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Al-Anon: Personal Experiences
Written by Amy Paradyz

No one can seek recovery on behalf of someone else. But, if you’re worried about someone with a drinking problem, Al-Anon meetings are for you. Not for you to help figure out how to make your person get sober. Just FOR YOU.

Founded in 1951, Al-Anon is a worldwide fellowship that offers a program of recovery for the families and friends of alcoholics, whether or not the alcoholic recognizes the existence of a drinking problem or seeks help. Meetings are about an hour, and there are no fees or dues. Members lead the meetings, with a message of hope passed from person to person.

Perhaps you’re curious about Al-Anon and why and how it works. Three Mainers active in the Al-Anon community answer these questions and more.

Who is Al-Anon for?

Al-Anon is for anyone worried about someone—a partner, child, sibling or anyone else they love—who has a drinking problem.

“It’s hard to watch loved ones go to rehab or jail or self-destruct in some way,” says Finn, who has been active in Al-Anon for 7 years. “We come in needing support.”

“At the moment when we join this group, we’re usually confused and life is unmanageable,” says Yaeko, who first walked into an Al-Anon meeting when her husband was in Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). Thirty-five years and untold numbers of meetings later, she says, “I find that having sponsees works like having a sponsor. Helping someone helps me.”

Is Al-Anon about helping the person you love get sober?

In short, no.

“It’s a way of living life and dealing with everything coming at you, not just a way of dealing with a specific problem,” Barry says. “It really has changed my life, whether my loved one is drinking or not.”

Why is it anonymous?

“Anonymity keeps it safe for people who are new and scared to share without consequences,” Yaeko says.

Why does talking help?

“I grew up in an alcoholic home, and when I was in a relationship with an alcoholic Al-Anon helped me see whether my thinking was distorted,” Finn says. “One of the things I would do is shut people off. I had a coping mechanism of withdrawing. Being in touch with my sponsor and staying connected to the fellowship, going to meeting and doing the step work— all these things help.”

What are the steps?

Think of the 12 Steps as a roadmap to sobriety. Al-Anon uses the same steps as A.A., except that the final step is to share what they’ve learned “with others” rather than “with other alcoholics.”

“The first step,” Yaeko says, “is to admit that we are powerless. And the first word of that is ‘we.’ It’s a ‘we’ program. We encourage each other to do the work. It takes courage to change thoughts, feelings and behaviors. We find out our shortcomings and strengths and, if we have done wrong by anyone, we make amends.”

What does that mean, being ‘powerless’?

“We thought that we held the power to get someone to stop drinking,” Yaeko says. “With my Dad, I thought that if I was good and smart and knew what ticked him off and how to make him happy, maybe, I thought, I could stop the drinking. There were all kinds of ways that I thought that I could stop it. But that fake belief makes life even more unmanageable. And when I couldn’t manage, I would think it was my fault.”

Why would I need a Sponsor?

A Sponsor helps you walk through the steps in real life. A Sponsor is simply an Al-Anon member who you ask to be your mentor in this thing we call life.

Do you ever finish the steps?

“There’s no 12 step test,” says Finn, who describes steps 10, 11 and 12 as maintenance work. “As much you want to work, you can—and that’s what you’ll get out of it. When I feel better, more at ease, not waiting for someone else to change for me to be happy, I’ve done enough.”

Do I have to be religious to be in Al-Anon?

No, Al-Anon does not demand that anyone profess belief in anything. But you will hear people talk about their “higher power”—or God, if that’s the word they use to describe their higher power.

“We need the help of others and a higher power,” Yaeko says. “Until I could really see that there is a higher power, how could I give up ‘helping’ the alcoholic in my life? They have a higher power, too, and that higher power can guide them. But I’m not the answer. Understanding that really helped me.”

What has surprised you about Al-Anon?

“I thought at first I might not fit in because I identify as a trans man,” Finn says. “It surprised me that no matter who is in the room, it can work. The message of recovery is enough to bind us together.”

How many meetings should I go to?

That depends.

“When I started, I went to four or five meetings a week and, now, maybe three,” Finn says. “It’s finding the right balance. In the beginning, five was too much with my other responsibilities and three wasn’t enough.”

Yaeko says, “I have been to nearly all the meetings, different days of the week and at different times. When I was new, I went practically every day. Once I got the hang of it, I told my sponsor that I didn’t want to go to as many meetings because I wanted to do other things. And she said, ‘Congratulations!’”

What keeps you coming back?

“It helps me to better understand relationships, how I deal with things and how I can change to make a relationship better,” Yaeko says. “For example, in my chaotic alcoholic home I had to be watchful and feel in control, which made me become a little self-righteous, giving too much advice, being manipulative.”

How can I find a meeting?

Maine has about 100 Al-Anon groups—with meetings in all 16 counties and on different days and times of days—all listed on www.maineafg.org/. Meeting via mobile app is also an option (video must be on to participate).

Can teens go to meetings, too?

Teens have their own groups, called Alateen, so they can talk with other teens with similar situations. Two certified Al-Anon adult sponsors host each meeting. Check www. maineafg.org/ for meeting options.

Can I start with a book?

Sure! Al-Anon Family Groups has a book called “How Ala-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics.”

Amy Paradyz

Amy Paradyz

Amy Paradysz writes for Journey, Maine Women Magazine, Green & Healthy Maine Homes and the Portland Press Herald. She has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She lives in Scarborough.