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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Al-Anon: Beyond Reciting Slogans

I've referred many clients to Al-Anon over the years. Many of them were either in relationships with alcoholics (both active and recovered) or they grew up in alcoholic or dysfunctional families. Although Al-Anon was developed for loved ones of alcoholics, you don't need to be affected by alcoholism, per se, to benefit from Al-Anon. The 12 Steps and basic concepts of Al-Anon can be beneficial to anyone who tends to get into codependent relationships or who comes from a highly dysfunctional family. We now know that many dysfunctional families have dynamics that are similar to families where there is alcoholism.

Al-Anon: Beyond Reciting Slogans
Often, when people begin attending Al-Anon, once they get over their discomfort of being in a group, they feel so relieved to meet other people who understand their situation from the inside out. They feel that other people "get" them in ways that even close friends and family might not. This can be such an eye-opening and wonderful experience.

During the Al-Anon recovery process, people go through various stages, which aren't usually linear. One stage is reading the literature and learning the Al-Anon slogans, which can be so helpful, especially in times of crisis. They can be like life rafts in a stormy sea--something to hold onto so we don't drown in our own emotion storm. Working the 12 Steps, preferably with an experienced sponsor, is another part of the process in recovery.

The 12 Steps and the Al-Anon slogans can be mined for depths of meaning that might not be apparent at first. Often, the Steps and slogans are "worked" from surface to depth. As we continue to work with them and personalize them, we find new depths of meaning. This takes a lot of personal work. It's similar to the difference between "reciting" a prayer or poem from memory versus really allowing the meaning to sink in and to own it in our hearts.

At times, people who attend Al-Anon are either unwilling or unable to get to this deeper level of exploration and personal ownership of the 12 Steps and the Al-Anon slogans. As a result, the Steps and slogans remain somewhat shallow for them, as compared to what they could be with some soul searching.

At best, they get much needed emotional support, but they don't derive the full benefit of the wisdom of Al-Anon in terms of their own personal development. At worst, they use the slogans in a distorted way, sometimes to justify their own misguided behavior. For instance, someone could use the concept of "focusing on myself" in a distorted way to, unknowingly, excuse their own selfish behavior. Of course, it's not unusual to go from being masochistic to being selfish as a person grapples to find a balance. But, ideally, this is a temporary stage in recovery, not a place to land permanently.

I encourage healthy sponsorship for clients that I refer to Al-Anon. I think the support of a wise sponsor can enhance the Al-Anon experience. There's also a place to explore Al-Anon issues in psychotherapy with a psychotherapist who has experience helping clients with codependency issues.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist. I work with individuals and couples using EMDR, clinical hypnosis, and Somatic Experiencing. I have helped many clients in their 12 Step recovery to enhance the 12 Step concepts to strengthen their personal development.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, you can call me at (212) 726-1006.

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