I can tell right away when I am in the presence of a family dealing with alcoholism, because of the anxious tone in the room. Addiction is not logical; it is not linear, and it is not personal. I know how hard it is for families to hear this, because to them it is absolutely personal. Alcoholism affects them very deeply on an emotional, physical and spiritual level.
Therefore, responding in a reactive manner and using logic and persuasion on an issue such as this can be quite frustrating—even maddening. I know that I can be helpful as a professional, and I have spent my career attempting to do so. However, what Al-Anon offers is something quite different.
Nothing substitutes for experience, and in the rooms of Al-Anon I know my clients will get the wonderful, warm sense of peace and understanding that comes from being with people who know. Within each Al-Anon room is the shared experience of everyone who is present or has passed through. And that group is part of a larger tradition—more than 65 years old and growing. “You are not alone” does not begin to touch this.
In addition to providing a safe, nonjudgmental environment, Al-Anon operates within a gentle structure that oftentimes serves as a safe haven for families who have lots of upheaval and turmoil. Meetings take place where they are scheduled and start and end on time. Steps and Traditions are in place and literature is available that is Al-Anon approved. This can be a great weight lifted for the weary soul who enters, because the structure provides safety and consistency. This leaves space for the work of change. Al‑Anon is all about change. Finally, there is a safe space for the loved ones. It’s all about them, and in Al-Anon, this is how it is supposed to be.
Developing the capacity for greater self-care, the ability to put supports in place and the idea of a relationship with something greater than oneself are important parts of Al‑Anon. Family members’ lives become very small over time. This is an unfortunate byproduct of the physical and emotional time and energy it takes to survive. Sadly, survival, the most basic of instincts, is at times the most that alcoholics and their families can hope for.
Attending Al-Anon has given my clients a rejuvenated sense of hope, a greater support circle and the capacity to care for themselves and set healthy boundaries. When family members are in recovery, their attitudes and behavior change, whether by conscious intent, or by merely being involved in the process. As an outgrowth of the Al-Anon experience, I regularly see changes in the alcoholics they love. Anytime one changes a behavior toward another person, the whole interaction or reaction changes.
As a professional clinician, I am constantly awestruck by the powerful transformation people experience in the rooms of Al-Anon. No longer mired purely in the problem, they are solution-focused and empowered in a way that can feel very freeing.
I always feel confident when I recommend Al-Anon, and I will continue to do so in the future.
By Eugene (J.R.) Lombardo, LCSW
Counseling and Psychotherapy
White Plains, N.Y.
Al-Anon Faces Alcoholism 2019