Bearing witness to the pain and suffering of ‘those who still suffer’

In my home group some that chair that meeting preface the prompt to join in the first part of the Serenity Prayer with ‘for those that still suffer inside and outside of these rooms’. It is rarely lost on me how much suffering I see. Relapse. Multiple or serial relapse. Pending divorce. Divorce. Being fired. A dire diagnosis. A terminal diagnosis. Death. Suicide. Conviction. Jail. Prison. I was not prepared for the daily suffering that I began to see. I felt ‘compassion overload’.

Combined with my own forms of suffering I felt, and sometimes still do, helpless to help. I strive to hold space, if you will for those I see suffering. I resist the urge to share comforting words too quickly. I try to hold eye contact and to pause before I speak. When I speak it is often ‘I’m so sorry this is happening to you’. I don’t rush to share my own similar experience. I just try to be with and wait for the intuition to share. Part of this comes from sincere, yet harmful ways people tried to comfort me when my daughter was dying and after she died. ‘At least she is no longer in pain. I can’t imagine. It gets better. And even for friends that accept my agnosticism … she’s in a better place’ all in some fashion created more pain.

It was those that just sat with me after a meeting or at a coffee shop often without saying anything beyond ‘I’m so, so sorry. I love you.’ letting me cry and wipe my tears without pushing tissues at me that were so very helpful and comforting. Writing poems like these helps me be with suffering of others with presence, love, and compassion.


Another empty bottle
Another lost soul
Dreams grown smaller
With each passing day
And we watched
And we cried


My heart cries
Watching you
Suffering there
High in your castle keep
Alone with your pain
Hurting hurting
Unable to let go
Of a past too
Hard to bear
And a future
You can only dread
Never seeing all
Of the beauty
Right there
Within your reach


As I listened and as I watched
Tears flowing across your wet cheeks
I saw the true meaning of life
Joy and sorrow reflected in each tear
As hope grew from despair

About the Author

Robert B is sober alcoholic in Madison, WI participating in AA and AlAnon at Fitchburg Serenity Club. He has been sober since April 21, 2007. He also began writing and sharing poetry on Facebook during his first year sober as part of his recovery from alcohol dependency, acute anxiety and chronic depression. He has found that creativity expressed primarily through writing poetry and playing various stringed instruments helped him heal and thrive.

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  1. John Fisher January 7, 2019 at 12:22 pm - Reply

    I am 85 years old and have been a member of AA since May first 1970!   (48 years)  AA gave me a an organized and systematic approach to sobriety!  I used the steps that seemed rational and enjoyed the group support!  I am a disabled veteran and fully realize that death is in the natural order of things.  Dying young is not?  At the end of my first AA meeting, they all held hands and said the lords prayer!  I assumed that this might be just another religious organization and considered  not to return.  Fortunatly for me, I did continue and just used the steps with an agnostic spin.  I donot say the lords prayer at the end of meetings and I let others know that the program can work for them even if they are like me!  Death comes to all of us and is not something to be feared.  Acceptance is the answer with gratitude for any sobriety zchieved!

  2. life-j January 6, 2019 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    Robert, thank you. Sorry about your daughter. Parents shouldn’t have to bury their kids, and my 87 year old mother is facing that scenario, burdened by guilt she has a hard time looking at. As someone who is supposedly dying sometime soon, I can relate to your account of the well-meaning insensitivity of other people, or is it just that they don’t know, because we don’t feel comfortable sharing it, that we aren’t believers. I often get this “I’ll pray for you” stuff, which, all I can say is thank you, I guess, what else can I say, unless it is someone who knows of my apatheism, but decides to get in there with their god anyway, then occasionally I’ll tell them off.

    I’m basically ok with dying, but I am aware I will have to deal with even more well intentioned religious shit as my dying draws nearer, and people will try to get me saved. Maybe I’ll have to hang a sign on the front door that says “Keep your god stuff to yourself”. Well, at least my close friends know, and are able to just sit with me and will be able to give quiet, humble comfort if needed. But it is going to be my wife and daughter who will have to deal with all the ‘better place’ BS. Seems another name for religiosity is arrogance and insensitivity.

    Even my oncologist, who is a Buddhist and came from china, and a really likable guy I must add, one day got started on something about afterlife, and puzzled that I didn’t profess any belief system, and I kept it low key, but really wanted to tell him “you’re in a Christian country, so you’re supposedly going to hell for not being a Christian because you were born in the wrong country, what’s so great about going to hell?”

    “Ok, so you don’t believe in hell, but you believe in a bunch of other stuff. Me I just neither believe in hell nor whatever you believe, what’s so odd about that?” “Why do we have to have a belief?” But people don’t get it, even a nice Buddhist.

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