Week Seven: -anon Expert

February 19, 2010 at 7:16 (Uncategorized)


If anyone’s still out there, you can probably tell I’m getting sick of these blogs from the fact that I’m perpetually a week or two behind. The problem is that I’m just tired of pretending I’m an expert on everything. I’m not, and I know it. And I really learned it when I tried to write this week’s blog seven times.

I went to Al-anon last weekend. I wanted to rip it a new one via blog after the way it made me feel, but then I talked to a billion people — experts and laymen — about it, and I realize how irresponsible that would be. People go to Al-anon for the right reasons: to deal with family members or friends that are alcoholics and who have affected their lives irreparably. To discount that or oppose Al-anon’s effects for those who haven’t even tried it yet would be obnoxious. As I said a second ago, I’m no expert. Especially after having only gone once. I am just a girl with an opinion and a blog.

My opinion was that Al-anon was crap.  Al-anon emptied me of control; and yet I attended the meeting because I already felt out of control. I identified with the members who said they feel helpless, they must change things and they want desperately to save the people they love who are destroying themselves and those around them. I was shaking, sweating and dizzy trying to understand how they could be nonchalant about these things. Follow the 12-step program and “it will work if you work it?” That was the oversimplification of the year.

The common thread among us who sat around the three cafeteria-style tables in the 1940s basement of a 12-step house is that we are bubbling over with anxiety: we cannot handle the chaos and we cannot handle the un-smooth course our lives are on because of someone else. And if — my greatest fear — the alcoholics in our lives die, we will feel like failures. Already, I feel like a failure. The alcoholic in my life has put distance between us, has distanced from all of us and tells lies and half-truths to keep themselves (using the third-person plural here to keep it anonymous, thank you) protected. Alcoholism is more than a chemical dependency: It is a shield from terrible pain. It took more than the Al-anon meeting to realize this. It took me talking to independent counselors, as well. Once I realized that, I realized how deep this person’s sadness goes. This person obviously knows the therapeutic options and resources out there for them, and yet this person is so afraid of life they cling instead to alcohol until they black out from it. They are afraid of a life where they are conscious. That threw me. And although I had scoffed and scoffed and scoffed at the fact that, in going to Al-anon, I had to commit to taking all 12 steps of the alcoholic’s 12-step program, I realize now the benefit. I, too, need management for the pain.

Step 1:  We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.

I stopped here and scoffed. What the hell? How did this apply to me? I was pretty much done here, but when we got to the other steps and talk of God, seemingly cult-like chanting while greeting of new members and sickeningly religious and vague mantras to live by, my stomach turned over and I turned off. I wanted to be helped by Al-anon, but I wanted mostly to know how to help my friend. I don’t fucking need any help. I don’t fucking need 12 fucking stupid fucking steps.

I took a few days and I thought about it, and I’ve decided that I truly am powerless to alcohol. Not because I drink it. Because I want to help the alcoholic cut their umbilical cord to the drug, and I didn’t recognize that their actions are beyond my control. I want to change my friend, and that is beyond my control. I keep saying I don’t want to control them but that I want to save them — and that is also beyond my control. The reality is that my friend really might die. That’s beyond my control. Now that I’ve realized I’m trying to control things that have nothing to do with me, I feel helpless. I am powerless.

Step 1 achieved. Great. I feel like shit and my friend is likely going to die.

I took a week or so with this thought. It’s still a lot to get my mind around. I don’t know if that particular meeting, tinged with religion and group-think, is for me. But those people need those steps. It’s sanity for them. One young girl came to me and told me I should try other meetings. That they’re not all the same. And because I feel so goddamn helpless, I think I might. I think I have to. Otherwise, I will certainly lose my sanity over this.

In the meantime, in lieu of begging my friend to change or staging a rash intervention —  which research has shown is likely to make them feel attacked, push them away and act as impetus for further and greater drinking — I need to work on being a better friend. If I can’t solve their problems, I can reach out in my own way. I love this person. My world is incomplete without this person. I can’t give up.

So, I am powerless, but I am not useless. I want anyone struggling with an alcoholic’s behavior to know that. Al-anon upset me because it made me feel I should just accept things the way they are. That’s not what they meant, and that girl was right: That group — that particular group of people and their thinking — was not for me. But accepting my place in this whole mess is important. When the group chanted this mantra of “live and let live,” I misunderstood. I now take it to mean that I need to see things as they are. I need to accept reality just as my friend needs to accept their reality. So what can I do? I can be a good friend. I can do that as best I can. But as for changing my friend’s life, and addictive and unsafe and delusional behaviors: I think Al-anon would agree that only the alcoholic can help themselves.

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1 Comment

  1. t said,

    hard to read. i’m sure harder to write. hang in there baby.

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