The road to recovery

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(Editor’s note: This is the 10th of a year-long monthly series about how alcohol and drug addiction affects the community and how those affected work to achieve a better life.)

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Anyone looking for help can follow the signs to the Seeking Serenity Al-Anon group that meets at 6 p.m. every Tuesday at the Los Lunas Wellness Center, 3445 Lambros Loop.

There’s an old adage about admitting you need help being the first step to recovery.

For people struggling with addiction, recognizing that they have a problem, that they are out of control, is often the hardest step toward recovery.

No one but addicts can say when they will be ready to take that step. But in the meantime, their addictions don’t exist in a vacuum.

Sometimes called the ripple effect, people beginning their recovery are confronted with the reality that their choices may have destroyed more than just themselves.

Spouses, parents, children and friends — relationships of all kinds — are rent asunder by addiction.

Responsibilities are shirked by the addict and shouldered by their family, excuses made and messes cleaned up and swept under the proverbial rug until there’s more mess than rug.

If an alcoholic or addict isn’t ready to take that first step, his or her family and friends aren’t alone in their experiences.

In every community, in every city and hamlet are support groups for families and friends of addicts who are ready to change their lives, even if the person suffering from substance abuse isn’t.

Some, like Tears of Strength and Sorrow, a support group for the parents of addicts, have members who publicly advocate in their communities, taking up the cause of education and information.

Others, are quiet and unassuming, working behind the scenes with those who aren’t ready to be public about their struggles.

In that case, to enter a meeting room is to enter an impenetrable cone of silence. It is to uphold a credo of support, understanding and above all else — anonymity.

What is said in the room, never leaves. After you leave, you are strangers once again. That is Al-Anon.

One of the longest standing traditions of the Al-Anon Family Groups, which include the Al-Anon and Alateen programs, is anonymity, much like Alcoholics Anonymous.

“Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles over personalities,” reads Al-Anon’s 12th tradition.

Outside of the meetings, participants do not talk about what others have said at the meeting and if, by chance, they see each other in public, there can be no acknowledgement of how they know each other.

A member of a local support group says the anonymity often encourages family members to reach out for help, knowing their story won’t become fodder for gossip. She spoke with the News-Bulletin on the condition of remaining anonymous.

“Families and spouses have a lot of shae. They think it’s their fault,” she said. “It’s a disease. Insidious. You didn’t cause it. You can’t control it. And you can’t cure it.”

The woman, who has been a part of support groups for families affected by addiction for several decades, said the first thing to do is let go.

“It sounds contrary, but you have to stop trying to control them. You have to detach,” she said.

That doesn’t mean you stop loving the addict or alcoholic, she said. It just means that you accept the reality that the person is responsible for their actions — not you.

“You try to hold on so hard, try to control everything and make it perfect, you become angry and bitter,” she said.

Advocating a “let go and let God” philosophy, the woman says once that happens, the family can actually begin to heal.

“It’s important for you to not take responsibility for the alcoholic’s life,” she said. “Once you learn about how a higher power helps you, whoever He or She is, you start feeling and going better. It helps the whole family.”

Most families and spouses have spent years enabling the person with the substance abuse, she said.

“What the alcoholic can’t do, you do for them. You take all the responsibility and make it easier for them to do what they are going to do,” she said.

For the family of an addict or alcoholic, acknowledging they have no power over the addiction and detaching their behavior from that of the person with the addiction is extremely difficult.

And it’s something that often has to be done one day at a time, each and every day, until the addict is allowed to hit rock bottom — a place they may have to visit multiple times.

“Some people have never spoken up about this. When they come in those doors, they can talk. Some can’t even talk because they are crying,” she said. “But they feel so much better. They aren’t alone. They can talk to someone who is going through the same thing they are, someone who can relate.”

And the support meetings aren’t about wallowing in self pity and endless venting, she said.

“They don’t allow you to feel sorry for yourself. You need to get strong. And the only way to do that is with God,” she said. “You get the strength in talking to people, in reading the literature.”

From that strength comes a sense of well being, better control over your emotions and an increase in self esteem, she said.

“You can’t just stay stagnate. You have to move forward,” she said. “When you reach a point that God has helped you get to, that point is a beautiful thing. It frees you and makes you happy, creative and joyful in everything. It’s easy but it’s hard. It’s hard at the beginning but I always say, if I can do it, anyone can.”

And as she has done it — reached out for help, let go of what she cannot control and built a happier life for herself — she says each year sheds a different light, a new perspective on the steps in any program.

“Every year you’re different, your maturity is different because life changes,” she said.

As she has gone from wife to mother to grandmother, she says, looking back, she can see how God has been in her life since she was a small child.

The steps forward are different for everybody and those who come to the meetings are encouraged to “take what they like and leave the rest.”

“Some people come in and listen and never come back. Others stay,” she said. “Or some may think all they have to do is not be in control or not think about the alcoholic. Maybe that works for them. I hope it does.”

The meetings, above all, give people hope and strength to go on, she said.

“Because there is always hope. You never know what the future holds,” she said.

Seeking Serenity meets at 6 p.m. every Tuesday at the Village of Los Lunas Wellness Center, 3445 Lambros Loop. For information, call 865-5765, or call Al-Anon information service office at 262-2177.

Tears of Strength and Sorrow meets from 10 a.m. to noon, the second Saturday of every month, at the Partners in Wellness Recovery Center, 750 Morris Road SW in Los Lunas.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.