|Field Experiment | |Understanding Diversity Fall 2011 | | | |My experience at Al-Anon | | | |Mitch Bell | |11/16/2011 | | | My Experience at Al-Anon I have never had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting of Al-Anon and I have always been curious as to what a meeting would be like. Therefore, I knew this assignment would give me the perfect opportunity to attend a meeting. I have been to several meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and I also have attended a few meetings of Narcotics Anonymous. It was at those meetings, several years ago, that I first heard of a group called Al-Anon. There was a Wednesday evening Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that I enjoyed attending in Jeffersonville at the Jeff Token Club.
I found it to be a friendly environment and full of twelve step gurus that I learned tons from. At that time the Jeffersonville Token Club was where the majority of Southern Indiana’s recovery based meetings were held. The building has been remodeled many times over the years and during this time there was a large meeting room with a smaller meeting room off the back of the building. It was in the smaller meeting room where the members of Al-Anon would meet while the open discussion meeting of Alcoholics anonymous was being held in the larger room. Just before the A. A. meeting was called to begin, the mostly female crowd would shuffle to the back and the two wooden doors would be closed and the two meetings would begin simultaneously.
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My curiosity was tweaked as I often asked myself,”What are they talking about? ” I learned early on that Al-Anon was for the spouses and/or family members of Alcoholics. In reading the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and my learning experiences while attending meetings gave me some general knowledge of Al-Anon. It wasn’t long before I realized that membership or attendance at Al-Anon meetings had no requirement for the alcoholic that is the relative of the Al-Anon member, to be a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous. There was a place for those affected family members to go to learn to live a healthy lifestyle that wasn’t controlled by the Alcoholic.
The addicted person when left entirely to his or her own devices will usually not be able to maintain their lifestyle. They rely on the manipulation of those closest to them and through enabling the significant other helps the addict maintain. The co-dependence of the alcoholic’s family members ultimately helps keep them afloat. Often good intentions cause harm in these cases. This all leads to a miserable life for the family members as well as the alcoholic. Soon the co-dependent’s every mood is reflective of the alcoholic’s. It becomes a vicious cycle in which the co-dependent sacrifices their own happiness, as well the happiness of other children or family members, to try and “fix” the alcoholic.
It is out of this great need was Al-Anon created. The members learn to find happiness and they learn how not to be manipulated by the alcoholic. Although it has been a great while since I last attended a twelve-step meeting, I knew the Jeffersonville Token Club still housed a host of meetings daily. With minimal effort I discovered that there is a meeting of AL-Anon there at the club on Friday nights. Like Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous there are different varieties of meetings. Some meetings, like the one I attended, are classified as “open meetings. ” Those meetings are exactly that: open. Open to anyone that would like to attend the meeting.
There are also “closed meetings. ” These closed meetings are quite different. I found a simple description of these type of meetings on the Kentucky/Southern Indiana Al-Anon web site: “For Al-Anon members only — You qualify for membership if your life has been or is being deeply affected by close contact with a problem drinker. ” Like closed meetings of Alcoholic Anonymous, these meetings are usually smaller, more intimate, meetings. It is there where real recovery takes place. It’s the dynamic of one person helping another to do what they have already done. This is where the tightest bonds are formed and usually where members locate a “sponsor”.
A sponsor is someone that helps guide a newcomer through the working of the steps and how to find a new and better way to live. I made the meeting room just before the 8:00 start of the meeting. The small group that met behind closed doors in the little meeting room off the back had graduated to the main meeting area. Once again there had been remodeling done at the infamous Jeffersonville Token Club and the truth is that there is no longer a small and large meeting room. The walls that use to separate the two meetings had been removed to create one large room. The Al-Anon meeting had obviously grown in size and held its own in the large meeting room and wouldn’t have fit in the old room. The atmosphere was very similar to the one created by an A. A. meeting.
The smell of stale coffee and cigarettes ironically serves as a welcome comfort. The faces seemed to have changed from the ones I recalled from years ago that filed into the back just before 8:00 like a group of junior high school students scrambling to beat the bell. The gestures and smiles seemed familiar. After pouring me the obligatory cup of Joe, I turned into a waiting outstretched hand that I shook while the fifty-something year old gentleman introduced himself. After four or five more greetings and welcome wishes I found a seat. I noticed right away that the group wasn’t made up of mostly all females as the group from my memory. There was a good showing of men and young people.
A female called the meeting to order and introduced herself and read the first of several items that were read at the beginning of each meeting with the last being the reciting of the twelve steps of Al-Anon that were basically the same as A. A. ‘s with a few words changed. There was then a round of announcements of various nature that a few members made. After the formalities the chairperson discussed a situation of guilt that had been causing her a great deal of unhappiness. As she finished there was about a dozen hands that shot up from different members of the meeting that wanted to be acknowledged and given the chance to speak. One by one the chairperson called on the volunteers and one by one each offered words of advice and related how they deal with similar feelings of guilt. I sat in silence and ook it all in. I was most amazed at the level of concern and the incredible advice the ones that chose to speak, shared with the group. At the end of the meeting we joined hands and recited the Serenity Prayer before dismissing. I didn’t stick around but I did reflect upon the experience and feel like I am wiser as a result. I know first-hand the way those members couldn’t wait to share their experience in hopes that they can provide some level of comfort to whoever is suffering. I will be able to recommend Al-Anon in future counseling opportunities and do so with confidence that I am sending the client to where recovery from the past is paramount.