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A Deeper Sense of Comfort

I never thought I had something to say about diversity from a “minority” viewpoint, and I'm still a bit dubious but my sponsor told me to talk about my experience and so I'm doing it.

I belong to the profile of Al-Anon member that in our district is the norm: white, female and around 58 years old. So what do I have to bring that is different? I grew up in another country and with a different language. I grew up in post-war Germany and immigrated to the US in my mid-twenties. German is my mother tongue, the sound with which I made first connections, associations and created certain beliefs about myself, many unhealthy.

I had some experience of doing healing work in German in the past when I visited back home for months on end. I knew that speaking about my story in my original language touched a part of me that I could not access in the same way speaking English. I wanted to see whether reading Al-Anon literature in German had a similar effect.

I acquired the German version of “How Al-Anon works” and started at the beginning of the book, the preamble. Right there was my first treasure. Where it reads: “We do this by practicing the Twelve Steps, by welcoming and giving comfort to families ……” The word for comfort chosen in the German version is trösten. But trösten is quite distinct from comfort. Whereas comfort can be both emotional as well as physical, trösten refers only to emotional comfort. It describes a very sweet connection between one person being there for another …… and it is something I never experienced as a child.

I experienced plenty of physical comfort: a roof over my head, enough food, even a predictable schedule. But what was also predictable was that my father was frequently withdrawn and angry and that my mother, a co-dependent par excellence and an extreme trauma survivor, was always worried. She had no emotional comfort to give.The only way I have come to know trösten has been through therapy earlier in my life and by hearing comforting things in meetings and from my sponsor. To come across this word in our preamble touched me deeply. We provide this sweet connection for one another. That doesn't mean that we may not also reach out and help through physical comfort, but the primary focus is our emotional equanimity that leads to serenity. So often I have heard that Al-Anon is a gentle program; now I know it on a deeper level.

As I have continued reading my German and English versions of Al-Anon literature, I have come across many more instances of having an “aha” experience, a deeper insight, a more expansive awakening. English is a pragmatic language, whereas German is a romantic one. It is much richer in describing the emotional and spiritual worlds of human experience.

Every language has its unique strengths. If English is your second language or if you have a sponsee for whom that is true, I highly recommend, based on my experience, reading our recovery literature in your original language or encouraging those around you to do so. We'll all be richer for it -- and perhaps that is why my sponsor urged me to talk. Thank God for her and the program.

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