If you’ve spent any time around Al-Anon, Alcoholics Anonymous, or other recovery-oriented groups, you’ve heard at least a few slogans and acronyms. Most of them seem to fall into one of three categories, and they include our relationship with:
- Our addicted loved one.
- Our Higher Power.
This month, we’ll look at a few of my favorites that deal with our relationship with our addicted loved one.
You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it.
This was the first slogan I heard at the first Al-Anon meeting I attended. Hearing that began to chip away at my fear and guilt that as a parent, I had somehow caused my son’s alcoholism. What I learned over time is that you can’t “make” someone drink or use, any more than you can “make” them stop drinking or using. Eventually, as I began to understand and believe this slogan, I experienced great freedom and relief from the overwhelming guilt I felt about somehow being a “bad” parent.
Recently, I heard a doctor who works with addicts (and who is in recovery himself) add this to the slogan, “You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it, but you can contribute to it.” This does not mean that we can “make” someone drink or use, but it does mean that we can contribute to the disease by enabling our loved one so they find it easier to use. We may do that in any number of ways, such as letting them live with us or buying a car for them, ensuring they have more money to spend on drugs and alcohol. Or we may call their boss and make excuses for them when they miss work. There are a myriad of ways that we codependent friends and family members enable our loved ones. The next slogan can help us break away from enabling.
Compassion is letting someone experience the natural consequences of their actions and not fixing it for them.
If you’re a severely codependent person like me, this sounds cruel, not compassionate. I spent a lot of time shielding my son from the consequences of his actions, because I feared he couldn’t handle life experiences on his own. This form of enabling is crippling, because every time I explained away his behavior or helped him work through a problem, I took away the consequences for his actions, which would have provided him with the opportunity to learn from his mistakes. I also removed the satisfaction he would have felt by overcoming adversity and working out problems on his own. The next slogan reminds us of this.
Let them have their own experience.
I didn’t grasp the importance of this slogan until my son moved from rehab to sober living. It was unusually rainy weather for the first month he was there, and he did not have a car, so he had to walk to work. One day, I was worried about him walking from work to the apartment in heavy rain, so I asked his recovery coach if I should contact my son to see if he needed a ride. His recovery coach promptly said I should let my son “have his own experience.” That was great advice, and sure enough, my son worked it out—he found a ride home with someone from work.
While that example is cute and funny to look back on now, it serves as a perfect reminder to me that I need to allow my son room to live his own life, make his own mistakes (and learn from them), and exult in his own victories. I expect to be allowed these freedoms, and allowing my son these same freedoms is one of the best things I can do to show him that I support him and trust him to be a responsible adult who makes good decisions.
When I began attending Al-Anon, I admit I thought some of the slogans were a little hokey. But over time I’ve learned the value of these slogans as I understand them and find ways to apply them. They are now an integral part of my own recovery. I encourage you to find slogans that are meaningful to you and work them into your daily life.