When I first hit the doors of AA, it was not a stretch to admit that my life had become unmanageable. I was a divorced 30-year-old part-time mother who had just moved back home and was living in the basement. I say “part-time mother” because my two children lived with their father 9 months of the year. I worked the 12-steps like they told me and found a certain peace within myself and a renewed love of God. But I continued to settle for less than good relationships.
My own childhood was a picture-perfect family–of the alcoholic kind, that is. My memories were that of a family often at war with each other: words of anger and sarcasm were used as weapons while silence and cold detachment were used as shields.
There was love, too. And laughter. But the underlying mood was negative–and if you had asked us why, we would have been hard-pressed to give you an answer other than, “That’s just the ways things have always been”.
Growing up, it was unheard of to have a “family meeting”; as children, we had no voice in any matters. Among the 2 adults and 3 children, the children had no vote, the mother had 1 vote and the dad had liberal veto power so voting wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Mom tried, but she was no match for my alcoholic father. He had the last (i.e. loudest) say. The rules were always changing, which fractured our family.
When I ended up at the doors of Al-Anon with fresh emotional battle scars from my experience with my second husband’s active alcoholism/addiction, I found it odd that I had a new appreciation for what I ignored the first time through: The 12 Traditions. Al-Anon’s “big book”, Paths to Recovery, states that the Traditions are “designed for the conduct and unity necessary to maintain healthy groups.”
Maybe you’re a newer member and don’t understand them nor even care about them, just as I didn’t when I was in tremendous personal pain. But over time (it works if you work it), I have come to realize how vital they are to the health of my family, too. Just the first Tradition alone can make a huge impact on each family member which, in turn, impacts the family.
A LITTLE TEST
Before we get to what that First Tradition states, here’s a little test: Imagine your last family disagreement. I’ll give you a minute to think. Got it? Ok, now imagine that instead of everybody talking over each other, instead of one (or more) of you coming down hard on the rest, instead of one (or more) of you insisting that they’ve got the right solution, imagine the other person(s) saying to you, “You could be right.” How does that feel? Pretty good, right? Feeling grateful? Feeling like you were heard or that they appreciate your opinion? Maybe even feeling a little more willing to compromise?
Now here’s another test. Imagine the same disagreement, only this time, YOU are the one who says “You may be right.” Ouch. Not so much fun to think about. But now that you know how it felt when it was said to you, you have an idea of how transforming it is when just ONE PERSON dares to make a small change for the good of the family.
THE 1ST TRADITION – AA and AL-ANON
So, what am I talking about? Al-Anon Tradition 1. “Our common welfare should come first; personal progress for the greatest number depends upon unity.” AA Tradition 1: “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.”
Alcoholism is a Family disease which destroys the very unity we are all seeking. Pick your battles, don’t let them pick you. If you (like me) sometimes can’t figure out “How Important Is It?”, maybe you could postpone the discussion until you can call your sponsor.
And, as always, if you find that you disagree with me, you may be right. ;)
“Sticks and stones are hard on bones
Aimed with angry art,
Words can sting like anything
But silence breaks the heart.”
~Phyllis McGinley, “Ballade of Lost Objects,” 1954