February 1, 2012

Al-Anon: The other program

Posted by Diane Cameron on Feb. 1, 2012 
Al-anonHere is one of those changes that happen when recovery becomes long-term: Many of us go to—or go back to—Al-Anon. Sometimes it’s a sponsor who sends us or maybe we see men and women who have as many years as we do but they seem to struggle less at home or at work or with themselves. And then we find out that they are “double-winners”—people who practice the AA and Al-Anon programs.
There is a funny thing about recovery in AA. In the early days we had to learn to be less selfish. We learned to consider the impact of our behavior on other people. We laugh at the Big Book story of the man who comes out of the storm cellar, surveys all the damage and declares, “Look Ma, ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowing.” We laugh. Oh yeah, no one—especially those near and dear—is applauding that we simply stopped drinking. 
So we learn to listen, to consider the needs of others, to concede, to compromise.
But then, if we keep at our recovery, we reach a point where we actually have to learn to be selfish again. You may hate that word and prefer “self-caring,” but really, being selfish can be a good thing. It’s almost like we have to go back over the old ground again and say, “So what do I want?” and, “What do I need—even if it makes someone else unhappy?” And now, with some sober time, we can learn to take care of ourselves and let other people be unhappy—or deal with their own feelings. Yes, it’s another one of those paradoxes in the program. 
And when we find that it’s hard to know what we want, or to ask for what we want, someone near us—maybe a sponsor or a friend in our home group—notices. They see that we don’t take care of our needs and we are invited—or sent—to an Al-Anon meeting.
This is another reason why we want to keep going to meetings even after years and years of recovery: We want to keep growing in all the ways that—on the surface—have little to do with consuming alcohol, but which have everything to do with living a sober life.
And this too: After many years in AA most of us have friends and probably partners who are, yeah, alcoholics—they may be sober but it’s our thinking as much as our drinking that keeps all of us coming back.
The rules for beginners in Al-Anon are the same as those in AA: Try six meetings, try different meetings, raise your hand, listen to the people with experience, read the literature and even do service. And try not to compare. It’s hard to be a beginner again, but the payoff is that there’s a real multiplier effect from working both programs. 
It really is the best of both worlds: To be able to care for yourself and for others with honesty and peace. Detaching with love. Continuing to grow. One day at a time.

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