al-anon newbie
November 4, 2018 3:17 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to an Al-Anon meeting in an hour and I'm a little nervous as this is new territory for me and I also feel sort of like I don't "deserve" to go. Help me figure this out.

I have been seeing a guy since August and in the past week or so it's become shockingly apparent to me that he is an alcoholic.

He's been going through some major personal life upheaval this year which is resulted in some staggeringly jackass behavior towards me. This realization that he is an alcoholic has helped clarify much of his baffling and hurtful behavior thus far, but also has me extremely worried as he is incredibly socially isolated and I am the only one he has allowed to see how bad it's gotten.

I grew up in an emotionally abusive home with a narcissistic parent which has given me a lovely slate of codependent tendencies in my adulthood. I also was a binge drinker in college and being around someone whose primary activity is drinking is... not good for me. He says he loves me but he's in a horrible place right now and he seems completely incapable of getting help for himself. I know that I can't force him to help himself but I'm pretty overwhelmed by how to handle all of this and though I know pragmatically maybe it's best for me to walk away I can't bring myself to do that yet.

One of my best friends dated an addict a few years ago and told me that she found Al-Anon to be very helpful and suggested I go. I've found a meeting tonight and am planning on attending but I'm extremely nervous. I don't know what to expect, and honestly, part of me feels like it's foolish to go because we haven't even gotten to a point in this involvement where I feel confident in saying it's "serious" because the entire way it's been so completely chaotic and he's not really equipped to be in a relationship right now. I feel like there's something inherently pathetic about going into an Al Anon meeting because of the poor behavior of someone who technically at this point falls more on the "fuckbuddy" than "boyfriend" end of the relationship spectrum.

But perhaps I am being too hard on myself? I honestly don't know.

My questions are:

1) should I go to Al-Anon or is it dumb given these circumstances?
2) if I do go, what should I expect? I went to some CoDA meetings a couple of years back but not sure what to expect in Al-Anon. Will they make me explain why I'm there?

I am currently searching for a new therapist as I feel like I haven't made a lot of progress with my current one this year; rest assured that I believe in the value of therapy and intend to continue therapy. Al-Anon seems like it might be able to give me some tools for handling this situation but I'm not sure and I'd like some hive mind input. Thanks.
posted by thereemix to Human Relations (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can't speak to anything else here, but you deserve to go. It is not stupid to go and check out something that you think might be helpful. You had a difficult relationship with an alcoholic in the past, you've been seeing another alcoholic recently and that's brought up some stuff that concerns you - legitimately so. That sounds like a good enough reason to me.

This is an al-anon podcast that tells people what to expect at their first meeting and has participants who share what they experienced at their first meeting. The comments might be useful too.

Good luck! And good for you
posted by bunderful at 3:28 PM on November 4, 2018 [8 favorites]

Yes, you should go.

They won’t make you talk, other than maybe introducing yourself by first name. If asked to share you can say you’d just like to listen. They’re used to new people and new people are almost always scared, sad, emotional, freaked out, et cetera. Which is to say - everything you’re feeling is completely normal. They will be nice to you. People might try to talk to you afterward and give you hugs - but you can also beeline for the exit if you feel like it with no hard feelings. A 12 step meeting, done right, is the most welcoming and non-judgmental place I’ve ever experienced. And if that isn’t your experience at this meeting, try another one.
posted by something something at 3:29 PM on November 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

Yes. You absolutely deserve to go. My al-anon protip is to not accidentally go to an AA meeting that is down the hall from the al-anon meeting. I did that my first time and it was ... rough.

You’ll be welcomed and there will be people with varying degrees of closeness to the alcoholics in their lives, varying degrees of the impact of the alcoholism on their lives, and varying severities if the alcoholism, as well as varying temporal proximity to the alcoholic behavior.

Al-anon is absolutely for you. You are seeking help in this. Al-anon broadly offers help. It’s possible you won’t like this particular meeting, they all have their own personalities. If this meeting isn’t a good group for you, another one is likely available.
posted by bilabial at 3:33 PM on November 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

As for what to expect, there might be snacks and coffee or soda. There will probably be some kind of collection, which is completely optional. The donations cover snacks, reading materials, other expenses, sometimes rental of the space. It’s usually folding chairs in rows or a circle. Often in church basements or other community type spaces.

Some people will share really hard stuff sometimes. Some people will blame themselves. Some people will make self deprecating jokes. Some people won’t talk. If anything is too much for you to listen to, you can get up and leave, and you can return after a few minutes or not at all, whatever you’re comfortable with. There will probably be a box of Kleenex in the room somewhere, I suggest bringing your own if you can. (I bring a hanky, but I’m a hanky type of person.)

If you speak people will thank you for sharing. Possibly in unison. NOBODY should tell you that your issue isn’t serious enough or your relationship isn’t close enough to warrant support. If they do, they are super out of line with the mission of al-anon.

Confidentiality is taken very seriously. First name last initial is a common introduction. Some people might name the relationship to their alcoholic, some people might just say ‘my alcoholic.’ You’re likely to find siblings, parents, lovers, spouses, ex-spouses, friends, bosses, employees, neighbors, and other relationship types.
posted by bilabial at 3:42 PM on November 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

You should go! I went to my first Al-Anon meeting two years ago because of a guy I'd only been dating for a short while. We broke up almost immediately(as we should have) but I kept going. I just got back from an Al-Anon woman's weekend retreat this weekend - I love Al-Anon and it's one of the greatest joys in my life.

What to expect: it'll depend a lot on the size of your meeting. It'll open in a very structured way, with someone reading from a binder. At some point, they'll ask if there are any newcomers in the room, and if you say yes, they'll ask you to introduce yourself, and you do that by first name only. You can also skip it if you want and just stay quiet - no one will call you out. But if you do say it's your first time, they'll give you a newcomers coin and a welcome packet, and people are likely to come up to you after the meeting and offer you their phone number, say hello, etc.

It's totally optional to share. You can just sit there and sob if you want (I did.) If there's only a few people in the room and you feel self-conscious or feel like people are waiting for you to share, you can say something like "I'm X and I'm just listening. Thanks."

Good luck and take care of yourself. Feel free to MeMail me if you need to. Hugs!
posted by pretentious illiterate at 3:48 PM on November 4, 2018 [8 favorites]

Another vote that you should go, regardless of what's in the forecast for this particular relationship. I was in a similar situation as you a few years ago, including/especially with the narcissistic parent (who coincidentally loves to drink, although I'm not certain that's their main issue) (but obviously, it sure doesn't help), and I found my Al-Anon group to be a wonderful source of comfort and perspective and guidance for a while. The biggest thing I learned there is how to set boundaries and keep them, and that's helped me all over my life.

The worst that can happen is you go and spend an hour in a room that you find boring or unhelpful. That's it! It is a super low-risk proposition and I think you should go.
posted by witchen at 4:04 PM on November 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

You should absolutely go because it seems like you need the kind of support it provides. But please think of it as going for yourself, not this dude (whom you should back away from because he's treating you badly after only three months and whom you owe nothing to). If you can frame it as support for dealing with someone else's behavior, rather than support for maintaining a relationship with him, I think it will work out better for you.
posted by metasarah at 4:12 PM on November 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

part of me feels like it's foolish to go because we haven't even gotten to a point in this involvement where I feel confident in saying it's "serious"

feeling such an intense sense of tolerance and responsibility to a "hurtful" alcoholic person you've only been with for a few months is a sign that you absolutely do deserve any support and help an organization can give you. you would not be foolish to go.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:20 PM on November 4, 2018 [8 favorites]

Al-Anon is about relationships, so no matter what, it will be okay. It will help you in all your relationships, even if this one goes south. The meetings can vary widely, so if you think it was not for you, find another. It takes a lot of time and self examination to get to a point where relationships are healthy, but you can do it.
posted by chocolatetiara at 4:23 PM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've never been to Al Anon, but years ago I did join an online forum for people in relationships with alcoholics when I was in a similar situation to you (we were friends turned ... something, he re-started drinking after having been sober, things got ugly, I was super emotionally involved) and it was very helpful. I probably should have just gone to Al Alon but i had similar hesitations as you. Anyway, people were super kind and helpful, and I can't help but think that a lot of people who are in long-term, committed relationships with addicts probably wish they'd started going to Al Anon early on! Also, if you've identified that you have a tendency towards codependent habits, I think it will be really helpful for you.

I also turned to a few friends who had been involved with addicts and between them and the people in the forum, it was so unbelievably helpful to talk to people who had actually been there. Because most of my other friends were concerned with me, but wanted me to just walk away from the guy. And that's probably how I would have felt too, but it was kind of isolating for me to feel judged by my close friends on top of everything else (and don't even get me started on the "friends" who later, when I did walk away, were like, "can't you just call him? he's a wreck without you"). So having people who would just listen to me without judgment, and help me make decisions that were best for me, was really so helpful.
posted by the sockening at 5:06 PM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

You should go but you should probably also dump this guy. You've been seeing him since August and already need support? This is bad for you!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 6:38 PM on November 4, 2018 [10 favorites]

All you need to qualify for entrance is any relationship at any point in your life that may (may!) have been affected by dependency/addiction. That's it.

You might be asked your first name, but that should be the extent of it. It helps other people who are there and considering sharing a story to know that everyone there is at least there in good enough faith to politely fake a name. All you're really expected to do is be respectful of everyone else there.

Someone may approach you individually and give you an opportunity to talk to them one on one, but that's not meant to be pressure on you so much as an opportunity to reach out if you are in desperate need of someone to talk to or a lifeline or just an explanation of something you don't understand from the meeting. You can politely decline/reassure you're okay and take your leave if you don't want to talk.

You can go, you are allowed to be there, you deserve to go.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:09 PM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

My two cents: yes you should go, you deserve to go, without question, and not knowing what to expect isn't necessarily bad; it will force you to ask some simple questions up front, that will make you seem more approachable and encourage people to share with you because you are not coming in with expectations.
posted by davejay at 8:01 PM on November 4, 2018

You deserve to go.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 8:31 PM on November 4, 2018

My mom went to a meeting like this just to support a friend with an alcoholic son. My mom had no other alcoholics in the family or any other reason to. Sounded like the meeting people were fine with that. If you need to go, it doesn't sound like it'll be an issue to me.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:44 PM on November 4, 2018

You should absolutely go and you absolutely deserve to go. You may find that you draw a fast link between the environment you grew up in and your willingness to go through the desert with this guy who has been treating you badly even though you just started dating, rather than dropping him like a hot rock.

When I went the first time it was a revelation for me, I felt very much like you did, like my "problem" wasn't big enough to warrant it and I was intruding and it was really a self-protection mechanism.

Go. You will get a lot from it. You deserve support.
posted by pazazygeek at 3:10 AM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

You definitely should try it and you definitely deserve to go. If you don't like the first meeting you try, try a different location or a different time or day of the week; all meetings may follow the same general procedure, but I find that the tone of the meeting can be totally different even if it's all the same people in it.

Love to you. I hope your meeting went well.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:28 AM on November 5, 2018

fiercecupcake is right, but just to build on that a bit, if you go to a meeting and you don't like it, it seems off, whatever -- it's not you, and don't tell yourself you didn't get something out of it because you didn't "deserve" to be there; some AA meetings have a weird vibe and some people just don't click with the AA format at all and that is okay.

also DTMFA
posted by prize bull octorok at 8:46 AM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

he is incredibly socially isolated and I am the only one he has allowed to see how bad it's gotten.

Alcoholics prey on people like this. And it's tough to see it because it doesn't seem like they can do anything sometimes!

Anyhow. I developed perspective on the family alcoholic in my life by reading a lot of Al-Anon literature and it was super helpful. If the meeting isn't right for you, try another. If those don't work, there is stuff online (or books) you can read. it can be super helpful if you've been groomed by narcissists because you can learn a little bit to make other people's bad decisions not your problem. You can also, if you choose, stay in a relationship with someone with problematic behavior and decide what you and do not want to make your problem. Al-Anon will not say DTMFA. Al-Anon generally understands that life is really complicated. I know it's too late for this "Should I go tonight?" question, but just generally speaking, going and doing some thoughtful reflection with a lens of how alcoholism has been or might be affecting your life is useful work to be doing.
posted by jessamyn at 11:20 AM on November 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

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