What is Al-Anon Like?

I decided to start a short series on groups and organizations that help individuals with a myriad of problems such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Abuse Shelters, etc. I also decided it would mean more coming from those who have utilized the services of these organizations. When someone has a substance abuse issue, loves someone who does or is involved in domestic violence, seeking assistance for the first time can be confusing and intimidating. Taking that first step is often scary.

I’ve recommended the services of many of these over the years. Sometimes people took my advice. Sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes they found help on their own. Sometimes they spiraled further out of control. I know that many of them who sought assistance either through recommended services or on their own, found them to be very helpful.

I’ve had people call me from out of the blue years later to thank me for something I did to help them. They were working their 12 steps. It’s amazing and wonderful to get a call like that. Often these calls would come when I was just about ready to throw in the towel and figure out a different line of work. So somebody (I like to think God) was working on both of us at the time. I am so thankful I’ve been given the opportunity over the years to assist people. And even more thankful that some have been helped and with a lot of hard work have turned their lives around for the better.

For our first post of the series, I want to introduce you to Christina Stachura. Chris is someone I met on facebook. Then followed to her blog, Recovery Along Route 66. She writes about her journey and about knitting. You see, Chris has loved ones that have or have had substance abuse issues. And those issues have affected her life as well as their own.

When a loved one has a problem, we tend to want to help them. We want to ease their burdens and take on some or all of that responsibility. But that doesn’t really help them. It definitely doesn’t help the loved ones affected. It wears them out. At times it can get so bad it can break the spirit of those trying to help. Those who have substance abuse issues and aren’t really trying to get help for themselves can take an emotional and financial toll on the friends and families that love them. Some of them learn to become great manipulators. And while I agree they need help, I don’t agree that someone should ruin their own life in the process of trying to assist more than the other person is trying to participate in their own recovery. Sometimes we have to learn to say “no” regardless of how much that rips at our hearts.

Al-Anon is a support system for those who have been affected by a loved one’s drinking. There’s also a branch called Alateen for teens who need the same type of assistance. The Al-Anon website has a lot of helpful information, including what a first meeting is like, what to expect at meetings, a link to find local meetings in your area (U.S., Canada, Bermuda & Puerto Rico) , and even a questionnaire to help you determine if you need assistance.

And since I’ve talked enough, I’m turning this post over to Chris.

A lot of people remember the exact date of their first Al-Anon meeting, so they have an anniversary to look back and see how far they have come. I don’t. My first meeting is pretty much a blur for me. They began with the Serenity prayer and closed with the Our Father. I was familiar with both prayers, the Serenity because my of my sister.  I must have heard and seen something else I liked, because I went back again, and again after that.

I continued to attend Al-Anon, and the whole time I was there I talked about the alcoholics in my life. I talked about my father, who raised me and died in 2000, but still negatively affects how I think about myself; and my sister, who drinks yet today. I really believed the whole purpose of this particular 12-step program was to help me “fix” my sister and get over my dad. THEN my life would be absolutely perfect.

Right.

The wonderful thing is, though, the thing I will carry in my heart and never forget – nobody told me I was doing it wrong. Nobody corrected me, or said “Would you quit your whining already and get on with it? We’re tired of all this complaining!” I’m not sure what I would’ve done if they had. I don’t know if I would’ve come back, I was so skittish (still get a little scared when it’s my turn to share).

All anyone did was smile, hug me, and say “Keep coming back!” I always remember this whenever I see a newcomer come into the meeting, and I share my experience, strength and hope. I remember it when I hear someone seeming to take forever, seeming to be stuck thinking the “wrong way” about what they are there for. I smile and just shut up. Because it’s such a personal journey, and IT TAKES WHAT IT TAKES. And it takes as long as it takes.

I’m not where I want to be, but I’m not where I used to be, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without God and Al-Anon. The program has given me a sense of peace I’ve never known before. With my sponsor’s help I’ve learned that “No” is a complete sentence. I’ve learned that taking care of myself first is practical and may seem selfish, but always necessary.

What does “taking care of myself first” look like for me? It means getting enough sleep and taking my meds for bipolar disorder and vitamin D deficiency. It means if my sister calls in a panic it doesn’t have to send ME into a panic. If my sister relapses I don’t have to fall apart and rush over to rescue her. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. On the contrary, I care very much. I just know that the best thing I can do for my sister is pray, work my program, and let her work hers.

Taking care of myself first means saying the serenity prayer a LOT if I need to. Sometimes I say it all day. It gets me through fearful times, and they are mostly about me and relationships in my life. Once I realized Al-Anon wasn’t about my sister or my dad, but was about me and getting myself healthy, things changed dramatically for me.

It didn’t happen overnight, and I still make mistakes. A lifetime of codependency doesn’t change over a couple of months of insight. I wish that were the case! Even though I’d been attending Al-Anon faithfully for at least a year and a half, it didn’t become MY program and about my issues, until I started my 4th step inventory on January 2nd of this year. I’m going through Al-Anon’s Blueprint for Progress with a small group of women, and it’s a real eye opener.

I go to a lot of Al-Anon meetings, and I now also attend another 12-step program, OA, because I’ve come to accept that I’m a sugar addict and I’m powerless over sugar in my life. I’m forever grateful to Al-Anon, and Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob for starting Alcoholics Anonymous in the first place. Without them, I never would have had the courage to face my own addiction.

Millions of people are affected by the excessive drinking of someone close. Only you can decide if you need Al-Anon. I hope something I have said here touched or helped you in some way. If it did, it was all my higher power’s doing, trust me on that!

Thank you so much for being here today, Chris. I really appreciate you telling your story to help others. And thanks for being the first among these posts my brave friend.

Chris has a great post on her blog from yesterday about Al-Anon, obedience to a higher power, and how it is inclusive regardless of religion.

Twelve-step programs are spiritual, rather than religious. In fact, the traditions and concepts specifically point that out, that we do not promote nor discriminate against any religion, denomination, etc. It is not only my opinion that many people in Al-Anon would be scared off and not come if they were forced to believe in the God I believe in (for I choose to call my higher power God).

Some people choose to the other tables, nature, or the Big Book of Al-Anon or Alcoholics Anonymous as their higher power. All of this is fine and good, and no one would dare to dispute them, for who can say what works for another human being? Some individuals have been the targets of religious abuse before they enter the doors of a 12-step program. The last thing they need is someone telling them what to believe in.

Check out the whole blog post. It’s worth the time.

Chris has generously offered to answer any questions you have about Al-Anon. So feel free to ask away. What about you? Have you ever been to an Al-Anon meeting or thought about it?

About Rhonda Hopkins

Rhonda Hopkins writes both fiction and non-fiction. She uses the knowledge and expertise obtained in nearly 20 years of conducting investigations for the State and for Family Courts to bring realism to her novels. And, she wants to share what she’s learned through the years with those who may need the help while in the midst of custody litigation. Of course, she also wants to talk about her other passion, writing.
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26 Responses to What is Al-Anon Like?

  1. This is a lovely post that has the ability to help many people, whether they have an addiction problem or someone they know does. It’s always easy to forward this link to others.
    Thank you for the insight into your life, Chris.
    Patti

  2. I am on the other side — in the AA rooms and, from my (4 years in recovery) perspective, your message resonates. It’s an insidious disease and I’m blessed that I found my path out it. Who knew life could be so joyous, happy and free? I certainly didn’t.

    There are so many misconceptions about AA–clearly not helped with some of the depictions in movies and on television. In my home group, we’re not a solemn, somber, woe-is-me bunch. It’s a group celebrating recovery and the serenity we gain when we “keep coming back.” No one truly understands an alcoholic like a fellow alcoholic. And, no one could “cure” me until I was ready to take the leap and trust both the process and my sponsor.

    I have co-dependent tendencies, think all problems are mine to solve, all moods are of my own making. Four years ago, my counselor would have howled at my use of the word “tendencies” in place of “obsessions.”

    For those who suffer because of alcoholics, we make our own choices one day at a time. No one ever gets to say they’re a recoverED alcoholic. We own our own moods and choices. I own mine. It will be no one’s fault but my own should I ever(God forbid) step over that insidious line.

    And, like you mentioned in the text of your article, it’s the newcomers who keep us strong. We’re reminded of what it was like in the beginning and how far we’ve come.

    • Gloria, thank you so much for sharing your experience! I am so happy you are living a “joyous, happy and free” life now. What you said about misconceptions is one reason I decided to do this series with people who have been there. I want people to know what the meetings are really like and how they help. I’ll be hosting another soon regarding AA. I hope you’ll come back then to share more of your thoughts. Isn’t Chris awesome for stepping up to the plate?

    • Wow, what a great message, Gloria! Thank you for reading and commenting. You’re right. Alcoholism is an insidious DISEASE, and it took me so long in my own recovery in codependency to understand that. My father (with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other) would shout at my sister that she had to get her crap together, that it was a matter of willpower.
      I grew up believing this! It is a monumental feat to get past belief systems you have grown up with and have been drummed (and beaten) into you all your life.
      But nothing helped like listening to open talks of other alcoholics. Hearing the powerlessness of the disease . . . hearing them share their OWN experience, strength, and hope with me made all the difference.
      Yeah. Recovery is hard work, but there is a lot of laughter and joy at the tables. I love that about it.
      Thanks SO MUCH for sharing!!

  3. Thanks to Rhonda for this great series, and especially to Chris for sharing your story. You are certainly right that you can never really know when you are getting through to someone. They might not feel the impact of your words for years, and maybe not at all. But some will, and that makes it worth it.

    I watched my Uncle die with a distended belly and yellow skin from a (short) lifetime of alcohol abuse. We knew he would never get that transplant, but he held on to hope until the end. Oddly, it was his example that played a large part in keeping me from becoming an addict. I saw where that path would lead, and turned another direction.

    I wish that I, or someone had been able to reach him, but ultimately he succumbed to his sickness. I remember him for the loving, generous person that he always was, even through his addiction, and am grateful to him every day.

    So please keep sharing your stories. You might never know who you reach, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t helping them.
    Yours,
    Greg

    • Greg,
      Thanks so much for sharing your story, and it must have been so hard to watch your Uncle suffer and eventually succumb to alcoholism. I don’t think it’s odd at all that that kept you from becoming an addict.
      I could have become addicted to alcohol, just as my sister did. We both have addictive personalities. It’s wonderful you could see past the disease and through to the good in him. My sister is a talented sculptor and painter, very gentle and funny.
      Thank you for reading, and again for sharing your story. You touched ME today!

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Greg. It’s hard to watch someone in that situation. My grandfather was the most generous and wonderful man/grandfather anyone could ask to meet. But he had an alcohol problem most of his life. When drinking the hard stuff he would do things he never would have done any other time. I’m sure he’s the reason I never became an addict as well because I’m fairly certain I have some addictive qualities. I too try to remember all the positives about him now.

  4. Really valuable and intelligent post, Rhonda. I don’t want to discuss my family history here, but as you say in your post, most of us are affected by alcohol abuse on some level.

  5. Catie Rhodes says:

    Rhonda, thanks to both you Christina (and Gloria, too) for sharing your stories. Very uplifting. What I want to say is this: if someone this and needing help, do try AA or one of their many programs–if for no other reason than they are widely accessible. Don’t write it off before trying it. If one meeting does not appeal, try another one. Each group has their own dynamic. And if the program itself does not resonate, keep trying. There are other recovery/support programs out there. Don’t give up hope.

  6. CC MacKenzie says:

    This is a fantastic series, Rhonda.

    And well done, Christina. My biological father was an alcoholic (I’ve never met him) and his behaviour destroyed the self esteem of my mother who still struggles today with the violence of the past. It’s the black dog that sits on her shoulder whispering in her ear.

    Thank goodness for support groups like Al-Anon who help family members directly and indirectly affected by addiction to find a path through the darkness into the light.

  7. Rhonda, what a beautiful post. Al-Anon saved my husband’s life – I’d have killed the SOB without al-anon. his drinking nearly drove me over the edge. long story and too boring to tell here, but suffice it to say I think this series is a great idea. well done.

    • Thank you so much, Louise. I’m so sorry you had to go through that. But am glad to know that Al-Anon worked for you. I really hope this series will assist people in deciding to get the help they need.

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