Members Share Experience, Strength and Hope

“I didn’t grow up in an alcoholic family. I grew up in an alcoholic world. Every grown up I knew drank too much — it was the norm. Of all the immediate family, my mother, a mean drunk, was the only one to admit to her sickness. As a result, she spent almost a year in an institution and became a “dry drunk.” Of course, Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon were foreign words in my family — after all, if we didn’t acknowledge the problem, we certainly didn’t need any help.

“Five years ago, my sister was literally dying of alcoholism. To prepare for a visit to her, I dropped by an Al-Anon meeting to get the magic cure. This, of course, was the wrong reason, but fortunately I kept coming back and found that I was the one who needed help. I had finally found a sanctuary in which to learn how to forgive and forget the demons instilled in me in my youth. I’m certainly not perfect yet, but the program is stronger than I am, and I can see the progress taking place in my soul. The best part of Al-Anon is that it has no graduation. It’s a program about life — for life.”

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA

“Detachment was the topic of my very first Al-Anon meeting so many years ago. My son was 18 years old and I was frightened for his health, safety, and future. He was living on his own, renting a small room in a household of young people who partied all the time. I had distanced myself from him because it hurt too much to watch him slowly kill himself with alcohol.

“I was angry and resentful that he was turning out like his father. I remember feeling stunned to learn at Al-Anon that I had been detaching from my sick son in a very unloving manner. The kind members of my new home group very gently let me know that I could learn to practice detaching with love. This was a new concept that took many years for me to understand. At the time it hurt too much to even spend time with my son and see him drunk.

“I have learned that instead of cutting my son off from my life and my heart, I can love him without loving the disease of alcoholism. I used to think he was weak and selfish. I lost respect for him. Today, I no longer judge him or criticize his drinking. I have turned him over to his own Higher Power, and I can just be his mom who loves him unconditionally.

“He has had periods of sobriety, sometimes even years, but at the moment he is drinking again. I simply have to detach with love (and not even think about changing him). I know that no one would choose the disease of alcoholism, and that gives me compassion. I pray each day for peace, using the Serenity Prayer as my guide.”

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA

“Over the course of a few years, my family’s life seemed to spiral out of control. Solutions I thought should work didn’t. I was worn out, and I was out of ideas. I finally took a friend’s advice and came to an Al-Anon meeting. With grandchildren now in the mix, I somehow sensed that I might be facing some life-long challenges. At meetings, I couldn’t believe anyone was going through anything as bad as I was. That’s because the others seemed happy. They were smiling and making jokes. I wrongly concluded that their problems were solved and that the main reason they attended meetings was because they were so grateful to Al-Anon for what it had done for them.

“In time, I learned that other members were going through serious problems, too, but unlike me, they took better care of themselves. I also saw other newcomers improving. I could see how I had been stuck in a rut, emotionally reacting to every new crisis and spending time examining and regretting the past. I needed help to recognize my feelings, accept reality, and move forward. My load lightened up a bit when I made a friend in the program to talk with. I’d already received plenty of advice from family and friends, but hearing my new friend’s experiences in detail gave me a new and different perspective.

“She let me make my own decisions. But even today, when I need to make a decision, I often think of some of the experiences she had and how she handled them. Looking back, my first decisions early in the Al-Anon program seemed so big, and they were. I am thankful to Al-Anon for pointing the way towards a happier and healthier way for me to live.”

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA

” For so many years, I held in what I knew to be true. There seemed to be no safe place in which to tell what was going on in my childhood home. This included nightly arguments fueled by alcohol, a mother whose personality changed as soon as the ice cubes hit the glass, items often thrown against a wall, and my need to cover my head with a pillow to keep out the terrifying shouts of my parents. They dressed well, held jobs, and were supposed to take care of me, but they could not. Each morning, after my father left for work, I began my chores of sweeping up broken glass, emptying sticky glasses, and opening the shades to let the morning light and fresh air clear the stale, boozy air while my mother still slept. I walked tear-eyed to school, sleep-deprived and quietly tense. I learned to be a caretaker then, and to guard the secrets of the house. My mother taught me to never tell anyone what happened behind our closed doors. I obeyed her until I arrived at Al-Anon and found that listening to others bravely share their stories gave me the courage to try to do the same.

“I felt compassion and acceptance from these strangers. My first words slowly began to unravel my past. By attending many meetings, I got to know others and they got to know me. I began to feel a release each time it was my turn to speak. Doing so created a freedom from the secrets of the past and allowed help and healing to take the place of fear and repression. In Al-Anon, I found a new way of living and a fellowship of honesty and hope.”

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA

“When I reached the end of my rope with my alcoholic/addict son, I decided to go to an Al-Anon meeting. That first Al-Anon meeting was on a dark, cold, rainy night, which was how I felt at the time — dark, empty, and lost. I had learned about Al-Anon from a speaker at a family meeting at the alcohol counseling center where my son was attending. I was so overwhelmed that I could not understand what the speaker said about Al-Anon.

“I was afraid that someone would recognize me, and then my secret would be known. The members welcomed me as a newcomer. They were laughing and happy. I thought that they couldn’t have any alcoholism in their lives because they were so joyous. Was I wrong! They asked me to try six meetings, and if it didn’t work out, they’d give me all my misery back! I can laugh at that now. They asked if I had any questions. They said to “Keep Coming Back” and perhaps I’d find something in the program that would help me. I am grateful because they were so right. During the first several meetings, I was so overwhelmed by the truth in the readings that I’d cry and couldn’t finish. I was never looked down on and always helped gently. That’s exactly what I needed.”

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA

“Before Al-Anon, I was not a happy camper. I was judgmental with everyone in my household. My husband had a problem with alcohol, but I didn’t know then that it was a disease. My dad died from alcoholism at age 42. I have two sisters and one brother, who I helped raise because my mom went into a deep depression after Dad died. I didn’t want to have to be the grownup in the family, but I felt I had no choice.

“Later on, I married a man who was also an alcoholic. One night, he came home and asked for a divorce. I became sick, depressed, and crazy all the time. A friend suggested that I might try Al-Anon, that it might help me. I didn’t know how it could, but I said I’d go. There were only three other people at that meeting. As people started to share, my heart identified with what they said. I cried for the whole hour. They encouraged me to come to six meetings. It has been several decades since then, and I am still going and love everything members give me.”

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA

“After 9/11, my partner’s drinking increased so much that I decided to go online to find out about staging an intervention. On the AA website, there was a questionnaire about a loved one’s drinking. After I scored my results, it suggested that I go to an Al-Anon meeting. I picked up the phone and found a meeting near me that started in an hour. I didn’t even think; I just got in my car and drove to the meeting.

“There, I heard people share their stories, and there was a lot of laughter. I thought to myself, This is what I want. I wanted to be able to distance myself from all the pain I had chosen to own. The people at the meeting suggested I go to six meetings to see if Al-Anon was for me. I went to six meetings in six days, and it changed my life. I continued to go to no less than five meetings a week. It’s been almost 20 years now. Within six months I was able to work, focus on myself, sleep at night, and feel peace and serenity.”

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA

“I remember feeling scared before heading to my first Al-Anon meeting. I was afraid I would be reminded of my alcoholic loved one and would start to cry. My mom passed away from the disease of alcoholism when I was 11 years old. I listened to the other members sharing stories, and I could relate to each of them in some way. As more members began to share, I started to cry. It brought back a whirlwind of memories I had with my mom. After the meeting was over, a very kind woman approached me, gave me a big hug, and told me I wasn’t alone. She gave me a newcomer’s packet and told me more about the program. I felt welcomed. Ever since then, I have kept coming back. Today I am so thankful that I have found a safe place where I can share my experience, strength, and hope with others.”

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA

“I grew up in a loving home where there was no alcohol. But I married a man who grew up in an alcoholic family. While I knew that when I married him, I did not understand all the ramifications of it. He talked about how terrible his childhood was, but I still didn’t get it. We made the decision not to have alcohol in our home. When we moved East, he started drinking socially. However, as time went on, I realized we had a problem. I decided to find an Al-Anon meeting because I was at a loss as to what to do.

“The meetings were so helpful and comforting because I soon realized I didn’t cause the problem. I also learned that I couldn’t control it, and I couldn’t cure it. We struggled through rehab, detox, hospital visits, and DUIs. Although he attended lots of AA meetings, he was unable to stay sober. I continued to attend Al-Anon meetings and use the tools of the program. When my husband committed suicide, I knew because of my Al-Anon experience that I had no control over his decision to take his own life. His drinking made him miserable, but because of Al-Anon, I am able to find serenity and even happiness. At this the first anniversary of his death, I continue to attend Al-Anon meetings where I find comfort and help and where I am able to reach out to help others.”

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA

“Knowing that I was not alone, that other members of Al-Anon were in the same situation as I was, struggling with the same disease, allowed me to deal with the shame and guilt associated with the disease. It also allowed me to share more easily and understand that, in asking others for help and in listening to their experience, strength, and hope, I was able to allow myself to shed some of my pain and begin to heal the hole in my heart.

“Understanding that I was powerless over alcohol and its effects on my family allowed me to gain some sense of manageability in the home. I no longer felt that it was up to me to fix everything or that I was to blame for what was happening in our lives. I found that by accepting the situation as it was, I could find some sanity. I was no longer allowing obsessive thoughts to fill my every waking moment and every sleepless night. By understanding that I was powerless, I suddenly found I could sleep, and I had more time to do other things. I no longer sought refuge in my car, listening to the same song over and over again, crying all the time I was finally able to function with sanity, hope, and manageability.”

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA

“My husband and I grew up together. When we got married, I just knew it was forever until death do us part. I never gave his drinking a second thought in our younger years. I just knew that, because I was raised in a loving and nurturing home environment, I would be able to help him overcome his drinking problem. After all, I loved him. And doesn’t love conquer all? I thought if I could just convince him to let go of his resentment and anger, all would be good. I did everything I could think of to help him, nurture him, and love him. Unfortunately, he did not respond as I thought he would or should.

“However, once I started attending Al-Anon, I realized that I had also become ensnared in the web of resentment and anger. It was like cancer eating me up inside. I was out of control. In time, I accepted the reality that I had no control over the alcoholic’s life or choices, but I did have control over mine. My life began to change, despite the fact that my husband’s did not seem to. However, I realized that was okay. As I began to turn my energy inward toward myself and started to heal, I saw just how much of myself I had lost through the years. My husband of 40 years passed away recently, and I am still learning how to take care of myself. I am so grateful for the fellowship of Al-Anon and the literature available to me, all of which is helping me along the way.”

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA

“I had just given birth to my first child — a beautiful baby girl — and I thought all my problems were going to disappear. I thought I was going to be the perfect mother and wife, and I was going to have a perfect family. However, my life was spiraling out of control. I had grown up in a family with addiction and married an active alcoholic. I was sad, frustrated, and unable to see beyond my own pain and fear. Upon the urging of a mental health professional, I decided to go to an Al-Anon meeting. In the beginning, those meetings were challenging. I was flooded with years of stuffed emotions, and I would cry or rage throughout them. However, I kept comping back because they offered my soul a deep relief I found nowhere else. I had to go slow and allow time for healing before I could move forward. However, I soon found that, just as the welcome in my group stated, I could find happiness whether the alcoholic was still drinking or not. I have learned to let go of my fears of what may be and live and love in what is. I no longer need to be a perfect mother or wife; I have learned that it is not possible. Al-Anon has provided me with a lifeline of hope in a situation that once felt hopeless.”

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach VA

“I came to Al-Anon because I had an alcoholic child. I felt miserable because my child was in trouble and frustrated because I couldn’t seem to do anything about it. I also felt angry that he lied and took advantage of me. As a father, I saw myself as the fixer. I provided wisdom, guidance, and advice — lots and lots of advice. I minimized problems with humor, provided money, and showed disapproval. The effect of my actions put roadblocks in his path to recovery because they gave him no room to breathe, no opportunity to help himself and rebuild his self-esteem. Every time he turned around, I was there to help, or so I thought, by offering what I felt was a better way. We always had long phone chats, which used to consist of him telling me his problems and me giving him advice because I knew that, if he would just listen, all would be well. In truth, my advice, money, and disapproval did nothing but injure him. In effect, I was telling him that he did not have the skills necessary to make his own decisions. I was demeaning him, not helping him.

“However, by using the tools I learned at Al-Anon meetings, I changed the nature of our conversations. Instead of giving advice, I gave empathy. Instead of telling him what to do, I told him I was sorry to hear about his latest problem and let him solve it for himself. Then a remarkable thing happened. After several weeks of these conversations, he said to me ‘You know, I really enjoy these talks we’ve been having lately; they mean a lot to me.’ At around the same time, he began his own program of recovery.

“My new approach did not cause him to recover or even help him to recover, but it did remove some obstacles that I had been putting in his way. In essence, my script had changed, and therefore our relationship changed. Through this program, I learned that if I take care of myself and treat myself with respect, then I will be in a better position to help my son in a way that acknowledges that there is a real person, a loving person, inside my alcoholic son. I finally realized that he is an adult and, therefore, has the right to solve his own problems and to live his own life. As a result, in addition to being my son, he once again became a very close and dear friend.”

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA

“The first Al-Anon meeting I attended was not for me — or so I thought. I was accompanying a friend who was looking for answers about her alcoholic loved one. I was immediately welcomed by the women and men there, and I noticed that they were all smiling and laughing. I felt comfortable before the meeting even started. As we all took turns reading the Steps and Traditions, I was filled with the desire to be accepted by these people, to fit in and enjoy the same serenity they exuded. Then everyone shared about the First Step and how they came to understand it and start their journey to serenity. More importantly, when it came my turn to share, everyone listened attentively as I described how unmanageable my life was. Without judgement, they nodded in understanding. I wept as I realized I’d found a place where I felt I belonged. I hadn’t ever thought that I would find answers to many of my personal difficulties, much less be invited to share the company of such inspiring and loving people. As it turned out, Al-Anon was absolutely for me.”

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA

“I remember the pain of dealing with my alcoholic partner in the area of intimacy. Even though he was right next to me, I was alone and aching for human touch, warmth, and affection. Months would go by, and I would get nothing from him but cold indifference. I didn’t want to leave him or be unfaithful, but I couldn’t take the emptiness I felt inside, either. Whenever I would broach the topic, he would recoil and say I was unattractive, fat, or just not really his type. Usually he made me feel guilty for seeking affection by telling me I was too needy. I would give up trying to initiate any deeper connection for another few months until my longing became unbearable again. I would literally cry out of frustration.

“It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the reality of the situation. Alcoholism had taken his ability to physically respond, and he would take his shame out on me. But by then I had already started to question my own sanity. Was I really asking for too much? I wondered. After all, I had learned in Al-Anon that an expectation is a premeditated resentment.

“In time, though, I realized it was futile to expect this person to give something he just didn’t have. However, I was pursuing an equally futile endeavor trying to learn how to be happy without love and affection. I learned that my needs were legitimate and not unreasonable in a monogamous romantic relationship, but I had to accept his choice not to fulfill those needs. And as long as we remained together, I was not free to pursue a new relationship that could better meet those needs. In the end, I found the serenity I needed to detach with love and part ways with him. Even though he is still active in his disease, we remain friends today. I see now that’s probably all we should have been from the beginning.

“I eventually met a kind, gentle, and loving man who is all I could have wished for. We have decided that physical intimacy will wait until after marriage, and the decision has allowed our emotional and spiritual connection to flourish. When I came to believe that I deserved more, I found it.”

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA

Kentucky Area Al-Anon