Participation is the key to harmony.
The Right of Decision makes effective leadership possible.
In recovery we learn to stop trying to manage and control people, places and things and instead turn them over to a power greater than ourselves. Concept Two taught us to extend this idea to situations where we work with other people. We learned about the power and freedom of delegating authority. We can’t do it all and we shouldn’t try. Instead we share responsibility, depending on each other to accomplish more than we could on our own.
- “Without the freedom to decide when and how to proceed, nothing could be done; everything, no matter how great or trivial it might be, would have to referred to the groups. Our trustees, employees and delegates would not be trusted servants, but merely messengers, continually soliciting the input of thousands of groups.” Paths to Recovery p. 263
- A member shares, “The first striking thing about the concept is that it frames decision-making as a right. In my own life I often avoid decisions because I see most of ‘em as scary. Underneath that fear is the desire to have someone else take care of me because I never got that luxury first time around, as a child.”
- “I grew up in an alcoholic home with many strict rules. The rules did not flex, were always understood and enforced with quick and sure consequences for infractions. Mother was the ultimate authority and chief enforcer. There were no allowances for discussion or appeal.” Paths to Recovery p 266
- “Initially, I believed that my emotional upheavals were due to my mother’s alcoholism. As disturbing as that was, I could not explain why that would affect me 20 years after she died. I came to Al-Anon and worked the Steps and Traditions. That was a big help, but there was still some nagging, unfinished business. When I began studying Concept Three, I found the answer. It wasn’t alcoholism that bothered me. It was someone taking away my right of decision.” Reaching for Personal Freedom p. 132
- “I can trace a good number of my character defects and warped self-worth to my experiences in a system where I was not trusted…. I did not know that my submitting and smoldering, and eventually my hateful rebellion toward my mom, stemmed from not having any rights of decision in my family. How grateful I am that my service in Al-Anon and my thirst for learning about it and how it works led me to this personal revelation.” Paths to Recovery p 266
Living with active alcoholism can also make us distrust our instincts. We know we are right – that the alcoholic should stop drinking. But nothing we say or do makes any difference. We begin to lose confidence in our intuition.
- “At first, I began helping out when the alcoholic was unable to function. Soon I was making all of his decisions to help him live his life in a way that I thought appropriate. I became the queen! My motto seemed to be, “My way or the highway.” The alcoholic was my subject and our lives were within my realm of power. I felt every decision fell into a category of either black or white. There were no gray areas. I could only see things one way – my way. But my way had not accomplished any change in his drinking habits. I found that I couldn’t bully someone into sobriety. I became ineffective and lost confidence. I was afraid to make a decision.” Reaching for Personal Freedom p 133
Program gives us back trust in ourselves. We aren’t perfect or all powerful but thanks to program we now have resources - the steps, traditions and concepts; sponsors and other members; and the principles of the program. We develop a relationship with a higher power and begin to learn to ask for help.
- “In our own lives, the Right of Decision means we have the right to proceed in the best way we know and to ask for help when it is needed. It also means that when we delegate responsibility for some task, we might set general guidelines, but we allow the person doing it to decide on the details. We don’t impose our constant oversight or our suggestions without being asked. Our trust and confidence support that person’s competence, autonomy and personal dignity.” Paths to Recovery p. 265
Trust means never having to micro-manage. We wouldn’t like having someone looking over our shoulder. And so we grant others the space and time to work things out in their own way. We allow them to learn from their mistakes.
- “I grew up in a home with an active alcoholic. The non-alcoholic parent, with good intentions, micromanaged my life. My parents were doing the best they could, and I believed that this was the way things were done. Although I rebelled under this micromanagement as a child, when I became a parent I tried doing the same with my children’s lives. I told them what they should eat, wear, do and become. As the office manager of a small business, I also tried to micromanage the work of other employees. My colleagues, as well as my children, rebelled under my attempts to supervise their lives. When I attended my first Al-Anon Assembly, I saw Concept Three in action. I was amazed at the process used to make decisions, and realized that my group trusted me. As I began to trust myself and others more, I saw my children making decisions about their lives. With the help of their Higher Power, they were led in directions that were better than anything I could have imagined. At work, I began to trust other people to perform their work without my micromanagement. By doing so, I realized that other people often had knowledge that I lacked, and ideas that were better than mine. My life has become much more serene by using Concept Three, as well as the other Legacies of the Al-Anon program.” Reaching for Personal Freedom p. 134
As we continue to recover, we begin to realize that many of our character defects, when aimed in the right direction, can be assets. A strong will when used to complete the steps and show up at meetings and do service is very helpful. Analysis is useful when doing a fourth step or making choices about taking on a sponsor or sponsee. Judgment is an ally when it concerns the best use of time or whether an opportunity will teach us something or take us down the same old dead end road. And now Concept Three tells us that our capacity for decision making and leadership is not necessarily a chance to dominate or control if approached with the right attitude and guided by the principles. In fact refusing to make decisions can be irresponsible.
- A member shares, “My paralysis when it comes to making decisions gets to one of the questions articulated in Paths to Recovery, “Can I make a decision and be comfortable with it? If not, why not?” My dysfunctional thinking has led me to answer “no” to the former query and refuse to address the latter in a meaningful, solution-oriented way. I’ve lived in the same crummy apartment for a very long time, for example, because I don’t want to have to decide where I want to live. In Alanon I am reminded that the lack of decision IS a decision, and there are consequences. The flip side, when I have the strength to acknowledge it, is to celebrate that having some things under my control is a privilege. In the literature and among the striving-to-be-healthy I can learn by example and see that choices that go awry can be corrected—by me, the competent Alanonic.”
Our willingness to make decisions will determine how much we change and how fast. It isn’t easy. As the serenity prayer tells us, it takes courage to change. And wisdom to know the right action to take. The extent to which we use the principles of the program when making decisions will determine whether the changes we make lead us to a healthier more serene life or just more of the same. The choice is ours.