Al Anon experiences?
September 14, 2006 6:10 PM   Subscribe

I would like to hear about your experiences with Al-Anon. I also have a few specific questions.

My boyfriend and I are both from alcoholic families and we have been thinking about going to some Al-Anon meetings.

Here are some specific questions:

In part because my parent was quite secretive about drinking, I feel that my situation wasn't really that bad, though it's definitely had an effect on me, particularly toward the end of my time living at home. Will I feel out-of-place at meetings because my experiences are probably much more mild than other people's?

Is it a good idea for us to attend the same meetings?
(Our situations are rather different - his was much more severe, and neither of his parents are interested in AA or any other kind of treatment, whereas my parent has been in AA for the last few years and is doing pretty well.)

What is the general age of participants? Is it heavy on high school kids? College kids? Children-of-alcoholics? Spouses-of-alcoholics?

Has it really helped you?

Anything else you can tell me will also be appreciated!

If you would like to send me a private email, use askmefianonymous at gmail dot com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Al Anon is all inclusive, and there are not different catagories or types. Everyone there has a story, and they are different and similar at the same time. They do preach a bit about " a Higher Power' which turns some off, but there is also a fellowship , which can be helpful. You can go alone, or with your boyfriend, whatever makes you comfortable. There are no rules as to age, race, gender, sexual preference, etc. etc., although there are some "special" meetings that might be for a specific group. Get some literature, and check it out.
posted by lobstah at 6:37 PM on September 14, 2006

OH, and I went because my former wife had a problem with alchohol and drugs, and I was blaming myself for the failed marrige. It helped me in that I learned that it was not my fault, and until she wanted to help herself, there was little I could do.
posted by lobstah at 6:43 PM on September 14, 2006

The problem I have with *anon is that the members tend to become quite cultish amongst themselves. Often, I think, the person is looking for some sort of personal fulfillment/numbing sensation from the */drink, instead of engaging their friends in productive activities.

'successful' *anon people seem to very rarely re-integrate themselves into society and find all their social fulfillment in this new group. Unfortunately, this group engages in a self-defeatist victim-oriented group-think. They insist they are powerless against substance. The *anon methodology was developed in the 1920's and doesn't seem to have updated itself in accordance with modern behavioral/addiction science. Success rates -- as defined by those not having a problem with a given substance -- are no better than new therapies that teach people to deal with the underlying problem while still allowing for a nice steak and social beer with friends.

Years later, despite the fact they are indeed sober, any conversation with them invariably turns to stories about alcohol. In short, I think *anon traps people in a point in life. And it's not a pretty point.
posted by mmdei at 6:54 PM on September 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

My mom went for a long time, and, for what it's worth, didn't speak at all for the first year. That was fine with everyone, although she says that once she started actively participating, she did get more out of it. There are meetings specifically for adult children of alcoholics, so you might want to check those out (most of the people in my mom's group were those in romantic relationships with alcoholics rather than from alcoholic families, although there's obviously TONS of overlap).

Your parent's secretiveness definitely won't make you feel out-of-place. Part of the core philosophy is that being in any kind of a relationship with an alcoholic has a strong effect on you, whether their drinking is secretive or very much not. In fact, secretiveness is often a hallmark of alcoholic families, due in large part to the shame factor.

I'm in a similar boat to yours, as my mom's been urging me to go for years, but I'm hesitant since my dad quit drinking before I was even born. I plan to give it a shot eventually, though. Good luck to you - Al-Anon has really changed my mom's life (and saved my parents' marriage).
posted by granted at 6:56 PM on September 14, 2006

mmdei - Al-Anon is NOT the same thing as AA.

Al-Anon is not for alcoholics, it's for their loved ones who have to deal with them.
posted by clh at 7:02 PM on September 14, 2006

mmdei, Al-Anon is a program for those in relationships with alcoholics, not for the alcoholics themselves.

Anon, I'm sure you possess the critical thinking skills to decide for yourself whether Al-Anon is worthwhile or just spewing empty dogmatic rhetoric. There are always people who are going to claim that addicts really could limit themselves to a "social beer" if they "addressed the underlying problem," and there are always people who will claim the opposite. You can draw your own conclusions. Checking out a meeting or two won't hurt.
posted by granted at 7:04 PM on September 14, 2006

I, too, grew up with a parent who was an alcoholic. I went to Al-Anon for a while in my 20s, when I was really learing about and dealing with the effects. As for the discomfort about speaking out, hell, one of the biggest features of alcholic families is the 'keeping of the secret about mom/dad', so your feelings in that regard are exactly the same as everyone else's.

In general, I prefer to attend meetings where I talk about very personal issues without my wife. It's not that I have anything to hide from her. It's just that it's easier to talk only to one audience--relative strangers--than two audiences--relative strangers AND my wife. Try with each other and without and see how you like it.

In any case, GO TO MEETINGS! Give it the ol' college try. Chances are, you'll find some benefits from it.

Good luck!
posted by tippiedog at 7:06 PM on September 14, 2006

I love Al-Anon! First I will say that I do not actually believe in God in the same way others do, but I fit in just fine there. I do believe that the group can be a higher power, which makes the god/higher power language work for me.

My mother is a recovering alcoholic (14 years) and I did not know she was drinking until she went into detox. I didn't think I belonged at Al-anon, either, because she was a good mother who never got drunk in front of us. But there's some insidious thinking that takes over when you're living with someone who's got that secret life. Whether or not I knew it, I developed some relationship habits that don't serve me anymore. For example, I have a tendency to try to anticipate how my words or actions will be perceived by others and I change my behavior in order to get the reactions I want. This is very subtle--I'm quite functional in my relationships--but it's exhausting and not necessary. I have learned to be more truthful with people about my needs and intentions, and I find that my relationships become more genuine and less strained.

As lobstah said, it's a wide-open community. We have people of every age in my meetings, and of every type of family. It is actually not rare to find people like you and me, who have sober alcoholics in their lives who never were much of a problem, but who find the 12 steps and the community to be very helpful in getting through life.

I have found it important over time to have a sponsor--someone of my gender (though this is negotiable based on sexual orientation--it's best to work with someone you won't get sexually confused with) who can show me how to do the steps. My life started to get a little more enjoyable by just going to meetings and making friends, but things really changed when I did the steps with my sponsor. It's mostly just a lot of talking and writing about how my life has gone so far. She helped me figure out patterns and by doing that, I've learned to make better choices in my relationships with alcoholics and with anyone else. I ended up becoming less nervous around people and started taking more risks and enjoying life more, rather than being so cautious all the time. Others have different reasons for doing the steps and different outcomes. But they have been key to my personal growth.

If you end up at a meeting where more than a couple people talk about a specific religion, then it is not a true Al-anon meeting. There is NO religion, but plenty of open spirituality. There are sometimes one or two people who talk about their specific flavor of deity, but if the whole meeting feels religious, rather than spiritual, they're off track.

For me, and in reference to mmdel's comment, Al-anon is a meeting I go to once a week and have some social connections with. I also have many friends from my other life activities, and some of them have become friends with my Al-anon friends. It's one aspect of life, but it's not my entire life. Some people need to make it their entire life for a while, while they're dealing with whatever crisis got them there, but it's not a cult that sucks everyone in. I have it well balanced in my life and it adds quite a bit.

I think I've written enough now. And, coincidentally, I'm off to my weekly meeting. My email is in my profile. Feel free to send more questions if you think of any.
posted by aimless at 7:16 PM on September 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

One more thing:

If they do much complaining about the alcoholic and what's wrong with them, it's not a good meeting. True Al-anon focus is on how we think and how we can behave differently to be true to ourselves. If you find yourself getting annoyed with people for being whiny, then try a different meeting. Sometimes it takes a while to find a good one where people talk about their own insides more than what their family is doing.
posted by aimless at 7:20 PM on September 14, 2006

My sense of Al-Anon is a bit different than some of the previous posters, in that I've found, on several occasions, that a significant number of people come to a few meetings, get some confirmation of what they were thinking, or may have read about alcoholism, maybe hear something that rings true about co-dependence, and with that information under their belt, go off to integrate it into their lives. Those are often people trying to come to a decision about staying in a relationship with an alcoholic, or leaving, and if they decide to leave, they often don't see a reason to return to future Al-Anon meetings. A core group at many on-going meetings are individually more deeply invested in long term relationships with alcoholics, and for them, Al-Anon functions as both a support group, and a place to put their own bullshit before people who can recognize it as such, and point in better directions.

Me, I'm one of the ones that came to Al-Anon looking for advice about a stay or go situation. My young, pretty wife had become a drunk and a coke head, and I didn't know how to help her, and was fairly convinced I'd got her started on that road, by "teaching" her to drink. I learned a lot in a short time via Al-Anon. I learned what I was to blame for, and what I wasn't. I learned that no matter how much you love someone, at some point, you're not a lifesaver, you're an anchor. I learned to let go, way past the time I should have let go. I learned to hurt and regret, and not to cover it up, or pave it over in memory.

And I got a divorce, and didn't look back, much. I did answer many a drunken midnight phone call thereafter. I did take her to rehab once. I cleaned up her vomit spewn kitchen a couple of times. I bailed her out of jail. And then, I didn't, because it wasn't doing any good. It's all pretty standard fare at many Al-Anon meetings, and I needed to hear it, and see that it wasn't working, in all those sober, knowing, stranger's eyes.

Last I saw her 16 years ago, she was sober 18 months, living back in her mother's house, and raising her baby, daughter of another man, and she seemed happy and whole. Since then, I've taken a few people to Al-Anon meetings around the U.S. Not every meeting is a clone of all the others; there is a group dynamic that depends on the people at the meeting. But the format is common, the stories aren't all that unique, and the needs are often very similar in their source, if not in their expressed degree. At some meetings, you get genteel folk, looking for advice on noble suffering. At others, you get black-eyed women, scared for themselves, their husband, and their kids. It takes a while to see the commonality, and if you're a person with definite questions, seeking only confirmation, you may be one of those who only goes a few times. Frankly, that sounds like your ticket, at this point, to me.

I'd go, to see. Listen, and if it seems worthwhile, go until it doesn't. If any of your parents was an alcoholic, you may yourself be at higher risk for alcoholism at some point (the science is still conflicting, according to many), and you may get some pointers on that aspect of life. That alone would be worth some hours of your time.

Anything else depends a lot on what you're willing to bring, honestly, openly to the meetings you attend. The one thing you can't do there is bullshit people. You can try, but you can't, which makes it, sometimes, the only place on earth to say, anonymously, what can't be said anywhere else. Good luck.
posted by paulsc at 8:34 PM on September 14, 2006 [2 favorites]

You might also consider Adult Children of Alcoholics, a similar 12-step programme to Al-Anon, but which is intended to help those who grew up in alcoholic households.
posted by essexjan at 1:40 AM on September 15, 2006

I second essexjan. Unfortunately they are harder to come by (at least at the time I was looking). The Al-Anon meetings I went to were all spousal/family, and frankly their issues weren't the same as mine and I didn't feel comfortable there. But ACOA was perfect (I didn't do the steps, just went and listened & shared).
posted by evening at 5:14 AM on September 15, 2006

My mother was alcoholic. I attended Al Anon/Teen programs for a while but the God stuff quickly turned me off. Some of the people were okay, but some of them were really into identification as victims and I found that a little too close to enabling for my taste.
posted by meehawl at 6:18 AM on September 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

My answer to people who have a "the problem with Al-Anon is" statement: Find a different meeting. I live in an area that has a lot of different meetings. When I say "different," I mean different in quality. If you go to one and hear something that turns you off, or if the people have formed cliques, or whatever, keep shopping for a meeting you're comfortable at.

I went for several years, and it helped me a lot. Other people need it continuously, and I do not fault them for that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:29 AM on September 15, 2006

I'd say give it a try, just be aware that your experience is likely to depend primarily on what the group dynamics at your particular meetings are. As others have said, if it's bad where you go, find another meeting... or another method of dealing. What works for one doesn't work for all.

I imagine (hope) that other groups are different than mine, but the chapter my mom dragged me and my siblings to was cultish to the extreme. It seemed helpful for the first few months, during which I actually was involved in starting up that group's teen program -- but the years afterward where it turned into the everyday and sole acceptable social outlet were anything but. It took many years to drag her out of there, at the cost of all of those so-called friends, and we've had to deal with this "I am powerless" mantra she got stuck in her head ever since (our group took some of the program's steps to their logical "I am powerless against everything, let God deal with it" conclusion -- which is how people end up spending every night in the same smoky room for 30 or 40 years).

Bringing someone with you would completely ruin the point of anonymity, though. The idea is supposed to be that you can talk without reservation... and since you've already expressed concerns in that area, it seems likely to be a problem.
posted by Pufferish at 8:27 AM on September 15, 2006

« Older Best gift ever for NYC playwright   |   Help me find a fake company's site. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.