A Kiwi Bloke's story

A Kiwi Bloke's Story
by A.E.H., Canterbury

Hi, today as I write this it is with the benefit of hindsight and a long time attendee of Al-Anon Family Group meetings. So by attending meetings and then actually doing what was suggested by other members and the program literature I was able to make sense of my life. I can tell you it wasn’t plain sailing because of my temperament or my entrenched belief system. I had all the answers for anyone and anything in life which didn’t always make me the most teachable person. In other words my will or hard wired brain had some coping and defence mechanisms that had to be looked at.

What did I know about alcoholism? Nothing! How was it I got to even go to Al-Anon Family Groups? Weren’t all those down and out people, living on the streets, carrying brown paper bags with their booze the drunks of this world? Certainly alcoholics weren’t on my radar, although I knew a few people who acted funny, downright stupid or just plain angry and obnoxious when they drank too much, but hey that’s normal isn’t it?

Well here I was cruising along in a marriage with three beautiful daughters. To all the world I thought we acted like a nice middle class family, a home and kids at schools enjoying New Zealand kid’s activities. I had a good job, my wife worked part time at various things to assist us in our push for home ownership and the annual holiday somewhere in our fair country, maybe even an excursion across the Tasman.

In our home alcohol was present, I had grown up in our culture of work hard, drink a few. Play sport, drink a few, socialise drink a few, entertain at home drink a few. I’d played premier rugby, and represented my sub union for many years. I even got to play for the B side of my province. I was over 6 foot tall and physically strong.

So to the outside world, or so I pretended, life was good. In fact it wasn’t. My marriage was floundering, communication was strained or absent, our daughters were our common talking point. I didn’t know how to move forward, frozen in this state, afraid to face the reality of the situation and too scared to make any life changing decisions.

One day my wife slipped me a piece of paper it said “I think I’m an alcoholic”. I slipped into bloke mode, I can fix this, I’ll get it sorted and organised for her to travel to another city where we both knew a sober alcoholic. It made me feel better to be doing something, some commonality in our purpose for a few weeks anyway.

But no, the damage in our relationship was not about to be cured by this revelation. I continued on doing what I’d always done, so the results were the same. She did tell me I had to go to Al-Anon (Family Groups) because that’s what partners or those affected by another’s drinking should do. I didn’t have a clue really, me affected by another’s drinking? I occasionally wondered why she could drink spirits or wine in the volume she did, but hey I was guzzling beer, I could never do spirits or wine.

I went to my first meeting, it was all women, they welcomed me, they didn’t pester or question me, they let me be and ran the meeting just as they would have, had I not been there I suppose. The words I heard and the laughter I enjoyed in those meetings resonated deep within me. They spoke about things I only dreamed off, said things I was too afraid to speak off, laughed about miseries that I thought would have destroyed them. I felt at home in this environment, it was different to the place I’d grown up in, the behaviours I had modelled to me and no one judged me. With hindsight I did come to realise I was the harshest judge, judging myself against the outside appearances of other people and never seeming to measure up.

That was the start of my journey in Al-Anon Family Groups. I continued to attend meetings and just loved the company and experiences shared at these meetings, heartfelt sharing of problems and solutions. They said listen for the similarities not the differences. Keep coming back I heard often.

I continued living life as before, I was a slow learner. I was introduced to The Serenity Prayer, The Twelve Steps for my personal recovery. They said there are no musts in Al-Anon Family Groups but after a long time I realised if I did nothing, then no change occurred. I was still looking outside myself, hoping my family and others would do as I wanted to meet my needs, but no they did what they were going to do and I got angry when they didn’t do, what I thought they should do. I had a series of photographs in my head and tried to make people, places and things to fit into MY picture rather than accepting people, places and things as they were. I was always in conflict with the reality of life as it was and how I thought it should be.

Finally I put some things into action, I got myself a sponsor, this is a person whom I could contact regularly and talk through issues. My sponsor had worked the program of Al-Anon Family Groups and was a serene, loving person. I was guided through the Twelve Steps, it didn’t happen overnight and I struggled with the suggested things I might do, to get some serenity in my life. When the emotional pain became too hard to bear, I would revert to my original thinking and my life on a daily basis was again full of internal conflict which generally meant an outward expression of anger towards immediate family members.

The Twelve Steps start with “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable”. I wasn’t powerless, remember I told you I was over six foot and a good rugby playing kiwi bloke, I could take anyone on. Then one day a member extended the sentence – over alcohol, people, places and things. After sometime I came to realise as I mentioned I had to accept people as they were, hear their words and not take everything personally. One day I had an “ah ha” moment and it made sense, it was my reactions and behaviours that had to change when I felt in conflict with others around me, I had to look into myself and learn the “triggers” that set off my behaviours.

That of course is an outcome of working the Twelve Steps. I then had to come to a place where I accepted I wasn’t the centre of the universe and maybe there was a power greater than me! I learnt I had to humble myself before this power of my choosing and this tended to make life easier, rather than me being responsible for all outcomes in the world around me. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. That’s when I got a glimpse of the serenity I was seeking in my own life. It was this glimpse that spurred me on, to trust the process, to believe with more certainty in my sponsor - in other words I had to learn to trust.

Continuing on I had to take an inventory of my life (The Fourth Step), I chose to write down my life story as I remembered it along with incidents I recalled vividly that hurt me. This was a painful experience and I procrastinated in getting it done. I was afraid I would find some horrible person within. My sponsor walked with me, guided me and loved me when I wasn’t able to do that for myself and eventually I completed this inventory and identified thought patterns and behaviours I needed to work on. I then shared my inventory with my sponsor and a great burden was lifted from within. (Step Five). I felt better and continued to use the tools of this Al-Anon Family Group program in my life on a daily basis.

From here again with guidance from a loving sponsor, continued attendance at meetings I went through the other Steps, as I became aware of my default behaviour mechanisms I was finally willing to hand these to a power greater than myself (Step Six). I was beginning to humble myself daily to this power and asked all these defects and defaults be taken from me (Step Seven).

In my house keeping where I identified my faults of course I also found my behaviours towards other people in my life had fallen well short of the mark. So I made a list of these people and apologised as best as I could for the hurts I perceived I’d heaped on them (Steps Eight and Nine). This was rather revealing some of those I spoke to had no memory of what I was talking about, funny how they were things that bugged me for years.

So then the last three Steps are about taking a daily inventory of my behaviour, did it stand up to a reasonable self scrutiny , if I’ve done something inappropriate or spoken in anger it is then in the day or as soon as practicable I apologise (Step Ten). Also on a daily basis if I hand over my distorted perception of being in charge of the world around me to something greater than myself (Step Eleven) my day runs a lot smoother. Hopefully by continuing to work these Steps with my new found behaviours it might be possible that others who are affected by someone else’s drinking might be interested in looking at the Al-Anon Family Group program of recovery (Step Twelve).

I’ve got to say it doesn’t always work for me one day at a time, but I know I have a program as a basis for living and if I choose to use the skills I’ve learnt. I can quickly get back on track. I know today I’ve only got to ask, reach out to another member in this wonderful fellowship and they will be there to support me. Equally I’m available when others reach out to me. It is in the sharing of our stories with others affected by someone else’s drinking that I continue find peace, serenity and hope on a daily basis. Today is the only day we have after all.

So what else have I learnt? I came to realise alcoholism is a disease, most alcoholics really don’t want to be doing what they’re doing, it just takes a while for them to come to that place, some never do. Equally family members don’t find Al-Anon Family Groups because they don’t have a problem. It’s in the gene pool, that is its likely to run in families, it may miss a generation, so some people don’t have immediate friends or family affected but with the little research most find one or two drunks in their family tree. That the coping behaviours we learn to live with active alcoholism sometime makes our behaviour worse in the family situation than the drinker.

I learnt our program is about altered attitudes. I didn’t cause it, I can’t cure it and most certainly can’t control it, which is exactly what I tried before my journey in Al-Anon Family Groups.