It suddenly dawned on me the other day that it has been a whole year since I last went to an Al-Anon meeting. The Al-Anon meeting I used to go to always seemed to coincide with appointments I needed to take my mother to, so it had to be missed and then as weeks went to months and now to a year, I have got out of the practice of going. I daresay the people I got to know there have moved on too, so, even if I did turn up, there'd be few faces I recognise.
Al-Anon works for some people and not for others. To some people Al-Anon is a drug that keeps them sane and helps them cope with living with an alcoholic. Some people swear by how it has helped them. They are often the people who have been going for years and not only that attend several meetings in different locations each week. (That's the beauty of being in London. There's always a meeting somewhere at some time of day every single day. It's probably less often in smaller towns, but you can guarantee there will be one somewhere reasonably close.)
Personally I have mixed feelings about Al-Anon. First there is the whole ethos, which I find a bit difficult to swallow. There are slightly religious overtones although it is stressed religion does not come into it and you choose "the God of your understanding" to help you. Nevertheless, there is talk of turning to your "Higher Power" for help and guidance. It took me years to work out what my Higher Power was. Having been raised a Christian, I am no longer particularly religious and nowadays only make it to church for festive Carols every other Christmas. I sit on the fence about a lot of things to do with Christianity. I don't buy into seas parting or water turning to wine or immaculate conception. I don't care to burden my God with all my problems in prayer as I am sure He (or She) has quite enough to do without me adding to the list. It was only recently I decided if anything my Higher Power was probably Fate. Yes, I am quite a Fatalist, when it comes to it. What will be, will be. I found the mantras and advice from Al-Anon did not really fit in with the way I see things. Probably the best bit of advice I gleaned from it was "One Day at a Time" and I do still use that a lot when I get overwhelmed with things.
Another problem I have with Al-Anon is the fact that inevitably there are other people there. I am quite a shy person at heart, which comes from being an only child, I suppose. I've got better as I have got older and better still since Greg died and I have had to push/assert myself to get things done. But I have never liked public-speaking. My tongue gets in a knot if I know other people are hanging on my every word and I find it impossible to string a sentence together without feeling a complete idiot. [I once had a job as a 24-year-old which involved giving lectures to a room full of
businessmen and I used to dread them. I'd often take a sickie to avoid them.] With Al-Anon, people sit around in a circle and take turns to speak on a given topic for that meeting. There is absolutely no pressure to speak at all. Once a person starts to speak, the others remain silent and listen to that person's "share" on the topic. Each share lasts about 5 minutes on average. Of course, if there is a small meeting of, say, up to ten people, it is quite normal for everyone to have taken a turn to share, so if you are then the only person who has not shared a view at that meeting, you DO feel pressured to say something. For me that was always purgatory. Instead of the meeting making me feel calm and relaxed (as it obviously did for the others), I felt nervous that I had to say something as it was blatantly obvious I was the only one in the room not to have said something. Sometimes, the silences between speakers would be embarrassing, where we all sat there in the circle waiting for someone - anyone - to speak again. If I was the only one who hadn't spoken, all eyes seemed to be looking at me as the obvious next choice. So I would blurt something out and feel incompetent and stupid. It often came as a surprise when the meeting had wrapped up that people would come up to me and say I'd made a very useful contribution and provided food for thought. It certainly did not seem like that to me at the time.
Conversely, I did find the other people at the meetings the main reason I went. When you are living with a huge problem like alcoholism in the family, it helps to know there are others out there who have gone/are going through what you are. Before Al-Anon, I felt I must be the only person in the world encountering the problems I faced. That my alcoholic was in some way peculiar to any other. Meeting other people in the same situation was a huge relief and it was interesting to compare or seek advice or comfort from them. They were all lovely people from all walks of life and by large from well-to-do backgrounds. Not your typical prejudicial stereotype of what constitutes an alcoholic's family. We all got on well and at the beginning when my alcoholic was still alive and causing me all sorts of upset, I found the hourly meeting once a week a huge escape among "normal" people. However, I much preferred the informal chats at the end of the meeting as we stacked chairs back up and put away the literature into the boxes for the next time. On the rare occasion we would even move on to a nearby cafe and just chat, which I also found more useful than the meetings themselves.
Having started my blog before I even discovered Al-Anon existed was, I suppose, the main reason why Al-Anon did not help me personally. I was able to pour out my frustrations and to reason with the whole situation on the blogosphere. It didn't matter at first whether I received comments or not, but when I did, particularly from those going through similar situations, it reassured me the blog was a good idea. (I had felt uncomfortable at first about washing dirty laundry in public.) If I was having a particularly bad day or night, I could just go to my computer at any time and hammer out my thoughts. It immediately helped rid me of tension to deal with the situation and to cope with the management of the alcoholic, the home and raising Kay, not to mention care of the animals and my aged mother (at that time some 60 miles away).
As I said at the start, Al-Anon works for some and not for others. Al-Anon recognises this and suggests people give it six sessions before they decide whether it helps. I gave it 5 years. It helped in some ways, not in others - "Take what you want and leave the rest" is one of their slogans after all. I think I have moved on now. If I have not missed the meetings in a whole year, I am not likely to need it any more. I'm still in touch with one or two of the people I got to know and we meet up every few months for a chat - as friends.
If you are living with an alcoholic and feel Al-Anon might help you, click here for your nearest meeting in the UK. (Al-Anon operates all over the world so just google your nearest meeting place for you.) There are blogs a-plenty and organisations which offer advice- whatever you find helps, but do not suffer the burden on your own. There are definitely others out there going through the same as you.