Once, when I worked in alcohol and drug counseling, I took a client to an AA meeting. Gene had been to a few already, but he wasn't able to “share”, to open up and talk. He wanted to, he said, but…
On the way there, 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, 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 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 Gene comfort.
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 more certain of his acceptance here. It wasn’t long before Gene looked at me as if to say, should I? Am I ready?
But I was a counselor, an assessor of people and 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 voice cracked a little as he gave the traditional “Hi, my name is…” opening. I felt a sort of glow which only comes from having helped a fellow human being.
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 was the only one who thought that was funny.
I must have apologized to Gene a thousand times.