You’ve discovered your loved one or friend is an alcoholic or addict—now what?
For many people in that situation, their first reaction is, “What can I do to fix my alcoholic/addict?” I know that was my reaction, and I tried a lot of things that didn’t work: checking his trunk to see if he had bottles or cans stashed, drawing up agreements for him to sign, buying a breathalyzer, and the list goes on….
It took a while for me to figure out that I couldn’t “fix” my son. Instead, I needed to focus on fixing myself, because my son wasn’t the only one who had issues; our whole family system was broken. As I began going to therapy sessions and reading books about broken families, l learned a key concept: if one family member begins to change, even by taking tiny steps toward recovery, the other family members must change, because the family dynamics will shift due to that one person changing. When I took my first small step toward recovery by finding a therapist, I could not have envisioned the cataclysmic change that would cascade through my family over the next two years.
It took me a while to figure out what resources I found most helpful, and I’ve heard other people share that sentiment. There are many resources available to people who are on the journey toward recovery. Because people have different experiences and backgrounds, you may find some of them more helpful than others. This month, we’ll look at Al-Anon as a primary resource.
Some people have tried Al-Anon thinking it was a way to “fix” their loved one, but it is actually a venue where members share their own experience, strength, and hope with each other. In doing so, they find help and hope for themselves. Hearing other people share their experiences and how they handled them encourages members, because they realize they are not alone.
If you’ve tried Al-Anon and didn’t like it for some reason (maybe it seemed like everyone was just complaining about their problems, or it was at an inconvenient time or place, or your personality didn’t mesh with the group, or any other reason) it’s possible that you attended a meeting that wasn’t a good fit for you. Al-Anon meetings are similar to other groups in that they take on the characteristics of the group members. Because we each have different experiences and backgrounds, each of us will benefit from different types of groups. While your friend or neighbor may find a certain Al-Anon group helpful and encouraging, it’s okay if you don’t feel that way about that group. If that’s the case, keep trying different meetings until you find one that’s a good fit.
There are many different types of groups, so it’s worth checking out the various types to see what you find encouraging and helpful. Some groups offer babysitting; others are geared toward newcomers, parents, women, men, LBGT, adult children of alcoholics, or Spanish speakers. Still other groups focus on discussion, the Twelve Steps and/or the Twelve Traditions, or Al-Anon literature. Some groups have speakers occasionally. There are even phone and email/online groups!
Al-Anon is where you can find hope, help, and encouragement among people who share many of your same experiences. One of the most difficult things about having a loved one who is an alcoholic is that you can feel isolated, as though you’re the only one who has to deal with the types of issues and situations that occur. But many people are surprised to find in Al-Anon that others have had the same or similar experiences, and they find immeasurable help and encouragement by sharing those experiences with each other and talking through how they handled them. However, members do not give advice; they merely share what they’ve gone through, and everyone is encouraged to “take what they like and leave the rest;” in other words, you can decide for yourself which lessons to apply to your life.
So if you’ve tried an Al-Anon meeting or two (or more) and have written off Al-Anon because it didn’t seem like a good fit for you for some reason, consider attending several different meetings for three or four times each. They can vary greatly depending on who attends that meeting and what topic is discussed. Chances are good you’ll find one where you gain experience, strength, and hope from sharing your individual story with others and hearing their personal stories.
Al-Anon is one of many resources available to families and friends of alcoholics and addicts. Although it’s geared toward people who have alcoholic loved ones, anyone is welcome, and a variety of people benefit, including those whose loved ones are addicts or have died.
If you’re wondering what Al-Anon is all about and would like more information, visit the Al-Anon Family Groups (http://www.al-anon.org/) website. There you’ll find information about meetings and what they’re like, as well as how Al-Anon works and what literature is available. You owe it to yourself to explore an option that has brought strength and hope to millions of people.