Have you ever felt alone, confused, and like your life was spinning out of control? Have you envied friends, family members, or strangers because your observations made you believe they had nearly perfect lives? For me, these were daily thoughts and struggles I brought to my counselor and shared only with my closest friends. No matter how hard I tried, I felt like nothing was improving in my life.
As these feelings and thoughts persisted, I started sharing less with my closest friends because I felt like my struggles were becoming worrisome for them. I felt embarrassed each time I went back to my counselor with no significant progress to share. I wondered, what more could I do to improve my circumstances and, ultimately, my life? After some gentle encouragement from my counselor, which was met by initial resistance from me, I built the courage to walk into an Al-Anon meeting.
Al-Anon gives support to those affected by another’s drinking
Al-Anon is a support group for people whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking. Alcoholism is often referred to as a family disease because it affects more than the alcoholic. Alcoholism disrupts lives and can destroy relationships. It weaves denial and shame into a blanket that weighs heavy on an entire family. Oftentimes alcoholics struggle to function and carry out daily responsibilities related to work and relationships. When this happens, it is very common for someone close to them, a parent, partner/spouse, or child, to start overfunctioning. Overfunctioning means you are taking on too many responsibilities and trying to control things you cannot control. Because it is a family disease, everyone needs support and resources, not just the alcoholic.
For a long time, I resisted the idea of trying Al-Anon because I felt like I could figure the situation out on my own. The thought of exposing this part of my life to a room full of strangers filled me with dread, and I questioned how helpful and effective it could be. But after years of counseling, sleepless nights, and finding none of my forced solutions were working, I figured going to one meeting was reasonable.
Taking the first step
I still remember driving to that first meeting. I caught myself white-knuckling the steering wheel, partly out of anxiety and partly due to feeling resentful for having to do one more thing for the alcoholic in my life. It felt like I was doing all the work to keep things together, ensure things were stable, and hide the reality of what was happening behind closed doors. The thought of doing one more thing felt very overwhelming, yet I knew I could not give up on the pursuit of improving my life.
Al-Anon follows the same 12 steps as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and the first step says, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol- that our lives had become unmanageable.” In Al-Anon, your Qualifier(s) is the alcoholic(s) in your life whose problem drinking brought you to the program. This person can be a friend, spouse, partner, parent, child, sibling, or family member. Yes, my Qualifier’s life had become unmanageable but so had mine. That was a tough reality to accept, but it was crucial in the process of my recovery, and that is why it is the first step of AA and Al-Anon.
No two stories are the same, yet we share the same feelings and fears
Like many others who came before me, I believed I had control over my Qualifier’s drinking. Because nothing I had done in the past worked, I figured Al-Anon would give me new ideas to try. After a few meetings, I thought I’d be well on my way to fixing the problem on my own. Initially, I was desperate to find someone living under similar circumstances and with a similar Qualifier, hoping they would have new tricks I could try. I wanted to meet someone whose loved one found sobriety and recovery to give me the sense of hope I needed after years of feeling hopeless. What I found was that no two stories are the same; it does not matter who your Qualifier is, and it does not matter if your Qualifier is pursuing sobriety or recovery; everyone sitting around the table at Al-Anon experiences the same feelings, fears, and frustrations.
A needed reality check
It was surprising how many other people in my Al-Anon group felt lonely, confused, and like their lives were spinning out of control while frantically trying to keep things together. Prior to my first meeting, I was certain I was the only one who felt and experienced those struggles on a daily basis. I could not imagine anyone being able to relate to my circumstances. After my first meeting, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. I was not alone. Not long after I joined Al-Anon, a woman whose family life I envied from afar shared with me that she was also a member of Al-Anon and in a very similar situation. In that moment, I realized it is never helpful to compare what is happening inside my life to what others are outwardly presenting about theirs. After struggling with envy for many years, that one conversation gave me the reality check I needed to stop comparing myself to others.
“I was not going to Al-Anon to help my Qualifier; I was going to Al-Anon to help myself”
After about four meetings, I came to accept that I was not going to Al-Anon to help my Qualifier; I was going to Al-Anon to help myself. I needed help from people who could relate to the predictably unpredictable circumstances of my life. I needed to supplement my ongoing counseling sessions with the support of others who I could call or text when I needed to talk to someone in the moment. I needed the wisdom and encouragement from people who have experienced the effects of alcoholism.
Al-Anon helped me understand that I did not cause my Qualifier’s alcoholism. It helped me realize that I could not control it, nor could I cure it. This program encouraged me to live my life on life’s terms and to live life one day at a time. Eventually, I recognized that even when my Qualifier’s drinking and behavior patterns remained the same or got worse, as long as I worked on myself and my own recovery, the situation was bound to improve.
“I have made friends with people whose last names I do not know”
I cannot imagine my life without the tools and fellowship of Al-Anon. It has given me with the strength to work on myself, the stamina to live one day at a time, and the serenity to know when it is time to let go of all I am trying to control. I have made friends with people whose last names I do not know but who answer the phone or respond to a text when I need to talk. I have found that my experiences are just as helpful to others as theirs are to me.
If you feel like you’re trying to control someone else’s drinking or forcing solutions that are not working, I encourage you to help yourself by trying one Al-Anon meeting. You’d be surprised how many of us share similar experiences. You can find a meeting in your area by visiting the link here.