Tag Archives: 2016

Today, I’m doing more of what makes me happy

“Don’t make me stop this car!” The bold quote on the travel mug sitting on the shop shelf caught my eye. I laughed out loud. How many times had I said that to my daughter? I bought the mug.

That was six years ago. Today, I grimace when I think how I blamed my youngest for my crazy behavior. No one can make me act a certain way; only I can control my emotions and conduct.

Today, I don’t even like the travel mug that once made me giggle. But I keep it to remind me how far I’ve come. When I feel my anger surging, I no longer blame others, but look within to find my part in it.

Recently, I bought another mug that makes me smile. It says, “Do more of what makes you happy.” It took some reflection and investigation to rediscover what makes me happy. I was so busy working on my career and being a wife and mother that I felt I had no time to make myself happy. I thought back to high school and remembered I enjoyed arts and crafts. I searched for classes and studios I could join. Each day, I try to do something nourishing. Sometimes, it’s something small, like picking up a new library book.

My transformation began when I heard at a meeting how the flight attendant always instructs passengers to place the oxygen mask on them first, before turning to help anyone else. I had flown and heard this before, but this was the first time I accepted it as my responsibility for my self-care. It’s not selfish. It’s logical. How can I help the person or child next to me if I can’t breathe?

When I’m happy, it’s easier to think calmly. Through Conference Approved Literature, listening at meetings, and sharing honestly with trusted friends, I’ve learned that I have choices and what my choices are. I can change. I can learn to take care of and control myself. I’ve altered my attitude and it’s transformed my life. “Keep Coming Back.”

By Shelley H., Pennsylvania
The Forum, December 2016

Gratitude: my recipe for a peaceful family holiday dinner

Growing up in an alcoholic family, I dreaded the holiday season. Mixing an alcoholic and three “reacters” rarely led to magical moments. Last year’s holidays were the hardest, as they were the first ones since the alcoholic in our family, my dad, died. My brother’s and my pain and mutual resentments were still raw, so we shared an awkward, tense dinner.

As this year’s holidays approached, I felt the familiar fear of family conflict and judgment. I tend to avoid whatever I fear, so I was reluctant to accept the challenge when my family asked me to host this year’s holiday dinner. I’m a self-conscious hostess at the best of times. However, I learned through Al‑Anon that God gives us challenges when we’re ready for them. So I agreed to welcome my disconnected family into my home.

My program helped me change my attitudes and actions before the dinner. In particular, I learned that I needed to let go of my paralyzing fear of conflict and judgment.

First, I reflected on how far I had come in taking care of myself over the past year. I learned that I didn’t have to accept unacceptable behavior, such as hurtful comments or accusations from my relatives. I also learned how to set boundaries. Even though I feared my brother’s rage, I faced my fears by continuing to reach out to him, even if I only e-mailed him once a month. I learned how to build bridges between us rather than walls.

By declining to host our get-togethers, I saw that I was burdening my relatives. My fear of others’ judgment held me back from serving my family. Instead, I needed to share the responsibility for hosting our events. I also realized that I’m rather self-absorbed. The holidays aren’t about me and my cooking skills; they’re an opportunity to heal my family’s weakened sense of unity. My Sponsor put it best: I needed to let go of my ego.

I also learned that it was unfair to expect my brother’s resentment toward me to fade as quickly as I would have liked. He had every right to work through the grief and anger that our dad’s death brought about, in his own time. I needed to be patient, detach, and focus on myself. God gave me faith that my brother’s resentment toward me would eventually fade. Even if it didn’t, I could choose to act maturely and be my best self.

My Al‑Anon program helped me remember that I’m not alone. God is always an available source of help. By working my program, I became willing to change. My attitude toward hosting the dinner evolved from, “Oh, heck no” to “Yes, I can!”

My strategy for success involved returning to the tools that helped me in recent months: prayer, preparation, and practice. Through prayer, I humbly asked God to help me face my fears. I knew I could not succeed—or relax—without God’s help, so I deliberately chose to “Let Go and Let God.”

I prepared emotionally by openly sharing those fears with my Sponsor, my group, and my husband. By communicating honestly, I became much closer to my husband. He became an enormous source of support. He helped me work through my trepidation and channel my energy into planning the menu several weeks in advance. Together, we practiced making every item on the menu and tweaked the recipes to our satisfaction. Cooking actually became a fun challenge that I embraced. I fell in love with my husband all over again.

All our efforts were worthwhile. My family’s holiday dinner was delightfully serene. I felt relatively relaxed and closer than ever to my husband. By placing “principles above personalities,” I was able to avoid reacting when my relatives made minor negative remarks. Instead, I kept my own thoughts positive by focusing on gratitude for my family’s drama-free reunion.

I feel grateful knowing that I did my best and applied the slogan “Let It Begin With Me.” My Higher Power helped heal my family by bringing us together in peace to mark a special occasion. I gained confidence and courage by taking the risk to try new things, knowing that I’m not alone. I could not have asked for a better holiday, and I truly believe that my dad would have been proud of all of us.

What a difference a year makes—when I work my program!

By Lisa G., Ontario
The Forum, December 2016

Learning to heal my own pain

When I came into Al‑Anon, I felt like a ping-pong ball, being bounced from crisis to crisis, constantly trying to fix my son’s life. Since that was impossible, I felt frustrated, resentful, and powerless—a victim.

When I came into Al‑Anon, I felt like a ping-pong ball, being bounced from crisis to crisis, constantly trying to fix my son’s life. Since that was impossible, I felt frustrated, resentful, and powerless—a victim.

I needed to stop thinking about what I wanted for everyone else’s life and look instead at my own. I learned that living with alcoholism gave me my own disease— trying to rescue, control others, and seek happiness outside of myself. Healing my pain couldn’t come from healing my son’s disease, even if I were able to; it had to come from healing mine.

I know now that in trying to control others, I was really trying to control my fear and grief, as I watched their disease unfold. By working my program, I’ve learned to face, release, and heal those natural feelings, and not avoid them by trying to fix others.

The wonderful paradox is that, as I began empowering myself, I also began to empower the alcoholic. By taking the focus off him, I stopped enabling him and removing the consequences of his actions. I have heard that most people make their biggest changes from a place of crisis. By preventing the crisis, I was removing his motivation to change. As Hope for Today (B-27) says, “It is an illusion that depleting myself will help someone else.”

Al‑Anon has empowered me to enjoy my life. It has liberated me from feeling like a victim of other people’s choices. Today, I know that whether the alcoholic seeks recovery or not, I will still be fine because I have healed my own pain and found my own life. My happiness no longer depends upon their choices, and that is true freedom.

By L. O’D
The Forum, December 2016

I deserve to be happy

By the time I got to Al‑Anon, I was an angry, resentful, withdrawn woman. I had shut my parents and siblings out of my life because I didn’t want them to know what was going on. I always hoped the drinking would stop and no one would need to know what was going on in our home. Of course, I wasn’t fooling anyone. Finally, my sister, who had been attending Al‑Anon for years, asked me if my husband’s drinking bothered me. I said it did. “Then Al‑Anon is for you,” she said. I went to my first meeting.

After going to Al‑Anon for several years, reading the literature, getting a Sponsor, and working the Steps and Traditions in my life, I learned how to live with active alcoholism with some peace and serenity. I was unhappy in my marriage, but felt I had no choice but to continue in it. I had seen the effects that the breakups of my three sisters’ marriages had on my parents. I did not want to put them through that again. I was scared to live on my own and be responsible for myself and my living expenses.

Meanwhile, my father’s health had been deteriorating. One morning, my mother called to say he had been taken to the Emergency Room. She asked my siblings and me to come to the hospital, as it looked like he was nearing the end of his life. My siblings and I took turns going in to see him to say our goodbyes.

When I went in, he was barely conscious, an oxygen mask covering his face. I took his hand, told him I loved him and that he should stop fighting, to breathe and let go. All he could do was squeeze my hand. My mother had to speak for him. She told me that he worried about me and just wanted me to be happy. I realized then that I’d thought I was protecting my parents, but I’d been causing them grief instead, as they watched me in my unhappy marriage. I felt that my father gave me permission, before he passed away, to end my marriage.

I was ready for a change. Within a few months, I told my husband I wanted to separate. I wanted to end my marriage without hurt, but I realized that after 25 years there was going to be some pain. With the support of my Al‑Anon friends and my family, I worked through the pain, grieved the end of my marriage, and survived without too much heartache.

In Al‑Anon, I learned that I had choices and I deserved to be happy. I learned to be independent and to speak up for myself. I learned that I could face my fears with my Higher Power by my side. I learned to be open and willing to accept God’s will for me, and to put my father in God’s hands to look after. Because of Al‑Anon, I met and married my second husband, who is a recovering alcoholic and attends Alcoholics Anonymous. It is great working our two programs together in our home.

Sometimes, I see the effects of growing up in an alcoholic home on my children. Two of them attended Alateen and Al‑Anon many years ago. As much as I want to, I know I cannot fix their problems. I might quote a slogan I think might be useful, and I always tell them if and when they want to attend Al‑Anon, I would take them to a meeting. A few years ago, my first husband passed away because of complications from his alcoholism. I was able to grieve and support my children over the loss of their father.

I thank God for putting that alcoholic in my life and bringing me to Al‑Anon. I am grateful for all the wonderful gifts I’ve received by practicing this program every day and in every area of my life.

By Marilyn K., Ontario
The Forum, November 2016

My first Al-Anon meeting surprised me

I came to Al‑Anon late in life thinking I was nearing its end. Things were as they were, not as I needed them to be. I had friends who were happy but I really wasn’t. I blamed this on my wife’s drinking, spoiling things for me, her, and us. I was not happy.

I was a good and passionate teacher. The best moments of my life were when I was teaching, and when I wasn’t, my spirit often felt strangled and scared. Throughout my life, calm moments were rare exceptions.

My first Al‑Anon meeting surprised me. No one was talking about the people and circumstances ruining their lives. The Twelve Step program didn’t seem to want to help me fix my wife. It offered to help me fix myself.

I was asked what I like to do for fun. I didn’t know or couldn’t remember. I was introduced to the Twelve Steps. I was able to acknowledge my powerlessness and my unmanageability, but not my insanity nor needing the help of a “Higher Power.” I was raised in a church with a white male authoritarian God who spoke to me through white male authoritarian church leaders. I wasn’t ready to accept more of this.

This was part of my insanity with life. With the help of my home group and my Sponsor, I began my recovery. Slowly, step-by-step, I changed and, in time, got better. It was hard for me to stop trying to help my wife get sober. Yet, I slowly learned to mind my own business. As I did, our relationship changed, allowing her to face her own life. She did and still does. My own recovery has been a blessing for her.

My recovery helped me remember my childhood and youth, the alcoholism within my family, and my abuse by an older neighbor. I began to see its effect on me throughout my life, with the opportunity to broaden my recovery.

The largest and most helpful step in my recovery has been my relationship with my Higher Power. In the beginning, my Sponsor suggested that I act as though I already believe in her. I reached for her with many important and difficult issues. She always helped, often in surprising and miraculous ways. She is now my daily companion.

It has been over 20 years since I started changing myself in Al‑Anon. These are the best years of my life.  Each day brings me happiness and serenity. This is not from what others say or do, or what happens around me. Life is not always easy, but it is always full of joy and beauty. I have learned to see this more each day.

By Jim N., Oregon
The Forum, November 2016

I was changing, and I liked it

When I went to my first Al‑Anon meeting, I was very surprised to find so many happy people talking before the meeting about things other than alcoholics. After attending the suggested six beginner meetings, I felt I had said all there was to say about our problems as parents of an alcoholic. I was encouraged to join the “regular meeting” the following week.

I learned through members sharing that many had been attending meetings for years, long after the alcoholics recovered, left the house, or passed away. I wondered why these people kept coming to meetings. Surely, they had better things they could be doing.

I saw that members talked about themselves a lot and actually had lives that centered on themselves and not the alcoholics. I wondered why. Didn’t they care about the alcoholics and want to help them stay sober?

I saw people volunteering for service at the meeting. Some made coffee, took care of literature, cleaned up, etc. I wondered why. I saw people going after the meetings for fellowship. What was fellowship anyway?

Even though the reading at the beginning of the meeting kept telling me I was here because of the alcoholic, not for the alcoholic, why would I have to continue going to meetings once I got our son to stop drinking?

After attending for several months, I felt part of the group. I was welcomed and comforted by others. I had the feeling that people actually cared about me just the way I was—a  somewhat emotional wreck. I too, had a choice on a Friday night, and I chose to keep going back. They all had what I wanted.

I began to feel that the sharings, topics, slogans, and daily readings were changing my thinking about whom the meetings were actually helping. I had some tools to work with. I was changing. I was thinking differently. I was feeling compassion for our son. I was beginning to detach. I was learning about setting boundaries. I started to take “One Day at a Time.” I was learning to “Let Go and Let God.” I was developing a relationship with a Higher Power that I could trust to do what was best for me. I was feeling the support from other members. I asked someone to be my Sponsor.

I looked forward to not only one weekly meeting, but I began attending more meetings in different locations. At one point, I was attending four meetings a week because I felt the more meetings I attended, the more reinforcement I was giving myself. I liked the change that was taking place between my ears.

I realized I wanted to go to meetings. I was never too tired, and if I was tired, I went anyway because the feeling I had after the meeting was always uplifting. Al‑Anon members understood what I felt as a child living with an alcoholic father, and what I felt as the mother of an alcoholic son because they felt it too. They understood. They had empathy, not sympathy, for me. I made friends. I wasn’t alone in this journey. There are some amazing people in these rooms. One of the most important things I learned early on is that there is always hope.

This is a program through which I have learned to better cope with my problems, celebrate my joys, feel all my feelings, and know that everything that happens will eventually pass. These are the reason I “Keep Coming Back.” I now know that it doesn’t matter whether God introduced me to the program or if the program introduced me to my Higher Power. All that is important is that I found Him through Al‑Anon.

By Kathy D., Illinois
The Forum, November 2016

I listened for the similarities, not the differences

A friend of mine says there ought to be a hologram over every Al‑Anon member’s face whenever a newcomer comes to a meeting. The hologram would be an image of each member as he or she appeared at that first meeting. Mine would show me unkempt and panicked, perhaps with my arms crossed to keep people away. I think that hologram might comfort the people just coming in and let them know we’ve all been where they are.

I was so angry, afraid, and confused. I don’t think I came in to find out how to get an alcoholic sober, because I had tried everything. A neighbor had suggested it might help me, because I was worried that the insanity I’d seen in my family might be contagious. I did not want to belong. I had no desire to “Keep Coming Back,” and so I listened for the differences. He was affected by parents, she by a son, and you by a daughter. I had many people whose drinking bothered me. Your situations were different. You were different. I didn’t fit in, and I certainly didn’t belong. To be honest, I don’t think I heard a thing in my first meeting without putting it through a “that’s not me” filter.

I went back to my neighbor, and he told me about listening for the similarities. He urged me to try again. I went back and the miracles started. I heard the feelings, and they were my feelings. In my second meeting, I decided that you have been reading my mail. I still didn’t want to belong. I was still angry, afraid, and confused. But there was another feeling that was born that day—hope. I discovered that hope was at the bottom of my Pandora’s Box of feelings.

I kept coming. I was able to identify more feelings than anger, fear, and confusion. I was able to talk about them to other members, and I was able to let them go. For me, sharing was (and still is) perhaps the most powerful tool of the Al‑Anon program. My concept of a Higher Power needed a lot of work. When I listened to members share, I got ideas on where I needed to adjust my understanding, and I heard my Higher Power in their words.

I kept coming. I was able to build healthy relationships, set boundaries, and love unconditionally. I learned all that. I kept coming. I started passing on what had been given to me for fun and for free. As I passed it on, I learned it. I really learned it. Thanks for letting me heal.

By Claudia M., Arizona
The Forum, October 2016

I can love my daughter without trying to manage her life

Growing up in an alcoholic household, I learned at a young age to be a problem solver. When I was 12-years old, the alcoholic in our family died and, as the oldest boy, I became “the man of the family.” This burden of responsibility was the catalyst for over-achievement, which served me well as a youngster but became my downfall as the mature father of a teen-age alcoholic daughter.

From the time my daughter was 15 and until she turned 30, we tried every drug, alcohol, and eating disorder program we could afford. Some were Twelve Step oriented; some were not. There were lock-down facilities, group homes, in-patient and outpatient therapy, recovery ranches, and wilderness programs in different parts of the country. I considered myself a smart and resourceful problem solver, and it would only be a matter of time until we found the right solution to our daughter’s problem.

Fifteen years and tens of thousands of dollars later, we were no closer to “curing” her than we were at the start. She had become my daily obsession. The quality of my life depended entirely upon the quality of hers. Was she in a crisis this week, or was she safe? Was she in a psych ward or in jail, or was she temporarily okay? The pain of living my daughter’s life for her finally became too much to bear. I started therapy and began to attend Al‑Anon meetings.

One winter day on a business trip, I stopped in at a church to say a prayer. As I knelt, the thought occurred to me that our daughter had been a gift to us from a Higher Power, and that I needed now to let go of that gift if I were ever to know any peace. With tears streaming down my face, I absolutely surrendered my child’s life to a Higher Power.

A feeling of enormous relief came over me, and I felt as though the heavy burden I had been carrying for many years had been lifted. I no longer had to be the efficient problem solver. I could love my daughter without trying to manage her life. I didn’t have to be competent at everything, and I am entitled to take care of myself before taking care of another. Most of all, I understood that it’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to be helpless sometimes.

These were life lessons I somehow had missed growing up, and listening to the experience, wisdom, and hope of others in Al‑Anon had prepared me to receive them when my spirit was ready.

Today, my daughter still struggles with her addictions, but I clearly understand that she has her own Higher Power, and that letting her learn from her mistakes is the only way she can grow and benefit from experience, which is the most effective teacher. Aside from telling her that I love her, I don’t interfere. Most of all, I enjoy the relationship I have with our other daughter, who was a second priority for too many years, and my grandchildren who are such a blessing. I have come to know peace and acceptance, and for that, I am enormously grateful.

By Joe McC., California
The Forum, October 2016