I Thought I Was Helping

I came to Al‑Anon because I had an alcoholic child. I felt miserable because my child was in trouble and frustrated because I couldn’t seem to do anything about it. I also felt angry that he lied and took advantage of me. As a father, I saw myself as the fixer. I provided wisdom, guidance, and advice—lots and lots of advice. I minimized problems with humor, provided money, and showed disapproval. The effect of my actions put roadblocks in his path to recovery because they gave him no room to breathe, no opportunity to help himself and rebuild his self-esteem. Every time he turned around, I was there to help, or so I thought, by offering what I felt was a better way. We always had long phone chats, which used to consist of him telling me his problems and me giving him advice because I knew that, if he would just listen, all would be well. In truth, my advice, money, and disapproval did nothing but injure him. In effect, I was telling him that he did not have the skills necessary to make his own decisions. I was demeaning him, not helping him.

However, by using the tools I learned at Al‑Anon meetings, I changed the nature of our conversations. Instead of giving advice, I gave empathy. Instead of telling him what to do, I told him I was sorry to hear about his latest problem and let him solve it for himself. Then a remarkable thing happened. After several weeks of these conversations, he said to me “You know, I really enjoy these talks we’ve been having lately; they mean a lot to me.” At around the same time, he began his own program of recovery.

My new approach did not cause him to recover or even help him to recover, but it did remove some obstacles that I had been putting in his way. In essence, my script had changed, and therefore, our relationship changed. Through this program, I learned that, if I take care of myself and treat myself with respect, then I will be in a better position to help my son in a way that acknowledges that there is a real person, a loving person, inside my alcoholic son. I finally realized that he is an adult and, therefore, has the right to solve his own problems and to live his own life. As a result, in addition to being my son, he once again became a very close and dear friend.

By Frank V., New York

March 2019, Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters., Inc., Virginia Beach, VA