Substance Abuse

What is Al-Anon Like?

When someone has a substance abuse issue, loves someone who does or is involved in domestic violence, seeking assistance for the first time can be confusing and intimidating. Taking that first step is often scary.

I’ve recommended the services of many of these over the years. Sometimes people took my advice. Sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes they found help on their own. Sometimes they spiraled further out of control. I know that many of them who sought assistance either through recommended services or on their own, found them to be very helpful.

I’ve had people call me from out of the blue years later to thank me for something I did to help them. They were working their 12 steps. It’s amazing and wonderful to get a call like that. Often these calls would come when I was just about ready to throw in the towel and figure out a different line of work. So somebody (I like to think God) was working on both of us at the time. I am so thankful I’ve been given the opportunity over the years to assist people. And even more thankful that some have been helped and with a lot of hard work have turned their lives around for the better.

I know that it often helps people take that first scary step, when they hear from someone who has walked in their shoes.

I want to introduce you to Christina Stachura. Chris is someone I met on facebook. Then followed to her blog, Recovery Along Route 66, where she wrote about her journey. You see, Chris has loved ones that have or have had substance abuse issues. And those issues have affected her life as well as their own.

When a loved one has a problem, we tend to want to help them. We want to ease their burdens and take on some or all of that responsibility. But that doesn’t really help them. It definitely doesn’t help the loved ones affected. It wears them out. At times it can get so bad it can break the spirit of those trying to help. Those who have substance abuse issues and aren’t really trying to get help for themselves can take an emotional and financial toll on the friends and families that love them. Some of them learn to become great manipulators. And while I agree they need help, I don’t agree that someone should ruin their own life in the process of trying to assist more than the other person is trying to participate in their own recovery. Sometimes we have to learn to say “no” regardless of how much that rips at our hearts.

Al-Anon is a support system for those who have been affected by a loved one’s drinking. There’s also a branch called Alateen for teens who need the same type of assistance. The Al-Anon website has a lot of helpful information, including what a first meeting is like, what to expect at meetings, a link to find local meetings in your area (U.S., Canada, Bermuda & Puerto Rico) , and even a questionnaire to help you determine if you need assistance.

And since I’ve talked enough, I’m turning this post over to Chris.

A lot of people remember the exact date of their first Al-Anon meeting, so they have an anniversary to look back and see how far they have come. I don’t. My first meeting is pretty much a blur for me. They began with the Serenity prayer and closed with the Our Father. I was familiar with both prayers, the Serenity because my of my sister.  I must have heard and seen something else I liked, because I went back again, and again after that.

I continued to attend Al-Anon, and the whole time I was there I talked about the alcoholics in my life. I talked about my father, who raised me and died in 2000, but still negatively affects how I think about myself; and my sister, who drinks yet today. I really believed the whole purpose of this particular 12-step program was to help me “fix” my sister and get over my dad. THEN my life would be absolutely perfect.


The wonderful thing is, though, the thing I will carry in my heart and never forget – nobody told me I was doing it wrong. Nobody corrected me, or said “Would you quit your whining already and get on with it? We’re tired of all this complaining!” I’m not sure what I would’ve done if they had. I don’t know if I would’ve come back, I was so skittish (still get a little scared when it’s my turn to share).

All anyone did was smile, hug me, and say “Keep coming back!” I always remember this whenever I see a newcomer come into the meeting, and I share my experience, strength and hope. I remember it when I hear someone seeming to take forever, seeming to be stuck thinking the “wrong way” about what they are there for. I smile and just shut up. Because it’s such a personal journey, and IT TAKES WHAT IT TAKES. And it takes as long as it takes.

I’m not where I want to be, but I’m not where I used to be, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without God and Al-Anon. The program has given me a sense of peace I’ve never known before. With my sponsor’s help I’ve learned that “No” is a complete sentence. I’ve learned that taking care of myself first is practical and may seem selfish, but always necessary.

What does “taking care of myself first” look like for me? It means getting enough sleep and taking my meds for bipolar disorder and vitamin D deficiency. It means if my sister calls in a panic it doesn’t have to send ME into a panic. If my sister relapses I don’t have to fall apart and rush over to rescue her. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. On the contrary, I care very much. I just know that the best thing I can do for my sister is pray, work my program, and let her work hers.

Taking care of myself first means saying the serenity prayer a LOT if I need to. Sometimes I say it all day. It gets me through fearful times, and they are mostly about me and relationships in my life. Once I realized Al-Anon wasn’t about my sister or my dad, but was about me and getting myself healthy, things changed dramatically for me.

It didn’t happen overnight, and I still make mistakes. A lifetime of codependency doesn’t change over a couple of months of insight. I wish that were the case! Even though I’d been attending Al-Anon faithfully for at least a year and a half, it didn’t become MY program and about my issues, until I started my 4th step inventory on January 2nd of this year. I’m going through Al-Anon’s Blueprint for Progress with a small group of women, and it’s a real eye opener.

I go to a lot of Al-Anon meetings, and I now also attend another 12-step program, OA, because I’ve come to accept that I’m a sugar addict and I’m powerless over sugar in my life. I’m forever grateful to Al-Anon, and Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob for starting Alcoholics Anonymous in the first place. Without them, I never would have had the courage to face my own addiction.

Millions of people are affected by the excessive drinking of someone close. Only you can decide if you need Al-Anon. I hope something I have said here touched or helped you in some way. If it did, it was all my higher power’s doing, trust me on that!

Thank you so much for being here today, Chris. I really appreciate you telling your story to help others.

Chris had a great post on her blog previously about Al-Anon, obedience to a higher power, and how it is inclusive regardless of religion. The site is no longer active, but here’s a snippet:

“Twelve-step programs are spiritual, rather than religious. In fact, the traditions and concepts specifically point that out, that we do not promote nor discriminate against any religion, denomination, etc. It is not only my opinion that many people in Al-Anon would be scared off and not come if they were forced to believe in the God I believe in (for I choose to call my higher power God).

Some people choose to the other tables, nature, or the Big Book of Al-Anon or Alcoholics Anonymous as their higher power. All of this is fine and good, and no one would dare to dispute them, for who can say what works for another human being? Some individuals have been the targets of religious abuse before they enter the doors of a 12-step program. The last thing they need is someone telling them what to believe in.”


Originally posted at rhondahopkins.com. This post may have been modified to meet the needs of this site.

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