A therapist tells how Al‑Anon helped a young adult whose father drank

Emily Leadholm, LSW
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Allyson came to see me for treatment of anxiety and depression. She was a recent college graduate, had a good job as an office manager, and was active in a citizens group that worked for social justice. She was single, had close ties to her family, and had many friends and associates who adored and respected her.

Despite her many successes, she often felt like a failure. She spoke of a sense of emptiness. In asking about her family, I found that her father was an alcoholic in recovery. He drank until she was eight years old. She had memories of holding her breath upon his return home from work, bracing herself for his rage and criticism. Perhaps most painful, were her memories of being in her room at night, alone with her fear and sadness.

Allyson’s interaction with her father brought about a sense of shame and not being good enough. That was the first injury. The second was that in an alcoholic family, she had nowhere to go with those feelings, no source of comfort or soothing, and no person with whom to process her sadness and confusion. She was left alone with intolerable feelings.

I recommended Al‑Anon to Allyson, knowing that she would hear people talk about a journey that involved awareness of feelings, acceptance, and compassion for the hurt and shame one feels, and new ways to manage those feelings.

Allyson continues to attend weekly Al‑Anon meetings, which have helped her understand the myriad ways her father’s drinking affected her and the entire family. It helped her to develop and maintain a better relationship with her father in the present.

When she remembers the bad times from her father’s drinking, she still talks about it with sadness, often tears, but less shame. She sees the incredible hope and brilliance in the lives of Al‑Anon members. And, increasingly, she sees hope and brilliance in her own life.