How do you get the most from Al Anon when some of it isn't your thing?
August 19, 2014 3:04 AM   Subscribe

Hi, I go for periods and first went a few years ago. Sometimes I feel a real sense of camaraderie/connection and take away useful insights, at others I feel I am being a bit indoctrinated (a BIG no no for me) by a theory I have questions and concerns about. I'm an athiest and so the higher power talk can be awkward for me, but it's totally not my only issue.

I am always cautious of anything that doesn't lend itself to being questionned/evolving, but I do like to know it's there and like the principal of mutual support. Have you had similar responses? How do you run with that to take what you can from this whilst remaining 'true' to yourself?
posted by tanktop to Religion & Philosophy (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A few things that helped me:
1. "Take what you need and leave the rest". Repeat this endlessly.
2. Getting to know people outside of meetings helped me see that there is a much wider diversity of ideas than the official literature would lead you to believe.
3 Using this as an opportunity to practice being myself while being with others and practice honesty with compassion.
4. Try out as many different groups as you can, some are better than others
Glad your here, keep coming back!
posted by SyraCarol at 4:34 AM on August 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Along with the "take what you need and leave the rest" approach, in situations like these I find it helpful to try viewing things from the perspective of others. For many, the more structured lesson/view offers greater comfort. Being able to appreciate that some of what you don't like and don't follow may greatly help others could make it easier to leave those aspects without resentment.

Also, try some other groups. Different meetings can have surprisingly different perspectives.
posted by kardia at 5:19 AM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

> "Take what you need and leave the rest".

This is it for me, too. I keep going primarily because I never regret having gone. I almost always feel better when I leave the room than when I walked into it. Over the years I also have built relationships with people I never, ever would have met otherwise, and have come to value their presence in my life and what they have taught me about how we as humans can be so similar despite our differences.

I feel pretty strongly that if a group is ever trying to indoctrinate you, you should find another group. The principles of Al-Anon state clearly that nobody should ever tell anybody else what to do. At it's best it's about sharing our experiences and feelings and what's worked for us and letting people take from what they like.

I have learned enough that way that another important reason I still go to meetings is to share my own experiences, particularly because, like you, I am an atheist and I know there are others in 12 step meetings who might feel uncomfortable being there for that reason. I'm pretty open about my atheism and I think being that way has made others in the group reconsider their assumptions and think about what comes out of their own mouths with respect to the specifics of their religion.

For me the key to the higher power thing is to remind myself that I am not the highest power and do not have control over other people's lives. Coming to an idea more specific than that has not been necessary.
posted by something something at 5:19 AM on August 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, the entire thing is based on take what you need and leave the rest. Just keep repeating it. But also, every meeting is different. If you don't like one, try another. Keep trying. You'll find your people somewhere.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:16 AM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you don't like one, try another.

If you live near a university, there may be a meeting on or close to campus which is less God-y.

at others I feel I am being a bit indoctrinated (a BIG no no for me) by a theory I have questions and concerns about

I have a few thoughts about this. One is that lots of people in 12-step groups credit group membership for saving their lives and they are really psyched about that and want everyone else to have it too. Its more like I just had the BEST chocolate cake and I want you to try a bite and less come into my cult, please. Also Al-Anon groups are built around a common solution to a common problem, not just talking about family history of alcoholism.
posted by shothotbot at 6:23 AM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I haven't done that much Alanon but I've done some and it feels very helpful to me when I engage.

For whatever reasons, the parts of it that don't resonate to me just don't bother me much. I don't connect with any conventional idea of "God" and I have issues with the whole overarching or underlying model which was basically built as the women's axillary of AA. At the same time, it feels really reassuring and powerful to be surrounded by people who struggle with the same questions I do, good people who want to do the right thing for themselves and the person they love but don't always know how. Alanon gives me compassion for myself in a really healing way, so I just don't care that much that it's also pretty weird.
posted by latkes at 7:23 AM on August 19, 2014

Hi - I have experience with another 12-step program based on AA and am also a non-theist (although I do have a spiritual practice).

One thing I did, as stated above, was to share my reservations about "Higher Power" talk during sharing time at the meeting I go to regularly. I was gratified to hear some others express similar feelings and share that they also struggle with God and HP talk.

I also picked a meeting where there were a couple people who I found interesting and kept going regularly. Over the weeks I began to get to know all of the regulars and found helpful lessons in even the God-iest of the participants. I was able to see them as three-dimensional people. I found it bothered me less when I could think "Those are Phil's words for expressing his spirituality" instead of "oh god these strangers are obsessed with talking about God."

I feel you on the indoctrination thing. I still haven't gotten a sponsor for that reason. Every person I talked to about sponsorship creeped me out with the intensity with which they expected me to subscribe to the program and the fervor that following the program to the letter would without a doubt solve my problems. I ascribe only the best of intentions to them, but for me, someone who has been burned by organized religion and extreme spiritual organizations, this was a signal to set a boundary. What's best for one person may not be best for another. Currently I am just attending meetings and doing work on my own and with a therapist. If I meet someone who I trust will respect my boundaries I may get a sponsor at some point, but right now I'm getting a lot out of just going to meetings. Take what works and leave the rest. There's no rule that you need to relate to Al-Anon just like everyone else in your meeting relates to Al-Anon.
posted by whenbynowandtreebyleaf at 7:58 AM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

there is a much wider diversity of ideas than the official literature would lead you to believe.

Yup. When I was still active in AA, my home group seemed to have a lot of different belief/non-belief systems in play. Creative approaches to the "Higher Power" issue were frequently raised by group members, and doctrinaire or religious pushback was fairly rare (in fact, people who got kinda Fundy about it were more likely to be "tolerated" than blindly supported).

My background made me reasonably comfortable with the religious aspect of the program, even though I didn't view it as a literal truth. It was fairly easy to "take what I needed" and do an internal conversion of terms/concepts (e.g. "Okay, God = grace" or whatever) without getting too hung up on it. But I definitely observed people doing this conversion out loud. Unless the group(s) you visit are super-dogmatic, I'd be willing to bet that others would find your voicing of your concerns to be helpful and refreshing.

There is an element of the 12 Step philosophy that hinges on surrender; basically, shutting up for once and just doing stuff as directed. But that doesn't mean that questioning is ultimately unwelcome (at least in a healthy group or sponsor/sponsee relationship). They might require a period of initial receptiveness or obedience, but even actual religions are constantly evolving, if you think about it.
posted by credible hulk at 9:39 AM on August 19, 2014

Depending where you live, there may be non-AA groups that are similar but without the religion. Someone up above mentioned universities. Another option is to look at buddhist temples. I know of more than one Buddhist organization that hosts recovery groups, including some specific to alcohol. I've never been to any of the meetings, but my impression was always that it was non-religious but with a focus on mindfulness as a recovery tool.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:20 AM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

One guy's sponsor was in a similar situation; he invented his own higher power, called Chuckie. He got along just fine.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 5:13 PM on August 19, 2014

I went to Al Anon when I was dealing with an alcoholic ex. I went every week for over a year. It helped me in so many ways: confirming that my husband was indeed an alcoholic, my choices given this fact, learning how to detach, support for leaving him and saving my own life, an "orphan" Thanksgiving that first holiday season, new friends and a new social life. I just kind of tuned out when they did the 'higher power" thing, but I found plenty that was helpful amid all the stuff I ignored because it did not seem relevant to me. It helped for me to bring my own stuff that was not part of the canon to meetings : poetry, music, observations. These were all well received.

But after a year I couldn't help but notice that most of the group was just stuck (mostly unavoidably). They were dealing with alkies they could not leave behind: children, spouses, exes with whom there were children, siblings, parents. Some of them, however, were still dealing with the fallout of having had a previous alcoholic spouse or significant other, sometimes their alcoholic loved one was dead, sometimes years in the past. I am not judging them; they were obviously still getting some benefit from going to Al Anon meetings, but I had left my alcoholic ex and no longer defined myself as someone whose loved one was an addict. So I left the group. I told them I would not be coming back and thanked them for their enormous help. They were not happy about it. I am not sorry I left.

My takeaway is that 12-step groups can be hugely helpful, but they can also become a crutch. If what bothers you about going is becoming greater than what helps you, it's OK to stop going. You've just reached the point of diminishing returns. It happens and it is no one's fault.
posted by caryatid at 8:35 PM on August 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

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