“We have a right to expect more from life than mere survival.”
~Al-Anon Family Groups, How Al-Anon Works
Recently, over 8500 members of Al-Anon took part in a survey asking how participation in the program’s 12-Step meetings has positively affected the quality of their lives, and they were encouraged to leave comments about any benefits they may have enjoyed.
Nearly 6000 comments were returned, and by an overwhelming margin, the most frequent quote was –
“Al-Anon saved my life.”
I find that statement completely believable, because several years ago, Al-Anon saved MY life, too.
My Pre-Al-Anon Life Was Insane
Once upon a time, I was married to a raging, 2-pint-a-day alcoholic. My life was chaotic and hellish, and it seems like every aspect of life was falling apart – our marriage, our children, our home life, our finances, and my sanity. I was so angry with my alcoholic and I was so ashamed of what we had become.
Someone Brought the Message of Al-Anon to Me
One day at work, I must have been in obvious distress from the night before, because one of my co-workers came up and started telling me about her brother’s struggles with alcohol. She told me how HIS drinking used to make HER crazy, at least until she started going to 12-Step Al-Anon meetings.
To be honest, I kind of bristled – I wasn’t the one with the drinking problem, so why should I have to go to meetings?
I think my co-worker was used to that kind of response, because she just smiled wryly and asked me – “What have you got to lose just by checking it out?”
My First Al-Anon Meeting
So more out of desperation than anything else, I went to an Al-Anon meeting. Inside those four walls, heard stories just like my own. I saw people hugging and laughing and crying and AT PEACE, even though they had lived– or continued to live –with someone who was still an active alcoholic.
I couldn’t understand – then – how they could have such peace when their loved one was still drinking.
I wanted peace, too…so I kept going back.
Al-Anon Gave Me a Sense of Belonging
Before Al-Anon, I didn’t even know how isolated I had become. I had withdrawn from friends and other family members, because I figured that there was absolutely no way that they could understand what I was going through. I thought that, for whatever reason, my life was somehow DIFFERENT than other peoples’.
I had never really considered “fellowship” before, but somehow, being part of a group made me feel stronger.
Al-Anon Made Me Feel Safe
I used to keep everything bottled up inside, because I was so ashamed of the mess my life had become. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about what was going on, because I was afraid of how they would judge me and what they would say.
In Al-Anon, I quickly learned meetings were my “safe place”, free of judgment or ridicule or gossip. I could honestly talk about my problems without fear of an argument.
Al-Anon Gave Me Someplace to Go
As any spouse or family member who has been swept up by the chaos surrounding an alcoholic or drug addict can tell you, the inside of my own head was the scariest place I could possibly be. Sometimes at night, I would worry myself sick with fears, both real and imagined.
In the beginning, I went to at least one Al-Anon meeting every single day, and sometimes, I went two or three times a day. I even attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings that were open to non-alcoholic family members, in order to gain further perspective.
One good thing about Al-Anon – there’s always another group, always another meeting.
Al-Anon Gave Me Hope
When I was in my darkest moments, I literally could not see any way forward. I couldn’t figure out how things had gotten this bad, and I was despairing that they could ever get better.
But then I heard stories from some “old-timers”, whose lives at one point seemed even more screwed-up than my own. Some of them had LIVED through my worst fears. Yet, here they were today – balanced, happy, and seemingly at peace with their lives.
I started to get the idea that if THEY could be happy, maybe I could, too.
Al-Anon Gave Me Peace
My life used to be in constant turmoil, because I always had to worry about my alcoholic. It was MY RESPONSIBILITY to keep her out of trouble, to take care of her, and to protect her.
The problem is, I was spending so much time and energy worrying about the insane actions of a diseased person that I was losing myself in the process.
It took a while, but as I worked my way through the famous 12-Step process, I began to understand that:
- Problems that arose from my wife’s drinking were not mine to solve.
- Her messes were not mine to clean up.
- Her choices were not mine to make.
What I gained from this insight was the realization that as long as my wife continued to drink, I needed to focus my energies on myself and on our children. I needed to pursue my own happiness and take care of my own responsibilities, whether she stopped drinking or not.
Al-Anon Gave Me the Life I Have Today
Eventually, my wife DID get sober and begin living in recovery. After she went for a stint in residential rehab, we attended specialized couples counseling for families who have been touched by substance abuse.
Because she is the daughter of an alcoholic, she started going to Al-Anon meetings with me, and I think it helped give her a new perspective on the impact her actions had on her family.
I am no longer the fearful, anxious, depressed shell of a man that I was before I came into Al-Anon. My daily life – and even more importantly, my perception of it –has improved in almost every area. I truly believe that Al-Anon saved my life.
Now, she’s sober, I work on my own serenity and peace of mind, and we are living a much better life, One Day at a Time.
Northpoint Recovery, the premier residential drug and alcohol rehab facility in the greater Northwest area encourages family members of active substance abusers to work their own program of recovery with counseling and attendance at 12-Step meetings such as Al-Anon and Narc-Anon.
For people struggling with any kind of addiction – alcoholism, illegal drug abuse, or the misuse of prescription medication –Northpoint offers comprehensive evidence-based treatment strategies that can help them regain control of their own lives.
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