I had many beliefs about Al-Anon, that were embarrassingly untrue. My first error, was thinking it was a group of miserable people (mostly women) who sat in a circle and complained about their drunk spouses. Not true. I also thought that people attended Al-Anon to learn how to change someone else’s drinking problem. Not true. Al-Anon helps you transform your defects into assets and sick relationships into healthy ones. This stems from the knowledge –you can’t change someone’s drinking, you can only detach from it.
Al-Anon is a worldwide group of men and women, who have been affected by the family disease of alcoholism. The purpose is to provide support to friends and families of problem drinkers. The principles are based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. There are no dues or fees. The program is spiritual and not religious. The only requirement for membership, is that you have been affected by somebody else’s drinking. There are no leaders. There is no recruiting. If you like it there — stay, if you don’t like it — leave. No one is taking attendance and as the name implies, it is anonymous.
Making the decision to go to an Al-Anon meeting can be difficult. Actually, it can be a little scary. Some people feel intimidated because they don’t know what to expect. Others believe that only weak people belong there, and they can handle things on their own. It’s common to resist going to the first meeting. But, If you know what to expect, you will feel more comfortable.
When you walk into an Al-Anon meeting, you will notice that the people will represent a cross-section of society – just regular type folks you would see at the grocery store or a movie theatre. Some of the attendees have been going to Al-Anon for years and some will be coming for the first time. Despite individual backgrounds, everyone at Al-Anon comes because they have been affected by someone else’s drinking. Everyone at the meeting shares a common problem.
Many Al-Anon meetings are held in churches, but they are also found in hospitals, office buildings, schools, and community facilities. Al-Anon is available most days of the week and holidays. There are morning, lunch, evening and weekend meetings. There are men’s meetings, women’s meetings, and mixed meetings. There are also beginner’s groups. All meetings are anonymous and confidential.
When you walk into an Al-Anon meeting, look for a display of Al-Anon literature. Ask for the free packet of information for beginners. Some people prefer to listen without speaking during their first meeting; if you’re invited to talk and you prefer not to, say “I’ll pass.” If you choose to speak, let people know it’s your first meeting.
No one in Al-Anon is in a position to give advice or direction to anyone else, they are there to share their own experiences of strength and hope. The goal is that others may learn from those experiences and in turn, be guided in towards recovery. Attendees don’t counsel to one another during meetings. There shouldn’t be any cross-talk during discussions. In other words, only talk about yourself and don’t comment on or advise other members. When someone is talking, do not talk over them or interrupt. People are there to learn how to solve their problems by listening to what has worked for others. You might not agree with everything you here. The common suggestion is to “take what you like and disregard the rest”.
Before deciding if Al-Anon is right for you, attend several meetings. Try out different formats, like a lunch meeting, a book study and a woman’s (men’s) only meeting. If you don’t like a particular meeting, try another one.
Still not sure, if Al-Anon is a good fit for you. Take the quiz:
1. Do you worry about how much someone else drinks?
2. Do you have money problems because of someone else’s drinking?
3. Do you tell lies to cover up for someone else’s drinking?
4. Do you feel that if the drinker cared about you, he or she would stop drinking to please you?
5. Do you blame the drinker’s behavior on his or her companions?
6. Are plans frequently upset or canceled or meals delayed because of the drinker?
7. Do you make threats, such as, “If you don’t stop drinking, I’ll leave you”?
8. Do you secretly try to smell the drinker’s breath?
9. Are you afraid to upset someone for fear it will set off a drinking bout?
10. Have you been hurt or embarrassed by a drinker’s behavior?
11. Are holidays and gatherings spoiled because of drinking?
12. Have you considered calling the police for help in fear of abuse?
13. Do you search for hidden alcohol?
14. Do you ever ride in a car with a driver who has been drinking?
15. Have you refused social invitations out of fear or anxiety?
16. Do you feel like a failure because you can’t control the drinking?
17. Do you think that if the drinker stopped drinking, your other problems would be solved?
18. Do you ever threaten to hurt yourself to scare the drinker?
19. Do you feel angry, confused, or depressed most of the time?
20. Do you feel there is no one who understands your problems?
If you have answered yes to any of these questions, Al-Anon may be able to help.
One big side note: Many people substitute the word alcoholic for drug addict, compulsive gambler and the like.
This website had some helpful articles about Al-Anon (the writer is a counselor who has attended meetings for 20 or more years.
One last thing: If you have a gambling problem, an eating disorder, alcoholism, or any kind of addiction (and you are not getting help for it) you are making the people around you sick. Don’t fool yourself by thinking “the only one I’m hurting is myself”. It’ is simply not true.