By Bob Gaydos
This column regularly stresses the fact that, while things may seem desperate, there can also be hope in the midst of an addictive situation. That does not mean that people in the middle of an alcohol- or drug-fueled crisis ought to deny the reality of what is happening or place themselves or others in danger because of some wishful hope that the danger will magically -- hopefully -- go away.
There’s a time to have hope and a time to protect oneself from the threat of an alcoholic or addict in the throes of the disease. Members of the Al-Anon Family Programs learn at their first meeting that they cannot control the behavior of the alcoholics in their lives, or their disease. What they can do is take care of themselves, including, if need be, protecting themselves from the violence that can sometimes accompany the drinking.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. You won’t find Al-Anon publicly supporting any of the worthwhile programs devoted to educating the public about the problem or to protecting victims or potential victims. That is not because Al-Anon members don’t know or care about the issue. Quite the contrary. But Al-Anon, like Alcoholics Anonymous and other anonymous, 12-step programs, has traditions that guide members’ and groups’ interactions with the public.
In sum, there are no interactions. Not officially. As the group’s literature explains, Al-Anon’s long-standing tradition is not to engage in any public causes and to avoid controversy. The reasons are simple:
1. Doing so would distract members from the group’s primary purpose, which is to help the families of alcoholics.
2. Becoming involved in some public cause opens the group to outside influence. It puts the integrity and credibility of Al-Anon at risk from those who may not share its goals, but rather, might want to exploit its name. Members are free to voice their opinions and support any causes they choose, without attaching Al-Anon’s name to it.
However, just because Al-Anon will not publicly support some effort to combat domestic violence does not mean it doesn’t recognize the problem. Honesty is the touchstone of recovery. One of Al-Anon’s approved books that deals specifically with domestic violence is “From Survival to Recovery. Growing Up in an Alcoholic Home.” The title speaks for itself, but the authors go out of the way to include a special message on page 9, before getting into the body of the book. The message is clear and concise in addressing the issue:
“A SPECIAL WORD TO ANYONE CONFRONTED WITH VIOLENCE
“Al-Anon’s gentle process unfolds gradually, over time. But those of us facing violent, potentially life-threatening situations, may have to make immediate choices to ensure safety for ourselves and our children. This may mean arranging for a safe house with a neighbor or friend, calling for police protection, or leaving money and an extra set of keys where they can be collected at any time of emergency. It is not necessary to decide how to resolve the situation once and for all -- only how to get out of harm’s way until this process of awareness, acceptance and action can free us to make choices for ourselves that we can live with.
“Anyone who has been physically or sexually abused or even threatened may be terrified of taking any action at all. It can require every ounce of courage and faith to act decisively. But no one has to accept violence. No matter what seems to trigger the attack, we all deserve to be safe.”
The passage actually comes from another Al-Anon publication, “In All Our Affairs: Making Crises Work for You.” It is as straightforward a bit of advice as one can get anywhere on the issue of violence, alcohol-related or not. This, from a program that makes a point of not generally giving advice.
A bit of advice here: Anyone living with problems related to someone else’s drinking or drug abuse -- including violence or the threat of violence -- can find welcoming ears, understanding and help in Al-Anon.
To find an Al-Anon meeting in New York state, call (800) 344-2666.
The national meeting information number is (888) 425-2666.
On the web: http://www.al-anon.alateen.org. or http://www.alanonny.org.