“Al-Anon offers one enormously effective skill set that I have yet to find as well taught anywhere else.”

I last referred to Al-Anon a few weeks ago, when speaking with a client right in what I think of as the Al-Anon “bull’s eye” situation—a divorced woman in her early seventies with a daughter suffering from the disease of alcoholism.

The client—whom I’ll call Pearl—was constantly anxious. Mother and daughter communicated daily through multiple calls, texts and emails. Pearl regularly drove by her daughter’s nearby apartment to see whether she’d gone to work. Pearl advised her daughter on everything. They were, in short, driving each other crazy.
In Pearl’s mind, her over-involvement in her daughter’s life stemmed from a terror that her daughter would drive under the influence of alcohol. Pearl had more than enough hardship and trauma in her own life to make it especially hard for her to “Let go and let God.” Pearl hadn’t been to Al-Anon in years but she wanted to feel better, so she returned to the program. She found it helpful almost immediately.

Al-Anon offers one enormously effective skill set that I have yet to find as well taught anywhere else—detachment. I regularly send people to the program as much for that skill as for the support they find in being with people who understand their problems. I also ask them to read daily the detachment pages in the book, “One Day at a Time in Al-Anon.” To be able to detach and remain independent is where the locus of power lies. Orbiting an alcoholic isn’t playing the hand one has been dealt very well.

I have a favorite mode of responding to clients who say, “I can do it myself.” Imagine a loved one is struggling with addiction to alcohol. You try hard to change your reactive behavior all by yourself. Where I live, the ferry goes back and forth from Cape Cod to Martha’s Vineyard multiple times each day. Imagine the program as the ferry—lots of people talking, drinking coffee and making the journey safely. Why would anyone take a rowboat and do it by themselves instead?

Beth Wechsler, LICSW, Clinical Social Work/Therapist – Mashpee, Massachusetts