One of the things I love about Al-Anon in our region is that during the holidays many of the groups have “gifts of the program” meetings. They put up pine branches and candles and bake ziti and cookies and pass out little “gifts.” I’ve been going to one particular Gifts of the Program meeting since 1999. That year they gave out paper bookmarks, and mine said, “Joy.”

It was the year my mother died, and I kept waiting to feel joy. And the times I did were few and far between.

I’ve learned in my program of recovery from addiction that I get what I give. I sat in the meeting the other night thinking that I probably didn’t feel much joy because I wasn’t giving much out. It had no chance to come back to me.

This year it was bookmarks again—beaded ones on string. And mine said, “Tact.”

Frankly, at first I was disappointed to draw “tact” as a gift. Much more hopeful to get “peace” or “serenity” or “self-care,” or even “sponsorship” or “forgiveness.” These are all gifts I’ve drawn in the past.

The more I sat with the gift, the more I liked it.

Tact is the gift of being able to handle difficult or delicate situations with sensitivity.

The root of the word is the Latin tactus, “a sense of touch,” from tangere, “to touch.”

Tactile. Contact.

I grew up in a household that was sadly devoid of tact, except for my father’s ability to smooth over conflicts and stop verbal sparring without screaming himself. Part of the way he did this was through touch. Dad had huge hands, with the square nails of a scientist. But though they were large, they weren’t heavy; sensitively boned, tough and capable of work but free of meanness or brutality. As far as I know, Dad was never in a fight. I never saw him punch anyone; he whipped me and my brother a few times, but it was mostly my mother who used her hands (and other tools) against our bodies.

Dad didn’t need to do that to teach us. He had tact.


I haven’t been writing as much on this blog in recent months because my life is undergoing enormous changes. I’m coming to the end of my third year of sobriety. It feels almost as though the ground is shifting underneath my feet; as though vast weather-systems are moving through, washing out the land and changing the very terrain. I appreciate your patience with me.

I’ve been able to stay sober. Sometimes, just barely. Other times, I feel solidly sober, unable to be knocked off my sober boots (thanks to my friend Heather for the allusion) by any amount of wind or seismic shocks.

I’m grateful to be sober.

I’m terribly lonely, though.

It’s hard for me to call people, even my sponsor, because I want to look like a good girl. I don’t like leaning on folks. I don’t like showing weakness. I’m afraid that showing weakness will lead me to indulge in self-pity, and I can’t afford that indulgence.

I go whole days without touching another person.

I sat in the meeting thinking, What I really want is to be touched.

So instead of waiting for Tact to come to me, the way I waited for Joy 13 years ago, I’m going to have to engage in the difficult practice of giving contact, giving human touch. And maybe some of that will come back to me—if I keep myself open to it.