Al-Anon is a program of retraining. We come into the rooms with all kinds of bad habits and old history. Some of us, myself included, arrive looking like an emotional junkyard of good intentions gone awry. Some of us arrive broken, some angry, and some so bitter and resentful we can hardly see the soft heart protected underneath their armor. But we all come for one reason: we want to find a way to make things better and we are willing to work for it.
I know that when I first found Al-Anon, I was having a hard time getting results with anything because I thought I had to tackle everything. The scope of work I bit off was way out of my league and, unbenounced to me, the position of Supreme Goddess of the Universe had already been filled. Fortunately, Tradition Five reeled me back in. We don’t practice the Twelve Steps of AA on our alcoholic, on our kids, on our workplace. We practice the Twelve Steps of AA on ourselves. That is the only sane and manageable thing to do. It is only after we learn to help ourselves that we have anything useful to offer to others, and ultimately, that is where real discipline must be exercised.
As for the alcoholics in our lives, they are simply not ours to fix. They are ours to love. If we didn’t love them, none of this would hurt. Even in their darkest moments, and in our strongest resentment, we do still love them. That is precisely why this dance makes us so crazy. But they are still not ours to heal. When I am practicing the Steps myself, I am able to put down my resentments and my enabling habits and simply show that kind of encouragement and understanding towards my alcoholic. Not condescending pity or debilitating helpfulness, but real compassion - compassion that comes from a place of respect for the other person. This is how we help our alcoholic loved ones.
Lastly, to accomplish our purpose, we open our hearts to others and welcome them. Notice it doesn’t say we help by giving advice and trying to solve their problems. We simply welcome others to the group and pass the tissue when the waterworks begin. We let them know that they are not alone. We help by being an example, and by giving those in pain the space to help themselves.
This is where we practice, train, and retrain. This is where we shed those old and nasty habits that don’t serve us any longer. As a group, we have but one mission: to help the families of alcoholics, but to do so, we must exercise discipline - the kind of discipline we learn from the Traditions in this program.
© Copyright 2013 al-anon journal
photo credit: www.istockphoto.com/02-21-11 © Anton Ignatenco