Thursday, July 31, 2014

What makes a healthy Al-Anon meeting?

Fairly regularly in Al-Anon, we have what's called a group inventory.  We talk about how the group is doing and whether it is "healthy".  There is actually a check list that people in the group can look over and discuss in deciding how the group is doing.

I think that the regular meetings I attend are healthy.  We have a step meeting, a tradition meeting, a literature meeting, and an open discussion meeting each month.  Members follow the traditions which guide the group in their interaction with other groups and how members interact with each other.

That being said, each group is autonomous.  There isn't a one size fits all kind of format.  And I have been to some unhealthy meetings in the past.  So I can attest to the fact that not all Al-Anon meetings follow the three legacies of recovery, unity and service. Some are filled with discussions of problems (self-pity and hostile martyrdom) with no solutions offered. And some are filled with endless talk about the alcoholic and how he/she is to blame.

What makes a meeting healthy, in my opinion, is one in which the traditions are practiced.  Some of the most important words for me to remember from the traditions are unity, authority, anonymity, and outside issues.

Religion is an outside issue and seems to be one of the most misunderstood part of meetings.  I am not a religious person in the sense of being a part of any organized religion. Religion is not something that I want to hear at meetings. When people pass out poems of platitude and offer up biblical sayings, I want to roll my eyes.  Al-Anon is a spiritual program, however.  And the God of our understanding is mentioned, as is a Higher Power (HP).  Whatever a person believes to be more powerful than they are is their HP.

We have many "Gods of our understanding" in this world:  Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, Mormon,  etc.  People may have Nature as their Higher Power.  Perhaps the group or a sponsor is their HP.  Many are Christian in their beliefs.  I'm not offended by what others believe.  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 and create divisiveness.

So, I think unity and 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. If a person is uncomfortable about the Lord's Prayer, then they can step back and not say it.  They can also call for a group conscience to ask that another closing be used. I am glad that everyone is included in Al-Anon regardless of their religion and that the "God of our understanding" can be as defined by each of us.

Dominance (authority) is another obstacle to success in having a healthy group. Dominance means that egos run the meetings.  There isn't much room for spirituality when ego has run amuck.  I have heard the saying that ego means "edging God 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.  If the Al-Anon "police" are at a meeting, then it may not be particularly healthy.

Anonymity is important and makes a meeting safe.  Talking about others or the reason they are attending meetings is not healthy.  Gossip is hurtful.  To me, meetings must be 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 about 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.

A healthy meeting is where you can share with others and learn from their experiences. Yes, there are slogans and expressions that may seem corny at first.  I remember when I kept hearing "Let Go and Let God" at meetings, it made me want to leave/heave. I disliked that slogan so much.  Now I realize that letting go means to quit tugging so hard at someone and let their own HP, what ever it may be, guide them.  When I stopped resisting and started listening, I found out that "take what you like, and leave the rest" is taken very seriously in Al-Anon.

Another sign of a healthy meeting is when no one gives advice and tells you what to do.  This is a program in which we share our experience, strength, and hope.  It does not mean that I tell another person how to live their life.  In a healthy meeting, no one tells you whether to stay in a relationship with your alcoholic.  A meeting isn't group therapy where we "cross talk" or give advice.

In a healthy meeting, you may learn some tools that can help save some relationships, *if that's what you want to do* -- but some relationships are beyond saving.  Al-Anon encourages you to take some time before making any big life-changing decisions, but ultimately, you make the decision that's best for you, and sometimes that means leaving the alcoholic.  I made a decision to stay with the alcoholic in my life. And I'm glad that I did.

Al-Anon isn't the only way to recover from the effects of someone else's alcoholism.  What I find comforting is that it feels good to be among those who have the same problem and have been affected by alcoholism. We share similar patterns of behavior and emotions. And we share about our solutions.

This is a program that isn't a cure all. It works for me if I take it seriously. I look on this as a spiritual program that has enhanced my life. There are other ways to get help for co-dependent behavior with an alcoholic. I tried therapy and never understood why I was so angry and miserable. I resisted going to Al-Anon for years, but eventually found that it helped me to understand more about myself than therapy did.

I know that I deserve to have a healthy meeting. So when I find myself in a meeting where there is dominance, cross talk, or religion, I share my own experience, strength and hope that is based in the steps and traditions.
It is wonderful to know that there is somewhere that I can go to be with people who share a common interest in recovering from the effects of alcoholism.


  1. a lot of these same things will ruin any group...not too many faster than that ego...once it gets going...ugh...religeon is as well...which is kinda sad...i was just having a conversation today with a mormon about this...its like everyone has to protect their turf at times...but i def think holding to the traditions is huge...

  2. Bravo and well said! I am grateful to say I have a very healthy home group. We are the largest attended group in our large city. We LIVE the traditions with heart and passion. Thanks for carrying a great and needed message, Syd.

  3. These meetings are not a weekly get-together. It is a serious thing. A place of safe harbour as such. I've never belonged to any kind of meeting group, other than at rehab. Blogs were my 'meetings'. The support I get/got here is astounding. And as you, I am not traditional religious, but I do have a HP. What worked for me is taking anything that helped me, from whatever source, and managed to make it work...

  4. We face the same things in AA ... a "healthy meeting" is critical. Thanks for your good post, Syd.

  5. I love what Shadow just said, "these meetings are not a weekly get-together It is a serious thing."

    I will never forget the woman whose share was about her upset about the value of the American dollar to the Euro right before they were taking a European vacation and the dress code of the golfers at the country club. I wanted to slap her! I was sitting there in one of our many crisis trying to figure out to save my daughter while minding my own business no doubt! lol

    Anyway, I so agree. People come through those doors feeling like their life is ending and they are terrified. I have a meeting right now that I call my home group that has one woman in it who means well but cross talks often and before and after the meeting shares her religious beliefs often and loudly. It drives me crazy and I am not sure how to go about handling it. Everyone adores her.....but me. lol Thank you Syd for such a great overview of what a healthy meeting should look like.....and for letting me vent. lol

  6. A healthy meeting is a good thing,there have been times that I went to an AA meeting and i found it to be unhealthy,I felt totally drained by that group and I never went back to that meeting group.We all have to be healthy,if we are going tyo continue in our recovery.

  7. Thanks Syd. My Al-Anon group was so healthy, and once I started working full-time, I have not found another one at a time or place that works for me. But I felt very free to be myself, let others be themselves, and to listen and learn. I felt thankful to hear how people with very different views and experiences from me worked their program. I felt thankful that people respected each others' beliefs, but also recognized that Al-Anon is not really designed to save people's souls, but to help people recover from the effects of living with an alcoholic or addict. I didn't enjoy meetings where people focused on their problems or cross-talked, and was glad our members gently steered people away from those things. I still go when I get a holiday, and love being there. Oddly, going to Al-Anon was a profoundly positive spiritual experience for me without being religious. It forever changed my life for the better. As you said, "Al-Anon isn't the only way to recover. . ." but it's a really wonderful way that helped me, and I still read as much literature and blogs as I can, and try to put it into practice one day at a time.

  8. I wish the world was a healthy alanon meeting.

    1. Amen, but for now, it's up to me to be principled.

  9. What Marcia August said...that'd be cool.

  10. I agree with what Marcia said- as I read this, it struck me fully that if all meetings and encounters were handled more like a healthy alanon meeting, it would be a better world. We can all "take what we need" from your words, in many, many different situations and will be the better off for it.

  11. Inventory is an obligation, whether I own A liquor store, or I'm member of an AA group. You lay out the kit of spiritual tools well Syd. Glad to be here. I'm feeling that old blogging desire again so shall see what happens. Anna is F.I.N.E., celebrated 29>th AA anniversary this month. I think 8 years of "dual citizenship...(member of AA and Alanon!).All is well. PEACE and LIGHT for us all. Good to read you, Syd.

  12. My mother-in-law has been going to some Al-Anon meetings and I hope she's finding healthy ones to attend. I haven't discussed them with her except to say that I thought they would be helpful in her dealing with her daughter's recovery (and mine too, but she understandably didn't feel like she needed support with my sobriety since I'm not her child and I openly embraced recovery whereas my SIL required an intervention).

  13. Thanks Syd my meetings are great although some of the folks trouble me sometimes and the group has called them on their rotation of leadership. They try to dominate the group. Glad to have the continuation of Alanon.

  14. Syd, this is a wonderful description of healthy and non-healthy groups. If not for the traditions, we would all be sunk. (and, no, I do not talk about religion in meetings, and will stop anyone who tries to read from the Bible, or quote poems, or other "inspirational" materials.)

  15. Beautifully written my friend... I am grateful my home group participates in Group Inventories to ensure we are following the principles of the three legacies. Al-Anon, it is a safe place, the right place to be.

  16. Well stated and a good group inventory list. I go to an Al-Anon meeting which is separate from a faith-based 12-step meeting I participate in as well. We began recovery at just about the same time. you're shared walk has been inspiring, honest and thought provoking. Thank you.


Let me know what you think. I like reading what you have to say.