Saturday, June 26, 2010

My time in Al-Anon pt. 2

The first post is available here.
In Al-Anon meetings we hear the three Cs describing our powerlessness over alcoholism: we didn't cause it, can't cure it, and can't control it. We begin to learn the basic Al-Anon premise of taking our focus off of the alcoholic and keeping the focus on ourselves. Hard as it is to look at our own part in our problems, acceptance of Step One brings relief from impossible responsibilities. We were trying to fix a disease - and someone else's disease at that!

Powerlessness. The first step of Al-Anon, like the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous and a whole host of other 12 step groups, begins with powerlessness. The biggest problem in my life - my husband's drinking - was out of my control. I wanted to cure him. I didn't want to give in to the idea that he must drink forever, and these people seemed to believe their spiritual principles would help him quit and stay sober, and maybe even find this "serenity" they all spoke of.

But Al-Anon said, even though 12 Steps was the best shot at sobriety he had, I couldn't cure him or control him. But he wouldn't go to the meetings. He always had some excuse why he didn't want to go, even if I offered to drive him. For all his talk of not wanting me to leave him, he wasn't making any effort to keep me.

Still, it was time to take my focus off of him and turn it to myself. Like most of the advice I got from Al-Anon, this was double-edged. As a brand new mom in financial straits and poor health, I had a lot of my own stuff to focus on, and being away from Roni and his problems was good for me. But it also invited me to ignore his bad behavior. After all, I shouldn't worry about that mote in his eye till I'd done an exhaustive "moral inventory" of everything I'd ever done wrong in my entire life and confessed it to my sponsor.

Of course, I hadn't caused Roni's alcoholism or his "problem drinking" and Al-Anon was quick to tell me that. Just as quickly, Al-Anon let me know it was important that I look at "my part" in his drinking. Let me say that another way: I can't cause, cure, or control his drinking, but I need to focus on my part of his drinking problem.

They kept telling me alcoholism was a disease. My husband loved that. He would remind me, gleefully ad manipulatively, "You took a vow before GOD to love me in sickness and in health. I have a disease! It's not my fault." But even as I accepted most of what Al-Anon told me unquestioned, it seemed like an imperfect analogy to me.

Maybe some people do have an allergic or addictive response to alcohol. They shouldn't drink. It's just incredibly simple to me. Okay, that's probably over simplisitc. I know I'm not a big fan of people saying the cure for anorexia is to "just eat" but really, that IS what an anorexic must do to recover. The most I could ever swallow the "addiction as disease" model was to think it might be like diabetes. Some people really do just have to abstain from sugar, and some from alcohol.

Still, they stressed, it was a spiritual disease. I should treat him just the same as if he had lung cancer. But having lung cancer doesn't make people violent. Drinking alcohol did for my husband (even worse was when the buzz wore off.)

I tried to get myself in line with Al-Anon principles. I tried to accept my powerlessness, my lack of agency. Later steppers would assure me this would be freeing. Once I turned my life over to God and quit trying to run things myself (which I was obviously no good at, or else why would I have to come to Al-Anon?) everything would be great.

Having a "conscious contact" with a "Higher Power" has nothing to do with stopping drinking. Of course, at the time I was very religious. Nothing drew me closer to God than a desperate attempt to salvage my marriage and to be a good godly wife and mother. I hadn't meant to play the part so soon, but I was damn skippy going to do a good job of it, now that I'd landed the role.

So how could I be the best I knew how, while getting myself out of "denial" and accepting my own powerlessness? A sponsor would guide me on that path.

(More to come soon.) Excerpt from "Paths to Recovery: Al-Anon's Steps, Traditions, and Concepts and use under Fair Use terms.