Learning to Let Go

I Couldn't Help the Drinker, but I Could Help Myself

Credit: Helena Lopes/Unsplash

The stories of those of us living, or having lived, with an alcoholic are rarely told. The 2021 Al-Anon Membership Survey Results states that “49% of members surveyed came to Al-Anon because of a romantic partner’s alcoholism/addiction, 14% due to a parent’s, and 19% due to a child’s.” (https://al-anon.org/for-members/wso/research-and-surveys/)

It is often thought that the only person struggling is the alcoholic, however, this is far from the truth. Previously we shared the story of a member who grew up in an alcoholic home. Here, “I.M.” shares how it was for her to marry and live with a person struggling with alcoholism:

I was in a relationship for 14 years with a man, during 11 of which we were married. Throughout our relationship I had no idea that he was abusing substances. Over the years his behavior became more and more questionable. He couldn’t keep a job, made minimum wage, got injured frequently, threw temper tantrums at home, and started bullying my son. I knew something was wrong but whenever I confronted him, all he had to say was, “What are you talking about?”

In the meantime, whenever he dropped the ball (money, chores, etc.) I picked it up. Eventually, I was juggling an uncountable number of balls. I felt good about myself for being able to feed a family of five, cook all the meals, be the breadwinner, and take care of the kids, finances, garden, and repairs around the house. Even though I have never had health problems, two years ago I started having back pain. I ended up in the emergency room because of an infected salivary gland, and I had severe anxiety before every medical check-up. Little did I know back then that these were symptoms caused by unmanageable stress in my life.

I couldn’t have normal conversations with my husband anymore. I just yelled at the top of my lungs. At one moment, I realized that I had lost my sanity. My life had become unmanageable. Not having a support system such as Al-Anon, I filed for divorce. For the first time in my life, my doctor diagnosed me with situational depression. I was overwhelmed by shame, guilt, and panic about the future.

Right after I filed for divorce, a dear friend invited me to an Al-Anon meeting for newcomers. I attended that meeting and have since then joined at least two meetings a week. During the first couple weeks, an Al-Anon member sent me a “Welcome Newcomer!” brochure. When I opened it I read the pamphlet “What Do YOU Do about the Alcoholic’s Drinking? It said, “We may have … Done all the chores; Supplemented or earned all the income; Paid the alcoholic’s bills, as well as our own; Controlled the finances, or at least as much as we could get our hands on; Found employment for them, or helped them with their work.” I could not believe that this brochure explained word by word what I had done for the alcoholic.

Let go and let God” became my favorite slogan. I learned that first and foremost, that I am not in control — which after so many years of managing the entire family was a relief. Secondly, I learned to accept that I cannot change people, places, and things, but I trust that people I care about can make their own decision. Finally, I became aware of the importance of living in the moment instead of worrying about the past or the future. I’m not in contact with the drinker in my life at this time. I don’t have any negative feelings toward him because I learned that alcoholism is a disease I can’t cure. All I can do is take care of myself and make sure that I am okay. I can’t help the drinker, but I can help myself.

My most precious experience with Al-Anon is my relationship with my sponsor. About a month after I had joined Al-Anon I asked a member to be my sponsor. She was a complete stranger but was willing to share what she had learned in the program. I called her every day for a month. She invited me on hikes when I felt lonely. While I suffered from situational depression, she asked me to send her a gratitude list every morning. I called her countless times just crying and panicking. She patiently listened to my horror stories predicting my own future. After talking to her, I realized how silly it was thinking that I had the ability to predict the future. I learned to trust that whatever the future brings, I will be able to handle it with the support of the Al-Anon fellowship.

I still go to meetings and call my sponsor because I am still in recovery. Even though I have learned many skills in Al-Anon, it is easy to fall back into old habits. It seems to be my human nature to worry. Al-Anon meetings are a constant reminder to stick to my new principles, and I keep learning from Al-Anon members who share their wisdom and strength during the meetings. I gain at least one new awareness during each Al-Anon meeting just by listening to what other members have to say.

My favorite reading is part of the Al-Anon closing at the end of every meeting: “After a while, you’ll discover that though you may not like all of us, you’ll love us in a very special way; the same way we already love you.” This is my reminder after every meeting, that I received love and support from a group of strangers even when I was a crying mess. I will forever be grateful for this most beautiful experience in my life.

To find out about The Al-Anon Family Groups in the Santa Barbara County area visit our website https://www.alanonsantabarbara.info, call (805) 899-8302, or write to AFG District 8 Santa Barbara, P.O. Box 30428, Santa Barbara, CA 93130


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