Saturday, January 9, 2010

Does Al-Anon work for Everyone?

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about why Al-Anon does not "work" for me. I don't mean that its a bad program, or that it does not have merit, but I don't think it's a cure-all.

I have been thinking that Al-Anon is a very American program, and although I am an American, I tend not to think like one.

I rarely see anyone but Americans in my meetings. There are occasionally some British and one Russian woman. Obviously all groups have alcoholics in them, so I am wondering what other cultures do. I know that Al-Anon and AA have groups everywhere, but I don't believe either program is as prevalent in any other culture.

I also have been thinking a great deal about religion lately. While Al-Anon is supposed to be vanilla, it seems very Christian to me. It does not mesh culturally or philosophically with what I believe as a Muslim. I suppose I can somewhat relate to it from my Christian upbringing, but I have yet to see another Muslim in any Al-Anon meeting. (I do have one Muslim friend online who attends Al-Anon meetings however, so I plan to ask her for her opinion.)

I talked recently with a Mormon who had tried Al-Anon and she felt similarly.

I also talked to another friend who does not like Al-Anon at all because she is an atheist and it is "too Christian" for her. We talked about another friend who was Jewish who had similar sentiments. I am very interested to look into a Jewish perspective on this. I can't think of any Jewish alcoholics I know of. I am going to start asking around.

I think the similarities that I see between these other religions is that they tend to be VERY family and group oriented. Whereas traditional Christianity encourages forgiveness and more of an individual, personal relationship with God or Jesus, these other groups tend to emphasis personal responsibility to the group. They do not believe it is OK for an individual to behave poorly or blame the "victim". The victim is given assistance by the group.

A Muslim man who did not take care of his family because of alcoholism would be shamed. Shaming may not be ideal for the alcoholic, but I sure don't know many Muslim alcoholics. What is better for the family and the community as a whole is what is most important - not so much the individual (also an American thing in my opinion). If someone strays from that, they are taken aside and held to account. If they still can not behave, they would be shunned from the group. Thus, you do not often see this behavior.

I do not think we would ask someone in a concentration camp what their part in it was. I think we would say, ESCAPE! GET OUT! RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!

Similarly, as someone who really did not grow up this way, I find the conditions of living in an alcoholic home to be completely inhumane. I think Al-Anon sometimes encourages us (perhaps inadvertently) to stay in bad situations and "look at our part" instead of getting out.

I remember when I was at a Betty Ford workshop for married couples listening to so many stories I did not agree with. The facilitators were telling us that we had basically equal responsibility in the relationship. (Ironically, both facilitators were addicts in recovery.)

One woman was with an alcoholic who treated her horribly and cheated on her. To this day, I still can not see her equal part in this. She was a very kind woman. Every time her husband spoke, I could not believe the justifications that were coming out of his mouth for his continually poor behavior. If I could go back, I would tell all of those women to get the hell out of the relationship - and then look at their part, if they had any. Their part perhaps was choosing an unsuitable mate.

Al-Anon often seems rather cult-like to me in that (especially the online community) is always trying to convince you how well it works. To me, if it worked that well, we would not hear the continual problems stemming from the alcoholic. One of the things that attracted me to Islam is that no one ever tried to recruit me. I just watched people who I thought were beautiful inside and wanted to learn more.

I also find it strange when people in "recovery" encourage you to only talk to other people in "recovery" and insinuate that everyone else is somehow emotionally unhealthy. I understand that people in the program have been through similar circumstances, but most of the people I meet in program seem to have significantly more problems than people out of program. It seems to me that if you want to find answers in your life, you should look to people who are living in healthy situations. I have seen several people who seem sage-like in Al-Anon, but the proportion of healthy people outside of Al-Anon and AA seems much greater to me.

The slogan it works if you work it reminds me of growing up as a fundamentalist Christian. Like the faith healers who tell people they would be healed if they only believed enough, I think that slogan places unjust emphasis on the believer.

I always find it sort of insulting when someone tries to convince me that their religion is the only right one and mine is wrong. (Or worse yet, that I am going to hell because I don't believe as they do - although that really just makes me laugh at this point.) I don't mind discussing or debating religion at all, but I like to do so with an open mind and hope that the other person also has an open mind.

Similarly, I find it offensive when people in Al-Anon think that their method is the only one that works. It may be the only program, but I think saying that it should work for all people is like saying Christianity is the only "right" religion. My perspective on religion is that God created many types of people and hence there is a religion (or not) that works for everyone.

I started as a Religion major in college and have always been very fascinated by this topic, so I'd love to hear more input. This is definitely something I want to look into further.


  1. I agree with you on al-anon and the bizarre responsibility that is often put on the "co-dependent." Granted, behaviors are created and adapted as the spouse adjusts to living in hell. Like you, I do not see the responsibility as a common denominator or in any way, something that holds equal weight.

    As for religion, one of the most beautiful things I have discovered about getting older is learning about different traditions with an open mind and seeing the beauty in different religious faiths. It's very sad to see people think they have to cling to just one to find salvation. To me this defeats the essence of individual faith.

  2. I found your post VERY interesting. As a Christian. I honestly don't see the program of Alanon as "Christian" and think there's an emphasis on higher power of your choice. However, you are right. It does seem that a disproportionate number of people who go to Alanon and AA are Christians and have a drinking problem. How odd is that? We are told that 'addiction' is a chemical reaction, a disease. I've never heard anyone ask why Muslims don't have the same genetic issue. Hmmm. Interesting. As for sharing responsibility, I have only heard that people who enable the addiction to continue share responsbility. I believe that because I've seen that. Other than that, these addicts own the whole mess. I'm totally with you on looking to people in healthy situations for answers. However, I also think that not every healthy or unhealthy person understands what addiction does to people. Sometimes people who've been up close and personal totally get it and give advice that sounds right to me. "If you work it" is just a simple way of saying 'do it'. I've never correlated that with faith healers - like the time years ago when someone told me to leave the building because now after their prayer I would not be allergic to cats. You have an interesting perspective on Alanon. Faith healers would be indicating that you don't have to do anything else, you're good to go. Alanon has steps. I'm glad I read your post. You brought up some very good points. There are a lot of people off kilter in this world, I don't lump them all together and generalize. Crazy Alanoners, crazy Christians, crazy blonds, rich, poor... I hope you find something that brings you peace. I think the key might be in the last paragraph on your side bar. I hope your husband gets rid of his enablers. Take care of you.

  3. Al-Anon has taught me to detach from unhealthy people, places and things. It's taught me to turn my gaze away from them, and build a life of my own. When unhealthy, addicted people are stuck in a bad place, my obsession with their stuck-ness won't help them. And it certainly won't help me. That sounds like a different Al-Anon than you're describing. 'Keep the focus on me' is not the same as 'blame myself'. For me it means eat right, exercise, sleep, love, live, and build my own life full of fun and joy.

  4. Sula, I think that before going to Al-Anon I felt a lot of shame about living with an alcoholic. I tried to keep things hidden. It feels good to be among those who have the same problem and have been affected by alcoholism.

    This is a program that isn't a cure all. It works if I take it seriously. I look on this as a spiritual program and not a religious one. There may be lots of ways to get help for co-dependent behavior but this is the only one that worked for me. I tried therapy and never understood why I was so angry. Now I understand so much more than I ever did.

  5. Hi. New reader here. Stumbled across your blog while doing a search on blogs about Al Anon. My search pointed me to this post even though it is what, 10 days old today? Still fresh, really.

    After reading your post, I have so much to comment on it is all backed up in my head. I also read your history over in the right column and see that you're been through so very much and yet here you are, still trying, still making things work.

    I want to take some time, re-read your post, maybe read some of your older ones too, and comment on your questions about Al Anon. The folks who commented earlier all make very valid points. I would probably be adding to what they've already said.

    Two things I can add now. First, it will be very interesting learning about the Muslim approach and life style as it applies to dealing with addicts and the spirituality of the Al Anon program. I wrestle with the spirituality aspect from the other side - coming from a more agnostic approach.

    Second - regarding your father-in-law. Seems to be that he is quite the control freak that has no respect for other peoples boundaries. While your not talking to him is certainly one way of declaring your own boundaries, is he clear as to WHY you (appropriately) refuse to talk with him? Knowing why you've closed him off might (maybe) help him work on himself a bit. Also? He sounds more like he's 'dry', not sober. Plenty of issues with that one.

    I wish you peace,

  6. Thank you all for the comments - very interesting. And welcome Brian!