I pushed on the handle. Damn thing was stuck. One of the women motioned for me to jiggle it. She appeared grandmotherly, not at all intimidating, and certainly not worthy all the anxiety I’d conjured in my mind.

The beast of a handle gave way and I stepped into the room feeling like I’d passed a threshold of rebirth; there was no turning back. I was among them. I had an unmanageable problem, just like them, and they all knew it. And didn’t that suck. Or make me feel better. I couldn’t decide. The smell of stale cigarettes and old carpet hit me as I found my place in a relatively vacant section of the tables, trying to be as invisible as I could since I’d arrived five minutes late and the meeting was underway. The faux wood designs on the table intrigued me as one of the members talked about what Al-anon is. I listened in a fugue, uncertain and questioning why I’d come…oh yeah. Unmanageable. A few more people entered, one occupying the seat next to me, ruining my illusion of being invisible.

“Today, we’ll be going over Step Two,” the grandmotherly woman who’d helped me figure out how to open the stubborn door said, “‘Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

Well, hell, I’d lost my sanity. I’d let drinking take that away from me. I’d let those I loved and who drank excessively worry me. My need to fix them, to help them, had me running around in circles as I tried to manage and control their problem, making it my problem.

The Share began shortly after. As I listened to the group, I understood sharing their stories weren’t part of a contest. There was no one-upping misery, nor was there a pity-party held for those who bravely told their stories, and I felt relieved. I’d been in circumstances where it was. It’d left me feeling unworthy of seeking help here in Al-anon. It made me feel like I should just shut up because my problems were miniscule when someone else gets beaten by their husband or someone is committed to a mental hospital because the pressure to cope with their significant other’s drinking combined with raising children had pushed them to the edge.

I did belong. I was powerless over alcohol. I was powerless over the alcoholics in my family. Today, I had the power to let go and surrender to a Power greater than myself. I could find peace knowing nothing I did would ever manage the alcoholic’s behavior or fix the person. Those things were up to the person and the Power, not me.

The meeting ended with the group reciting the Lord’s Prayer. After listening to their shares I realized despite my lack of belief in their particular religion, I still belonged. What mattered is we all believed in something greater than us and had surrendered the situation. We were all learning “the wisdom to know the difference,” we were all affected by alcohol, and we “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” or working toward it.

I left the meeting understanding how important community and support is when a loved one is an alcoholic. All I had to do was take that first step.