We’re told that for every alcoholic, there are five people who are directly affected by the disease. Logic would then follow that Al-Anon meetings would be five times larger than AA meetings, right? Sadly, if you’ve spent any time around AA or Al-Anon, you’ll agree that this is not the case. Which says a lot about the state of recovery from the FAMILY disease of alcoholism.
My interpretation is that “family recovery” is way behind in the attention and help that alcoholics and drug addicts receive. If we take a quick glance at the family situation, it’s easy to think that if the alcoholic/addict can get sober/clean, then The Problem in the family will go away. The family’s hopes are pinned to this idea. And, quite frankly, so are the hopes of the alcoholic/addict. Just ask any recovering alcoholic who has been to treatment more than once. If they work an honest program, they will tell you that (with some exceptions) going to treatment was a quick and effective way to get the family (employer, judge, etc) off their back.
So just how DOES a family hear that they, too, need recovery? In my case, it was my husband’s counselor. One day, while I was basking in a quiet home knowing my husband was far away in a small town treatment center (his 3rd one), he called me to say that his counselor suggested that I go to Al-Anon. Now, understand this: I am also a recovering alcoholic. My first thought was, “what can Al-Anon teach me about alcoholism that I don’t already know–I’m an alcoholic!” and my second thought was, “But once you’re sober, we can get back to real living.”. But all I said was, “Why?”. He answered that it was to protect my own recovery. Well, it was hard to argue with that. But I have to admit, since I quit AA 14 years earlier, I hadn’t thought about working my own program because I was too busy trying to control HIS drinking and drugging. Although I’d had no desire to drink, somehow it made sense to me that Al-Anon could support my sobriety, too.
Today, as I sit in Al-Anon meetings with former strangers who are now my closest friends, I hear new people coming in saying the treatment center counselor suggested they attend Al-Anon. Wonderful. I’m so grateful for that even though many new people come back a time or two, and then disappear just to reappear at other groups; but many times I never see them again.
But I would d like to see treatment centers focus as much on FAMILY recovery as they do alcoholic recovery. I’ve seen so many families separate after sobriety partly because the family thought THEY weren’t part of The Problem. It’s quite an adjustment to have a sober person in the household where a formerly irresponsible person had been. The family is never ready for the changes in routine, expectations, feelings and even power. There’s a certain smugness in the family that must be overcome and not everybody is willing to do so. We kind of like the idea that WE aren’t the cause of the family problems. So sometimes the alcoholic finds an excuse to drink again which brings back up the family’s defenses and then here we go again. Ding! Ding! Round 2 (3,4,5,…)!
Of course, it should be said that the choice to drink again is entirely on the shoulders of the drinker; however, I’ve come to believe that the family’s (learned) dysfunctional behavior enabled the drinker to drink; the entire family gets sick so then the entire family needs recovery. IMHO.