The two programs were closely allied in their origins and are naturally drawn together by their family ties. Yet the Twelve Traditions emphasize that each works more effectively if it remains separate. Thus, there can be no combining, joining, or uniting which would result in the loss of identity of either fellowship. Separateness rules out affiliation or merging, but it does not exclude cooperation with AA or acting together for mutual benefit.
Some of the open AA meetings I attend are speaker meetings where I get to hear someone's "story" of what it was like, what happened and what it is like now. The first open AA meeting I attended was a speaker meeting. I was so moved by what I heard that I developed a great awe for the miracles that can occur in recovery. I was moved in that meeting to tears. There was no blaming of the family, just a focus on their recovery through the steps. I realized then the power of those steps because if they could help someone who was in such dire circumstances with alcoholism, then they surely could help me.
When I go to open Big Book studies or open discussion meetings, I know to not share but say that I am a grateful member of Al-Anon who is there to listen. I learned that at AA meetings, even open ones, it is only appropriate for alcoholics (or people there because of their own drinking problem) to share (unless specifically asked to be a speaker). The primary purpose is for alcoholics to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety. I can't do that from my non-alcoholic perspective. It would be equally inappropriate for an alcoholic who isn't affected by someone else's drinking to share at an Al-Anon meeting. Or for a friend, who is along to just lend moral support, to share.
Several years ago, when I was in the first year of Al-Anon, I was out of town at a work conference. I was having a tough time--I was away from home, screwed up in the head, and a co-dependent mess. I couldn't find an Al-Anon meeting to attend, so I went to an open AA meeting within walking distance of the hotel.
I walked into that mid-day meeting and introduced myself to an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair. I told him that I was in Al-Anon but needed to be at a meeting. I think he could tell that I was a mess. He asked me to chair the meeting which I declined. He then told me that it would be okay and would help the other attendees. I felt unsure about this, but decided that if I was being asked to do something then I needed to go ahead with it. God knows, I needed to be at that meeting. For some reason, I felt that I was being guided to do this and just trusted that it would all be okay.
So I read How It Works and then he asked me to tell my story. So I gave about a 15 minute share about what being me currently felt like and how I had gotten into Al-Anon for help in my own recovery. There were about 10 people present at the meeting and each one who shared indicated that my story reminded them of why they needed to stay sober and of the pain that they had caused others. One fellow said that he had committed crimes on a daily basis during his years of alcohol and drugs, had been to thousands of AA meetings but had never heard an Al-Anon speak. He said that the honesty and courage that I expressed were to be commended. These people made me feel welcome. I left that meeting with a sense of well-being that put me at peace.
I may have committed a breach in the traditions, but I will not forget the kindness I was shown by the AA fellowship there. And for some reason that made me feel better about a lot of things. It may not have been the best thing for a beginner in Al-Anon to do, but I appreciate that the elderly man in the wheelchair recognized a fellow lost soul and reached out to help.