When I walked into my first Al-Anon meeting fourteen years ago, life as I knew it was over. I didn’t understand that at the time, and I continued to fight desperately against that reality for quite some time. But, still, it was over. The gift of the 12 Steps of Al-Anon is that the life I have today is SO much better than the life I had planned, and the life I thought I should and could have, if only I fought a little harder, and a little longer.
On a recent trip home I got to join my family for their weekly breakfast. The waitress took everyone’s order, and then looked to me for mine. I had no idea what my order would be, as I didn’t have a menu. Everyone else knew everything on the menu! So, when I asked her for one, and she brought it back, I jokingly apologized for being the “problem child” this morning. This was immediately met with another family member stating “I hate to tell you, dear, but you always have been.” Of course, I said I already knew this.
There was a period in my life where I spent most of my time doing one of two things: I was either worrying to extremes, or praying about what I was worrying about. My prayers were desperate. I often prayed “Please let him come home safely.” Sometimes I prayed for something to change. At other times, I would make bargains. I would plea for resolution, and make promises in exchange.
Step 11: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”
When I started attending recovery meetings for family members affected by someone else’s addiction, something became clear to me pretty quickly: I had no idea how to communicate in a healthy manner.
The communication that had taken place in my marriage when alcoholism was present ran through three phases. Phase 1 was to talk to him about his drinking and use whenever I could, and however I could, in the hope of making him stop. Phase 2 was not talking about his drinking and use at all, with the hope that if I ignored it would go away. Phase 3 was letting the frustration of this situation take over, and not talking about anything – otherwise known as the silent treatment. Of course, staring at someone else and thinking at them until they figure out what’s wrong is not the most effective communication tool…
Currently there is a situation in my life that doesn’t have any direct impact on me, and yet it’s been on my mind and on my heart. Someone I love is struggling. It’s deep and painful, and it’s difficult to watch. I’ve often thought that if I had to choose between my own heartbreak, and the heartbreak of someone I love, I would choose my own time and time again.
When I am facilitating Family Program sessions I often ask participants to think of a family affected by addiction like a mobile floating over a child’s crib. When you imagine a mobile, there are a few things that instantly come to mind. You’ll see a bunny, bear, frog, and bird: rotating around and helping the mobile to maintain balance. There’s often quiet music playing in the background.
It’s a gray and rainy day, and I’m sitting in a room with a group of people who never wanted to gain entry into the retreat we’re hosting. They desperately tried everything in their power to never be here. They formulated plans, they had talks, they paid good money, they supported, they begged, they pleaded, they researched, and they loved with all they had. And, yet, here they are: the folks who have lost a loved one to the disease of addiction.
“Detachment is not a wall; it is a bridge.”
–Courage to Change p. 22
Detachment. It’s often viewed as an ugly word, at least at first, by family members who love someone who struggles with alcoholism or addiction. Many of us come with pre-conceived notions about what detachment means. Most of us decide, without delving any further into the concept, that it means abandonment. And, we know that we’re not willing to abandon someone we love, especially when they are struggling, so therefore we won’t be detaching from them – thank you very much!