Thursday, July 28, 2011


For the past six or seven years I have gone to Al Anon meetings on a weekly basis in search of, well, I’m not quite sure… some sort of understanding, or explanation of why the things around me are as they are and why I react to them as I do. My attendance has helped me in fits and starts. There are days with ah ha moments which I call ‘epiphanettes,’ and other days when I leave the meeting with quite a few more questions than answers.

Al Anon, should you not have heard of it, is a 12-step program for the families and friends of those among us who have addictions. It originally focused on alcoholism—indeed, the co-founder of Al Anon was Lois Wilson, wife of Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson. The program has existed since the early 1950s and has helped hundreds of thousands afflicted by the addictions of others to cope.

Like AA, Al Anon is largely faith-based, though it does not espouse any religion, preferring members work on their spirituality. There is always talk of a Higher Power and this is what occasionally leaves me wondering.  Today, I had an epiphanette: If my Higher Power isn’t doing anything for me, what good is it? And if, as I have been told, faith is not leaping from A to B but simply leaping from A, what of my reticence to leap from the known to the murky. Hmmmm. Not the most spiritual of thoughts and this sort of questioning sprouts wings. 

What of active versus passive? Am I responsible for or responsible to? What separates a caretaker from a caregiver? When is it acceptable to be assertive, even aggressive? Where does helping become enabling, or charity lapse into foolishness?

It has taken me a very long time to accept a sense of powerlessness over most daily things but I find more and more that my powerlessness is nothing more than a lack of understanding of events, their causes and consequences. I have been powerless over the economy, which has ravaged my savings and threatens my future.  Dwelling on the causes, however, offers little or no relief. I get angry at the people who put us where we are, then come to realize that, pretty often, the people are us, and more specifically, me. That’s truly disturbing. Admitting powerlessness is a strange act of faith and yet it is not synonymous to being helpless, a notion that makes perfect sense in the buffeted lives of most. Shit happens, Forrest Gump once said, and in one way or another, we have to deal with it.

At the meeting today, I heard a man talk about the unfairness saddling his existence, the perfidy of his business partners, and the ingratitude of his children. All were linked, he said, as he recounted a long story of others’ transgressions against him. At no time did he mention the part he played in the tragedy of his life, and I was reminded of the old 12-step saying that no relief it to be found expiating the sins of others. The man was told that things would probably get better, but there was no belief in his eyes. He wanted something or someone to blame other than himself—after all, he had worked long and hard to have what he had built taken away from him through the treachery of others—and he got no solace from bromides.

It’s tempting to espouse this fellow’s philosophy of blame and helplessness. We’ve all gotten screwed at one time or another, and though the depth of the shafting may vary from person to person, the outrage that follows seems universal, with the emotions very much resembling those described by  Swiss-born psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. First, we deny and isolate. Then we give in to anger; we bargain; we get depressed, and finally, finally, we accept and give up the emotional struggle.

I’m not sure where I am in all this. Though I’ve stopped bargaining with HP, the anger and resentments are still there, as is this sense of letdown, this second-guessing of the past that always leads to one thought—I should’ve known better.

I’m working on the acceptance but it may still take a while. 

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