During my 32 years in practice, I have counseled many individuals and families who struggle with a loved one’s alcoholism or addiction. I have welcomed many professional referrals who do not think they need a Twelve Step program. My approach is to be accepting and persistent about the recommendation that I give them to go to Al-Anon.
When someone has dealt with addiction in their family for years, and the professional they go to for relief suggests they take more time and energy to talk and think about themselves, the response is usually, “Are you kidding? I’ve already given up all the time and energy I can spare for this problem, and that’s why I’m here! I just want you to tell me how I can fix it!”
I can appreciate their point of view. It took me decades to go from knowing about Al‑Anon to attending an Al-Anon meeting. It does not help to point out that the methods family members have used so far have done little to help the situation and may even have perpetuated the problem.
A family member already feels guilty enough, believing that he or she may have caused the problem. This person needs empathy and support, a haven from the storm of blame and guilt. It takes tact and delicate timing to impart the information that there are alternative, self-protective ways to respond to an addict or alcoholic’s behavior. Responses that protect oneself are also the healthiest responses for the addicted person. When this insight penetrates, there is often such a wave of relief that the family member becomes open, even eager, to find out more about what Al-Anon has to offer.
Many times, the experience of the first Al-Anon meeting is all it takes for a person to understand the richness of the program and the depth of relief that Al-Anon can provide. At other times, the patient returns to my office reporting that all that happened was a bunch of whiners complained about their suffering or railed about the hurtful behavior of the addict or alcoholic. My response is in any Al-Anon meeting there may be newcomers who need to talk, but who do not yet have the feel of the program. The real challenge is to find someone who has a message that will help.
For someone with the problem of addiction in a loved one, there is a far better chance of finding that helpful message in an Al-Anon meeting than any place else on earth. It typically takes six sessions to understand the wisdom in the principles of Al-Anon, beyond the personalities of those who are speaking. Most people, after experiencing six meetings, will clear their schedule to attend more.
Al-Anon is a program of attraction, not promotion, but sometimes people need to observe something several times before they can recognize its value.
By Nancy Duff-Boehm, Ph.D
Boehm and Associates
North Olmstead, Ohio
Al-Anon Faces Alcoholism