Trading fortune cookie wisdom for Al-Anon

Everything is perfect in the universe—even your desire to improve it. I acquired this bit of wisdom from a fortune cookie, tucked it in my wallet, and carried it around for a long time. I enjoyed wearing my God suit. It fit perfectly and supported my misguided attempts to take control because of my husband’s alcoholism. I was sure I could fix him, manage damage, and prevent crises.

Nothing in life is more precious than family. I was raised in a loving, extended family. Perhaps that is why control and enabling are huge issues in my family when dealing with alcoholism and drug addiction.

Although it feels like a roller coaster, life will calm down. Well, it didn’t—not for a long time. Because my husband was a binge drinker, we climbed up and down the roller coaster for many years—binge, argue, and make-up. Copious tears, couples therapy, and finally treatment and Al-Anon meetings. The slogans, Steps, and all that talk about a Higher Power didn’t appeal to me. Back then, my “drama queen” behavior thrived on the thrill of the ride. Back then, I was too arrogant to let go, and get the help I needed. My husband relapsed. The coaster crashed and he died. Time passed and life calmed down.

A few years later, I discovered that my adult son was addicted to drugs. Why me? How could this happen again? I wallowed in self-pity and shared my woes with anyone who would listen. Since I wasn’t able to save my husband, I redoubled my efforts to save my son. I climbed back on the roller coaster and reached new heights.

Once again, my life became unmanageable. My son was addicted to drugs and I was addicted to my son. I ranted and I raved. Nothing worked—not for many years. Then a miracle: my son entered a treatment program where he embraced the Steps, found a Sponsor, and began to rebuild his life. I was encouraged to do the same and decided to give Al-Anon another try.

At my first meeting, I was introduced to the three Cs: You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it. The “you didn’t cause it” part spoke to me. I was told that the program was about me and not my son. I heard that all I had to do was to be willing. I was given a newcomer’s packet, the names and phone numbers of a few members, and invited to call if I needed help. I was introduced to the literature and given a copy of The Forum. I was hugged and encouraged to return.

During meetings, members talked about working the Steps with their Sponsors. I was curious, but didn’t jump in. I prayed and I listened. Then a wise, witty, and compassionate woman appeared. A longtime member, she also was the mother of an adult son in recovery. She didn’t hesitate when I asked her to become my Sponsor. In fact, she said, “It would be an honor and a privilege.” My timing was on target because my son relapsed shortly after. My Sponsor helped me navigate my way through several major crises.

I learned that the more I did for my son, the less he would do for himself. In managing his life, I deprived him of the opportunity to build his self-confidence by taking care of his own business. I learned to mind my own business. I learned that expectations could lead to resentments. And when I floundered, as I often did, my Sponsor gently reminded me to focus on “Progress Not Perfection.”

When my son landed in jail my Sponsor said, “Try not to make rash decisions. Think things through. Decide what you’re willing to do and not do. Stay open. Be flexible. Stay close to the program. Pray. And call me any time, day or night.” During those nerve-racking moments, I was encouraged to “just breathe in and breathe out.” Sometimes that’s all you can do.

My Sponsor divided the Twelve Steps into four segments. Steps One to Three were about giving up; Steps Four to Six about owning up; Steps Seven to Nine about making up; and Steps Ten to Twelve about keeping up. This framework helped simplify what I feared would be a monumental task of working the Steps. Over several years, she patiently guided me through each segment. Then one day she told me she was moving away. I cried, but didn’t panic. I thanked her for her love and guidance and thanked God for the unearned grace that brought this wise member into my life.

By Frances S., West Virginia
The Forum, March 2011

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