I thought only another man would understand

It may not be the case in your meeting but in my meeting, the member count is typically ten women for every man. It is said that every alcoholic affects the lives of at least twenty people but, certainly, those twenty people can’t all be women. So why aren’t there more men in Al‑Anon? Some evenings, I’m the only man in the room.

When I first came to Al‑Anon more than seven years ago, I sat in my car wondering if I was really going to do this. Then I darted from my car to the back door of the church, trying not to be seen. After all, I was the man, the head of the family, the breadwinner—in charge. There shouldn’t be any problem that I couldn’t handle.

I walked in the basement of the small stone church, and there sat three women at a folding table covered with little placard slogans and coffee cup stains. They proceeded through the ritual of reading the Steps and Traditions and sharing announcements among themselves and with me.

To my thinking – which I had yet to realize was unhealthy thinking – it was nonsense! I wondered who was in charge. I wanted answers, not announcements about other meetings and workshops. I wanted to know how to make my wife stop drinking. They were patient, told me the program was for me, not for the alcoholic, and to “Keep Coming Back.” I left dissatisfied and crossed Al‑Anon off my list of things to try.

A year later, I was back. The drinking had progressed and, by that time, I was broken, on my knees, and ready to listen. Still, the feeling persisted that I needed to find another man who understood my situation: raising children, trying to keep a job, and dealing with feelings that I thought men weren’t supposed to have—like fear. And, there were things about Al‑Anon that weren’t typically male, like hugging, wicker baskets, and butterflies; and much of the literature spoke of “his” drinking and “her” pain.

I went from meeting to meeting; I would occasionally run into another man who was often new to the program, as well. Afterward, I would ask women, who seemed calm and at peace, if they knew of a man in the program who would understand my situation.

Again, they were always patient. They would smile and ask more about my situation, give me a few things to think about like “First Things First,” or “You’ll know when it’s time.” Finally, in this runaround way, I learned about Bill, who had been in the program for ten years. I found Bill and he became my Sponsor. He shared wise thoughts and advice that was not unlike what those smiling women had been saying all along.

Seven years later, it’s my turn. I don’t always know what to say when a man walks into our meeting as a newcomer. If they’re on their knees, like I was, then I think maybe this will be their time to stay and I offer them a thought that I hope will stick.

But most don’t stay, and I know they will continue to be affected by alcoholism; it’s a problem that will not be solved, controlled, or denied. It doesn’t recognize distinctions between social status, faith, family heritage, or whether you’re a man or a woman.

Ultimately, over time and in these rooms, the women in Al‑Anon have served as some of my best role models: they have kept their jobs, raised their children, made time for their own recovery, and learned how to make tough decisions. I have discovered how much we have in common, even amid the occasional butterfly sticker.

I’m grateful to both programs for my wife’s recovery and for my own recovery, and I “Keep Coming Back.”

By Doug K., Pennsylvania
The Forum, February 2012

© Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 2012. All Rights Reserved.