Tonight I will go to my third Al-Anon meeting in as many nights. This is all completely new to me, and I’m gathering information as quickly as I can. What I’ve got right now is a handful of pamphlets and a head full of first impressions (and a much-welcome feeling of relief). I’m noding what I don’t know to help myself learn. I don’t rely on E2 for facts—we can all go to the official websites for that—but I do look to E2 for thoughtful descriptions, intelligent observations, and subjective, personal, first hand experiences and impressions. Please, anybody who has more experience or even a different take on this whole thing, add a writeup. I’m sure I’m not the only one who could use the information.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Statement of Purpose
"The Al-Anon Family Groups are a fellowship of relatives and friends of alcoholics who share their experience, strength, and hope, in order to solve their common problems. We believe alcoholism is a family illness, and that changed attitudes can aid recovery.
Al-Anon is not allied with any sect, denomination, political entity, organization, or institution; does not engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any cause. There are no dues for membership. Al-Anon is self-supporting through its own voluntary contributions.
Al-Anon has but one purpose: to help families of alcoholics. We do this by practicing the Twelve Steps, by welcoming and giving comfort to families of alcoholics, and by giving understanding and encouragement to the alcoholic." 1
Members of Al-Anon come from all walks of life. They are the husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, children, parents, lovers and friends of alcoholics. No matter what the relationship to the problem drinker, people in Al-Anon share a common bond: “we feel our lives have been deeply affected by another person’s drinking. We meet together to share our experience, strength, and hope." 2
As a friend or relative of an alcoholic attending an Al-Anon meeting, you will probably hear things that strike a chord. Even if you don’t find someone in the exact same set of circumstances, you will probably be able to identify with the ways in which the members have been affected by alcoholism. “We are all individuals striving to become the best people we can, each in our own way. That way is not the same for each of us, but there is help for everyone whose problem is alcoholism in others." 3
Nobody’s promising a cure, here. What they are promising is hope. As the first young woman I met put it, if the program doesn’t help, they will cheerfully refund your misery. (Need I point out that the last line is a joke?)
Whom you see here
What you hear here
When you leave here
LET IT STAY HERE
Anonymity is a big thing, here. Not secrecy, but confidentiality. The promise of anonymity fosters a sense of security, allows for free expression, and
- Protects the identity of all members
- Provides a safe place in which to share and grow
- Assures equality between new-comers and longtimers alike
- Safeguards against self-appointed spokespersons.4
The first meeting I went to was very small; I’m in a university town that just had the snowstorm of the decade. The three other people at the meeting walked to get there. The second meeting had ten people. Both are usually larger than that, but the road conditions are making travel difficult.
In both meetings, they passed around a copy of the twelve steps, and we read them aloud. In the first meeting, we then read a detailed description of Step Two ("Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity" ), each person reading a paragraph and then commenting on how it applied to them. In the second meeting it was Step Eleven ("Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out") that we read and discussed. I chose to read, but not comment—I had been told it was perfectly okay if I wanted to pass and not read, too. The prevailing attitude was accepting, empathetic, and (I found) very comforting. No one is forced to do anything or believe anything. They say “Take what you like and leave the rest.” 5
Spirituality (and what Al-Anon is NOT)
“Al-Anon / Alateen is a spiritual fellowship, not a religious one. Members of any faith, or none at all, are welcome and we make it a point to avoid discussion of specific religious beliefs. The Al-Anon program is based on the spiritual idea that we can depend on a ‘Power greater than ourselves’ for help in solving our problems and achieving peace of mind. We are free to define that power in our own terms and in our own way.”6
”Al-Anon is NOT a religious organization or a counseling agency. It is not a treatment center nor is it allied with any other organization offering such services. Al-Anon Family Groups, which includes Alateen for teenage members, neither express opinions on outside issues nor endorse outside enterprises. No dues or fees are required. Membership is voluntary, requiring only that one’s own life has been adversely affected by someone else’s drinking problem. “7
Of course, acknowledgement of and dependence on a Higher Power, however you conceive it, is featured prominently in the steps and in the program. Courage to Change, a book of daily readings, contains the following comment:
"Many of us need time to come to terms with the spiritual nature of the Al-Anon program. If we were required to believe in a Higher Power in order to participate in Al-Anon, we might never have continued to attend meetings. Eventually, many of us do come to believe in a Higher Power because we are free to come to our own understanding in our own time. That way, whatever we learn will have meaning for us.
When we take what we like and leave the rest, we give ourselves permission to challenge new ideas, to make decisions for ourselves, and even to change our minds." 8
To my great surprise, the vast majority of what was being shared at the meeting was not about the alcoholic(s) in the lives of those who spoke, but their own thoughts and feelings:
”When we first come to Al-Anon Family Groups, full of hurt, frustration and anger, we may see the alcoholic as the immediate source of our pain. Our impulse may be to focus our discussion on that person. We may also be so unaccustomed to looking at ourselves that we tend to talk about everything but ourselves. In Al-Anon we come to realize that much of our discomfort comes from our attitudes. We work to change these attitudes, and to learn about our responsibility to ourselves. This helps us discover feelings of self-worth and furthers our spiritual growth. The emphasis is lifted from the alcoholic and placed where it is appropriate—on ourselves. When we tell our story, therefore, it is not the alcoholic’s story, it is the story of our recovery.”9
What I was told, and what made sense to me (but I hadn't really thought about it in this way before) was that I was suffering from the effects of the disease of alcoholism. I don't have the disease, but living with someone who does certainly exposes me to it, and my reactions, over time, become unhealthy.
Part of the welcome that is read at the beginning of the meeting states,
". . . living with an alcoholic is too much for most of us. Our thinking becomes distorted by trying to force solutions and we become irritable and unreasonable without knowing it..."10
(Oh, yeah, I was in the right place.)
“At our group meetings, we share our experience, strength, and hope with one another, keeping the focus on ourselves and the Al-Anon tools of recovery. Personal recovery through spiritual growth and the common welfare of the group are of prime importance. By concentrating on our feelings and attitudes toward our situation—rather than on the details of the situation—we contribute to the group’s unity and our recovery. We talk about how the disease of alcoholism has affected our thinking and our behavior. We talk about the part we played in our problems and how we change our attitudes and actions by applying the Al-Anon program to our lives. We may find that basing our group discussion on a Step, Tradition, Concept, a slogan, or various other program tools helps to improve our understanding of the program, foster growth, and bring serenity.”11
"While we may have been driven to Al-Anon by the behavior of an alcoholic friend, spouse or child, a brother, sister, or parent, we soon come to know that our own thinking has to change before we can make a new and successful approach to the problem of living. It is in Al-Anon that we learn to deal with our obsession, our anxiety, our anger, our denial, and our feelings of guilt, It is through the fellowship that we ease our emotional burdens by sharing our experience, strength, and hope with others." 12
The Al-Anon program seeks to teach individuals that they are not responsible for another person's disease or their recovery from it. Members learn to separate themselves from the adverse effects that someone else's alcoholism can have on their lives. They (hopefully) learn to lead happier and more manageable lives. They (we) learn:
- Not to suffer because of the actions or reactions of other people;
- Not to allow ourselves to be used or abused by others in the interest of another's recovery;
- Not to do for others what they could do for themselves;
- Not to manipulate situations so others will eat, go to bed, get up, pay bills, not drink;
- Not to cover up for anyone's mistakes or misdeeds;
- Not to create a crisis;
- Not to prevent a crisis if it is in the natural course of events.13
Although Al-Anon Family Groups are a separate organization from Alcoholics Anonymous, the two groups do work together at times, and the programs are similar. Like members of AA, participants in Al-Anon Family Groups also follow the twelve steps, and each person has a sponsor. The only difference in the twelve steps of Al-Anon is the wording of step twelve ("Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs." ); the Al-Anon version says "carry this message to others" rather than "to alcoholics."
Al-Anon meetings last about an hour; they can be open to the general public, or closed—accessible only to those who live, or have lived, with the problem of alcoholism. The meetings can be focused on a particular Step or on one of the Twelve Traditions or Concepts. There are also speaker meetings, where one person tells his or her story.
”The Steps help us learn how to love ourselves, trust our Higher Power and being to heal our relationships with others. The Traditions show us how to build healthy relationships within our groups, among our friends and in our families. The Concepts help us extend all that we learn to the world at large—our families, jobs, organizations and communities. Through study of these three legacies, we learn not only is our personal recovery through the Steps essential, but also, without the unity as expressed in the Traditions and the service work described in the Concepts, Al-Anon would not survive. By practicing all of these principles, we continue to grow in recovery. In order to keep our recovery, we learn we have to apply it to our lives and pass it on to others.14
I’m willing to give it a try.
1 from the Al-Anon/Alateen Service Manual (P-24/27), © 1992, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc.
2 Information for the Newcomer © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1980, 1992.
4Anonymity, © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1991.
5 Information for the Newcomer © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1980, 1992.
7Detachment, adapted from Al-Anon Speaks Out, a newsletter for professionals. Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 1979.
8 Courage to Change, One Day at a Time in Al-Anon II, © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1992, ISBN # 0-910034-84-2, page 117.
9 Al-Anon Spoken Here, © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1984.
10 This is Al-Anon© Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1967 (Wow! The year I was born!), revised 1981.
11 Al-Anon Spoken Here, © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1984.
12 Understanding Ourselves and Alcoholism, © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1979.
13Detachment, © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1979.
14 Paths to Recovery: Al-Anon’s Steps, Traditions, and Concepts © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1997.
See also http://spiderangel.www.50megs.com/moreaboutalanon.html
Al-Anon/Alateen may be listed in your telephone directory, or for meeting information you may call (U.S. and Canada): 1-888-4-Al-Anon (888-425-2666); For information and catalog of literature, write: Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1600 Corporate Landing Parkway Virginia Beach, Va. 23454-5617. Phone: (757) 563-1600 Fax: (757) 563-1655 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org