Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Where are the men?

I had a question from someone a few weeks ago about why more men don't go to Al-Anon.  Generally, when I read that every alcoholic affects the lives of at least twenty people, then it would be reasonable to conclude: 1) that more people in general would benefit from Al-Anon and 2) not all the affected people out there are women.  In my meetings, there are a few other men who attend regularly.  Basically, though men are outnumbered by about ten to one.  I remember going to my first meeting, where there was not another man there.  I certainly did get attention which was a good reason to keep going back.  Most of us don't mind being outnumbered by women ten to one!

Seriously,  I do think that men's brains are wired differently.  Many men aren't really good at reaching out and asking for help.  I didn't know what to expect from the first meeting.  Yes, it felt uncomfortable but somehow it also felt good to be welcomed warmly and for people to take an interest in me.  The leader was quite the dominator of that meeting.  And perhaps at that first meeting, I needed a strong voice to tell me what to do.  I was at a point where I knew I had to do something, but none of the options seemed too good.

At that first meeting, I was given some phone numbers.  I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to call these women or not. It felt awkward.  I waited several days and did call each of them.  I was relieved to be taken directly to their voice mail, so I left a message telling them thanks for the welcome and that I would be back.

I kept going back to that meeting and others.  Eventually,  I found groups that offered friendship, understanding, and compassion.  I found people who didn't tell me what to do.  And I found a sponsor who was willing to work with me on the steps and traditions of the program.

There was something really powerful about being in a room full of people, no matter that most were women,  who understood what I was feeling because they had been there.  I knew that I wasn't alone and that I didn't have to deal with the crazy stuff in my head by myself.

There are times when I'm in meetings and a person will get going on a share that has so many details that my leg begins to shake with agitation.  Or there will be a lot of crying and anguish.  It doesn't matter whether these are men or women because I am learning to be patient, listen and have empathy for those who are having a tough time.

Sometimes the passing of Kleenex and the quilt raffles strike me as totally feminine.  And I don't want to leave out the hugging, the butterflies, and the literature that talks about "his" drinking---LOL.  But, what's wrong with a hug, butterflies are beautiful, and I know lots of "his's" who drink too.

At one of my meetings, there is a male college student who keeps coming back. He is a good fellow who has a sense of humor.  It's good to see that he isn't fazed by being in the midst of women, some of whom are old enough to be his great-grandmother.  He seems perfectly comfortable being there.

Sadly though, many people don't stay.  They will come for one or two meetings and leave.  I hope that they have found what they are looking for elsewhere because alcoholism is a problem that we can't fix, control or ignore.  Its affects fall on just as many men as women.  I know that I understand the tools of the program, but the affects go back so far in my life that left to my own devices, I could easily revert back to being the angry, self-pitying man I was before.

Now I can say that the women in the rooms have been awesome.  They have been yelled at, physically abused,  financially bereft, yet still manage to laugh and to give those hugs.  Their eyes have changed from being dull and full of tears to being bright and twinkling with humor.  I am grateful for their help and the hand of fellowship that was extended to me.  


  1. That was an awesome post, Syd. Thank you for being so respectful of women. For appreciating the gifts women bring.
    I talked to a woman once who was cutting my hair and she said she went to a few al-anon meetings and at every meeting she kept hearing the same women telling the same story about the same men who drank and she said, "I'm not going to do this any more," and she left her husband.
    So I guess, in a way, even though she didn't go back, she managed to deal with her problem.
    P.S. I think her next partner was a woman!

  2. This is good. My meeting had quite a few couples. Parents of the addict or alcoholic.

  3. My home group has about 5 men who are regulars, out of 35 or so people. That is a lot as far as meeting go..

    I find their shares just as relevant as anyone's, and I don't hear much "he did this or he did that" from the women. There are many people there with 15, 20 years, and they know how to keep the meeting together in a way that is truly helpful.

    I also have seen a lot of women come out of their shell, myself included.

    Great post!

  4. Hi Syd,

    It was good to hear 'your story' once again; the different angles provide the listener (or reader) with hope that situations within an alcoholic atmosphere can and DO improve, whether the alcoholic is drinking or not. (The NOT part is preferred, but Step #1 reminds me of powerlessness, and that the other person has a Higher Power who is not me.)

    Great blog.

    Hugs, hugs, and hugs,
    Anonymous #1

  5. I've had similar thoughts about my group here in the UK. Mainly women. Not all the alcoholics in our lives are men, a good proportion are sisters, wives, daughters, mothers.

    The majority of people at AA meetings in my town are men.

    The AA meeting which happens in another room in the same building on the same night as the Al-Anon group is very large. The Al-Anon group is very small.

    I often wonder why the Al-Anon meeting is so small when so many must be affected by the disease. There are AA meetings every day in my city, well attended, but only one small Al-Anon group.

    We do get newcomers but they rarely stay for more than two or three meetings. I wonder if they are looking for a different solution, can't 'hear' the message. Or if there is something wrong with our meeting.

    A lot of AAs are double winners. I think quite a few start out in Al-Anon and then realise their true home is AA. or they start in AA and feel that this is all they need.

    But I have come to the conclusion that it is easier for Al-Anons to avoid facing up to their own illness and so harder for us to realise that we need recovery as much as the alcoholic does.

    I met a woman recently who had been to Al-Anon some years ago. Her son is an alcoholic. She was very angry and bitter, not at me, at the illness. 'Can you tell how to get my son sober', 'What advice have you got for me then, what should I do to stop my son drinking'. She didn't think the Al-Anon people had any solutions for her. She didn't like them.

    My heart bled for her but she wouldn't come back to the meeting, and her mind and heart were closed to the Al-Anon message. So I didn't have any advice or help that she wanted to hear.

  6. I may have said this to you before Syd, but it always stays in my mind, my mothers words: sons of alcoholics become alcoholics and daughters of alcoholics marry them. It has stayed with me like a mantra, like a well worn script and I have tried hard to defy it.

    Thanks for these observations. I find that psychology meetings are also top heavy with women, as are writers groups and poetry festival.

    Where are the men? At the sporting events?

  7. You called each one of them? that's cool. I didn't call anyone for a LONG time. But I did keep coming back. We have several men at my home meeting, but mostly women.

  8. the meeting i go to is probably 60/40 girls to guys...guy or girl its a great share man...but yeah guys have a much harder time with asking for help...

  9. Syd, when I read this I just thought of how gracious you are. Calling each of those women and leaving a message thanking them for the welcome and then your acknowledgement of the change you see in people.

    I remember a man who came to a meeting...bald, obviously very sick. He was a father and he was dying of cancer. Out of desperation he came to a meeting because he had to find a way to get his son sober and safe before he died. There was not a dry eye in that meeting. That was THE most heartbreaking thing I had ever seen....We all could relate to his desperation but his timetable was what made it all the more sad. We didn't know if he had long enough to learn that this journey would be about him and not saving his son. He never came back.

  10. As a female member of Al-Anon, I will say that some of the most memorable and powerful stories I have heard have come from the husband's of alcoholics. In the meetings I have attended, the tissues have been passed to the men, too. To see someone who is physically powerful admit their powerlessness is something that sticks with me.

  11. Syd,

    I found the same as you but I wasn't as wise. In the beginning I went to many Al-Anon and Nar-Anon meetings and I was the only man. I went with my wife or daughter but that didn't seem to ease the feeling this wasn't a place for a man to share my feelings and being related to by another father.

    The tissues, hugs and many tears didn't do it for me. But of course I was seeking something else than comfort and understanding of the disease.

    But bloggging seems to be the same ratio but I am in a different spot now. I am glad I was accepted and found a way to accept anyone else, male or female that are confronted with this disease.

    Growing and one step at a time any way we can.

  12. I have been so blessed to have found a wonderful nar-anon group. I so look forward to the meetings every week. There are quite a few men at the meetings pretty much equal to the women that attend. I truly believe God led me to this group. The impact on my life has been profound. I was going from blog to blog but the actual human interaction with people that are real face to face did it for me.

    Your post was great. Your writings always have a calmness about them and it is comforting.

  13. Such a thought-provoking post Syd -- I do think that it is harder for men to admit they need help and to go into therapy or talk about feeling helpless and out-of-control around a drinking partner or child. Men are conditioned to 'deal with it' and when they feel themselves floundering many men feel unmasculine or a failure.

    That is why I think some men in AA take refuge in their big bad war stories of how they drank and fought and ended up in gaol -- because it takes a while before they are ready to admit they couldn't handle drink, were helpless and lost.

  14. My father would be a prime example of men that don't 'do' meetings.
    I don't think he ever got the cause/effect of my mothers alcoholism, and as much as he wanted to support her in reaching sobriety, he was incapable of understanding how it worked.
    This was an educated, professional man with solid family values and work ethic. But as the man of the family he felt an intense shame in not being able to control a problem within his walls.
    It was extremely difficult for him to discuss private issues and he didn't take advice readily so there was no way he would EVER have set foot in a meeting.
    Don't get me wrong, he was a kind, loving man and a wonderful father, just locked in a generational mindset.
    It was not until he was dying (from ignoring medical advice) that he admitted he had been wrong and from that day on he was going to do exactly what the doctors told him.
    Too late.
    And my mother never reached sobriety.
    Karen C

  15. Next time you are sailing past Philadelphia stop in our Tuesday South Jersey Men's group. It's differences may be while I'm still there - maybe not. Another perspective.

  16. Having no experience with either AA or Al-Anon all i can say is cool, everyone needs a home away from home. We al find our own if we look long enough and are sincere in the effort.

  17. At my first meeting, I was 28, and everyone else in the room was over 60, but it was a powerful and moving experience for me, and as soon as they began to share their experience strength and hope, I knew I had found a home. Thanks for this.

  18. You're right. Men are crap at asking for help!!

  19. We have a handful of men that are regulars at our meeting. I agree with Brian, man or woman, I get a lot out of everyone's share. However, I do love to listen and learn from a man's share, a different perspective that I might not of thought of. I believe that is a huge part of why I enjoy going to open AA meetings. I get a LOT out of a different perspective.

    I hope they keep coming back.

  20. The women in my meetings when I started going eight months ago helped me get over my fear of rejection by the women in my "normal" life. I am so grateful to them. I now find myself helping them. Most have had some difficult times dealing with men. Denial was a huge part of me. So, yes it was very hard to accept help.


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