Spencer, Swetha, and Kelli talk about their experience with Al-Anon, attempting to address the question “What is Al-Anon?” We start by talking about what brought us to the program. Swetha’s boyfriend suggested the program to her, but she didn’t think at first that she qualified. Kelli’s boyfriend’s sponsor told her that if she was going to stay in that relationship she needed to go to Al-Anon. Spencer came into Al-Anon when he realized that his attempts to fix his loved one’s “drinking problem” were making him miserable. He was desperate and figured it might help.
The Al-Anon preamble states “we believe that alcoholism is a family illness.” We talk about our understanding of this concept. Kelli relates that she can now see the effects of her great-grandfather’s alcoholism on her father, and feels that she learned her co-dependent behavior from him. We develop “coping mechanisms” from dealing with the chaos of active drinking, and we pick up behaviors from the alcoholic as well. Swetha broadens the definition to include friends, because she definitely was affected by alcoholic friends.
We talk some about the relationship between Al-Anon and AA and the differences. The 12 steps are almost identical between the two programs, with only one word in Step 12 being different. Spencer’s sponsor has said that he believes that all AA members are automatically qualified for Al-Anon, because they almost always have relatives or friends who are alcoholics. AA members are welcome in Al-Anon as long as they keep the focus on the problems they have around relationships with alcoholics and addicts, rather than on their own addiction. Kelli and Spencer share some of the experience they have had as a sponsor to Al-Anon members who are also in AA. Kelli feels that it’s important for people to have a sponsor in each of their programs.
Coming to Al-Anon helped us to recover from these effects. Before Spencer came to Al-Anon, he was in denial about his loved one’s alcoholism. Learning more about the disease helped him to break through that denial. A listener wrote to us, “I joke that Al-Anon doesn’t change anything in my life, except the amount of sleep I get.” She concludes “ I use the program to be a better version of myself, to myself, and in my other relationships.” Kelli has learned in Al-Anon that most situations are not just black and white, which she says “freeing and also terrifying.” Swetha used what she has learned in Al-Anon to make it through some devastating news she received this week, and to continue to function and to continue to live without collapsing. At the beginning, Spencer learned how to stop obsessing over his loved one’s actions, and to start to find himself again, to start living his own life again, and to stop being the rageful person he had become.
Another listener email reminds Kelli that a great thing she learned in the program is that it is OK to ask for help. She used to feel that she had to fix her problems herself, partly from a feeling that nobody would understand. Also feeling that if she couldn’t handle it herself, that meant there was something wrong with her, that she was just weak. In meetings we often have the experience of hearing someone else talk about exactly what is going on in our own heads, sometimes illuminating things that we hadn’t see about ourselves. The honest sharing in our groups lets us know that we are not alone, and that we are not weird. To know that we are only human just like the others in the room. Swetha adds that hearing “her story” from 3 different people gives her 3 different perspectives on herself.
What would we say to someone who is thinking about Al-Anon, but is hesitant, who maybe doesn’t think they qualify, who isn’t sure why they would want to go? Kelli suggests that you should “just go” and give it a try. At the worst, you waste a few hours. And at the best, you find a better way of living, happiness, and serenity. Many people feel that they don’t necessarily belong in Al-Anon, because they can’t identify alcoholism in their family. But they keep coming because they find relief, because they identify with what others are saying. If you identify with some of what we say in our podcast, or in a meeting you attended, then you probably do qualify, and you do belong. “Just do it!”
Our topic next week will be enabling. Please share your experience or questions about enabling with us by voice mail at (734)707-8795, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.