Saturday, August 10, 2013

If you want what we have......

With so many people in pain from the misery of living with an alcoholic, I wonder what it actually takes for them to eventually realize that they too have been affected by the disease.  Yet, day in and day out, they struggle along as a caregiver, angry spouse, unhappy person who puts on so many masks to the world so the world won't know how much pain and sadness the person has.

Leah Odze Epstein in Drinking Diaries tells what she found at a meeting and what she didn't find:

There, in that room, I finally found people who got it–who felt like me, alone and alienated most of the time, except there, in that room, when they told their stories. I felt those people could help me, if I let them. But I couldn’t bring myself to go back to that depressing room.

Nearly a decade later, plagued by some of the same issues that seem to haunt adult children of alcoholics (control issues? Check. Accept nothing less than perfection? Check. Alienated? Yup), I went to another Al-Anon meeting in the suburbs. Again with the dimly lit room. Again with the hard chairs. Again with the basement. Were we trying to re-create our childhood suffering through the setting? I didn’t get it.

There were only eight of us sitting in a circle, and I was the youngest. No one smoked or drank coffee. The energy in the room was flat. I couldn’t breathe. But I sat there and listened to the forty-something woman with the twisted hands talk about her crippling rheumatoid arthritis and her nightmare mother. I listened to the nearly 300 pound man talk about his bad mother, too. And the woman whose lips barely moved when she, too, spoke of her evil mother.

I never went back to Al-Anon after that. I’m not saying it’s not a lifesaver for many people. I’m sure it is. Still…

Sometimes, I fantasize about the kind of meeting I might like to attend. First off, I wouldn’t call it a meeting. Maybe a Girl’s Night Out. There would be women my age, maybe a bit younger, some a bit older. The women would be smart and funny. Some would have battle scars, but they’d talk about them with humor. Maybe we’d laugh until we cried, sharing our stories, and how we turned out after all that craziness. I picture sitting in a warm cozy place, maybe on a red velvet couch–My fantasy Al-Anon meeting takes place in a restaurant, or a bar.

I know that not all meetings are healthy ones. I have been to many that were not in line with the Traditions. I attended one a couple of days ago in which there was a lot of crosstalk and the main topic was suicide and not those related to alcohol. I shared about how low being affected by my wife's drinking had brought me--to the point where I didn't care if I lived or died and was contemplating my own death.  Sometimes, what we say reaches the ears of someone who needs to hear it, just as I need to hear something that resonates with me.  A lady came up to me afterwards and said that she understood more now about the suicide of her alcoholic brother--how complete loss of hope can bring one to make such a decision.

I know that Al-Anon is a program of attraction rather than promotion.  And I know that there are other ways to get help rather than by working a 12 step program. But if you want people to talk to who are familiar with the disease and its effects on others, why not check it out and see if there is something in it to help you?  Maybe bring a pad if the chairs are too hard. Or bring your own latte.

I get emails from people who say that they get a lot from reading my blog. They write that it helps them to know someone else who has been affected by the disease and worked to recover. And that reading the posts is better than going to Al-Anon.  I don't know about you, but I read a lot of information on alcoholism before I went to Al-Anon and none of it brought me the peace of mind that I now have.  I read books on co-dependence and still I didn't understand how to get free from the years of behavioral patterns or "isms" that seemed to make my life unmanageable.  I don't write as much about alcoholism anymore.  I write about living life on life's terms.  And that, at times, can be wonderful or it can be difficult.

My older blog posts when I first started were about all the issues I had with a newly sober spouse.  I had a lot of issues with understanding what serenity even meant.  I didn't understand what a Higher Power was.  I had no idea of how to "let go", detach with love, or accept others for who they are.  Keeping the focus on myself was meaningless because I had spent so many years focusing on others that I cared about.  I could focus at work, but no one knew how lost I felt on the inside or how sad I was some days.  I had one confidante at work who I talked to mostly about his love for a recovering addict.  I lost a good friend when I told him about the difficulties we were having coping with recovery.

But in all of this turmoil, I knew that if I kept going to meetings, worked the steps, and talked to my sponsor, I would feel better one day.  Misery was truly optional.  And it took me a while before I finally got the idea that I didn't have to focus all of my energy on another person.  I could be my own person and have a life where there was happiness and even serenity.

For those of you who have read this blog or other blogs that focus on recovery, you'll likely find that we have discovered a way of living that isn't about how miserable our lives are.  Most of us have jobs we enjoy or have had successful careers. Most of us have hobbies and activities that are a passion.  Most of us get up in the morning and think about what is good about our lives and are grateful for those we love.  Most of us have discovered that we can handle the ups and downs of this life without falling apart or sinking into self-pity and self-loathing.  We have learned one day at a time to live life on life's terms.

The things that used to bother me aren't nearly as important any more.  I still have my own shortcomings that I work on every day.  I still forget to live in the day rather than project into the future. And I occasionally have an expectation about someone or something.  But for the most part, I am living a much more balanced life than ever before.  I realize that I only have a finite number of years in my life.  And I am grateful for the help of those in Al-Anon who reached out a hand to me and to whom I now offer my own hand in return.


  1. Thank for sharing, Syd. I've received a lot of hope and strength from reading your blog. I am living with a recovering alcoholic. One day I'd like to write some of my story on my pages. However, my husband reads my blog. I'd never want to hurt him. And yeah, I bring my own latte when I go to a meeting. It helps.

  2. I understand Syd, most people or many, need others help to get back to basics to start the journey to reality as reality is not as we wish it to be.

    My experiences; every different meeting I went to I found much the same experiences as the author wrote about. Certainly nothing in any of them that made me want to go back even though a couple of them I did just to see if it was me or "the vibe." Honestly after leaving an AA meeting most nights all I wanted to do was drink.

    You balance your Al Anon as a part of your life not the be all and end all of it, and it was those hard core AA people especially the 10 years and less of being sober that flipped my switch to "naw, this isn't for me"

    Do I tell people to stay away? No, I actually tell them to try and offer to go to their first one with them. But the two times I did that I found the same sort of judgmental folk that turned me off in the first place. Hard Core never works for anything and when hard core runs up against a person looking for recovery, the weak one always get run over.

    It's been 14 years since I went to an AA meeting for myself and 13 since I recovered from alcoholism. I did a 10 day detox, got a full work up, and left the hospital which was right across the street from the closest liquor store. I had no urge then and now I'm just to cheap and mostly too lazy to buy alcohol.

    Now I see one common denominator in people involved in AA that I really do not care for and that is fear of relapse. Real, palpable fear and I, for myself could ever be happy or content (better word) if i felt that weight of fear on my back day after day year after year.

    I guess it's an each to their own, AA just wasn't for me. *shrug*

    1. I don't think 12 steps are for everyone. I am an Al-Anoner and the meetings I go to aren't nearly as depressing as this blog made them out to be. Then again I guess it depends on the area. Most people in mine end up laughing and aren't hyper critical.

  3. it is a way of living...and one that def fits where you are...even without being an addict, there is much i can gleen from the life you lead...i have sat in quite a few meetings with those i have taken to them as well and always come away with something...

  4. "Attraction rather than promotion."
    There's something so very wise and true about that.
    Not unlike your words here, Syd. Whether about Al-Anon or the sea or the death of loved ones.

  5. Ahhhh Syd - - - 'twas so good to read your personal inventory on 'how to be me in keeping the focus on myself' in this blog. I think it is miraculous to attend a less-than principles above personalities type meeting; for me, it reminded me that I had the option of maintaining my misery, resentment, and pain - because - after all, it got me what I wanted: pity from myself and perhaps some compassion (or pity) from others who were near me to hear.

    And then - lo and behold - somehow, someone (perhaps a HP?) - guided my steps into an active Al-Anon meeting where the topic was centered on the solution to problems through study of the steps, traditions, and literature in particular. I need to remember here how helpful it was to read the Big Book of AA (which I resented because I WAS NOT ONE OF THEM! And, then, the magic started eeking itself into my psyche; I shut up, opened my ears, listened, and this was 22 years ago.

    I have been actively absent from Al-Anon for nearly 2 years, except through correspondence and the internet, but the powerful seed that was planted within my spirit began to sprout once again, and I took action with my life.

    Here I am now, content, homeless, and not upset to be this way - - - because I can feel the hope and love that Al-Anon members and all their tools are giving me once again.

    I did not mean to go on and on here - - - I did not mean to 'take advantage' of your blog - - - but somehow, it was another Higher Power 'thing' that I know has once again charged and changed my spirit.

    Thanks for letting me go on and on.

    Much love with big hugs,
    Anonymous #1

  6. It is true that Al-Anon meetings can be sick. It is true that some people really enjoy the pain they are in and just want someone to commiserate with. I think we all start out there but some of us decide we want more and start doing instead of talking about being a victim.

    I wanted my life to be for me and not against someone else. What another person is doing is none of my business. If they are a part of my life I can choose to move on if I want. It is a choice.

    I am happy I decided to stop focusing on what was done to me and change myself. Working the steps changed me forever and for that I am grateful. I was tired of being in so much pain.

  7. I have learned so much from you Syd and from Alanon. My home meeting shares a lot of laughter and solutions for how to get on with your own life and mind your business.

    All that being said, I do envy the people whose loved ones are in recovery. It is a lot easier to cope with addiction that is in remission versus addiction that is active.

  8. Beautiful post and good reminder.

    I haven't been to an AA meeting in awhile, but I am enormously grateful for the existence of AA and Al-Anon. My husband never felt the need to try Al-Anon, and in some ways I wish he had, although he was and is an excellent listener for all I've shared with him about my journey into sobriety and meetings. I know AA will welcome me bavk should I feel I need the rooms for support. I couldn't have survived those first three years without my daily AA meetings.

  9. Wow, Syd, powerful post! A great reminder to work the program as it is, and to share our experience, strength & HOPE. I must admit, when I walked into my current home group, the laughter was off-putting. How could they laugh when my life was no laughing matter? Today, I realize it's a choice to be happy and I my home group truly helps me feel like I found a home. I want new members to feel that same warm fuzzy feeling that attracted me! For 4.5 years, I was a "dabbler", returning to the same meeting every 3 months or so, thinking there was something wrong with me for not enjoying the meeting. A friend pointed me in another direction & today I'm so glad I hung in there & found a mtg that fits me. Sadly, some aren't up for that search. Thanks for the reminder that staying true to the program is important in retaining " veterans" AND attracting new ones.

  10. one time you were talking about helping with Hospice...I just think you would be wonderful helping with Al-Anon...why not start a group meeting the way you would want it to be...or maybe there are rules and regs ..I don't know anything about it. All I know for sure is that you have such understanding and compassion for others...I read Co-Dependent No more some 30 years was like I had written it! Mostly what all of us is searching for is love and we finally realize we can't find it until we love our self first..Just a thought...maybe you are running your own little meetings...right here on this blog! I sure enjoy reading your posts..

    1. I do go to meetings--about three a week--and they are ones that adhere to the traditions and concepts. The meeting I attended was out of town while we were on vacation. I try to go to meetings while I am away on trips. And a friend and I actually did start a meeting in the area which has grown and is a great meeting.

      I have filled out my paperwork for Hospice and should be starting this month. I am looking forward to that as well.

  11. Syd, I enjoyed your post. I have found that not all meetings are the same. I do not believe the writer of the piece either had enough of a sampling of Al Anon meetings to declare all meetings unworthy or tried enough meetings to be fair. But, that is just my humble opinion. I remember in the beginning hating the fact that I "needed" to be a part of this group. I resented it, actually. Perhaps that has colored her feelings. If I am hurting and there is love and support in the room, the chairs and the size of the participants is really irrelevant.

  12. As an AA member, I have found meetings that I have loved, and meetings I have disliked. There have been times when I didn't like any of them. But I kept going. Sometimes I need to go to the meeting to be maybe the one voice of sanity there for someone else who needs help.

    I am not in love with alanon meetings either.... but I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that they saved my life when I was living with a crazy sober alcoholic.

  13. It's interesting to read Epstein's description of her fantasy Al-Anon meeting. When I first started going to meetings, I did as suggested and tried out all the meetings in my area. There was one I called the "whiny" meeting, and one was a "divorcee dating" meeting, and others that I just felt had no direction. Fortunately I found a womens writing group that was very steeped in the traditions, where the women are funny and strong and committed to working the program...with a passion for growth and recovery. It is a true community of women who are living, not wallowing in their story. Later, when one of the women in our group couldn't attend that particular meeting any more, we started a new meeting with the same "flavor" in mind and it is now attended by an entirely different group of women who are also funny, strong and wonderful. Meetings are what we make them. Thanks for your post Syd, and for sharing your experience with others.

  14. Once again, another good post. Thank you for sharing, Syd.

  15. I have experienced a new freedom by working an Alanon program.
    The path that led me to Alanon was a dusty, lonely trail.
    That is what it took for me to get help to bottom out emotionally.
    The program is not for everyone....just glad it worked for me if I keep working it

  16. So good to read you Syd, a reminder of how we can find balance together.

  17. You know I wonder if this woman even gave Al-Anon a chance. I will say I was lucky enough to find my home group my first round. It was a Friday evening one and everyone were for the most part was pretty positive. We meet at an Alano club with on second floor not a basement with obnoxious florescent lights, large windows a big table t and most of the seats (with the exception of a few) sitting around the table had padding and we have coffee too. Some people bring goodies to pass around.
    I heard their stories but it wasn’t depressing sounding. Then again I came to Al-Anon long after my A had passed on. I wasn’t looking for a complain fest I was looking to heal myself not to fix him. So I kind of came in with the right perspective and happened to find a group that was like minded. I was happy to learn Al-Anon wasn’t about complaining about the A. I admit I was worried I was going to be around a bunch of depressing people. From time to time there are some rough moments. I here shares were life is a bit rough and even I have had shared some frustrating moments and cried two or three times this past year, but at the end of the day we were laughing through the tears. It actually kind of sounds like what this lady wants. We also go out after words sometimes and chat. The Monday night group I attend regularly is in the same room and is pretty up beat a bit mellower. I mean that not in a depressing way but as in I think it is just a Monday feel because we are all tired form the first day back to work. Friday everyone is extremely upbeat and ready for the weekend lol.
    I have attended other meetings in my town too that aren’t bad but don’t match me like the other two do. I still go to them from time to time (usually when I know I can’t make my main two) but sometimes they seem to get gloomier then the other two but not nearly like the this blogger describes and generally it keeps the focus on Al-anon principles to not complain about the addict. I also find the rooms uncomfortable. One is dark and dank and hardly any natural light gets through. It was an old bar room that is shaped weird and you can’t see everyone in the room because there is a corner you have to bend around. Then there are a few others in a different location that has a back room with no windows, hard chairs (just like she talks about) but the conversation is still good and helpful and only 1 or 2 people have a sob story but usually end it with a positive twist. It isn’t always about location but sometimes a comfortable space helps people get in the right state of mind. Oh and coffee helps lol!! I am just lucky to find an area with plenty of meetings to attend. There is one every night of the week (sometimes two) and 3 of them are within walking distance for me.

    I guess my point of hijacking your blog is that not all meeting are alike and a true Al-Anon meeting has a lot of hope and laughter not depressing self wallowing

  18. Thanks, Syd, for keeping up with the blog.

    I have been in about the same length of time as you, and the evolution of your program, as expressed in your blog, has been very meaningful to me. When I started reading your blog, I was so damaged and confused that I had difficulty constructing complete sentences. You thoroughly amazed me with your ability to articulate your thoughts and feelings. I very much appreciate what you have to say, and I also appreciate that you are in a different place today than when you started the blog, and that is reflected in your writing.

    As others have mentioned, it is most important to find a healthy home group. I think in the very beginning, it can be useful for some to complain about their qualifier, and even to wallow in a bit of self pity. I can't say I'm proud of it, but I did this. I have rarely had a voice in my life, and in my first meetings where I actually spoke, this kind of thing was all that I had. Through the effort of trying to articulate what was inside, which I had rarely ever done, I began to hear myself. It was very soon obvious to me that I was mired in the problem, yet I was sitting in a room where most of the other people were talking about working on solutions. There were funny, insightful people who were frank about their shortcomings. I was able to see that and begin to work on my own solutions. Over time I have seen what appears to be a similar kind of progress in others. I am so grateful that it is a gentle program. I am so very grateful.

    My home meeting is fairly large, and there is always laughter. There is tragedy, too. There happens to be coffee, but it's really awful coffee. Definitely bring your own coffee. There is also a bit of complaining and wallowing in self-pity, but that is not the main flavor of my home group. I think the chronically self-piteous move on to other meetings. We all need to find the meetings that support us, whatever that may be.


  19. This was a really interesting post and discussion. I felt comfortable and loved from the first time I went to Al-Anon, even though I was often the youngest person there (I live in a part of Florida which has many retirees). I found the laughter and positive attitudes very healing. I found the diversity of the participants refreshing. The group does stick to the program pretty closely, and I think that's why it works.

    I tried a new group last night because I anticipate a work-schedule change, and it didn't feel quite the same. But it might be because I don't know people there yet. It just seems like part of the problem is that Al-Anon is made of typical, imperfect human beings. I'm glad that it works for me, and I'm glad to hear the perspective others have given.

    Always a pleasure to stop by and visit, Syd.

  20. Appreciate your humility Syd. Thanks for sharing it!

    David at Whoa!-briety

  21. Interesting post and thoughtful comments. I always learn something here.

  22. Thank you for your post Syd. I am grateful I found the rooms of Al-Anon, the program (Steps, traditions, concepts, literature, meetings, my sponsor, conferences, etc) and most importantly the people in the program helped save my life. They continue to be my rock, courage and strength as I take each step forward. I pray everyday those around me; friends, family or even strangers find the help they need, in a healthy way. I can see the amazing benefits of Al-Anon and AA, but that might not be the right place for everyone. It is hard to let that go, but I have to, and focus on Al-Anon works for me.

  23. Finding Al-Anon has been all good for me. Like many I went to understand a relative. Had no idea what I would learn about me.Amazing what I see about me when I begin to shut up and learn to listen. I think the practice of no cross talk is so powerful.Thank you for your blog.


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