Recovering alcoholics can benefit from Al-Anon
R.J. has been clean and sober and an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous for 20 years. He lives the Twelve Step program each day, one day at a time. He attends AA meetings faithfully, reads the literature, meditates, and asks his Higher Power for guidance. He has told his story many times and listened with loving acceptance to the stories of others, as AA members are encouraged to do. He thought nothing about addiction could surprise him at this point in his life and recovery.
Then he discovered his 20-year old son had a drug and alcohol problem. "I felt so stupid," he said. "I know this stuff, and it never entered my mind that my son was using. He was the good boy, the one who got straight A’s. He knows I’m a recovering alcoholic and that his mother (my ex-wife) is a practicing one. I thought knowing about us would keep him sober. But he got to a point where he seemed paralyzed; he couldn’t stay on track. One day I said, sort of in passing, ‘You act like you’re on drugs.’ He said, ‘I am.’ When I asked what kind and he said he’d tried ‘just about everything,’ I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do."
Not knowing what to do, R.J. did nothing the night of his son’s revelation except listen. "I told him I wouldn’t preach or yell, but I asked him if I could tell him when I heard him giving me the ‘standard’ addict’s lines like, ‘I have it under control.’ He said I could, and we talked until 4 a.m."
Next, R.J. sought help from others. His first impulse was to issue an edict telling his son not to come around until he got straight, but a counselor at work cautioned that things could get worse if his son felt abandoned, with no safe places or safe people to turn to. "She suggested I establish clear rules so he wouldn’t come here high or use here, but let him know that I love him and I’d do whatever it takes to help him when he’s ready."
When a long-time friend (also a recovering alcoholic) suggested going to Al-Anon, R.J. said he was "blown away" by the idea. Like many recovering alcoholics, he had always viewed Al-Anon as a Twelve Step mutual-help group for "them"–the family and friends of the alcoholic–and AA as the Twelve Step group for "us"–the alcoholics who affected their lives.
R.J. and his friend went to an Al-Anon meeting where they were the only men. He confessed that he was very nervous at first but said the familiar Twelve-Step meeting structure eased his anxiety. "Then I said, ‘I’m an alcoholic–the reason you’re here–but now I need help.’ It broke the ice, and they welcomed us with so much warmth and generosity."
Because it is not unusual to have more than one problem drinker in a family, it makes sense that recovering alcoholics can also be affected by another’s alcohol or drug use, and that they could benefit from the fellowship and support of Al-Anon. Except for one word in Step Twelve where Al-Anon has substituted the word "others" for AA’s word "alcoholics," the Steps of the two groups are identical.
"At AA we learn that we’re powerless over alcohol. At Al-Anon you discover that you’re powerless over others," explained R.J. He thought the Al-Anon members he met also gained by meeting two recovering alcoholics who embrace the same Twelve Step philosophy they do.
R.J. said it was a profound experience to view addiction "from the other side of the fence" at Al-Anon. "It struck such a chord when a woman there told me I’ve got my story, but my son is still writing his. I can tell him about my path and show him a path exists, but I can’t walk it for him."
Al-Anon meetings are held in 115 countries, and there are over 24,000 Al-Anon groups worldwide. For more information visit http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/.
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