When I worked in alcohol and drug counseling, I took a client to an AA meeting once.
He had been to a few already, but had not been able to “share”, to open up and talk.
He wanted to, he said, but…
On the way, he told me about a long-standing problem, “social anxiety disorder” in
counselor-speak: never feeling accepted, always feeling judged. At those meetings, he
even had small anxiety attacks, he said, in that quiet, empty space between the time when
someone "shared" and someone else responded.
Not so unusual, I told him. Everybody feels that way to a certain extent. But, I pointed out,
that empty space is usually filled pretty quickly—someone always says something, right ?
And when a response comes, isn't it usually positive and encouraging?
He agreed, and seemed to relax a little; I smiled, inwardly satisfied at my ability to soothe,
and offer comfort to this man.
We were a few minutes late and after making our “excuse me's”, I found a place around the
table where he and I could sit together; I was a counselor, a comforter, I was there for his
support, and I was at his side.
One person spoke, or “shared”, then two or three…it seemed he was becoming ever more
certain of his acceptance here. It wasn’t long before he looked at me as if to say: "Yes ? Now?"
But I was a counselor, an assessor of people and of situations, a certain finesse was
necessary here. He wasn't really asking me. He was telling me: I'm ready—and thank you—
but I can solo now.
I smiled, and gave his hand a warm and reassuring squeeze.
His chair scraped the floor and his voice cracked a little as he gave the traditional “Hi, my name is…”
opening. I felt a special warmth, a sort of glow which only comes from having helped a fellow
At least, I did…until the group heartily returned the salutation with:
"Hi Gene !"
and a shriek of uncontrolled laughter split the air.
Apparently, I'm the only one who thought that was funny.
On the way back to the office, I must have apologized to Gene a thousand times.