By Susan Heide
Growing up in a household with alcoholism, violence, abuse and mental illness cemented my thinking for many years. I thought if I could be perfect and fix or control the problem, the chaos in my home would stop. I continued this pattern throughout my life with the other alcoholics in my life in addition to my mother, including my son and my boyfriend. It was the creation of my own version of insanity. Repeating the same behavior over and over and expecting a different result. It wasn’t until I entered the rooms of Al-anon that I learned differently.
I entered the rooms of Al-Anon looking for a solution for the alcoholic. What I learned in Al-anon is the problem wasn’t the alcoholic, it was me. The solution is for me. Alcoholism is a disease. The alcoholic’s disease and recovery are none of my business. They will choose to get sober or not and that has nothing to do with me, my behaviors or attempts at saving them.
Al-Anon follows the same 12 step program as Alcoholics Anonymous. The critical first step is to admit you are powerless over alcohol. Powerless does not mean helpless. This is a difficult thing to do after spending a lifetime convinced that your solution to the situation is control. It is the exact opposite. I have learned that I have no control over people, places or things. I only have control of my thoughts and actions. Spending time and energy trying to fix the alcoholic is a fruitless endeavor. In Al-Anon you learn that you did not cause it, you can’t control it and you can’t cure it. It doesn’t matter what type of parent, partner, sibling or friend you are or how much you love them. It is not your disease. It is their disease. What you come to realize is that focusing on yourself provides peace and serenity and the tools to deal with the alcoholic situation. Setting boundaries is healthy for both me and the alcoholic. It helps me to eliminate the manipulation, lying and dysfunction of the disease in my life. You learn to detach with love.
The concept of having a higher power is another key component. It is defined by you. It doesn’t mean a connection to a religious concept unless that is what you choose. For me my higher power is a power greater than myself. It provides me with the ability to let go and turn it over with faith that things will be as they should. My higher power is a powerful force in the universe that is Love, Wisdom, Kindness, Compassion, Courage, Fortitude and Peace. When I pray asking for guidance or just turn a problem over I do so with confidence because this force will either speak to me and give me direction or will solve the problem. Faith is having belief or trust in what you can’t see. It’s like entering a dark tunnel and seeing no light but you continue because you know it will be there.
Al-Anon has given me my life back. Listening to the Experience, Strength and Hope of others and applying the principals of the program gives me hope and inspiration. I encourage all who are touched by the disease of alcoholism to explore the program whether the alcoholic is active in your life or not. It is a life changing experience Whether or not the alcoholic is still in your life, you have been changed and molded by the disease of Alcoholism. Al-Anon provides you with opportunity for a healthy life. This change doesn’t occur unless you chose it.
In the rooms of both AA and Al-Anon have meet some of the best people I’ve ever known in my life. The atmosphere of unconditional love, support, honesty and wisdom brings out the absolute best in people. If the entire world applied in the principals of this program in their life, the world would be a much better place. It is a great framework to live by. It embodies the principals of humility, love, acceptance, honesty and being of service to others.
It is important to remember that Alcoholism is a disease not a character defect. The reality is your loved one may or may not get sober. Regardless, it is important to take care of yourself. This is hard to do as you’ve spent the majority of your time focusing on the alcoholic. As loved ones of the alcoholic we often to attempt to support them in all the wrong ways even though we have the best of intentions. By providing housing, money or simply making excuses for them. We take over the portions of their lives that we feel we can control. This enables their disease. Never rob someone of the dignity and opportunity to manage their own life. Taking accountability and ownership of their lives is key in their ability to seek recovery.