When it comes down to it, I suspect that all most of us really want in life is a little peace and quiet, someone to love who loves us back and a sense of achievement.
Most of us don’t exactly know how to go about it and some of us—at least 10 percent–turn to drugs and alcohol and other self destructive substances for relief. A lot more have mental health problems they cannot help without treatment.
I became a disciple of 12 Step programs when I went to my first AA meeting almost 40 years ago and became a Christian a short time later and dealt medically with a depression problem.
Today’s discussion focuses on the power and success of AA, founded in 1935 and Al Anon, founded in 1938. I begin with six simple truths about these two programs:
- Taking life One day at a time is not a suggested minimum…it is the suggested maximum.Twelve step programs are beyond rational. They are spiritual in nature.
- Rigorous honesty is the absolute absence of the intention to deceive.
- What we really want is some comfort in our lives. The most comfort we can find is in helping other people.
- If you want self-esteem, do estimable things.
- It’s not what we drank that made us what we are. It’s what we are that made us drink.
Nothing Happens in God’s world by mistake
Ruth Mitchell, writing for One Day at a Time almost a decade ago, provides us valuable insights on the Al Anon perspective.
“After almost two decades in the program (Al Anon), my husband ( AA), and I joke a lot about the dysfunction of our relationship. Like how we don’t listen to each other, which is often the case.
“Setting all our disagreements aside, we will celebrate our thirtieth anniversary at the end of March. This is truly a miracle, considering our lives were disrupted by the insidious creeping in of the progressive disease of alcoholism.
“But something that came out of my husband’s mouth a few years back has changed my life. It’s a quote from the Big Book He could tell you what page to find it on, I’m sure. But what he said and what I heard has become a tenet for me to live by. It’s very simple, really: ‘Nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.’”
“Wow, this simple truth puts a lot of things in perspective and makes sense out of a whole lot of circumstances in my life, because I can’t see around corners.
“For instance, if I lose my job, I have the opportunity to explore my options and find a better job than the one I had before. If I break my arm, I get the opportunity to come to have a better understanding and compassion for someone with only one arm. If I get my heart broken in love, I have the opportunity to discover something about myself that I might never otherwise know.
“And yes, if I marry an alcoholic or addict, I have a great opportunity to find a way of life that is much more fulfilling than if I had not been so challenged.
“Okay, it’s a little easier, no it’s a lot easier, to see now with hindsight. But having the 12 Steps, the strength of the group, and the sponsorship that I have both given and received–these have been gifts that far outweigh the enormous pain I endured when I was the prisoner of my circumstances as I watched a loved one slowly drink himself to death. An even greater gift has been to gain this understanding that absolutely ‘nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.’”
“I am no theologian, and I don’t know why bad things happen to good people. I don’t know why there is suffering, violence, and pestilence in the world, but I do know if I live a faith-based life with the confidence that ‘God could and would if He were sought,’ then I don’t have to live in fear.
“Yes, I am truly powerless over much, but by relying on my all-powerful higher power, I can live each day knowing that I will benefit in some way from each experience I encounter.
“From the moment we are born, the fact is that we are dying. I believe we have the opportunity to experience both heaven and hell right here in this brief time we are on earth. If we can accept the power that is there for the asking, if we can let go of the idea our will is to be sought at all costs, then we can choose heaven. If we are confused and think we are the one in charge, then we truly will experience frustration and roadblocks.
“The paradox of my life was that I sought freedom at all costs, and yet it wasn’t until I accepted that God was in charge of my destiny that I truly experienced freedom. When I let go of the alcoholic and placed him mentally in God’s hands, then he was able to get sober and I was able to focus on making my life better.
“We have so many choices, but living within the life-sucking parameters of alcoholism, we lose sight of this. We have a choice; which will you choose? Will you choose to believe that God will take care of you, or will you choose to think you must shoulder all the weight of the world?
“I can guarantee you, you do not have the strength to hold the world up; it will crush you. Your future hangs in the balance of this decision, but just to let you know: I have come to believe that nothing happens in God’s world by mistake, and if a stubborn, independent person such as me can grasp this concept, you can too.
“If you are living with an alcoholic or have anything to do with one, chances are you need help, and Al-Anon meetings are a cheap and, for many, a priceless resource. More than twenty-four thousand of these free, 12-Step meetings are available in 133 countries, meaning there is probably one near you.
“More than 150 million Americans, roughly half the population, are affected directly or indirectly by the disease of alcoholism and other drug addictions. Research also shows that every alcoholic’s behavior affects at least five others in his or her circle of family members, relatives, and associates.
“Al-Anon Family Groups describes itself as “a supportive network that provides friends and families of problem drinkers with the opportunity to share their experiences to find strength and hope.”
I know that at the suggestion of a meeting, some may recoil with the standard comeback: “He (or she) is the one with the problem; why do I have to go to meetings?” But the fact is that you are, in many ways, just as sick as your friend or loved one is, and if you will go to meetings and work the steps, you, too, will benefit. So let’s take a look at Al-Anon.
The Birth of Al-Anon
Like AA, Al-Anon has been around for nearly eighty years. It was cofounded by Lois Wilson, wife of AA cofounder, Bill Wilson.
In his book The Lois Wilson Story: When Love Is Not Enough William G. Borchert describes how Al-Anon got started.
TPicture, he tells us, eight women parked in front of the Clinton Street, Brooklyn, home of Bill and Lois Wilson. Their car motors are running, and they are steamed.
On this night in 1938, their husbands, most of them newly sober, are attending a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous with Wilson. What ticks the ladies off is that their husbands have replaced drinking with an addiction to AA meetings, leaving them once again alone and unloved.
At that moment, Lois, with suddenly heightened awareness of her own resentment and anger, realized that spouses, too, have been touched by alcoholism and must seek and find a dramatic change in their own lives if they are to get well and stay well.
Lois, on that night in Brooklyn, brought the women in for a get-together of their own in the kitchen and out of it there emerged Al-Anon Family Groups, the fellowship Lois co-founded with her good friend, Ann Bingham. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, the impact of Al-Anon has been huge. Today, Al-Anon Family Groups are active in practically every city across America, and membership is estimated to be close to a million.
In 1971Bill Wilson, stricken with emphysema, died at the age of seventy-six, and the world finally discovered who founded the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous when the New York Times published his full name on its front page.
At first, Lois was almost crippled with grief, but she eventually rallied and carried on her work for the next seventeen years. But she never got over Bill’s death. When the end came for her, as she lay dying, she asked for a pad and pencil, and scribbled the words, “Tell them…I want to see my Bill.”
Lois Burnham Wilson, at ninety-seven years old, joined her beloved Bill later that evening of October 5, 1988. She was buried next to her husband in the small family cemetery in East Dorset, Vermont. Her name is chiseled on the simple, white marble gravestone, but true to the organization’s principles of anonymity, there is no mention of Al-Anon. Bill’s gravestone, equally discreet, makes no mention of Alcoholics Anonymous.