Al-anon VS Trauma Therapy
Updated: Apr 1, 2021
(If you would rather watch/listen than read, you can watch the video below.)
If you're joining me for the first time, welcome!
My name is April Hardy.
If you are returning, welcome back!
Last week, we talked about the best way to find a counselor that's going to be good for you specifically and individually. I mentioned that if money was an issue then there were a couple of different options.
1. You can go look at churches. That is a free option for a lot of people, but some may not want to do that.
2. Another thing that I would encourage you to look into if free is kind of your price point is something called Al-anon. That's what we're going to talk about today.
Al-anon is not a counseling thing at all. Nor is it a trauma thing. So why the heck am I recommending that here?
Well, the thing is that Al-anon is a support group for men and women who are dealing with the effects of a loved one having an addiction, specifically alcoholism. It is inclusive to other addictions as well.
The thing that I found when I was attending pretty faithfully is that people experience trauma because of having a life with an addict. Because of that, they naturally develop coping mechanisms to deal with their stressors and traumas. They may not be great or healthy coping mechanisms, but you do what you need to do to get by at the time, right? We also learn belief systems and attitudes and ways of being that don't serve us in the long-term, but they are what allow us to get by in that moment.
In Al-anon, you learn new coping mechanisms, new beliefs, new ways to process things - healthier ways to live. On top of that, you can learn how to love yourself and they will tell you that they will love you until you can learn to love yourself. You don't have to be put together. You just need to keep showing up. So, I believe Al-anon is an excellent resource for a lot of people!
There's also something called Alateen that is available. It's Al-anon for teens, so that they can be in a support group with other people their age.
Most Al-anon family group meetings are topic discussion meetings. So in my personal experience, that means that the person that's leading the meeting (who is a volunteer) picks a topic for that discussion. You'll usually read a little bit (as a group) in some of the different books that Al-anon has. That alone will give you some wisdom and even if that was all that you did, that would be good.
(They would encourage you to read outside of the meetings too and I would encourage you to do that as well, but to be honest, I didn't much.)
I believe that we would do it like - we'd do a reading and then the person that read it would talk about it. They would share their experience with it, what it
means to them, stuff like that. Then other people could comment also. (So even if all you do is go and read when you're there and you're kind of a captive audience, you're going to get some good wisdom.)
They do what's called "sharing your experience strength and hope," which means that it's not just this giant event session. If it was nothing but an hour-long event session, you wouldn't come away from it feeling any better, you know? Especially if you're not the one that gets to vent. If you just went to listen to somebody else vent for an hour that wouldn't be helpful.
So people talk about their experience with these different topics and any hope that they can offer, any wisdom that they can offer, how things worked out in their lives - because there are people at different places in their lives. Some people are in the middle of dealing with an addict and their life is chaos all the time. Other people don't have that addict living with them anymore. Maybe they're not even in their life anymore at all. Maybe they passed away or they got divorced or whatever. Even so, that doesn't mean that they don't still need to be going because they're relearning how to cope with things in healthy ways and they're learning how to believe things that are good for them.
The biggest thing that I tell people about Al-anon is, if you stay with it for a while, it will teach you how to love yourself again or maybe how to love yourself for the first time. I feel like that's the groundwork for anything else that you're gonna do.
If you've been in an abusive romantic relationship or you had a childhood with abusive parents or teachers or babysitters or whatever, one of the major results of that is shame. Shame will destroy you from the inside out. It can be very hard to believe that you are lovable and you're worthy.
If you're so wrapped up in that shame, which I promise you is something that I have struggled with and it's something I still struggle with, Al-anon is a good tool. It's a support group, so it's not therapy, but it's a bunch of other broken people who are happy to be broken and be on this journey of becoming whole with you.
I did trauma therapy, which was huge for me and saved my life, and I went to Al-anon, and they're worlds apart as far as a lot of things go. But they're both beneficial in their own way.
In trauma therapy, you’ll able to do a lot of work and learn skills and things like that, but it's just you and the counselor. There's something about being in a room with other people (or I guess, right now, being in Zooms with other people)... I haven't done Al-anon during Covid, so I don't know what that's like on Zoom.
But there is something about being with other people who understand where you're at, where you're coming from, how you think, and why you think that way. When other people understand why you respond in the ways that you do... When they understand the things about you that you might tell yourself are wrong or broken or messed up... For me, it was priceless.
The counselor may understand it too, but it's just different in a support group setting. That's why I encourage that.
Al-anon treats the disease of alcoholism. First of all, they consider it a disease. Second, they treat it like a family illness because they recognize that it's not just the person with the addiction who suffers - it's the people around that person too.
So AA is specifically for the addict, Al-anon is specifically for the people who love the addict. (And like I said the addict can be someone who is in your life now or someone who isn't in your life anymore, including people that you might despise now, but at one point they were in your life and they affected you.)
Some people are under the false impression that it's just about sitting around and bashing the addicts in your life. It isn't. It's about healing you.
The four main things that Al-anon addresses:
1. That you're worthy of love, regardless of how you've been treated.
2. That the addict is solely responsible for the addict's choices - which means that you're not, and that goes for abuse too. The person that's the abuser is solely responsible for their choices, you're not.
3. That you are solely responsible for your choices. That's another thing that Al-anon works on. That's also true in abusive situations, even though there legitimate are reasons... I know there are reasons for why we do the things that we do, but we're responsible for those choices. Only when we own the fact that we're making choices and we have a responsibility there, do we have the power to change anything. If we believe that they control everything and that we have no choice, we can't get out of it.
4. That the coping mechanisms that we develop on our own are often harmful. The Al-anon program is equipped to help you let go of them and develop better, healthier ones.
Some of the topics that can be dealt with in Al-anon include (there are many more than just what's in this list):
- dealing with anger
- changing attitudes
- dealing with change
(If you're a trauma person, change is hard because you need stability. I encourage stability in a lot of ways, but you're never going to be able to get away from change entirely because life is change. So, learning how to deal with that in a positive productive way is very beneficial.)
- control issues
(Similar to not liking change... I have been described as a controlling person, but not because I want to control people. It's that I want to control the situations because I've been out of control for so long that I need stability. I know I'm not the only trauma person that has control issues in that way.)
- dealing with crises
- fear of abandonment
And so many more things that you get to talk about with other people who understand where you're coming from and want to support you as you're
learning how to be better!
What to expect from an Al-anon meeting
Al-Anon meetings are for anyone who is affected by someone else’s drinking. If you worry about someone’s drinking habit or if their lifestyle affects you personally, Al-Anon can help you.
Some people are hesitant to go to their first meeting because they don’t know what to expect. (I didn't go for a long time because I didn't know what to expect and I was afraid I would have to talk.)
Some things to remember when considering attending a meeting:
1. Most importantly, Al-Anon is anonymous
If you see each other out in public which happens, you can say hi but you don't talk about how you know each other to other people because it's anonymous. You also don't go home and talk about the things that you heard in your group. It being anonymous is what allows people to be safe to lay their hearts out there and get some work done.
2. Everyone in each meeting has been affected by alcoholism, whether personally or through a family member
So everyone in each meeting has been affected by alcoholism whether personally or through a family member and the meaning that I was in it wasn't just alcoholism. Whether it is drug addiction, alcohol addiction, sex addiction, pornography addiction whatever, it's still applicable.
3. No one is required to speak or discuss their problem, although it is encouraged
4. There are different types of meetings. Some may be more productive for you than others.
5. Al-Anon is not a religiously based organization
Although it is a "spiritual" program.
6. Meetings are centered on Al-Anon’s 12 Step program, which are the same 12 steps at the foundation of AA
AA is a spiritual program. We'll call it that because it talks about your higher power, which a lot of people just say is God. However, people's ideas about and definitions of God are different and Al-anon does not try to speak to that. It doesn't talk about churches, it doesn't talk about religious affiliations, it doesn't talk about what your definition of God is or what your relationship is.
I’m a Christian. I have certain beliefs around that, but I didn't go in pushing mine on anybody else, and nobody went in pushing theirs on me. That's the point. Al-anon, like AA, acknowledges that you're a spiritual being and there's a part of you that is not going to be whole without dealing with that aspect of yourself, but it doesn't push anything. Does that make sense?
7. Al-Anon meetings are conducted under a mantra that allows attendees to “take what they like and leave the rest.” In this manner, meetings focus on sharing experiences and hardships rather than telling attendees what they should do.
If you go in there looking for fixes, it can be frustrating because they're not gonna tell you what you have to do. They're not gonna say "Okay, you're depressed - Do this and this and this and then it's all going to be better." They're going to say "Well, when I experienced that, I did this... That worked for me." or "This was suggested to me..." but they're not going to tell you that you have to do it.
For the most part, at least in my experience, they don't sit and hold you accountable either. So if you want to stop coming or you don't want to participate fully or whatever, they're going to let you do that because they're a support group. They're not an accountability partner per se. And sometimes, like I said, it's frustrating.
If you want to get the answers right now, you might be frustrated because that's not how this program works. I think it's a good program, obviously or else I wouldn't be recommending it. It just takes some time.
"Take what you like and leave the rest" means that if what you hear and what you read that impacts you, if you feel like it's important for you, then you can leave having gained that little piece of wisdom or that nugget if you want to call it that. What people say that doesn't apply to you or your life, you can leave there. Don't worry about it. Maybe that nugget of wisdom is there for somebody else in the room. So, it's a no-pressure situation, which is nice.
8. Every Al-Anon group has its own unique way of conducting meetings; however, many have similar outlines. (So I wanted to include this part just because this will give you kind of an idea.)
Generally, meetings will begin with a short opening and introductions.
(I honestly forgot that we went around the room and said our names. You don't have to participate in anything.)
Newcomers are also welcomed during this time and are given some helpful tips, such as not expecting too much too soon and information about confidentiality.
Then the remainder of the meeting is spent on group announcements and then sharing stories of experience strength, and hope. After the meeting closes, a lot of times, members will hug each other. You don't have to do that, but it is nice when you get to the point where you can feel comfortable with it. But I promise I was not at first and then I can remember later calling my best friend and being like "I just hugged like 15 people! Who I am becoming?!? I don't know!"
Once you get to the point where you can handle that, if that's something you ever get to the point where you're okay with it, it's a healthy, positive touch and that's really important for people.
But there is no pressure. You can leave and you don't have to hug anybody.
It's weird at first, but as you get to know these people, then it becomes that you're just hugging your friends.
9. Al-Anon groups are located in cities across the globe. Meetings take place in person, on the phone and online, making it convenient and accessible for just about anyone.
And as I said before, you can be at any point in this relationship with somebody with addiction. They could be active in your life at this moment. They could be in treatment somewhere. You could be divorced. They could be deceased.
Some people get into Al-anon when they're with an addict and then they think that once they're not with the addict anymore, they don't need it anymore. And so I watched some people leave and then I watched them come back later when they figured out that "I'm so crazy without the addict." That's true because the beliefs and patterns that they had before and didn't change are wired in their brains. Whether that particular addict is around anymore or not. And that wiring needs to be redone. You need to learn better ways. Al-anon is great for that.
If you have questions, feel free to ask. If you're interested in what the 12 Steps are, you can find that HERE.
I hope that you're doing okay. I know 2021 has been kind of crazy so far, so I hope that where you are okay and that you can find some peace. I hope that you're safe. I hope that you have hope for this year.
If you want more content on building up your life let me know because I feel like there's a little bit better response to the content that I've done on the bad stuff - on domestic violence, on intimate partner homicide, and other things like that, and a little bit less on the positive "how to find a counselor" types of things. But it's early in the year so maybe that'll change.
But if you want more information on the darker stuff and less on the building yourself up stuff, let me know that too, ok? Because the whole point is to serve you. What do you need? What do you want from me? What can I help with this year?
Until I see you again. Stay safe.
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