Seven years ago, when I first entertained the idea of going to a meeting, I was scared and confused. Was Al-Anon another way to abbreviate Alcoholics Anonymous? Would it really help? As if anything could. Over the next few years, I found more reasons to not go to Al-Anon until one day I finally went, and my life changed.
Expect To Hear Your Story
In one of my early meetings, I was privately seething with hate. My mother-in-law cruelly wrote me, my husband, and my son out of her will. Her backlash cost our family $80,000. I was mortified, bitter, and stuck in a perpetual realm of hating her. And she was dead! I was consumed with hating a dead woman.
As I sat quietly in this large meeting, two other women and one man shared the same version of my private hell. It was almost as if they knew my story, but they didn't.
This is why Al-Anon works. No type of suffering is new to man, and collectively someone in the group has found a way to get over the suffering. Al-Anon meetings are:
"A fellowship of relatives and friends of alcoholics who share their experience, strength, and hope, in order to solve their common problems."
Expect A Lot Of Traditions
At the tender age of 17, I attended my very first funeral for my Catholic Grandfather. I was raised Baptist. The sitting, standing, kneeling, and audience participation was beyond confusing.
My first Al-Anon meeting was kind of like that. The meetings are steeped in traditions, which do vary slightly from group to group. All of the meetings I've been to last only one hour and follow these core traditions:
- They open with a moment of silence followed by a group reading of the Serenity Prayer, which isn't written out anywhere:
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."
- They only say their first names, and they say them a lot! Each time someone speaks, they say their name. We don't give out last names as to remain anonymous.
- Most meetings are held in churches, and they pass a basket to chip in for the rent. Most people throw a buck or two into the basket. Unlike church offering plates, it's OK to dig through this basket to make change.
- They use the same 12 Steps as Alcoholics Anonymous, and they read them out loud at the start of every meeting.
- Al-Anon also has 12 Traditions. In most of our meetings, one person reads the tradition of the month, and then we all say Tradition 12 together. This is also not written down:
"Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles above personalities."
Expect To Learn Adulting Skills
Some of the first lessons I learned in Al-Anon are the most profound. I'll never forget the days I learned:
- I can only change myself.
- Other people's opinions of me are none of my business.
- Expectations are predetermined resentments.
- I didn't cause it (someone else's addiction); I can't cure it, and I can't control it.
Al-Anon also taught me to become self-sufficient and to keep my mouth shut. I learned if I dealt with my problems first, I'd be busy enough for long enough.
Expect To Find Healing
Most Al-Anon meetings close with a long reading. My favorite parts of the reading are:
"Whatever your problems, there are those among us who have had them too. If you try to keep an open mind you will find help. You will come to realize that there is no situation too difficult to be bettered and no unhappiness to great to be lessened."
"We aren't perfect. The welcome we give you may not show the warmth we have in our hearts for you. After a while, you'll discover that though you may not like all of us, you'll love us in a very special way - the way we already love you."
Expect To Hold Hands
To close our meeting, we make a big circle and join hands. We again say the Serenity Prayer, and then we tack on this phrase:
"When anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, let the hands of Al-Anon and Al-Ateen always be there, and let it begin with me. Let it begin with me."
We have never closed by singing Kumbaya, but sometimes it seems fitting. In the worst times of my life, I've found the most peace in these simple, quiet meetings. If you've ever been hurt by someone else's drinking, Al-Anon welcomes you.