IT is believed that an alcoholic typically has a significantly negative impact on around ten people around them.
Given the amount of people with drink problems around, it’s clear that a huge minority in society have felt the effects of others drinking and Al-Anon is in existence to help people in this position.
Seanie, a Clare man in his early 30s, says that he started going to deal with problems in his own family. “People go to Al-Anon looking for a way to stop the craziness of alcoholism in their own lives, looking for a list of things to do to stop the person drinking. In my own case the person was going to AA, but behaving like a dry drunk which means behaving like an alcoholic with bad behaviour. Having blowouts, fighting, being unreasonable, carrying on as if they were drunk, but they are carrying on like that while being sober.”
He knows all about the plight of being close to an alcoholic, but he says Al-Anon isn’t about hitting out at the person with the addiction. “We believe that where there is no faith in a higher power, they are ruled by
fear. They have to hand over their fear to whatever higher power they believe in. We end up being affected by alcoholism the same way as they are affected, their behaviours can take over.
“When you go to Al-Anon you’ll find that one of the traits is being isolated. I wouldn’t be a person who naturally isolates but alcoholics are wicked for isolating people. They might dress up and look great and be the life and soul of the party, and the spouse will come along and look dishevelled, often it’ll look like the spouse is the one with the problem.
“I just kept away from family and close friends, because someone would ask the hard question, and I’d be getting upset over it. It was just easier to steer clear of those kinds of situations. You’re wondering are they the person who has gone mad or are you gone mad. Going to a 12-step fellowship, you’ve got to look at your own role in it.”
Not unlike AA, Al-Anon provides a 12 step programme, and the first one is to admit the situation, much like an alcoholic wanting to stop needs to. “I was asking what the f**k is going on here, the first step was to admit that I was powerless over alcohol and my life had become unmanageable.
“In those days I’d be saying I don’t have a problem, but I do, I’m powerless over the effects alcohol can have in my home.”
Ultimately, he says addiction is not the family member’s fault, but they should realise it’s not the addict’s fault either. “We have something we call the three Cs, I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it and I can’t cure it. It is not my fault, it is not my fault. It isn’t the alcoholics fault either, alcohol or gambling or drugs or whatever the addiction is, can take such a hold over a person. A great thing in the fellowship is that no one is to blame, they (alcoholics) will blame their spouses, blame their families, blame their employees, everyone around them, and then we pick up that attitude from them.”
Al-Anon relies on meetings, which at the moment are still going ahead on Zoom. “At meetings we share our experience, strength and hope. We tell what the story was like, we say where we are getting our strength, usually strength is got from the 12step programme.
“Then there’s what we hope for going forward. Through hearing about other people’s experience, strength and hope you get messages, maybe you realise something they’re talking about applies to you. It’s a bit of an eye opener.”
Inevitably those attending have had tough experiences, but he reiterates that the meetings are not about mudslinging. “It’s not a bitch-fest about the addicts in your life. It’s a place you can come to, to make changes in yourself to cope with living with that addiction, which you have no power over. “Really in Al-Anon you’re looking at yourself and how you can make changes in your life, not how you can change the alcoholic. That’s a big reason people don’t come back, they just want a list of things to fix the alcoholic. It’s about finding yourself and getting your own identity back.”
More information on Al-Anon is available from http://www. al-anon-ireland.org/ or by calling 01 8732699.