Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Please Define " understanding and encouragement to the alcoholic."

That phrase comes from the "Suggested Preamble To The Twelve Steps" and the entire paragraph reads:

  "Al-Anon has but one purpose: to help families of alcoholics. We do this by practising the Twelve Steps, by welcoming and giving comfort to families of alcoholics, and by giving understanding and encouragement to the alcoholic."

I know that when I came to Al-Anon, the very idea of giving anything to the alcoholic stirred my resentment. I felt that he'd already received all of me I had to give, and wasn't entitled to a molecule more. I sometimes think of my resentment as a glass filled to the brim, with only surface tension stopping it from spilling over, which I was trying to carry through my daily life. I couldn't concentrate on not spilling a glass that full, and still move through my life with any awareness - the glass became my only focus.

Various dictionaries define understanding as being tolerant, aware of someone's feelings, being sympathetic, or co-operative.

Was I sympathetically aware of my alcoholic? No, no, no, not on your life. Was I cooperative? Not likely. I was intransigent, I was mulish, I was resistant, and I took nasty pleasure in being so - in this way, I vented some of my anger and resentment. In hindsight, I can see where I must have been a very tiring person to live with, always scheming to manipulate.

I had no tolerance left in me for him. And I didn't care at all about his feelings.

"Encouragement" is defined in various dictionaries as giving someone support, confidence, approval, assistance or hope.

By the time I entered Al-Anon, it had been quite a few years since I'd given my alcoholic anything even remotely approaching approval; on the contrary, I disapproved of almost everything he did, thought, felt, or expressed. I disapproved of him in every way humanly possible, and didn't hesitate to let him know it. Assistance? Given only grudgingly, with great lashings of complaint and self-pity.

I had no hope left in me, so I had none to give. I felt quite annoyed with the idea that I should give him anything at all. Shouldn't he be giving to me?

I had a bit of difficulty with the idea that it is what it is, and if I am to live with any sanity, I must accept that, and go from there. What would happen in a perfect world, might be a nice topic for a half-hour's daydream, but as this isn't a perfect world, in the end, this does me no good.

I had further difficulty with the idea that I needed to begin to be tolerant, accepting, loving, encouraging and understanding in the face of his continuing to drink,  that I did this for my own self, first, so that I could gain back my self-respect.

I slowly came to the understanding that for me to live comfortably within my own skin, I need to give the alcoholic understanding and encouragement, and then let go of the outcome of this giving.

I don't hold it out, still firmly gripping it with one hand, and my other hand stretched out to see what I'm going to get in trade.

I hope this helps a bit.


  1. It was baby steps for me..the more work I did in the rooms and with my sponsor, the better I got. My former sponsor said she hated her husband so much that when her sponsor told her she needed to say one nice thing to him each day the only thing she could think of was that he had nice blue eyes. hehe Good post today.


  2. It does take a while to let the resentment go. I now can give without having expectations of what I am going to get back. And that works most days, unless I get slammed by the alcoholic and then I want to withdraw my giving and my compassion. There is still much progress to be made in recovery for me.

  3. Thank you for this wonderful post. Full of turning events in a life to give a whole new outlook and freedom.

  4. Thank You !! I see myself so much in these posts. I feel resentment that sees no bounds and it has made me so bitter that I don't know myself anymore. Who am I but this co-dependent? It is like there are no more boundaries anymore...or I just can't see them. My husband is now a totally non-functioning alcoholic. I have a hard time accepting that. I feel abandoned, yet angry, yet sad. We are only 55, but I feel like I am living with a 90 year old. Somebody help.....