Thursday, February 4, 2010


My Wednesday group lines up Al-Anon speakers to talk about the program at a local drug and alcohol inpatient facility. I was the guest speaker yesterday.

The forum was a group therapy session with maybe a half-dozen guests, who each had one family member attending. There was also a substance abuse counselor and a counselor in training. I had 20 minutes to share my story in Al-Anon, then was encouraged to participate in the group discussion.

It was interesting. I had been in AA meetings and NA meetings and Al-Anon meetings, but never in meetings where both the addicts or alcoholics and their families were together by design. Or where everyone was a newcomer.

The family members represented the usual suspects. There was the angry, tearful, wife who felt like a victim. There was the mother who didn't think she had a problem. There was the grandmother who said she didn't care what decisions her granddaughter made, then proceeded to tell her granddaughter what she thought she needed to do. And if she did otherwise? "Don't call me."

Most of the addicts and alcoholics said their family members were controlling. The family members, for the most part, agreed but felt justified. There was little awareness that they played a part.

I remembered very well feeling and behaving like each of them.

The girl with the grandmother reminded me of my daughter. She was quiet, talked softly, had huge blue eyes and a beautiful smile.

Her grandmother called herself strong. She called the girl's husband a loser. She spoke with pride about the girl's brother who had recently gotten out of the military. I saw the look on her granddaughter's face as she said these things and it nearly broke my heart.

The thing that struck me was this. The alcoholics do a lot of damage. We're quick to point that out. It's obvious. What's less obvious is the damage we do.

This family session was like a big, ugly mirror in which I could see my part. All the roles I had played flashed up along the big screen, in technicolor.

I don't know if I had any affect on the family members. Oddly enough, the one person who seemed most moved by what I had to say was the counselor in training, who had 16 years of recovery in AA. She thanked me profusely, asked if she could hug me. She had had a bad experience with Al-Anon, but she was ready to give it another try.

But who knows? You never know the effect you might have on someone without realizing it. I saw the down side of that today with the parents. But on the flip side, I may have planted a seed of hope in someone.

I live in the Southwestern desert. Here, wildflower seeds can lay dormant for years waiting for the right conditions. Then, one year, given enough rain, they germinate and bloom in riot of color.

I can't say if that will happen with anyone I met today. All I know for sure is that the experience changed me.


  1. I did make amends (step 9) to those in my life that had the disease.

    It happens that way.. one person gets more controlling when the other person is not doing his part.. it becomes unbalanced and does not do anyone any good..

    I have to say.. I don't have any active alcoholism in my life with anyone..

    When I meet people with any active addiction.. whatever it is... I back away from relationships with them. I had enough of it ..growing up in such a home; marrying such a man; etc... (and being with others that should be in ACOA like me.. were not a good match too).

    No judgment; just have to not be involved with anyone that is ACTIVE.

    This was a great post. So true all you said.

  2. thank you so much for sharing your experiences. that sounds like such a good thing to have been through and done. you really make me want to go to a meeting. i think i need to.

    thank you so much. you plant seeds here as well.

  3. Ah yes, planting seeds. You will not see the results but the next sower will plant more and then there will someday be someone like you and me and we all have plenty of people to thank for words that rattle around and then strike at the heart and wake us up. Thanks for your words here and for being willing to speak openly at meetings like this one.

  4. It took me a long time to realize everyone comes to understand in their own way. The best way to further AlAnon is to model the program with patience (hard!) and compassion. I'm pretty excitable, and I worry I'm not a good voice for AlAnon because I get carried away. But I like to think it takes everyones style to make it successful.

    The WSO has a campaign going, something like "playing to member's strengths". That is, all of us serving according to our personalities and interests. I believe you are doing that!

  5. What an amazing experience you had. I'm glad you shared it with us. I get to see the seeds sprout years later sometimes, in my work. It's a very satisfying thing. Patience and grace, win out.

    I like your perspective on this.

  6. What a night! What a great experience!
    "The thing that struck me was this. The alcoholics do a lot of damage. We're quick to point that out. It's obvious. What's less obvious is the damage we do." Ironically, that "became" a big focus of our meeting last night.
    Both the alcoholic and the "enabler" for lack of a better word here, cause damage to relationships. It was good for me to think about my culpability.
    God bless.

  7. In AA, we have a saying : "Be the best walking Big Book you can never know who you'll meet that needs to see it."

    Good for you...we just never know...