Al-Anon Topics for Beginners

Sharing Experience, Strength and Hope

People Sitting in a Circle
Al-Anon Meeting Topics. © Getty Images

Hi, I'm Buddy, a grateful member of Al-Anon.

For the past 19 years, I have had the privilege to attend Al-Anon Chat Meetings in the chat rooms that were previously here at the Alcoholism site and are now at StepChat.com. I have found them to be a great supplement to my recovery program.

I have gained much from the experience, strength, and hope of others in the room and I have been given many opportunities to reach out to newcomers, especially in our Al-Anon Beginners Chat Friday nights.

How Al-Anon Meetings Work

Most Al-Anon Family Groups meetings are topic discussion meetings. This means the person who is leading the meeting, the chairperson, chooses a topic related to the experience of dealing with a friend or family member who has a problem with alcoholism. Sometimes the chairperson will ask the group if anyone has a topic they would like the group to discuss.

After a topic is chosen, then those who are at the meeting can share their experience, strength, and hope regarding that specific topic.

Living With Alcoholism

Below are some of the topics that seem to be of most interest to those who are newcomers to Al-Anon Family Groups, or who want to learn more about the program and learn how to deal with their alcoholic friends or relatives.

The opinions expressed here are strictly my personal opinions. Take what you like and leave the rest.

Acceptance

For me, serenity began when I finally began to learn to tell the difference between those things that I could change and those I could not regarding living with an alcoholic.

When I admitted that there were people, places, things, and situations over which I was totally powerless, those things began to lose their power over me. Read more...

Alcoholism Is a Disease

Accepting alcoholism as a disease was not something that let the alcoholic off the hook, it was something that helped me understand the insanity of watching her swear to herself that she would never take another drink, only to be right back out there a few days later.

It helped me to realize I couldn't fix the problem. Read more...

Dealing With Anger

I grew up getting mixed messages about dealing with anger. On one hand, I was told to control my anger -- and being severely punished if I didn't -- on the other hand the people I lived with never controlled their anger, which would explode violently toward each other and sometimes toward me.

So, naturally I never had a clue how I was supposed to handle anger. I never saw anyone do it in a healthy manner -- how was I supposed to know? Then I wandered into Al-Anon and was told that it was okay to be angry! Huh? Who told you that? Where does it say that?

Yes, they said, anger is a natural and normal emotion. Being angry is okay, it's what you DO with the anger that makes a difference.

Changing Attitudes

The Al-Anon meeting opening statement says, "So much depends on our own attitudes, and as we learn to place our problem in its true perspective we find it loses its power to dominate our thoughts and our lives." That's where I was.

The alcoholism in the family dominated my every thought because my attitude was that I was supposed to fix it. Read more...

Dealing With Change

The principles that I have learned in Al-Anon Family Groups have helped me deal with changes as they come in life - sometimes major changes. I may not be able to change the circumstances any, but I can sure change my attitude about the situation. Here's an example...

Choices

I think one of the greatest things that I have gotten out of Al-Anon is the realization that I have choices. I have to accept the things I cannot change. I have to accept that the alcoholic is powerless over the disease. But accepting it doesn't mean I have to condone it, or like it -- and I do not have to accept unacceptable behavior.

I have the right to make decisions that are in my best interest - to decide not to be around alcoholic behavior and to walk away from fights and arguments. And to decide to no longer participate in the insanity of others.

I have found the courage to make those kinds of decisions. I can make decisions that might cause me some short-term discomfort while knowing that in the long run, things will work out for the best if I continue to try to put the Al-Anon principles to work in my life.

Control Issues

I did not realize I had any control issues. I just thought if everyone would do it they way I thought it should be done, when I thought they should do it, the world would be a better place!

In Al-Anon, I learned that everybody had the right to live their own lives and that it was none of my business. If I stepped in and tried to solve their problems for them, I was robbing them of the dignity of being able to make their own mistakes and learn from them.

The best thing I can do in situations like that is to let go and let God. When I do, even if the situation gets worse, I accept that is God's plan for their life. I know God has a better plan, and His plan is better for them than anything I ever came up with and He can put that plan into work very nicely without my help or interference!

Courage to Change

Courage to change is not something that comes naturally to those of us who grew up in alcoholic homes. I found myself being comfortable in relationships that were not only not healthy but downright sick. In order for all that to change, I had to seek courage from an outside source. Read more...

Dealing With Crises

I discovered that a major crisis didn't bother me, it was the little things that drove me crazy. In a crisis, I was a rock, but I would fly off the handle at some little insignificant circumstance that really wasn't important at all. The problem was, I was trying to be perfect and I expected everyone else to be perfect too. Read more...

Denial

One of the most frustrating things for me to deal with is blatant denial, especially when it seems so very obvious that there is definitely a problem here!

It used to drive me crazy, absolutely nuts, when I could not get the alcoholic to admit that her behavior was causing her and everyone else a problem. That what she was doing was destroying themselves and damaging others as well.

Today I know that it's not my job to convince someone else that they are in denial. I have some measure of serenity in turning that job over to a power greater than myself. But that still doesn't make it any less frustrating to see someone you care so much about destroy themselves while denying that it is happening. More About Denial...

Detachment

Learning how to detach was difficult for me. When the alcoholic got into a crisis, I wanted to rush in and play the great rescuer and save the day. I was doing the exact opposite of what I should have been doing if I ever wanted her to get to the point of reaching out for help. Read more...

Enabling

It surprised me to find that some of the things that I had been doing to try to help the alcoholic were the very things that were enabling her to continue in her dysfunctional behavior. At the time, I had no idea. Read more...

Unreasonable Expectations

It turned out that some of the expectations that I had that I thought were absolutely reasonable were not reasonable at all when you are dealing with an alcoholic. All I was doing was setting myself up for disappointment and frustration until I learned to adjust my expectations closer to reality. Read more...

Emptiness

For me, emptiness was that loneliness that came with living with and trying to love someone who was just not "there." Someone who didn't care about me or anything else but alcohol.

I tried to fill that void with a lot of things and most of them turned out to be less than healthy choices because I didn't have a clue as how to look after me. I never had any experience with it at all. All I had were examples from people who didn't have a clue either. This ended up being another big disappointment and just left a bigger hole inside.

I heard someone in the rooms say that before recovery could occur, those old behaviors and patterns of thinking had to be replaced with their spiritual opposites. I'm not sure that I still understand what all of this means, but with the help of this program, I do know that some of my thinking has changed and some of the self-pity has changed to gratitude, some of the depression has turned to hope, and some of the pain has turned to joy.

A Family Disease

All those years, I thought the alcoholic was the only one who was exhibiting insane behavior. When I joined Al-Anon and began to put the focus on myself, instead of the alcoholic, I had to admit that some of my behavior and thinking was just as insane. That's why they call alcoholism a family disease. Read more...

Fear of Abandonment

My biggest problem with fear was that I didn't recognize it for what it was. I was absolutely terrified of being alone, being abandoned. But I didn't know that I was afraid. I just knew I didn't like it!

Part of my sickness was that I would go to any lengths to hold on to a relationship, no matter how unhealthy or harmful it was because I was so afraid of not ever being able to have another one.

When I came into Al-Anon, I was finally able to identify my overwhelming fear of being by myself, with myself. And thanks to a lot of meetings, and the wonderful folks I met in Al-Anon, I was finally able to face those fears and deal with them for what they were and learn what caused them in the first place.

Focus on Ourselves

One of the 12 Traditions of Al-Anon states that we have no opinion on outside issues. Well, if I apply that principal to "all my affairs" as is suggested, then someone else's drinking or behavior, becomes an "outside issue."

When I share at a meeting, I do not discuss the behavior of anyone outside the room. I only talk about my circumstances and how I am trying to deal with them. And if I take it a step further, then the alcoholic's behavior, actions, reactions, and even comments become an "outside issue" too.

If I keep the focus on me and my spiritual journey of recovery I don't have time to focus on anyone else's behavior.

Forgiveness

It seems to be one of those "spiritual truths" that before we can have a friend, we must be a friend; before we can gain freedom, we must surrender; and before we can be forgiven, we must first forgive.

That seems to be the way God always does it, puts the ball in our court and waits for us to make the first move. That's why step two is before step three, I have to believe first, and only then can it happen.

The same seems to be true with forgiveness. God does not require me to "feel" like forgiving, only that I forgive! By doing so, by taking that first step -- faking it until I make it even --then God is able to give me a forgiving heart.

Seeking God's Will

I have learned a little trick that I use when I have a major decision to make and I am uncertain what God's will is in the situation.

I apply the principles of Step Five. I tell God, myself and another human being the decision that I have made and then sit back and see how it "feels." If I am still in turmoil about the decision, chances are that I have not made the right one, or don't know all the options yet.

However, if I get a feeling of peace about it, it usually means that I have made the right decision and I am right in the middle God's will for my life.

Gratitude

I am grateful that I have a program that gives me the tools to show me the way back when I find that I have lost my way. But sometimes, I get in one of those moods when I just want to feel sorry for myself. And other times it just comes over me, whether I want it to or not.

Someone in the program told me once when that happens, to force myself to sit down and write out a gratitude list. It is amazing how that really works to chase away the gloom!

Growing One Day at a Time

I remember a music teacher a long time ago told me that every day I would either be a better musician than the day before or a worse one. If I practiced every day, I would naturally become better. But if I didn't practice, I would not stay where I was, I would go backward. I would lose something, or forget something I knew the day before.

I find that the Al-Anon program works the same way for me. If I work it every day, I make progress. But if I fail to work it, I don't stay where I am, I slide backward.

Honesty

I heard a story in the rooms about a man who grabbed hold of this program with all his might like a drowning man would grab a life-preserver. But he was having a problem with one part of his recovery.

So he asked his sponsor about it, "I'm having a hard time getting the honesty part of the program. I have spent most of my life covering up, keeping secrets. I have read all the literature, gone to meeting after meeting, but I just can't get it. Is there anything else I can do? Is there a brochure or a book that will help? I just can't get it, is there anything that you can tell me to help?"

His sponsor said, "Sure... stop lying!"

Infidelity

When I found out that she had been running around, I was deeply hurt. My pastor said just because I had Biblical grounds for divorce, it didn't relieve me of my obligation to forgive her. I finally did forgive her, but along the way I learned how to look after me, too. Read more...

Keep it Simple

It may sound like a trite saying, but there is a lot of wisdom in the suggestion to keep it simple. I have found through the years that even the most complicated decisions can usually be broken down into two simple questions. Read more...

Let Go and Let God

I thought that I was practicing the principle of letting go and letting God in relation to living with an alcoholic. But, I found out in Al-Anon that I was probably not letting God deal with the things that were most in need of His help. Read more...

Live and Let Live

This was a tough one for me, the "live" part. I got the "let live" part fairly quickly, but learning that it was okay to live my life without it revolving around an alcoholic was new territory. It took a homework assignment from my sponsor to open my eyes. Read more...

Looking After You

As I started "working" the Al-Anon program, I discovered that there were some very good reasons looking after me could improve the overall situation. It turns out that a lot of what I did to try to change the situation actually contributed to the problem and not the solution

When I started looking after me first and some of my problems were addressed, I was no longer contributing as much to the chaos and confusion. When I stopped trying to control, the alcoholic stopped reacting to my efforts to control!

No, it didn't stop the alcoholic from drinking. But, in the meantime, my attitude about the problem changed with the realization that I was powerless to cure someone else's disease and it wasn't my job to begin with. So looking after me first didn't change the drinking, but it sure changed the situation and my changed my attitude tremendously.

Mind Your Own Business

I can remember when I heard in the rooms of Al-Anon that somebody else's drinking was none of my business, I thought, "What? What do you mean? Of course, it's my business! This is my family we are talking about here! I am responsible!"

Well, it turns out that no, I am not responsible for someone else's choices. And the shame and the embarrassment caused by their behavior doesn't belong to me either, it belongs to them.

If they decide to make choices that are "bad" for them, it is not a reflection on how good a parent, or friend, or spouse, or sponsor I am. They have the right to make their own mistakes and, hopefully, learn from them. I can only do my part right, share my experience, strength, and hope when it's appropriate to do so.

Reason Things Out...

In the early days of recovery, I found that those "meetings after the meeting" over coffee at a nearby restaurant - where crosstalk was not only allowed, it was welcomed - was where I learned the most about how to apply the Al-Anon principles to my daily life. Read more...

One Day at a Time

The slogan "one day at a time" sounds like another one of those trite sayings that is overused, but there really is a lot of wisdom in reminding yourself to not live in the past or project the future, but deal with the here and now. Read more...

Coping With Emotional Pain

At my first meeting, after I finished describing all the pain and all the mistakes I had made in the past 18 years of being married to an alcoholic, I said I had noticed in the traditions that they read that the only qualification for membership was there be a drinking problem in a relative or friend, and because she was soon not to be my relative anymore, and she sure as heck wasn't a friend, I didn't know if I qualified for membership or not!

When finished laughing, they assured me I was in the right room and I was definitely qualified! I found myself laughing right along with them. It was the first time I had laughed in a long time. That's what Al-Anon has given me -- "family" with whom I can share, and therefore, reduce, the pain - and share laughter to help chase it away.

Powerless

Before I came into Al-Anon, I never once thought I was powerless. I thought surely there was something that I could do or say that would cause the alcoholic to wake up and finally admit there was a problem. I thought it was just another problem that I could eventually solve if I tried hard enough. I was wrong. Read more...

Dealing With Rejection

I was one of those people who could not handle rejection in any form whatsoever. If there was someone who didn't like me or who disagreed with me, I had to do something to fix it. I had to prove to them they were wrong. Read more...

Restoration to Sanity

The first time someone gave me an Al-Anon brochure, I read Step 2 where it said we came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity!

"What?!? I'm not insane!" I screamed. "She! Her! She's the alcoholic! She's the one who is insane!" I said as I tossed the pamphlet across the room in disgust. After all, there was nothing wrong with me!

A few years later when I finally walked into the door of an Al-Anon meeting, there was no denial left in me. I was crazy and I knew I needed help! Read more about Step 2...

Self Esteem

It wasn't a matter of self-confidence. I never had a problem with my skills or abilities. I had a problem feeling as if I really belonged. I never felt comfortable in a group. Everyone else deserved to be there, but not me! Read more...

Serenity

Part of the problem of living with alcoholics was, I became addicted to excitement. Give me a crisis, give me a problem, give me grief - heck, give me abuse, just don't bore me to death! There finally came a point at which the chaos became overwhelming and I had no choice except to admit that my life had become unmanageable. I needed to try to put the brakes on the insanity. Read more About The Gift of Serenity...

Trust

I hear a lot of people say trust was a problem when they first came into Al-Anon. But for me, I had no problem at all with trust. It was simple. I didn't trust anyone!

All the lies, the betrayals, and the secrets had broken my heart and left it hardened. I even made the statement in the rooms that due to my experience, my strength was that I didn't trust anyone and my hope was that I would never have to trust anyone again!

But my higher power had a better plan. I found out that the one I really had to learn to trust was me and my judgment.

Understanding and Encouragement

Part of Al-Anon's primary purpose is to "offer understanding and encouragement to the alcoholic." Before I could do that, I first had to understand! That's what Al-Anon has given me that I never had before - an understanding of the disease of alcoholism and how it affects everyone in the family.

Today, I know I was affected by the disease just as much or perhaps even more than the alcoholic, who had booze to blame. My thinking and some of my behavior were just as "alcoholic" as the alcoholic's ever were.

Unreasonable Without Knowing It

It says in the Al-Anon meeting opening statement, "Our thinking becomes distorted by trying to force solutions, and we become irritable and unreasonable without knowing it." Can you really become unreasonable and not even know it? I found out that I sure had. Read more...

Dealing With Verbal Abuse

It difficult it is to detach when the "disease" is in your face screaming! When the alcoholic is accusing, cursing, raging, dominating, manipulating, or controlling, it makes "detachment with love" seem almost impossible.

But I have discovered this little trick to help me detach in times like those.

I remind myself that if the screaming alcoholic was a wino on the street who walked up to me and said all those things, I wouldn't give it a second thought. If it was a bum on the street, I would give their words no credibility whatsoever!

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