Are ACOA meetings worthwhile?
October 7, 2012 6:29 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of attending an Adult Children of Alcoholics meeting, but I don't really know if it's worthwhile. I'd love opinions from those with experience.

I guess my problem is that I don't see any value in sitting around wallowing in misery, and that's my impression of what these meetings must be like. I don't see the point in talking about my stupid feelings with a bunch of people as fucked-up as me. I don't even talk much about my feelings in therapy.

My therapist tried to get me to go to similar group sessions that he organized, and I just found it obnoxious and stupid. I don't see how it's helpful for me to hang out with a bunch of people who have the problems I'm trying to get away from and whine about problems instead of figuring out solutions. Maybe this was just a bad group, though.

I came across some literature for ACoA by accident, and it really seemed to speak to my condition. But, some things worried me, like that you're supposed to go six times before deciding if you like it, and that they can't explain how or why it helps. That sounds like a recipe for dependence to me, not a way to get better. I would love thoughts, opinions or experiences. And if my impressions are wrong, I would love to know it.
posted by windykites to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't even talk much about my feelings in therapy.

Then it sounds kind of like a waste of time and money.

I guess my problem is that I don't see any value in sitting around wallowing in misery, and that's my impression of what these meetings must be like.

Your impression is wrong. I went to a bunch of different ACOA and Al Anon meetings before I found a couple that clicked for me. There was a little wallowing, sure, but a lot of it was just helpful to hear: that I was not the only person who experienced these specific effects, fell into particular patterns, etc. It was good in the Al Anon meetings to hear people talk about trying to set and keep boundaries with whoever it was in their life who was drinking.

Asking for and receiving help from others is not necessarily dependence. It is a sign that you know you can't raise a barn all by yourself, and that's a good thing to know.
posted by rtha at 6:35 PM on October 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I guess my problem is that I don't see any value in sitting around wallowing in misery, and that's my impression of what these meetings must be like.

That is not my experience and I don't see why a sane person would just go someplace to complain month after month. 12 step meetings are about recovery, not wallowing. There is virtually no cost ($1 for the basket and an hour of your evening) to going and finding out for yourself. I would recommend trying two or three meetings, and make one Al-Anon meeting as suggested above. You might want to call the local Intergroup and ask for the biggest meeting as it likely to be more solution-oriented.
posted by shothotbot at 6:48 PM on October 7, 2012

I go to a 12 step meeting for families of drug addicts. We spend a lot of time laughing. Sometimes I worry that new people think, "what the hell is wrong with you people, whooping it up while your loved ones are drug addicts?" But laughter is a part of life, and in my view my meetings are like a microcosm of the most real parts of life. Yes, there is sadness and pain and anger, but there is also laughter and love and friendship and healing that takes place in those meetings. They're just a place where everyone can be honest about what they've been through and share their lives and joys and sorrows with others who understand.

12 step groups generally recommend to attend six meetings because each meeting is different, and it takes some time to understand what really goes on in the program as a whole. They just want to people to give it a fair shot. I can't tell you how many hurting people I have seen walk through the doors once and never come back, and I feel such sadness that they didn't stick around to give it a chance. It's hard to explain how the program works, and one of the major tenets of a good 12 step group is that nobody is going to lecture you or order you around; it works better if you learn it through your own experience, not through somebody walking you through it. You aren't going to get it with just one session, though; hence the recommendation to keep coming back a few more times. It's just a recommendation, though - nobody is going to try to force you to do anything you don't want to do. If they do, leave that meeting and find another one.

My dad was an alcoholic who died as a result of his disease, and I have an addict who is very close to me. I have found a great deal of peace through going to meetings, and met people who have become really important to me. It's one of the best things I have ever done for myself. If you have any questions, please feel free to memail me.
posted by something something at 6:48 PM on October 7, 2012

My friend goes to al-anon meetings (went originally under duress) and now says it's one of the best things she has ever done for herself.

Good groups aren't wallowing. Good groups share coping skills and new ways of looking at things.

Give it a shot. Couldn't hurt.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:57 PM on October 7, 2012

Sorry to buck the trend here, but I found al-anon pretty useless. It was all wallowing, and I knew that my being there would not help my loved one become sober. I found journaling and going to a therapist much more helpful, but I'm kind of a loner so that's just what worked for me.
posted by Melismata at 7:23 PM on October 7, 2012

Each meeting is different. I imagine that's why the literature says to try six meetings before deciding if it's not for you. Yes, some meetings are full of "poor me" types who go on and on. So try a different meeting. It might suit you better. Being in a room full of people who have had similar experiences felt very helpful to me in terms of support and coping skills, as someone mentioned upthread.
posted by scratch at 8:01 PM on October 7, 2012

I've never been to an ACOA meeting, but when I used to think that people talking about their feelings were a bunch of whiners, it was because I was not dealing with a lot of my own feelings, and I was so afraid of being called a whiner (and thus rejected by others or myself) that I was terrified to have any needs at all. This is classic ACOA stuff, btw. I don't know if ACOA meetings are for you... Maybe some books on the subject would help as much or more. I can say, though, that talking about your feelings and having someone care -- it's the best thing ever.
posted by 3491again at 8:20 PM on October 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

My experience with similar groups is that people weren't there for misery and pity, but instead to reflect on how the person talking felt about, faced, dealt with, or didn't deal with an issue, for the reason that doing so would increase their own ability to feel and deal and more importantly, seek support when needed.

It's about getting off one's own island of hopelessness, into a world where there are friends who have been there, who will be kind to you, and who will listen to you.

And some of them are a further along and have some good stories to tell. And others aren't as far along and would like to hear yours.

tl;dr - opening up around something hard isn't about misery, so much as it is about empathy, for others and for oneself.
posted by zippy at 10:29 PM on October 7, 2012

The only way you're going to know if the meeting is right for you is to check a few of them out.

So what's keeping you from doing this? You seem to have pre-conceived notions of what the meetings would be like based upon one bad experience.

Go to one, see if you like it. If you do, awesome. If you don't, go to a different meeting. Lather, rince, repeat. If after 3 or 4 meetings, you don't like what you're seeing, then you have an answer. If you do find a meeting you like, bonus!

As for not being honest in therapy, why bother? If you don't gel with your therapist, find one you do respect and can work with.

If you kind of do it, it kind of works. If you really do it, it really works. That applies to more than just weight watchers.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:50 AM on October 8, 2012

I think it varies not only from meeting to meeting, but, um, meeting to meeting - meaning the same group on a different day. My experience was that whenever a new person came, he or she was often raw, clinging to the idea that he or she could change the addict or other feelings that don't approximate loving detachment.

This was true of some experienced attendees, too, years of not buying into the three Cs (you didn't cause it, you can't control it/him/her, can't cure him/her) but still trying.
posted by Pax at 6:58 AM on October 8, 2012

My point is, sorry, that I think it's a little different than wallowing, but it may feel similar.
posted by Pax at 6:58 AM on October 8, 2012

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