Nar-anon saved my sanity

by Jenny Derr

In June of 2014 I wrote an email to a blogger friend, who had a pretty wide network. We had just taken Billy to another treatment facility and I was feeling pretty alone and sad.

Here is an excerpt of the letter I sent:

“I have really been thinking of your Widen the Circle post, as I think it means not only to open your circle when you are with others, but don’t we need to open our circle ( ourselves) even when we are alone? My sweet Billy is in Rehab. He was doing ok but then we became aware he had succumbed to his addiction again this spring, badly. He agreed to rehab and he is in a wonderful place in Pennsylvania. We again are filled with cautious hope that this will be the time, his time.

But this brings me back to your post. Do you know how many friends I have told? ONE. Just one person outside of my family. What the hell??? Why am I, as my sweet friend Anne suggested, the first to volunteer to bring a casserole but never one to want one myself? Is it pride? Is it fear? Is it shame? I don’t know but it’s something… or all of those things. I am so private. Are others like this? I am really thinking about this one hard….”

This was early in our recovery journey and I was still not really open about what our family had been going through. I’ve learned a lot since then and know way more now than I did then. Many of you who love someone with a mental health or Substance Use issue may be able to relate to this?

My letter was posted on her blog and the number of people that came back with responses that I needed to find a meeting just blew my mind. And honestly I just kind of blew it off.

Why did I need a meeting? I wasn’t the one who was sick!

But, as Billy progressed in his treatment, we also progressed in ours. We were told in our family sessions that we needed to find a meeting. We had decided that we were going to trust the “experts” this time so I started attending different Al Anon meetings to see if there was one that I felt was a good fit.

I tried probably 4-5 different meetings, and was never really comfortable. Then I found a small little Nar-Anon family meeting (all of 4 people attended).

It was life changing.

I finally felt I could talk and not be judged

I could cry and not be embarrassed. I still go to that meeting every Wednesday, and I have formed some lifelong friendships in that room.

When Billy had his first relapse in October of 2015, I found out while sitting in that meeting. When I knew in my heart that Billy was gone, April 13, 2016 I read to the group through tears about Anticipatory Grief. And afterwards I shared with two of my closest friends that I had the worst fear and sense of dread that something terrible had happened.

The group has come to represent a safe place to laugh, cry, share anger and frustration, as well as fear. I think there are times when I wonder why I still go, but on those days when I feel like maybe I don’t need to be there I will get a text thanking me. Or a long time member will be joined by their loved one who is sober.

We have had folks show up thinking they were in an NA meeting, and I think we ALL learn from each other and sharing the different sides of the recovery fence. We come together from all walks of life, but we come together. And in that room we are all the same.

This group has been such a source of strength and support for me

I finally understand why these types of meetings are so vital, regardless of where you are on your recovery journey. When Billy died, the Wednesday group got together and provided all of the flowers for the reception at his service. They called, texted, sent cards and came and visited. I think the community we feel is so significant, and I think this is why these meetings help anyone in recovery, not the 12 steps in and of themselves, but the community they offer. The people in that room hold you accountable, they also love you when you don’t do everything “right”.

If you are on this journey and haven’t found a group you love, please keep trying! And if you tried a meeting and it wasn’t right for you, try another.

When I started going to meetings I think there were maybe two Nar-Anon Family meetings in the area, and as I said there were 4 people those first several months. But our group has grown to about 20 consistent members.

There are also three other meetings in the Richmond, VA area that I know about. Experience, strength and hope. It’s what it is all about.
To Thine Own Self Be True.

Billy Derr’s Story

Published by

Jenny Derr

Jenny Derr is an active advocate for substance use disorder

9 thoughts on “Nar-anon saved my sanity”

  1. Thank you, Jenny, for this post.
    Naranon for Families has been a godsend to me – tho’ participation does not come easily, as I’ve always felt I was – still am – really, a private person.
    Please do not ever doubt the need for your presence in that little Wednesday night group whose circle grew & has continued to widen – offering love, hope, solace, and, many times, the sage advice of others – you, too ! – without judgement (said with no small sense of relief!) – to all of us on this hellish journey.
    Thank You for welcoming all equally with an open heart and spirit, & for letting me know with kindness that I am not alone.
    You have given back so much, Jenny.
    No stopping now.♡

    1. Love you Natalie, thank you for such kind words. I’d bet many in that room are “private”, but isn’t it so liberating to have a safe space? 💙

  2. Jenny – I so identify with your post. My solace has been in Al Anon, but I think that whatever support group folks find, the important thing is knowing we are not alone! I can’t imagine making it through my ex-husband’s mental health problems and my son’s substance abuse disorder without support from others who have been there. I also have learned so much by working on myself. Thank you for all you have done to share your story with others!

  3. Your reflections touch my heart and my mind. I share your feelings about finding the right fit Nar-Anon group…”This group has been such a source of strength and support for me.” For me, Nar-Anon has the affect of a reality check too. Meetings keep my perspective healthy and compassionate. I am truly thankful for the group that I bare my soul to. 💙 to Billy.

  4. Oh Sweet Jenny! This post brings me to tears! I heard about our group by opening up to a friend ( already in the group). She said (paraphrasing), “You’ve GOT to come. It will help you so much.” Almost two years later, I still attend. This group holds me accountable and absolutely loves me when I “goof”. This group is the true meaning of support and love : a family, if you will. I, too, have met people with whom I will be lifelong friends. We all have the same thing in common. Thank you, Jenny. I honestly don’t know where I would be without my family Nan-Anon group. The wonderful people in this group have helped me more than they will ever know.
    💙To thine own self be true.💙

  5. Thank you for such solid advice. There’s nothing like being with people in the same boat. I’m so sorry about Billy.

    1. It’s so true. I’ve experienced it myself and watched the transformation in so many other. The community these meetings represent is a lifeline. Thank you for reading and commenting.

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