jennifer d's blog Part 1

The Al-Anon Perspective

By Jennifer D

Seven years ago, my elder son, then 2 years in recovery, asked me to "chair" a joint AA/NA meeting in a rehab center. I am not an alcoholic, was never addicted to drugs, and wondered if my leading a meeting was appropriate. He said my 24 years in Al-Anon made my message relevant. I took his word for it, and it was a great meeting, for me, and apparently for many others.

Al-Anon is also a 12 Step recovery program. When Bill W. and Dr. Bob founded AA in 1935, its members were all men; (in those days, women could not possibly be alcoholics or addicts!) As the men found recovery in AA, their wives were having trouble adjusting The wives wondered if they themselves might be part of the problem.

By 1939 Bill’s wife, Lois W., was conducting regular discussion groups during the men’s meetings. The women started working the 12 Steps themselves. As AA grew nationwide, so did Al-Anon. In 1955 it was officially incorporated. Alcoholism and addiction affect spouses, children, extended family members, co-workers and friends. The stated purpose of Al-Anon is to help the families and friends of alcoholics. In current practice, that extends to people affected by any type of addiction.

My husband used to come home from AA meetings with Al-Anon jokes, like “Do you know the Al-Anon handshake?” He would point his index finger at me and shake it as you might to a bratty child. He said about my meetings, “It’s good that ‘you people’ have a place to get together and talk bad about us!” Comments like those revealed serious misconceptions about Al-Anon.

The truth is that we talk very little about what other people do or say. Instead, we share our own fears and hopes, our failures and successes. We read from our Al-Anon approved literature, and remind each other that we are not alone, that there are tools to help keep us healthy and to achieve serenity in our lives. Al-Anon is not about discussing alcoholics or addicts.  It is all about keeping the focus on ourselves, learning how to change ourselves to improve our lives.  

Members of other 12-Step groups are very welcome in Al-Anon meetings. Many alcoholics and addicts grew up in alcoholic homes, or have addicted siblings or children or friends. We have much in common.

I came to my 12-Step program kicking and protesting, pushed by a friend recently in recovery who said she could no longer be around me until I got help. She got my promise to attend meetings for 30 days. I hated those first weeks, thought the people were all crazy, that it was a cult! After a month, I found myself crying through meetings. Then came the personal revelations, one after another. Fortunately, I did keep the promise to my friend, and kept going back. I realized that I wanted to be restored to sanity.

I mustered the nerve to ask a seasoned member to be my sponsor. It is suggested that we choose sponsors of the same sex, but this man was perfect for me; I sometimes describe him as brutal. In my first program year, I diligently worked all 12 Steps. I made the Al-Anon principles part of me, and tried to practice them in my daily affairs. The interpersonal dynamic with my husband changed. I stopped playing the whining guilt-trip game, so he no longer had a sparring partner, an adversary. He wasn't sure how to act around me any more. He decided to check in to a rehabilitation center!  

Just as with AA, NA and the rest, there are no Al-Anon graduates! We are all, always, in recovery. Our programs are about progress, not perfection. Now, when I make  mistakes, I’m better at realizing I’m wrong, and then trying to admit it promptly. I remind myself daily that I not only have to live and let live, but I have a responsibility to find the courage to change the things I can. Sometimes the difference between a hardship and a blessing is nothing more than my own attitude.

Now, with 31 years in the program, I have found that as I change, and as my life changes, I still benefit from weekly meetings, and I need to keep working the steps from time to time. I believe I am a far better person for having found Al-Anon. So long as I maintain an "attitude of gratitude," my days are fulfilling and my mind is almost always serene.

Jennifer D