Around about this time in May, the Alcoholic Advisory Centre (AAC), where Greg went for counselling, contacted me. They were considering starting sessions for people like me who live with alcoholics and wondered if I might like to come along to an introductory meeting to plan what people wanted from these meetings and when/ how often to hold them etc. Various people in my circle of friends and relatives had suggested I should attend Al-Anon to help me, but I had not had the opportunity or time to attend Al-Anon meetings. I had felt a bit guilty about this and had decided that, as I already knew the AAC and had taken Greg there frequently for his counselling, I might try there first. Also things at home were becoming difficult to control or manage and I needed some advice. Ironically, at this same time, Greg had stopped going there because his one-to-one counsellor was leaving the AAC to live abroad and the AAC suggested, as they were cutting back on resources, that Greg attend group meetings instead, which of course did not appeal to Greg in the slightest.
My first meeting with the AAC was in June 2008. There were about six different people there including myself, plus the organisers. It became quite clear from an early point in the meeting that I was different from all the others. The alcoholics in their families were their children....twenty-somethings who still lived at home but went out on the town at weekends and rolled home drunk on an irregular basis. The advice from the AAC was to be firm and set boundaries such as not to allow the drunk back in the home until they sobered up. The parents should maintain that it was the parent's home and their sons or daughters must observe their rules and their standards. This meant tough love and sending their sons and daughters away from the front door, when they were drunk....even if it meant them sleeping rough overnight. When I told my story, it was evident that this advice could not apply. For a start it was my husband who was the alcoholic and therefore I could not ban him from his own home. Secondly he was already in the home all day every day. Drunk all the time. Not just occasionally at weekends. Nor was there any time of the day when he was sober and I could reason with him. There was no advice for that. The organisers conceded it was a difficult case to handle. All I could do, they said, was to persuade him to come to the AAC for his own counselling meetings, which, as I mentioned above, he would not do, now that his one-to-one counselling had stopped.
Together with the other families, I helped to shape up further meetings to decide how often we should meet (once a month), on what day (first Thursday of the month), what time, how long, and the sort of topics we would like to cover (visits from GPs or doctors at hospitals; experts from carers' organisations; talks on rehab and what it entails; advice on how to deal with given situations etc). There was even a suggestion that they might arrange day-trips to the seaside or theatre visits to give us a bit of social respite. Since then, there have been three meetings at the AAC and sadly the numbers have dwindled to such an extent that last week I was the only one there. It was a bit embarrassing really. The organisers have decided to stop these meetings now, because they do not really have the resources (and I suspect because the uptake has been poor).
I have only recently also started to attend Al-Anon. I am not entirely certain it is my cup of tea. I was told by the very nice Al-Anon meeting leader, the minute I walked through the door, that not everyone takes to Al-Anon and I should give it at least six meetings before I decide. I think I had made my mind up within the first twenty minutes that it was not for me, but I shall persevere, just in case. To be honest I was looking for practical help and advice - what to do when in a middle of a nightmare situation, when an emergency call-out doctor cannot even be bothered to open his mouth let alone help me, or when a desperate visit to a hospital results in them sending Greg home again without addressing the problem. My impression is that Al-Anon seems to be more a cross between a battered wives' refuge (they were ALL tired-looking women at my particular group meeting) and a bible study group (lots of ten-commandment-like mantras and prayers to a "higher power"). There is no advice or practical help. One by one the women - all partners of an alcoholic - sit around telling their stories, while the rest of us sit in silence and are not allowed to comment. All the stories are very sad and make me want to cry but at other times, I get the overwhelming feeling that I am taking part in a French and Saunders sitcom and want to laugh out loud. A lot of the women have been coming for years and seem to find it helps them tremendously but, to be honest, I feel I get just as much relief from writing my blog. Everyone has their own unique way of relieving the pressure. I shall persevere, but at present I feel my time is better used elsewhere and my blog is more cathartic.