The Forum is the international monthly magazine in which Al-Anon and Alateen members share their experiences. It is "The Voice of the Fellowship," a forum where individual members and groups can be heard.
I was brought up in an alcoholic home where my father drank and my mother was the crazy one who tried to control it all. We had little money and not much food. Dad was the ruler, and mom was his punching bag. We children would run and hide when we he came home drunk. I was the oldest, so responsibility for the other children fell to me at an early age.
I grew up with a lot of shame and guilt. I never believed I was good at anything. I still have a hard time talking in front of people today. I do not blame my parents. They did the best they could with what they had at the time.
I always felt that there was something wrong with me. I can remember sitting in a restaurant. The people in the next seat were laughing, and I believed that I must look funny. Their conversation had nothing to do with me, yet I always felt that I was the brunt of everyone else’s jokes. I walked with my head down and did not look at people. I always felt that people were “above” me. I was terrified of anyone in authority.
At 14, I started dating the man to whom I am still married to today. We just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. He was the love of my life, and I wanted out of my abusive home. We got married right after high school. My husband was well on his way to becoming an alcoholic, but I knew nothing about alcoholics at that point and thought his drinking was normal.
When the first child came along, I thought it was great. I finally had someone who would love me. We bought our home and moved right in. It wasn’t long before the drinking got worse, and so did the screaming matches. I was usually the one who started it—screaming, throwing things, and hitting.
When my son was three months old, I went back to work because the bills were not being paid. My husband would watch the baby while I worked evenings. After my second son was born, the financial pressures got worse. I didn’t know how I was going to survive. I felt trapped in a marriage that was not good and knew I had nowhere else to turn.
I heard about Al‑Anon through one of my jobs. I had no idea what it was and thought it was for falling-down drunks. I kept up with the façade that I had the perfect family. But, whenever someone was willing to listen to my troubles, I would spill my guts, cry, and then feel guilty.
After a physical battle with my husband, I left with both kids and moved back to mom and dad’s. About two weeks later, I moved back with my husband because it was better than living like a failure. I started getting counseling at the women’s center, but I still resisted Al‑Anon.
I was taking courses to help me with my job with the developmentally challenged, courses in parenting, and I still felt like a failure. It wasn’t until I started attending Al‑Anon meetings that I finally found people who understood me. At first, I had a hard time grasping this Twelve Step self-help program. I believed that working on me was selfish, and that I needed to get help for my husband.
It was in Al‑Anon that I learned to start looking at my behaviors. I learned that I am not an all-bad person; that it is okay to make mistakes. If I made a mistake in the past, I would never own up to it because that would just continue to prove that I am a failure. I learned that I am somebody because God doesn’t make any “junk.”
Al‑Anon taught me to look in the mirror each morning and tell myself that I am a good person. I took self-inventories and learned to put the good with the bad. I had a hard time finding anything good about myself at first.
I never really knew how to take a good honest look at myself because I was so afraid of being judged, and I judged myself the harshest. In Al‑Anon, we are all equals. I still have some problems with authority and tend to question myself, but I do not let it ruin my day. I know it is just the “stinkin’ thinkin’” trying to sneak back in on me.
Today, I can walk with my head up to face the world where, at one time, I was afraid to look at anyone, let alone chit chat. I had no social skills. I do not know all the answers, but today I do not have to. I am still learning and that is all any of us can do.
I found out that it was much easier to raise children when I was not on edge all the time. When my kids were small, I had no idea that alcohol was the problem. Unfortunately, my boys turned to drugs and alcohol themselves. My oldest was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder; my youngest is still living with us, at 23, and uses drugs and alcohol. They both know about alcoholism and its effects, but choose their own paths. I learned in Al‑Anon to detach with love.
I have a daughter who is 15 and is doing well. She grew up not knowing the old crazy me. I think I was more available to her. My husband does not drink and was involved in A.A. for quite a few years. Today, I can ask questions. It’s okay if I answer something only to find out that it is wrong. That is how I learn. I am finding out who I am—“One Day at a Time.”
I recently celebrated my four-year anniversary in Al‑Anon. It has been a miracle in my life.
My first husband was an alcoholic. When I married him, he was a successful businessman who then went through a series of job losses and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. His drinking progressed and he refused to medicate his bipolar disease.
At home, things spun out of control, as his job became looking for a job (which he never found). I managed everything in our household, worked full-time outside the house, and was responsible for everything with respect to our young son. There were financial difficulties and, only with the assistance of my mother-in-law, were we able to keep our heads above water.
At that time, having no program, I did the usual begging, pleading, crying, and demanding that my husband stop drinking. When it became apparent to me that he would not (or could not), I made the decision to leave. I was fearful for my son’s future and mine if we stayed with him.
Soon afterwards, I divorced my husband. I was filled with anger and resentment about our failed marriage. I blamed it all on him. I was waiting for an apology for all that he had done. That was all I wanted—for him to say he was sorry.
A few years later, after having married another alcoholic, I found Al‑Anon. I heard somebody say at a meeting that resentment was like taking poison and waiting for someone else to die. I realized that the anger and ill will I still felt for my first husband was only hurting me; that I would never receive that apology, and that I needed to let it go. Gradually, I was able to see my own part in what had happened, forgive him, and have compassion for his situation.
My dear mother-in-law is now almost 95 years old, and her health is failing. She resides in Mississippi, while I live in Illinois. My 25-year-old son and I decided we needed to pay her a visit, since we did not know how many more opportunities we might have.
My ex-husband, who no longer drinks, now lives in a halfway house and still suffers the consequences of all those alcoholic years. He too wished to see his mother, but could not make the trip unaccompanied. My son and I decided we would take him with us.
We made the thirteen-hour train trip and had a lovely weekend. My son and I took care of my ex-husband, made sure he took his medication, and got his insulin shots. It was so wonderful to see my mother-in-law. She was so grateful we had come and brought her son, otherwise she would not have had a chance to spend time with him. I knew I had done the right thing. My ex-husband deserved to see his mother, and she deserved to see him. I was very happy to be able to do it.
The other side of this story is that I was able to undertake this trip. Before Al‑Anon, I would never have left my alcoholic husband at home alone because I would have been too worried about what might happen while I was away. I had felt so responsible for his wellbeing. What if he fell, or took the car out when he was drinking, or any one of a thousand other “what ifs.”
The fact that I was able to turn him over to his Higher Power and leave my home for four days is just as amazing as escorting my ex-husband on our visit! I was able to be present on my trip, not worrying about other things that were definitely out of my control. When I got home, my husband had survived, and the house was still standing. None of the horrible possibilities had happened.
The freedom that I feel today by not being burdened by the past and not spinning into the future is one of the greatest gifts of my program. Living in the day, with gratitude for all I have and the help of my Higher Power, has changed my whole view of life. I try not to worry over past woes and those that may yet come. As one of our Conference Approved Literature daily readers states: “Worry is like a rocking chair—gives you something to do but gets you nowhere.” I am getting better at it. Looking back gives me the perspective on where I was four years ago and where I am today. I know I am making progress, and that is all I can hope and pray for.
When I shared that I was feeling lonely and unloved in my marriage, it was suggested that I needed to love myself first. (I would always try to smile when I heard that, because it helped to suppress my gag reflex.) I absolutely hated what I perceived to be an over-simplified and corny approach to my serious problems. My bigger problem was this: I didn’t know how to love myself.
Having had alcoholic parents, my role models didn’t know how to love themselves either. Had they known, I’m pretty sure they would have been able to express love, rather than leave us out in orbit the way they did. I’m pretty sure I chose an abusive, alcoholic husband because he also treated me that way. It was all very familiar to my childhood. Unfortunately, none of them could give away something they just didn’t have themselves.
Eventually in Al‑Anon, I “came to believe” that I already have everything I will ever need, right within me. I don’t ever need to go searching for it elsewhere. Whenever I forget that, I start walking around with my old reliance on others to bring me happiness and be my salvation. That fearful thought has made for some profoundly lonely and unhappy days for me.
Al‑Anon taught me that I have a disease of perception, and that I don’t have to sit around and wait for love. I can change the things I can, right where I am. When I am feeling lonely and unloved, I am probably lonely for myself, and probably not doing enough to take care of my own mind, body, and spirit. I can take action to change that.
My Sponsor taught me to “Let It Begin with Me” by making a list of the things that I love to do, to list all the things that make me feel good and bring me more joy. She told me to regularly do those things, and to regularly acknowledge to myself that I am choosing to do them.
My list looks like this: daily meditation, outdoor photography, walking, gardening, putting my feet up and reading, playing the piano, and baking pumpkin or banana bread.
With my Sponsor’s help, I discovered that if I want more love in my life, I have to practice “First Things First.” When I do the things I love to do, I feel happy, and I have faith that everything else will continue to fall into place.
All aboard—making the decision to get off the ‘crazy train’
When I first came to Al‑Anon to help me deal with my boyfriend’s drinking and drug problem, the first “gems” that I heard were to consider not monitoring his drinking, not asking about his drinking, to let his drinking be his business, and to focus on taking care of me instead. This relieved some of my anxiety and overall obsession with his behavior.
What I came to see was that I knew he was drinking or using whether I monitored it or not. More importantly, I did not have to hear him lie about it, which would only infuriate me. Instead, I monitored how I felt when I was around him. If I was uncomfortable with his behavior, I would leave; if I was okay, I would stay.
I have been running in circles with this man for seven years. Finally, he’s been sober for one year. However, it has become apparent that he has many other problems besides substance use that I could not see clearly before.
All these years, I’ve been riding the crazy train with him and I am exhausted. It is time to exit the train. It is time to move on with my life without him in it. I’ve tried this many times before but I end up allowing him to trickle back into my life. I feel like I can’t go on like this any longer. Then, my insecurity and fear of being alone begin to tug at me. Where will I go? What shall I do?
It is time to ask myself different questions. What is it in me that keeps me from moving on? What is it in me that holds on to the delusion that this time it will be different? What fantasies am I trying to make come true with this man who is incapable of being a partner? What benefits have I been getting out of the “push me, pull you” game that I have been playing with him?
A deeper self-examination is in order if I am going to stop boarding the crazy train in favor of staying on solid ground. I don’t know if this will be the end, because unfortunately I have said that before only to be back with him again.
What I do know is that his problems are much bigger than I am, and I keep running in circles with him rather than growing and evolving. This man has a ton of issues that, like alcoholism, I did not cause, cannot control, and will never be able to cure. It’s time for me to accept this reality and stop looking at what could be. It’s time for me to move on.
My first commitment to the program was a case of God doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself. In turn, it has led me to all the commitments I have made over the years.
When I first came to Al-Anon, I was not really teachable. I came because my husband had started going to A.A., and I thought I should be supportive; otherwise, he might drink again, and it would be my fault. Isn’t it interesting that God doesn’t care why we’re here, only that we’re here? He had to trick me into being here, because I certainly saw no reason for me to come on my own.
Eventually, although still in denial, I decided that I would make a commitment to myself. I would get a Sponsor and follow all of her suggestions, whether I agreed with them or not, and I would work the Steps to the best of my ability.
I had been sitting in meetings sharing, talking the talk, but not walking the walk, which made me a hypocrite. My reasoning was that by making that commitment, I would get through the Steps and find that I hadn’t changed at all. This would prove that I really didn’t need the program, and thus I could in good conscience no longer feel it necessary to attend meetings.
God has a sense of humor (thank goodness). I absolutely kept that commitment to myself to the very best of my ability, taking my time, attending meetings, doing service work, and when I got about half way through the Step work, I realized I had already changed. I hadn’t intended to change, nor had I made any effort to change. I had simply done the footwork required to keep my commitment. Again, God didn’t care about my motive, He only wanted me to take the actions. Taking the actions, doing the work, is what brings the results.
Today, I am grateful for my commitment in spite of my ignorance and arrogance. Next month, I will be celebrating 28 years in the program, and that would not have happened had I not been able to make a commitment and keep it with an open mind.
I’ve learned to accept that my loved one’s sobriety is literally “One Day at a Time.” I’ve learned to let go when she’s sober, and detach when she’s not. Today is one of those in between days that I need to manage differently. She’s struggling in her sobriety and I want to reach out to help. “Helping” looks like checking up on her emotional state, or trying to distract her with activities. I can color it prettier than trying to control her behavior, but it rings familiar for me. It brings me back to my early days in Al-Anon of caretaking and worry.
The last time she decided to drink again, she called her A.A. friends. Watching the beauty of how alcoholics take care of alcoholics is such a reminder to me that I am not the one to help. Now is a perfect time for me to practice “hands off.” I can attend to our relationship as I usually do, but not over-do to satisfy my fear. I can let information come to me, or not, about her life and not make our conversations an inquisition. I may need to even step back until I’m on firmer ground with my personal recovery.
Watching someone struggle is never easy. But struggling along with them is not the answer for me today. I can find peace in trusting there are greater powers than me that can aid her along this path. My job is to be a loving and compassionate witness to her life story, and to fully attend to the life that I’ve been given. Dealing with my own feelings and motivations helps me to “Live and Let Live.”
When I joined Al Anon, my marriage was collapsing. I was in desperate search for a way to mend my relationship with my husband. My dysfunctional behavior, as an adult child of an alcoholic, had brought us both to our knees. In Al Anon, I heard, “Take care of yourself. Don’t decide anything about your marriage right now, focus on yourself and your recovery.” The first relationship I mended was with myself, as that relationship needed quite a bit of fixing.
The Steps were offering me the opportunity to develop a relationship with a Higher Power, “God as I understood Him.” I knew deep down I had a Higher Power. I had been searching for God for a long time, but no religion seemed to fit my understanding. The love that my Higher Power gives me is a daily blessing. I try to find ways to improve my conscious contact with God because this relationship is the most important one in my life.
Thanks to this source of unconditional love, I have been able to change my relationships with others. I’ve stopped waiting for other people to give me what only God can. I think I can sum up this process in four words—letting go of ego.
In my relationship with myself, I had become self-absorbed because of my self-loathing. Fear, shame, and guilt had shrunk my heart. There was no room there, either for me or for others. When I finally realized, thanks to Al Anon, that I was not different from others, I stopped hating myself so much, and started making room for love in my heart.
Letting go of ego in my relationship with God can be summed up by “I can’t, He can.” I finally accept this simple fact. I don’t want to play God anymore. I happily surrender and I pray for knowledge of His will for me and the power to carry that out.
In letting go of ego in my relationship with others, I had to acknowledge that pride is probably my worst sin. When I am able to let go of my pride, I don’t feel offended if someone tells me a few home truths.
I don’t try to defend myself by attacking the other person like I used to do. I listen, and when I know it is true, I can say, “You’re right.” That doesn't mean I don’t protect myself. Instead, it means I can choose my boundaries.
I want to listen, learn, and grow. It’s not my business if someone else doesn't also want that. I feel less threatened by others, because I’m starting to believe in me, to love me for who I am—one of God’s perfectly imperfect children.
I am back at Step One — a mother’s path to serenity
My mother’s drinking led me to Al-Anon 22 years ago. I came and went through my eleven-year marriage to an alcoholic. I am back, once again, because of my 19-year-old son. Never in my wildest dreams had I expected the path of my life to take this course. Yet here I am, caught in the embrace of this beautiful program that works as hard for me as I am willing to work it.
A parent has a special relationship with their children, particularly when faced with the fear, dread, and shame that addiction can shake loose in us when we are not in absolute surrender. I am powerless over my son’s recovery and my life has become unmanageable. I am back at Step One.
I am powerless over whether or not he chooses to eat. I am powerless over whether or not he has clothes to wear. I am powerless over whether or not he chooses to go to the doctor. I am powerless over whether he chooses to go to bed at a reasonable hour or stay up all night. I am powerless over whether he has nightmares or sweet dreams. I am powerless over whether or not he drinks. I am powerless over whether or not he drives under the influence. I am powerless over whether or not he gets arrested. I am powerless over whether or not he gets beat-up. I am powerless over where he chooses to drive his car—to an A.A./N.A. meeting or to his drug dealer. I am powerless over how he makes money—a legitimate job, or by doing something illegal. I am powerless over his sexuality and his choice of partners. I am powerless over what he thinks, feels, says, does, ingests, vomits, inhales, exhales, shoots, or snorts. I am powerless over whether or not he is aware of his Higher Power. I am powerless over whether or not he has a program. I am powerless over the degree to which he feels joy. I am powerless to raise him out of the depths of despair. I am powerless over whether he lives or dies. I have power over—whether or not I have a program and the degree to which I work that program. I have power over whether or not I surrender completely, partially, or not at all. I have power over whether I ask for help and then take it. I have power over the relationship I cultivate with my Higher Power; the degree to which
I accept that my life has become unmanageable; my willingness to change and grow, and the lengths to which I am willing to go for peace of mind, body, and spirit.
Mother's hands-off approach was key to son's recovery
Our adult son was an alcoholic, and I was the perfect enabler. I thought I was helping by giving him money, food, and even doing his laundry—until one evening as I was returning his laundry. I saw him walking down the street, intoxicated. Suddenly I realized that I was not helping, but hindering the possibility of him getting help for his disease. All of the caretaking that I had done had been destructive.
One of the most difficult things that I have done was signing papers for him to go to a detox program. I was able to take this difficult step with the support of my husband and my Al-Anon friends. The possibility of my son never speaking to me again was a reality that I had to consider. With prayer and the strength of my program, I knew that I could live with that, as opposed to watching him die from alcoholism. Much to my surprise, he willingly signed himself into the detox program and became interested in recovery.
After some time, our relationship became very special, filled with love, gratitude, and lots of humor. I felt my Higher Power working between us. My son died of cancer in 2007 and, again, I felt the pain of losing him. I take comfort in the fact that he died sober and have fond memories of him. I am working my program, reaching out for support, and doing daily readings to help me through a difficult time.
The Al-Anon program and the members who have shared their experience, strength, and hope over the years has been more important to me than words can say. They have been there during my highs and lows, their love and support has given me strength and perseverance. I am a grateful Al-Anon member.
On a recent hunting outing, my dog Banjo ran into a porcupine. There were more than 200 quills in her; she could hardly walk. The quills were in her front and rear shoulders. She was trying to get them out herself, but every movement drove the quills deeper and caused her more pain.
I had to hold her down and pull the quills out—agonizingly, one by one. It was painful; she did not like it, but she was powerless over the quills. She needed someone else to remove them in order to be able to get back to our truck.
This experience reminded me of my recovery journey. Sometimes, through no fault of my own, I get into a painful situation, and as much as I may try, I cannot release the pain. It is only when I surrender to a Power greater than myself that I can be freed of the pain.
The release is neither immediate, nor painless in itself. However, I find relief by surrendering my will and allowing God, as I understand Him, into my life. Sometimes, the relief comes from an unexpected direction, but I always see that the solution that came was better than what I could have devised myself.
Although Banjo was probably not grateful to run into the porcupine, this pain-filled experience reinforced a lesson that I need to always remember.
I came to Al‑Anon because I was sick and tired of being the only one awake at 7 p.m. The bottle washed away all our plans for travel after the kids were grown. My husband just wanted to work, drink, and sleep. I wanted more out of life.
I came to Al‑Anon to see if there was still life in this marriage. I wanted to see if I could live with what had begun 38 years ago as a great journey together. Sure, we drank in those days. Those were the days of parties, of strolls through Germany to stop at the various outdoor restaurants to have wine and cheese.
I became too busy with career and kids to notice that the drinking had changed for him. I would occasionally join him; but now I was in school, racing full-time through my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, along with working and raising teenagers. I stopped drinking when I began taking several medicines to treat various health conditions—he continued.
We spent the middle part of our marriage in an alcoholic merry-go-round. I’d complain, he’d promise to stop. He’d stop for six weeks, which “proved” he wasn’t an alcoholic. Then he’d begin again. Then it was only beer; whoops, only bourbon; and whoops, only wine when we went out to dinner. Around and around we went.
Now we’re in the retirement years. I’m retired; he’s scared to retire because he knows now that he is an alcoholic. So he keeps wrestling with alcohol and working, afraid of empty days, while I’m happily retired and volunteering part time at a school.
Thanks to Al‑Anon, my life is more blessed than it has ever been. I love my husband more than ever, but have learned that alcoholism is his problem. I can’t wipe away the hold that alcoholism has on him. I can’t make life easier for him. I can only take care of myself, changing my attitudes and behavior, keeping myself healthy and happy.
I have gotten rid of expectations and bargains with my Higher Power. I live “One Day at a Time.” I have friends in the Al‑Anon fellowship who understand where I’ve been and what I’ve been through—and still love me. I have meetings to go to, books to read, service to perform, and a call list if I get hungry, angry, tired, or lonely. I have unconditional love – Al‑Anon love – and that’s enough.
Even in the midst of storms in our lives, I have come to realize that my Higher Power gives me refuge and provides serenity. All I need to do is ask for help, be aware, and listen for a reply.
Recently, my husband relapsed while we were visiting our daughter out-of-state. We missed our flight home because this disease was in full tornado mode. After changing our flight and eating the fee, we were waiting at the gate to board our plane.
The storm was at a steady downpour at this moment, with sharp words and comments from both sides. My mind went into a tailspin, not knowing what else to do to stop the storm from escalating. It was then I remembered, I had choices and I could do something.
I removed myself to a quieter area of the terminal and reached out to my Sponsor by telephone. Her calming words were like an umbrella sheltering me from the storm. And her laughter, even in the midst of my turmoil, wrapped my shaking, cold body in a hug. I started to calm down and actually felt my heart beating in a more normal state. When I hung up with her, I followed her guidance and began to seek refuge from the subsiding storm by praying to my Higher Power.
My primary thought was Step One and how so very powerless I was. After 16 years in Al‑Anon, I had never felt the depths of powerlessness quite like this before. Could it be because my husband had just finished an amazing 30-day inpatient rehab just prior to us vacationing with our daughter, and he already relapsed again? Could it be that I was questioning our 34 years of marriage? Could it be that I was so very, very tired and didn’t know how I could go on doing the same thing over and over?
My life certainly was unmanageable! For goodness sake, I was sitting in an airport terminal with tears streaming down my face, feeling the storm starting to escalate again, not even knowing what to do next.
But I did know what to do next. I closed my eyes, bowed my head, and once again talked to my Higher Power—this time truly admitting how very powerless I was over this disease and how my life had become unmanageable. I said that I was truly surrendering and asked my Higher Power to let me know He was there for me.
I kept saying over and over, “I am powerless, I am powerless, I am so very powerless,” all the while praying for my Higher Power to show me that He was with me. Then the most amazing thing happened. As I felt my breathing calm down, I opened my eyes, and the first thing I saw was a huge advertisement on the wall of the airport with an inscription that said, in capital letters, “I AM POWERFUL!”
I smiled and felt the storm subside as the inner calm of my Higher Power’s words were there before my very eyes, letting me know that I may be powerless, but there is One that is powerful and will help me find serenity, even in the midst of the storm! I snapped a photograph of that advertisement, and keep it in my journal to this day, letting me know that my Higher Power is, oh, so very powerful!