Friday, December 3, 2010

Three Obstacles to Success

More and more, I am hearing the Three Obstacles to Success in Al-Anon being read at meetings.  I like to hear these because it services as a reminder that Al-Anon discussions should be constructive, helpful, loving, and understanding.  In striving toward these ideals, we avoid topics which can lead to dissension and that can distract us from our goals.

So here are the Three Obstacles: 
1. DISCUSSION OF RELIGION:  Al-Anon is not allied with any religion.  It is a spiritual program, based on no particular form of religion.  Everyone is welcome, no matter of what affiliation or none.  Let us not defeat our purpose by entering into discussions concerning specific religious beliefs. 
2. GOSSIP:  We meet to help ourselves and others learn and use the Al-Anon philosophy.  In such groups, gossip can have no part in our program.  We do not discuss members or others, and particularly not the alcoholic.  Our dedication to anonymity gives people confidence in Al-Anon.  Careless repeating of matters heard at Al-Anon meetings can defeat the very purpose for which we are joined together. 
3. DOMINANCE:  Our leaders are chosen not to govern, but to serve.  No member of Al-Anon should direct, assume authority, or give advice.  Our program is based on suggestion, interchange of experience, and rotation of leadership.  Any attempt to manage or direct is likely to have serious consequences for group harmony.

Religion is not something that I want to hear in meetings.  I am not a religious person in the sense of being a part of an organized religion.  I was raised in the Episcopal church and later attended the Presbyterian Church on the island where I live.  I am glad to have experienced church school, sermons, and been brought up in the teachings of the church.  But I am also glad to be among a fellowship where no one religion is The Way.

We have many "Gods of our understanding" in this world.  Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, Mormon,  etc.   They all have their own God, believe differently and are all sure their teaching is the correct way to believe.  But I don't believe God created all the different religions and beliefs, people did.  I'm not offended by what others believe at all.  I just prefer not to have their beliefs discussed at meetings.

Al-Anon is about unity. And when religion is brought in, unity goes out the window.  Scripture quoting in meetings, especially when it is done in the fashion of  "It's in the Bible so it's the law of the land" is uncomfortable for me. I wonder "Who's land?" Not the land of a Muslim or Jew.  If I were a Muslim and quoted from the Qur'an , that would be my Bible.  If someone consistently quoted scripture from the Qur'an, Christians could be offended and given the times, such might seem blasphemous.

So, I think harmony comes when we don't bring up religion in meetings.  Some groups opt to say the Lord's Prayer, but others simply say the Al-Anon declaration. I am glad that everyone is included regardless of their religion and that the "God of our understanding" can be as defined by each of us.

Gossip is another obstacle.  I don't like gossip. It is hurtful and often based on false information. To me, meetings are a safe place where we do not discuss members or others, and particularly not the alcoholic.  While it is important to take our own inventory, it is not part of our program to take the inventory of the alcoholic, and especially not air it out to others.

Not gossiping reminds me to keep the focus where it needs to be: on me.  I spent way too much of my life making alcoholics my Higher Power.  It did nothing but harm when I focused on what others did and then used that as ammunition to justify my feelings and what I was doing.

I realize now that by seeing what others do and inventorying how that affects me, I can use the information to make good decisions for myself.  I cannot fix the alcoholic's problems.  That is not my business.  But treating others in a dignified way is my business.  Gossip robs me and others of dignity.

Finally, dominance means that egos run the meetings.  God has been edged out.  I believe that it is important to check our egos at the door.  There is no place in Al-Anon for governing and telling others what to do.

I think that reading of these obstacles in a meeting is a good idea and helps remind each of us to keep the group healthy.


  1. A moot subject, indeed, Syd! Glad you brought this one up. Many people do not realize, or have not 'heard' enough Al-Anon 'language' to understand and accept one important obstacle: (and this one is a pet topic of mine - as it seems to be yours, also - discussion of religion.) I would have left the meeting I first attended and never returned if I had heard anything that sounded religious - from anyone! My EGO had already Eased God Out of my life when I came, and I was resentful at hearing anyone attempt to preach me back to a belief. In taking the 2nd and 3rd steps, I had to finally accept the first step in order to proceed, since something in me kept me coming. I simply customized what I heard to what I considered my need at the time. And then, I was finally asked - with the study of these first 3 steps - "If you do not believe, would you be willing to believe?" I had to reply with tongue in cheek, because I wanted to surge ahead with this recovery - - - Oh yeah - - - I'd be willing! (with no other explanation - quite tersely, at that).

    Today, I do believe in a Higher Power, and He is very personal to me - - - we have a terrific time together - even when I feel mischievous!

    Finally, when I am working with sponsees who have similar doubts about 'believing' I simply remind them, "Religious is MAN-MADE, Spirituality is GOD-MADE."

    Let it Begin With Me!
    If anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, Let the hand of Al-Anon and Alateen always be there, and LET IT BEGIN WITH ME!

    Love and Hugs,
    Anonymous #1

    P.S. Thanks for letting me vent on this one, Syd!

  2. Common recovery wisdom reminds us that before the Traditions, AA was about to disintigrate due to the three issues you mention so well. The traditions are more important than the steps in this regard. Thanks for reminding me, bro.

  3. This is wonderful, Syd and I am going to copy your words and refer to them when needed at our AA meetings. It is so easy to get "off track" and it is especially difficult for the new comer to know what is going on and they often feel uncomfortable and sometimes leave and never come back when that happens.
    It really saddens me when that happens and we need to be always vigilant about this.
    Thanks so much for your wise words.

  4. "Religion" is my big issue. I live in the Bible Belt, too, and I try to keep my big mouth shut so I can get some e,s, and h but sometimes I want to share that I am a spiritual pagan who follows the message of Jesus, or Buddha or Abraham (the message of love in universal, to me). thanks for letting me vent..


  5. Syd,
    I can see how gossip could be very destructive in a meeting, but personally, I couldn't live without it. If you don't have something nice to say, come and sit by me, I always say. Laugh.

    Have a great weekend.

  6. I'm glad the obstacles for success are well laid out in AA too...

    Dishonesty, closed-mindedness, unwillingness to accept the principles and steps as they are laid out in the book.

    The results of those three things being practiced are self-evident.


    These are great programs, the more we stick to the solution, the more solid the message, the more healthy the fellowship.

    What I like to hear in meetings is the solution and the miracles that happen as a result of the direction of the program being practiced.

  7. I so agree with you Syd --and those principles are also operative in AA and crucial to unity and growth in community.

  8. As long as your ways work for you then they are the right ones for you. I would add Give no offense. but then I am a meeting of one so my rules which work for me will suffice for my group.

  9. great read Syd! Good, solid program stuff that keeps us sober, at peace, in harmony and recovering!

  10. Hi Syd! I'm presenting the topic tomorrow at a meeting, I've chosen dominance. Love this blog and it's helped me organize my thoughts. Are the Three Obstacles written about in our literature? I can't find it. Thanks for what you've written here.

  11. I saw it in Many Voices, One Journey, page 76.

  12. Al-anon Service Manual p. 24, 54-55. Thanks, we needed it today!


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