Hard as I try, I do not work the Al-Anon program perfectly. Recently, I was face-to face with an active alcoholic who had been drinking heavily. I’ve been practicing Al-Anon for six years and it was as if I had regressed back to day one. I was aware of my regression but unable to find the right words, action or reaction to ease my discomfort.
Immediately my thoughts went back to; is this person going to hurt me, is this person going to hurt my friends, is this person going to cause a scene, is this person going to break things. I opted, out of habit, to smile and nod in agreement to avoid pain. Oddly enough this thought process only added to and prolonged my pain and discomfort.
To add to my dismay, I was meeting with my sponsee at the time. Our meeting was going to start in about a half hour in the next room. If it wasn’t so stressful, I would have said it was comical. I went into a deer in the headlights mode with near complete silence and she went into entertainment mode. Both of our responses were in an effort to keep the peace and avoid upsetting the alcoholic and both at the expense of our own inner peace, serenity and happiness. I was embarrassed I didn’t have the answer to our problem at that moment. I felt empty. I felt guilty I was unable to demonstrate that Al-Anon does work. I was ashamed I wasn’t working the program perfectly for her sake. I experienced sadness and anger I wasn’t working the program perfectly for mine.
“The signal that we need to reach for an Al-Anon tool is often simply feeling uncomfortable. …. If you do not know which tool to apply, try one. Pick the one that seems best to you. …. The goal is to achieve progress, not perfection. …. There may be times when nothing seems to fit. This can happen to all of us. Even after years in the program, we may feel like newcomers again at our first meeting.” From Survival to Recovery (page 145-146)
To say I was uncomfortable would have been an understatement. I was experiencing complete fear. After the meeting, I spoke with my sponsor. She helped me to see that although, I experienced these feelings I had indeed made progress. I was aware of my reaction and did not allow the experience to overtake my whole night. I was able to see the humor in it, after the fact. I was aware a healthier response did exist. Prior to Al-Anon, I was unaware of my own part in these situations. I could have excused myself and left the room. I could have asked other members for help. I could have explained with kindness that alcoholics are welcome at Al-Anon when they are sober and asked her to return on another day.
The following week I did ask other members for help and it turns out I was not the only member who experienced discomfort. I also had a conversation with my sponsee where I admitted I did not handle that situation well. However, we can both learn from our reaction. This program is about progress not perfection. We do not have to work the program perfectly because the disease of alcoholism will give us many opportunities to practice. The key is to do the best you can at any given moment
“It has taken a long time for my low self-esteem to be replaced with a healthy sense of self-worth. Although the process or recovery is steady, it is sometimes slower than I would wish.” How Al-Anon Works (page 283)