At Al-Anon meetings, relatives and friends of addicts come together to share their experience, strength and hope. Al-Anon’s premise is that individuals can’t control or stop another person’s addiction. Just as addicts who accept Step One of AA admit that they are powerless over alcohol and drugs, Al-Anon members teach powerlessness over a loved ones’ addiction.
Yet Al-Anon’s companion premise is that you are entitled to enjoy a serene life even if a loved one chooses to continue to live in active addiction. By coming together to share experiences, we in Al-Anon learn tools for living decently, honestly and serenely whether a loved one is actively using or is in recovery. In Al-Anon, we “take what we like and leave the rest.” This means that in virtually every meeting, we hear something that gives us insight into our own behavior and attitudes.
Many of us embark on Al-Anon with the expectation that we will learn the secrets to curing a loved one’s addiction. We may be disappointed to learn that no such secrets exist. However, many of us find that by gaining strength and serenity, and showing our loved ones that we trust them to make their own decisions, our loved ones often gain strength too. When we become less obsessed with a loved one’s addiction, addiction loses its power over us. It is also not unusual to find that once we change our need to control and learn to set boundaries and take care of ourselves, the addict also begins to change and sometimes seeks help in recovery.
There are many slogans we learn in Al-Anon that help us practice Al-Anon principles in our daily lives. One favorite is “don’t just do something, sit there.” So often, we who care about our addicts’ lives want to jump in and “solve” their problems. But in Al-Anon we learn to wait before acting to make sure that what we THINK we should do is really the correct action. For example, when a parent receives a call from an addicted child asking for money, shelter or other favor, the natural response is to want to help immediately. But in Al-Anon, we learn to sit still and think first. We learn to “give an addict the dignity of making his or her own mistakes,” for that is how addicts can become decent and responsible persons. This may be difficuilt, but as people share their experiences in Al-Anon we learn that “taking contrary action” is often the best help we can give our addicted loved ones.
Another helpful slogan is “zip your lip.” Often, our natural tendency is to offer advice, tell the addict what to do and how to do it. But unless an opinion or advice is sought, we learn to just listen and say things to the addict such as “I know you will figure this out” or “that is very interesting.” The addict doesn’t want to be threatened, cajoled or see our anger. If they know they can be heard without being judged, the lines of communication remain open and, hopefully, the addict will eventually realize they CAN go to the loved one for help in recovery and be accepted for who they are. Through Al-Anon we learn that often, the fewer questions we ask, the more information an addict gives us.
If someone else’s drinking or addiction is affecting your life, we urge you to try Al-Anon. It has helped many of us find solutions that lead to serenity. No matter what your religious beliefs, and even if you lack them entirely, you are sure to find help in Al-Anon, Surrounded by caring people whose struggles are similar to yours, you will learn tools for taking care of yourself, setting boundaries, and achieving serenity. Just for today, decide to walk your own path towards serenity so that the addict can walk his or hers.