Our Al-Anon Family Groups ought never endorse, finance or lend our name
To any outside enterprise,
Lest problems of money, property and prestige
Divert us from our primary spiritual aim.
Although a separate entity, we should always cooperate with Alcoholics Anonymous.
Each Al-Anon group has but one purpose: to help families of alcoholics.
We do this by practicing the Twelve Steps of AA ourselves,
By encouraging and understanding our alcoholic relatives,
And by welcoming and giving comfort to families of alcoholics.
- A member shares, “Singularity of purpose – it’s like the maypole, always in the center. If I get tired and focus on details, I’m spinning around the pole. I can always find something else to distract me – mostly fear. But if I focus on the maypole, I am okay.”
- A member shares, “Distraction is the purpose of this disease. To keep me really distracted from myself. Singleness of purpose brings me back to myself.”
How do we help friends and families of alcoholics? Tradition Five is very clear. We start by practicing the Twelve Steps of AA.
- A member shares, “I love that Tradition Five lays it out – not only is it okay to practice the Twelve Steps of AA, it’s necessary. I’ve been in a long time and when I first came into the Al-Anon rooms, everyone had a “big book.” It was considered a valuable resource. No one quibbled about who had published what. We were all just trying to get a better understanding of the disease and the “big book” provides that. It’s full of personal stories of struggle and recovery and it has a brilliant breakdown of the steps. I use the chart they recommend whenever I do a “mini-fourth” and it’s very straightforward and helpful. I’m also reminded every time I read it, that this is a life or death proposition. The urgency of the writing always inspires me to dig deeper into my practice and to have compassion for anyone suffering from alcoholism.”
Anyone who’s walked through an Al-Anon door has had a relationship of some sort with an alcoholic. Most likely we’ve been hurt and frustrated. It can be very difficult to think about giving encouragement and understanding.
- A member shares, “I still harbor an enormous burden of hatred toward my brother, M. Part of the anger is my own craziness, some comes from my family’s dynamics. As a child, he spoiled me with violet-scented gum and other candies from a local shop. Shortly after that tender period, he began to molest me. He also began to steal early and often. He took money from everyone, including the earnings from my first job peddling newspapers. (My mom encouraged me to hide my money rather than confront my brother.) Since our youth my brother has been in and out of jail, on and off drugs, and mainly unemployed. After his son was born 20 years ago, my mother has kept them both fed and domiciled, first by buying them a house, then by having them move in with her. Of late, his substance abuse has spiraled out of control to the point where he was asked to leave my mom’s home. I have no contact with him and barely think of him unless filing a police report or sharing in Alanon. I’ve often confessed in The Rooms what I could not share with mere mortals: that I wish he were dead. So what’s the Alanon lesson here? At a recent 5th tradition meeting, I started sharing and from deep within came the beauty and purity of my child-like love for M. It came pouring out of me, in tears and words, as if it had been frozen in time. Maybe the rooms are the only place I will feel and express this emotion. But I feel lucky to have a place where I can access this feeling. I also take a modicum of comfort in being conscious of the draining of my hatred and anger. So while this may not be an effusive claim, it is something—and in Alanon I’ve come to respect every step I make to heal myself, even when my conscious mind wants to be stingy with my love. Thanks, Alanon.”
Tradition Five reminds us that this is a disease. And as with any disease, compassion, understanding, tolerance and respect go a long way toward providing support. Our foundation in the steps will help us keep the focus on ourselves and draw the proper boundaries. But our attitudes will be kinder and gentler when we practice this tradition.
- A member shares, “For a long time I could only give comfort to newcomers when they were flying right. This was because I really thought my HP only loved me when I was flying right. It took me a long time to realize that HP loved me even when I was flying into the abyss. That was a real radical form of love.”
- A member shares,, “At my home group, I try to remember how I was when I first got there. When the meeting closed, I tried to make a beeline for the door. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. So when I see a newcomer, I know how they feel. So I say something easy like, ‘Good to see you again,’ or, ‘Keep coming back.’”
- A member shares, “I tell newcomers to try as many meetings as possible until they find one where they feel comfortable.”
- A member shares, “I was always the one left out. It didn’t feel good. My parents would say that girls were mean but that didn’t help. It made me become cliquish – once I was “a part of” something it made me want to make that bond stronger. It comes up all the time in my Step 4 inventory. My sponsor keeps telling me, ‘Are you greeting newcomers? Are you greeting newcomers?’”
- A member shares, “I completely relate to the idea of being the outsider. In my childhood I played the funny person to get in. I’m changing now and people are noticing. I can just be me – I don’t have to be what anyone else wants me to be.”
A question often asked by newcomers is do I belong? Do I “qualify” for Al-Anon? They hear that the only “qualification” for membership is that they are bothered by someone else’s drinking. They may not be able to identify anyone in their family or circle of friends who’s an alcoholic and yet they relate to what people are sharing. What then?
- A member shares, “I like the story regarding the Fifth Tradition - "I Didn't Feel Welcome At First" in Paths to Recovery (p.179-80). So many times in meetings I hear a newcomer share that they've been affected by someone's drug use. We always encourage them to come back even if they're not sure why they're coming back. After a while, they begin to connect the dots and realize that somewhere in their family there is alcoholism as well as drugs. In my instance, it never occurred to me until a family member mentioned that we come from a family of dry drunks. It took a while to realize that all the relationships I chose in my life had been based in this disease either directly in drug and alcohol abuse or Al-Anonic behavior.”
It’s not always easy to talk to newcomers.
- A member shares, “Depending on the day, at a meeting I can hear real alcoholic thinking. The same thing happens in my family. It can really trigger me. My tendency is to run the other way. So I hesitate sometimes before going up to someone. I don’t want to get trapped in a long share after we’ve just been through a meeting. And then in one meeting there was this woman who was always inviting everyone out to eat afterwards. And I discovered that in a group no one can suffocate me.”
But the rewards are there if we are willing to practice the principals.
- A member shares, “I went to a meeting I’d never been to before. I went for fellowship and no one talked to me. It feeds my feeling of being an outsider. But the gift of Al-Anon is to help me focus on myself and see what comes up.”
- A member shares, “This tradition reminds me to be gentle to myself – I’m part of a family of alcoholics, too. So I have been practicing radical gentleness. It wasn’t this way when I was growing up. I have loving parents but they were very strict. There was no space for diverging points of view. You didn’t question them. I’m trying to find wiggle room in my adult life.”
- A member shares, “By doing this volunteer service answering calls from newcomers, it has expanded my life in so many ways. I’ve never done this before. But I have learned from so many people. I have learned about myself by picking up the phone and listening to someone share.”
And isn’t that what program is all about?