In 1988, when I was a student at the University of Memphis, I fell in love with a charismatic but very troubled young man who turned out to be hiding an addiction to opium. At the time, I started attending Al-Anon meetings for family and friends of alcoholics or drug addicts. I attended three meetings a week for probably a year. The Al-Anon meetings were held all over town in church basements but I went primarily to 3 groups. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon is a 12-step program. I worked the 12-steps to heal the chaos that was my life with a drug addict. The following insights are my personal experiences and not Law or Science or Religion.
In the Al-Anon groups, I learned coping mechanisms to not allow the addict to invade my serenity. That poor boy had a lot of drama in his life and it often spilled over into mine. In the beginning, if we went to someone’s home and he pissed all over the bathroom floor and walls because he was drunk and high, I used to get so embarrassed. I made excuses for him. “I am so sorry. Henry is acting crazy because he has food poisoning from lunch.” In Al-Anon, I learned that I was not responsible for Henry’s behavior. If he was drunk and acting stupid, don’t look at me to explain his behavior. We are not the same person. Whatever he does is his problem.
I also learned several platitudes, sayings that sound helpful but aren’t. For example, “Let go and let God.” –which means that it’s not my responsibility to fix the addict. When he phoned me at 2 am to say good-bye because he had just eaten a bottle of sleeping pills, I was supposed to ignore him and let God handle it. Truthfully, I was never very good at that one.
What I witnessed in Al-Anon was family members learning to be helpless. Their serenity would improve because they would learn to tune out the drama, but the addicts kept using and the drama kept happening. They didn’t change their situation, they only changed their reactions to it. When I heard women sharing how the 12-steps helped them to feel happier in their physically abusive marriages, I knew something was very wrong in Al-Anon. After too long, I realized that I didn’t have to stand by my man and I moved away. I didn’t know it then, but I had just gone No Contact.
You may be reading this and thinking, “She has a history of abusive relationships.”, but actually, 12 years passed before I married the wrong man. In that time, I had one decent marriage and several sexy flings. I didn’t date anyone abusive to me. Many people have confided in me that 12-step programs keep them alive and healthy, and without daily meetings, they would be using and abusing drugs and alcohol. Millions of people have recovered their lives because they worked the 12-steps. As for me, Al-Anon left a bad taste in my mouth.
Al-Anon’s Twelve Steps, copyright 1996 by
Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. Reprinted with permission
of Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc.
Study of these Steps is essential to progress in the Al-Anon program. The principles they embody are universal, applicable to everyone, whatever his personal creed. In Al-Anon, we strive for an ever-deeper understanding of these Steps, and pray for the wisdom to apply them to our lives.
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
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.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
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