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Al-Anon Forum Magazine Featured Article

Who's In Charge?
As Al-Anon celebrates its 46th anniversary of serving families and friends of alcoholics, I spent some time reflecting on the model that Lois and Anne left each of us as Al-Anon members.
Prior to Al-Anon, I thought that I was in charge of everything. I could solve your problems, organize your move, re-plan your life, console your grief and do whatever you needed me to do so that somehow I would feel loved. At the time I came to Al-Anon, I was teaching school, going to law school, serving as the custodian in my building, acting as the head of the bargaining committee for my teachers' union, and serving as the president of the union. If you asked me how I was, my response was always, "I'm tired." Even though I believed in a Power greater than myself, I frequently took on that role. When I came to Al-Anon, I came looking for solutions. I didn't know the questions, but I wanted you to tell me that I was right and that I really didn't need to keep coming. You never gave me the kind of advice that I wanted. Instead, you told me to keep coming back, read my One Day at a Time, use the Serenity Prayer and get a sponsor.
Even as I began to work the Al-Anon program, it never occurred to me that someone was responsible for creating the literature, putting radio and television spots about Al-Anon on the air and providing materials that reached out to newcomers. Many times I went to meetings believing that I needed to be there to help someone else. I still didn't get it.
After a few years, I began to get involved in the intergroup. I learned gradually that, while Al-Anon has no bosses, it does have leaders and that those leaders have been delegated by the groups to make decisions. Many times the process of making decisions was not comfortable for me because people were arguing, shouting and sometimes acting in a way that I didn't think Al-Anon members should act. But what did I know?
As I moved on to the assembly level, I saw the same types of behavior. But I also realized that after the meeting people went out for coffee and discussed their lives and their problems as though the conflict that had been raging half an hour earlier no longer mattered. It was that subtle leadership by example that taught me that I could speak up for the things that mattered to me. Not only was the ability to state my position without attacking something that I didn't expect to learn in Al-Anon, it was something that became a vital resource to me as I continued to live my life.
It was someone else who recommended that I apply to be a trustee at the World Service Office level. I had no understanding of our structure above the area level, but someone told me that you needed me. Even though I was a lot healthier and seldom fell into that trap in my personal life, in Al-Anon I still became confused, sometimes, about whose responsibility it was to keep Al-Anon safe and available.
While I didn't come to the World Service Office with an agenda, many people in my area frequently gave me their opinions about what the World Service Office needed to do to meet their needs. Many times it was difficult to listen to their opinions and not react or defend actions that I knew were taken with a great deal of deliberation. The decision to apply for Executive Director, and now performing that job, gives me each day a sense of gratitude. I remember those members in my early meetings who shared their programs but not their opinions. While some people did occasionally voice an idea, "You need to do...," usually another member gently reminded me and the seemingly helpful person that in Al-Anon we don't give advice.
Today, like Lois and Anne did, the WSO receives hundreds of letters each year from individuals and groups seeking solutions. Some of them only ask for a meeting, more information about Al-Anon, or how they can get in contact with the Lone Member Service. But many of them seek to force a solution that they have determined is the correct solution for their loved one or their group. Some may seek the counsel of the World Service Office in justifying or confirming their decisions.
Like Lois, Anne and the pioneers used to do, we share with each member or group the combined experience that we have as of this date. We try not to prejudge a problem. Instead, we seek to send the members back to the group or back to the area where a solution can be found. Many times I sat in those district and area meetings listening to the turmoil and wondering, "What would God do?" As I sat there and learned to let go of my ego, my solution and what I thought was best, I saw that Power greater than any of us assert itself in such a way that a group conscience was reached. Not all members were happy with the outcome, but most accepted the group conscience and let it go. Those who were unwilling to accept the group conscience left angry, disappointed and certain that Al-Anon was on the wrong foot. Our Concepts of Service talk about the need for minority views. They also caution us against the tyranny of the minority. Through these experiences, I have learned the true meaning of acceptance.
As we approach our 46th anniversary, I am grateful for all of the lessons that I have learned during Al-Anon meetings, as well as in business sessions, intergroup, assembly, World Service Conference, and the Board of Trustees meetings.
I came to Al-Anon looking for solutions - God gave me a rich and full life. Who's in charge? Not me!
HAPPY 46TH ANNIVERSARY, AL-ANON! I thank each of you, and especially Lois and Anne.
By Ric B. - WSO Executive Director
Alcoholism is a family disease. Those of us who live with, or have have lived with, this disease as children or adults sometimes have problems which the Al-Anon program can help us to resolve. If you have answered yes to some of all of the above questions, Al-Anon may be of help to you. You can contact Al-Anon by checking your local telephone directory, or from the Resources page. Phone numbers and Contact Information for the Austin Area are listed on the Contact Page of this website.
These articles were reproduced with permission from 'The Forum', the monthly inspirational newsletter of Al-Anon. Al-Anon World Headquarters, Inc. is located in Virginia Beach, VA. See www.Al-Anon.org for more information.