Thursday, January 3, 2008

How Al-Anon Works

How Does Al-Anon Work? and What Is Al-Anon?

My blog name is "Al-Anon Diary." It is really a diary about my life. I started writing it for cathartic reasons (getting it out of my system). But the diary will show how I have gone from anger to more of "detachment" and separating myself from being sucked in and contributing to the problem. I owe this to Al-Anon, reading some great books, thinking and rethinking, without over analyzing (OK, sometimes over analyzing), and not making excuses for my behavior. So, what I write here - today - is allot different from what I wrote way back four oer five months ago.

I have asked a number of people to please post their thoughts, and they have done so, and very elegantly, I might add. You will see we are normal people facing abnormal problems. We may not be perfect, or should I say, "What we do may not be perfect." But that is, what makes us human.

So, today I thought I would explain Al-Anon to those of you who are attending or thinking about attending. First and foremost, I wish you all a great and beautiful life.

Where to start? I think I am going to try to explain what who attends first and how it is run or how it is organized. I will add a little commentary - my personal feelings or how I see things. I am going to do this is number form, as a list.

  1. What is Al-Anon?It is NOT affiliated with any religion.It is NOT a religious program. It is spiritual in some ways, because we talk about a "Higher Power" - this could be your God. Or it could be a higher consciousness. Or it could be whatever you want it to be. I am not a religious person - for example.
  2. It is anonymous. We are all on a first name basis. Although people do get together for coffee or lunch after some meetings. The meeting goes for an hour typically.
  3. People are available to talk to after the meeting - in case you are dying on the inside, or have a burning need or issue. I benefited from this several times. I wept and shared my pain. I was dying on the inside. The walls had caved in. And two women, sat with me for an hour afterwards and listened. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
  4. We sit in a circle and we read the "12 Steps" - and some of the "rules" for the Al-Anon meeting (i.e. "What is said here, stays here). We go around the circle introducing ourselves by first name only; "Hi, my name is Joe."
  5. Someone is the meeting planner for that meeting. A topic is read from one of the Al-Anon books that is related to the 12 Steps. He or she picks it at random. It is always some idea or concept that can be related to something that is occurring in your life. Don't ask me how this is - it just is. It is probably due to how we are interpreting the reading.
  6. The meeting planner reads and puts what they have read into perspective and how it relates to them (how it helped them).
  7. The meeting planner is someone different each week and a member of the Al-Anon group who volunteers.
  8. After the reading or point of view, you state your name and comment on the topic and how it has helped you, or how you can use the information. OR - you can talk about what is going on in your life.
  9. Or you can sit and listen and not say anything.
  10. No one gives you advice (unless you stay after the meeting and only if you ask for it - even then there is much hesitation to advise).
  11. No one judges you, or what you have said about what you did.You are not allowed to comment on what is said by someone (although in some cases this is done, but only in a positive and complimentary manner).
  12. The Las Vegas rule is applied here (My term, not Al-Anon's term. I am sure it would rankle some that I said that! But it is humorous). What you say here, stays here.
  13. You will feel comfortable speaking and getting angry or crying (there is a box of tissues - I know - I used them. I am not a crying man.) The talking allows you to "release" a lot of the energy and tension that has built up. The talking is cathartic.
  14. Usually after the first meeting you know you are with people who are facing issues just like yours in so many ways. After a meeting or two you KNOW you are not alone. There is nothing that you are experiencing that someone else hasn't already experienced. This is cathartic.
  15. In some cases, usually early on in your attendance of these meetings, you will feel you want an answer, a solution. You want to scream, "Please, just tell me what to do!!" You will find no solution or advice here. It may be a little stressful not getting a solution. You want something that will solve the problem. You may find this to be frustrating - at first.
  16. You are seeking a solution. Your answer does show up however (see 15 above as what I am referring to). It comes to you - somehow - I am not exactly sure how, but it does.
  17. The meeting and discussions allows you to know you are not crazy. A great many of us know we are not crazy. But the addict can sometimes make us feel like we are "over-reacting" or maybe the "problem is me" not them or the alcohol. Going to the meeting allows you to dispel this natural feeling.
  18. You look for a sponsor after several meetings. This person has to have a minimum of 5 years in Al-Anon. The person should be the same sex as you. Because a "relationship" of trust will ensue. And you want it to be a relationship of trust and only trust.
  19. A basket is passed around to pay for minor incidentals (coffee, tissues). There are no dues or fees.
  20. There is no secret handshake. There is no mysticism. It is not weird.
  21. Sometimes you will see your problem in someone else's problem and the answer will come to you as to what you need to do.
  22. No one sells anything to you. The pamphlets are free of charge. There are some great pamphlets. The books are for sale only to cover the costs.
  23. You will hear words like; codependence, detachment, boundaries, etc and how Al-Anon is meant for you and meant for you to get better - it is not aimed at the alcoholic.
  24. There is a workbook for the 12 Steps and you can work through the book. You may go back through the book several times over your life. You never graduate or finish. It is an on-going process.You will see how far you've come after several months.
  25. There are meetings going on at night, in the morning and on the weekend. Every meeting has a little bit of a different personality.
  26. There are all men meetings, and all women meetings. The most popular is a mixture of both. Going to mixed meetings is - in my opinion as good as going to the same sex meetings.
  27. Sometimes people complain (really gripe) about their "qualifier" (this is the person who is the alcoholic in their life). This may turn you off. But I think you should still listen to what the person is saying, because he or she is usually dying from the inside out and you could be there one day in disbelief how your life got turned upside down.
  28. I actually look forward to my Saturday morning meeting. I never ever thought I would say this. It is my escape. I was dying on the inside when I first went there over six months ago now.My qualifier is for some reason not happy that I attend. Other members' spouses (qualifiers) actually encourage them to go. They say they can, ". . . tell they haven't been to a meeting in some time and they need a meeting."
  29. These meetings are held typically at churches. God bless the churches. I cannot ever thank them enough. Some are held at hospitals.
  30. The Al-Anon literature says to try it for six meetings. You may not like the first meeting.
  31. I recommend asking members at the end of the meeting for what other meetings they enjoy and try a different meeting from their advice.There is a paper itinerary that lists all the meetings is your areas.T
  32. here is a Link on the right hand side that allows you to search the Al-Anon Website for meetings in your area. It is a little confusing because each area has a subarea and these are not exactly in a user friendly form to read. (my only gripe)You will meet people young, middle aged and old.
  33. You will meet White, Black, Hispanic - people of all colors.You will meet people of all religions.You will meet smart people - very wise people, who have a spouse, a son/daughter, parent, friend or loved one, who has an addiction to alcohol or a drug.You will meet very rich people, middle income people and people who are barely managing. Here we are all one.
  34. No one is any higher or lower. We are all humble, and humbled.You will meet everyone who has been knocked to their knees at the power of this terrible disease and how it has affected themselves and their family.
  35. You will meet people who have searched bedroom closets, gone through garbage cans and more, who have tried to see if their qualifier was drinking - before they got help here.You will meet people who are so nice and pleasant and loving.
  36. You will meet compassionate, caring people.
  37. You will see that this disease is catastrophic in nature after you hear the stories of people who do attend.
  38. You will sense that here are the people who know about Al-Anon and wonder about the people who could really use this free support group and all of a sudden feel so sorry for those who are in isolation.
  39. You will come to know yourself in a very new way - and sense there is a way to restore your sanity.
  40. Remember, this meeting is for YOU. It is not about the alcoholic. It is designed for you to get well, no matter whether your qualifier gets well or not. It is about your getting better. In fact, the good meetings almost "make" you focus on yourself and your healing.

I hope this has helped you. Please post your comments if you have another point or need to clarify things !!! THANKS!


Ashley said...

Very well stated. I can't recommend Al-anon enough. It's saved my sanity over the last few months.

A friend of mine in Al-anon mentioned attending an open AA meeting recently & being shocked at how many people were there. She thought about how many of them had friends and relatives who should be a part of Al-anon, and how few actually were.

In my opinion, Al-anon is just as important for family members as AA is for the alcoholic.

Joe said...

I agree Ashley. I too have been to AA meetings. There are people there who are struggling, some who are just "there", some who have been really working the program and many who have been sober for a lot of years (someone was there who was sober over 40 years!).

Thank you Ashley

Joe said...

Just to be clear, in the last comment I said I have been to AA meetings. The clearing part is, I was willing to do anything to get my wife to attend. I took her to show her what "embarrassment" could there possibly be? [She was embarrassed to go - she said "maybe there was some she knew who attended and they would see her!" Are you kidding me?].

So in my desperate codependent state, I did this! I would do it again by the way. No shrink could talk me out of this at the time!


nanceelee said...

Thank you, Joe, for all the reflection and knowledge that you share with all of us.

I was thinking earlier tonight if my mom (I leave out my dad, because his disease rendered him incapable) had ever been asked to attend Al-Anon back in the day when she and my brothers attended counseling (I wasn't taken to counseling, I was the "good" one ;-)...or if her kids might be helped by Al-Ateen. I don't mean to point fingers, I'm just wondering if I would have been helped earlier. I also probably wouldn't have been ready myself to have someone drag me to an Al-Ateen meeting as a teenager. I'm so glad I finally accepted a 12 step program, even if it took me 40 or so years!

Joe said...

I am with you . . . What we didn't know back then, and what we know now.

I believe in alcoholic families, we as children were victims, in some way. Our parents didn't know it and didn't know what to do about it and the word "victim" never would have had the same meaning as it does today. Our parents did the best they could, under the circumstances, their knowledge and how they were raised.

Now as adults, we get to change, and move out of the victim role and figure out a way to become emotionally more healthy. And there is so many more options - and information available.

For those of you who are parents reading this, and this is a message to myself [I don't want to seem like I am judging, because I do not know anyone's circumstances, and I am in no way in a position to judge (in fact that would set me up for failure too)], we have to make sure we do not use, leverage, put the children in the middle of our battle with the alcoholic. I use the word "battle" because sometimes we feel we are fighting an evil force. My alcoholic is my wife, and she changes from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde when drinking. I used to do battle with her. I pitted myself as right vs wrong, good vs evil. It made everyone miserable. I saw the same with my mother. Until she realized she could not "win" - where win equals expressing resentment, anger and trying to talk the alcohlic into becoming something else (trying to change anyone is next to impossible, trying to change ourselves is difficult enough!)...

So I have learned to "let go" and use Al-Anon to change myself. Not change and adapt to where I have to accept the behavior of the alcoholic it is demeaning or abusive, but use Al-Anon to show me what WORKABLE options I have (setting boundairies, not becoming codependent, not doing for the alcoholic what he could do for himself, etc).

Anyway, my note to all; I hope some of these messages do help you. Remember, that I mean only to help. I have no ability to judge your circumstances. I have only the ability to project what is happening to me and what I am doing about it, in hopes that you can see and learn from my examples what I have done well, and what I have done that you don't want to do ;-)


Ashley said...

One of my biggest fears as a parent is that our kids are being affected by his drinking. As I listen at meetings and hear from ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics), I'm so thankful that I've started this process while my kids are young (6 and 7). I want to make their childhood as special and wonderful as possible. Now that I'm taking steps to make myself healthier, it's bringing my focus back to that (instead of on the alcoholic).

Joe said...

I couldn't agree more Ashley.


Anonymous said...

I am a wife of a binge drinker for 18 years. He and a counselor feel he does not have a drinking problem. It is my problem with his drinking. LOL!! I have tried Al-anon for about 3 months. I did not like it. Reading what you wrote was exactly how it happened...I just have a hard time entering a room full of people I don't know. I am desperate now. I believe in "for better or worse"...but I am also detached right now. How do you get a chicken like me back to a meeting? I am tired of trying to figure this out. We have been in marriage counseling since April. When alcohol comes husband gets defensive and asks why this is all about him and drinking and not about my stuff. I caught in a loop and want to break free and live! I have two sons who see the damage, but I am straight forward with them in regard to their dad's drinking. I don't hide it or make excuses. I can't believe I am dumping all of this on you! I apologize in advance.

Joe said...

Dear Anonymous -
Two things. Maybe more, but whose counting. I am/was in the same situation you are and were in when you went to a therapist. Different therapists have different skills.

My therapist said and I will cut to the chase which cost us essentially $1,000 to get there (several meetings). He gave her the "test". I am not sure it is a standard test or not. I recommend a counsilor or therapist to give this advice to your "qualifier". He said, Try not drinking for 6 weeks. My reaction - SIX WEEKS!!! are you kidding me? Anyone can try that and skate by it.

I joined in too - to show my wife support. Week 2 - she drank, was drunk/tipsey. I have not had a drink since that time. I figured God gave me a break. It could have been me who couldn't stop.

Second, he got us to throw out all the alcohol. I left a case of beer in the refrigerator in the basement because my wife "would never drink beer". HA! Stupid me.

Third, he pressured her into going to an outpatient treatment center. Of course I was part of the pressure. Al-Anon says not to pressure. Let them fall. Let them crash. If they are not ready - the treatment will not take. There is truth to this. Except I cannot wait for my wife literally crash. She is/was driving with wine in water bottles around town...wife my daughter.

She got reallllllly good at hiding the alcohol. I got reallllllly goooood at finding them. I got realllly goooooood at detecting alcohol on her facial expressions (she chewed too much gum for me to smell her breath). I got reallllly co-dependent!!!! This is what you have to look out for - where your entire well being; attitude, expectations, temperment, and physcial well-being is taken over by the madness the alcoholic produces. It become a family disease then. You are looking at the alcoholic, your children start circling the two of you, like the sun and planets, all vying for your attention. Your children pick up the behavior of the parents - one - the alcoholic (although science says there is a switch in the brain in people) and/or the codependent. And the new little codependents grow up and look for the chaos that they found was "normal" in their childhood - that they can fix (read: they marry people who are drinkers, addicts, etc.).

You have the power to break the addiction - or cycle.

Your focus should be - in my judgement - to find an Al-Anon meeting you like. It took me three or four meetings - different meetings to find the right one. This will help you know you are not crazy and you are NOT the problem AND - AND this is the important part -that you don't get sucked into the above cycle - where you spin into the alcoholics web and get stuck because you start helping the alcoholic do what he/she needs to do. You essentially live two lives; yours and the alcoholics. You cannot do both.

And your children?

Well they don't know who to turn to nor do they know how to get your attention or "acceptance." So what do they do? They think - sunconsciously or consciously, well if I act out (drink, fail grades, become a problem, etc) I can now get the attention of those whom I need and love and look up to. This happens over time. It can be reversed. You, me us non-alcoholics, have to stop and break the cycle. We do this by living normally as possible. If the alcoholic is violent, then this is another story.

My recommendation is to find a therapist who has the qualifications of someone who works with addicts/addictions. You can call a local hospital to get names of therapists who have these quals.

I would go find an Al-Anon meeting you like. If there is only one, attend, find people you like (preferably female - same sex/gender as you) and ask them for advice. They will pass out a phone number list of people you can call too - to talk to. Over the course of several meetings youcan find a sponsor who can help you too.

I know this is a long reply - I hope this helps. I hope you read this as meaning well.

I hope you know I don't know your situation. I would not confront him (your qualifier). Back off and realize you can guide him, by demonstrating you are getting well. He will want to know what the heck happened by getting yourself well.

Good luck and God Bless You and Your Husband.


Anonymous said...

I certainly didn't expect such a thorough reply. All I can say is Thank you. Some how you made me feel "normal". I do not want to run in this circle any more. I want to break the cycle for me and my sons. I took a chance and looked on the internet for a blog that would help, and I believe God led me to this one. ( I have never "Blogged" before this!!)I have a friend that said she would go with me to a meeting. I haven't been to a meeting in three years...but I think I am ready now. I can't thank you enough. God bless you and your family.

Joe said...

I wish you luck. If I can help, please do not hesitate to ask. I believe there are a lot of people reading this blog that might be able to help you too. I think there are people who are and were in a very similar situation.

Some books I have read and am reading include the Friel and Friel Adult Children On What Is Normal (for adults whose parent(s) was an alcoholic or came from a dysfunctional family). Another book - I can't recall the name, but is about Codepedency and there is a separate workbook. The books are by Pia Melody.

Also, for all to know, I never blogged before either. I think this has given me a chance to share and help others who may be in a similar predicament that I am in.

Good Luck and Let Us Know how you are doing.


Joe said...

By the way, you are normal. Do not ever forget that! And you are perfect. God made us ALL perfect. We may not do the most perfect thing, only because we DON'T KNOW and we act and react by what we know.

We are early in our recovery and we only know the tools we have to work with.

That's why we are learning new and better tools to cope and deal with this.

Remember YOU are normal.


Anonymous said...

Hello again...I am currently reading a book called, "I closed my eyes" revelations of a battered woman by Michele Weldon. Although I am not a battered woman..not ever...I understand the trap that she is in. What I don't understand yet, as I have just started the book, is how I got here. She speaks about not letting others know about her life, her real life, and how hidden they keep it. (Codependent) She also shares the pain of keeping this secret up. I feel very much the same...but lately (over the past 5 years) I have found my voice, but no one, except a few close friends, believe me. They see this wonderful, loving, and caring man who is a great father and friend. I see this too...except when he drinks. He doesn't become mean...just stupid. I resent...despise his drinking and for some reason...I can't figure it completely shuts me down. Even after all the "work" with our current counselor...not the counselor who told him and I that his drinking was my problem...his drinking shuts me down in a nano second. I reemerge after a few days now...but it has in the past taken me weeks and months. The pain is deep. Inexplicably deep. I feel rejected and abandoned...I have learned that it isn't his him...he can't control it and neither can I...I can't change him...Geez I know all this...but what happens to me I just don't know. I do appreciate any advice, encouragement you are willing to give. You telling me that I am normal brings me peace. I trust in God...and I believe who he says that I so many "other" times...but this one is so very very hard for me. I feel like I made the wrong choice 18 years ago...I feel dupped. (sp?) I like the author of that book do not want to hurt my children...they love their dad...I don't think I do...not any more. But, I am willing to stay and work this out...FOR ME. I wish it would be for US...but I don't think that will ever happen. I pray daily for hope...a renewed hope. I just don't have it right now. I can't "see" anything. I am trusting God...but feel I need to do something for me right now. Healing would be nice....AGAIN...thanks for letting me ramble. I look forward to hearing from you soon. As so many others I come from a dysfunctional family and pain is a deep river for me. I know it well. But I hear God calling me to be set free...I want that...but can that really happen for me??

Anonymous said... more thing! I liked what you wrote about self esteem. I will work on that. It is very important for me to remember who God says that I am. His daughter...his child. I need to hold on to that when my head is racing and I am scrambling to remember who I am when I am exposed once again to a binge. Thanks again and again!

Joe said...

Anonymous - If you post your comments on today's blog post, you may find others who may have some ideas and thoughts who have been in a similar place as you are currently in. And I can make sure I see your posts earlier/sooner

I think a friend, Al-Anon and/or a religious leader (priest, minister, rabbi, etc) may be able to guide you.

I feel for you. I went to several therapists for help. They all tell me they cannot help me until my wife gets well.

Also - I am unaware of the book you are reading, so I cannot comment, except that she may have found some techniques that leads her out of her pain. These may be applicable - if you feel they are. I try to read and watch POSITIVE programs and books. I notice the more I think negative, the less control of my emotions and my thoughts swirl into negativity and expecting bad things to happen. And invariably, the bad things do happen (because I look for things that are bad or I see things thru "dark shades"....

My best to you ...

PS - Pick up COurage to Change. Do attend Al-Anon. It does take time. And, you will get well if you focus on YOURSELF getting well.

PPS - the more you focus on the other person, no matter who the person is, after a while you feel "out of control" because you (us/we) cannot control anyone! And if we get our "self-esteem" from others thinking of us, we will be on emotional rollercoaster.

nanceelee said...

Dear Anonymous,

I don't have a lot to add, as Joe does a great job posting and writing, I'm sure there are many of us that lean on what he writes.

I will agree, you were made perfectly. Many of us have lost ourselves in the behavior of our alcoholic, and we rely on Al-Anon to remind us who we really are, and show us how to do our best to recover ourselves, as we were made to be. I also tried several meetings before I found a favorite. I send you my support and understanding, and wishes and prayers for peace.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't aware on "where" to i will blog over there!! I told you I was a rookie!!!! LOL.
I am anticipating reading about the authors 'recovery' from her abusive relationship as she is no longer in it. I agree with you about positive reading. I can feel the pull between sadness and getting stuck, and hope. It truly is a tug of war...but I am chosing to live. I am trying to find the path that God is calling me to...and not the old path that brings me around the mountain...again and again. I will post in the other area so people who have something to say to me...can. (I find it strange to find comfort in the words of strangers...but there is an understanding that goes beyond what I think).I appreciate even the little paragraph that nanceelee wrote...Her words, like yours make me cry...but in a good way. I have a wonderful Pastor with whom I share...and his words give me direction...but there is something wonderful about being understood. I don't feel alone. I need prayers...and I will pray for you all too. Thank you.