“Let it Begin With Me”
Finn, an Al-Anon member for eight years and treasurer of his district, describes Al-Anon as “a place for people to come who are struggling with this disease, to learn how to maintain their serenity.” Finding that serenity takes courage and work, but Al-Anon is there to help.
Finn was “very nervous” about attending his first meeting. “Would I know what the rules were?” he says. “Would I break some kind of norm that I didn’t know about?” He was relieved to find it welcoming and supportive.
“None of those fears were founded,” he says. “I was welcomed to the first meeting and all the meetings that I went to.”
“Some people gave me their phone numbers in case I wanted to talk. I just listened for many meetings, and that was fine,” he continues. “There are no rules, I came to find out. Nobody was going to kick me out or make me feel bad for not doing something right.”
At the time, Finn was in a relationship with a recovering alcoholic and he recommended Al-Anon.
“We were having relationship problems and he thought I could use this program because I grew up in an alcoholic home,” Finn says. “I didn’t want to come, but I thought maybe it could fix our relationship. I didn’t really think there was anything wrong with me. I think a lot of people come hoping to find a way to get the alcoholic to stop drinking.”
What Finn learned through the help and support of Al-Anon was, “There really is nothing we can do to stop a person from drinking, from causing a crisis, from losing their jobs, or from neglecting the people they love. There’s nothing we can do about the effects of alcoholism except work on ourselves. And that’s a really tough thing to come in and hear.”
“But,” he continues, “Al-Anon provides the support we need to get through the hard times. We develop our own inner strength, our own ability to cope with things in a more healthy way.”
“It’s been an amazing program for me personally,” he adds. “I’m still here after eight years and I’m still getting a lot out of it.”
Cathy, an Al-Anon member since 2014, emphasizes that the program has helped her improve all her relationships, not only with those who are drinking.
Of her 32-year relationship with her wife, she says, “The last nine years [since going to Al-Anon] have been the most content and happiest of our relationship. I’ve learned how to take care of myself, how to please myself, and not make someone else responsible for my happiness. The clearer I am about what I want and need, and the more I’m able to be direct about it, the better it is.”
“It’s just made everything so much simpler and cleaner,” she explains. “A lot of the nutty dancing we were doing has been changed.”
Cathy goes on to talk about the “positive ripple effect” Al-Anon has had in her life. She talks about a Thanksgiving dinner with her wife, a friend from Al-Anon and her friend’s husband. When it came time to go around the table and say what they were grateful for, each one answered, “Al-Anon.”
As for her relationships with the active alcoholics in her life, Cathy says, “I’m more compassionate. I’m able to see beyond the drinking and let them be who they are. I don’t judge them about alcohol or drug use,” she continues, “because it’s a disease, not a moral issue. And my need to fix it has changed.”
“In Al-Anon you learn the three Cs,” she explains: ‘I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it and I can’t cure it.’”
“Al-Anon really helps me keep the focus on how I do me; not how you do you,” Cathy adds. “That makes my relationships so much easier.”
Susie is 16 years old and attended her first Alateen meeting when she was 11 or 12. Her stepfather was an alcoholic, and her mother, who was involved in Al-Anon, encouraged Susie to attend a meeting.
Because of Alateen, Susie says, “I got the understanding that I couldn’t control what my stepfather did. Even if I was super good, did all my chores and didn’t make trouble, he would still drink, he’d still make trouble. Even if everything was perfect, he’d still find something to be mad about.”
But over time, with the support of Alateen, “I stopped worrying about what I could do to make things better for him and thought about what I could do to make it better for me,” Susie says.
Susie strongly encourages other teens who are struggling with someone’s drinking to attend Alateen. “We’re all there for the same reason,” she points out. “Nobody’s going to judge you. We understand what you’re going through.”
“Alateen puts you on the right track when you’re feeling lost and you don’t know where to start or what to do,” she said. “It’s kind of like a home base.”
In Maine, there are approximately 100 weekly Al-Anon meetings from which to choose.
“In the Portland area, there is a meeting available every day, sometimes twice a day. If you live in a smaller town, there might be a meeting just once a week,” Finn explains. “But now that Zoom has opened up the world to everybody, it’s pretty much possible to find an Al-Anon meeting any hour of the day.
“It’s been really nice to have more choices,” he says. “Every meeting can offer something a little different. You may want a very large meeting where you can just listen and not have to share, or you may want to share, so you can find a small meeting. You may want a meeting that is just for parents, or children of alcoholics, or just for women, people of color, or LGBTQ.”
People are encouraged to try six meetings before deciding whether or not Al-Anon is right for them. For more information about Al-Anon and a list of meetings in Maine, visit maineafg.org.
From Al-Anon’s Service Manual
“We welcome you to the ________________ Al-Anon/Alateen Family Group and hope you will find in this fellowship the help and friendship we have been privileged to enjoy. We who live, or have lived, with the problem of alcoholism understand as perhaps few others can. We, too, were lonely and frustrated, but in Al-Anon/Alateen we discover that no situation is really hopeless and that it is possible for us to find contentment, and even happiness, whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not.
We urge you to try our program. It has helped many of us find solutions that lead to serenity. So much depends on our own attitudes, and as we learn to place our problem in its true perspective, we find it loses its power to dominate our thoughts and our lives.
The family situation is bound to improve as we apply the Al-Anon/ Alateen ideas. Without such spiritual help, living with an alcoholic is too much for most of us. Our thinking becomes distorted by trying to force solutions, and we become irritable and unreasonable without knowing it.
The Al-Anon/Alateen program is based on the Twelve Steps (adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous), which we try, little by little, one day at a time, to apply to our lives, along with our slogans and the Serenity Prayer. The loving interchange of help among members and daily reading of Al-Anon/Alateen literature thus make us ready to receive the priceless gift of serenity.
Anonymity is an important principle of the Al-Anon/Alateen program. Everything that is said here, in the group meeting and member-to-member, must be held in confidence. Only in this way can we feel free to say what is in our minds and hearts, for this is how we help one another in Al-Anon/Alateen.
In closing, I would like to say that the opinions expressed here were strictly those of the person who gave them. Take what you liked and leave the rest. The things you heard were spoken in confidence and should be treated as confidential. Keep them within the walls of this room and the confines of your mind.
A few special words to those of you who haven’t been with us long: 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 too 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 same way we already love you.
Talk to each other, reason things out with someone else, but let there be no gossip or criticism of one another. Instead, let the understanding, love and peace of the program grow in you one day at a time. Will all who care to, join me in closing with the __________ prayer?