An Online Al-Anon Email Meeting
Most of us who find our way to Al-Anon have received a direct or an indirect message that we are in some way responsible for someone else's uncontrolled drinking. It may be that we have been told "if you would (or wouldn't) do that, I wouldn't drink so much." Or, we may have attempted to analyze the situation and come to the conclusion that it was some deficiency on our part which was causing the out of control drinking.
By the time we have reached Al-Anon, it is a fair bet that we feel quite beaten down by the overwhelming nature of the problem and are ready to believe it is somehow our fault. As it says in Al-Anon's pamphlet "Understanding Alcoholism / Understanding Ourselves" we may have concluded that we were neither clever enough nor attractive enough to have solved this problem for our loved one.
Hearing the information that we did not cause the drinking, we cannot control or cure it may induce feelings of disbelief and/or discomfort, but, hopefully, we also experience relief. I experienced all three of these responses to the Three C's.
My initial reaction was disbelief, grounded in the messages I received from the alcoholic in my life. Since I had listened to those messages for a number of years before I sought help, I was pretty sure he was right; that there was something I was doing or not doing which caused this problem to persist.
In retrospect, I see that I wanted to believe this because it gave me the illusion that I could change his behavior if I could just find the key. Even though it was hard on my self esteem to hear that it was my fault, it provided me with a sense that it was still possible to control what was happening in our relationship.
My desire to control the impact of his alcoholism was, in turn, the basis of my discomfort when I first heard the Three C's. If this was true, then I had to face the fact that the outcome was uncertain and, ultimately, out of my hands.
It took me a while to experience feelings of relief. Yet, when I allowed myself to acknowledge that relief as part of my response, it felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted from my chest. If the Three C's were really true, then I was free to focus on my own life, which I had already admitted was unmanageable and badly needed my attention.
Somehow, although I had not yet expereinced the spiritual awakening promised in Step 12, I had an intuitive sense that I was hearing the truth. It made sense to me that the alcoholic had many opportunities to choose whether or not to drink and that maybe, just maybe, I did not have the power to force a choice upon this other person.
Could it be that all the times he told me he drank because of something I did or didn't do, he was simply justifying and rationalizing his choices, to himself as well as to me? As I learned more and more about alcoholism, I learned that justification and rationalization go hand in hand with the disease.
In Al-Anon, we learn that we have choices and my choice was to accept the truth of the Three C's, because believing them brought a measure of peace to my troubled mind.