If you’re living with an alcoholic and are feeling desperate and alone, we hope that this reader’s story and her experience of turning to a support group for help, inspires you to do the same

My name is Marlene and I am a grateful member of the worldwide fellowship of Al-Anon. My joining the support group was out of sheer desperation and as a last resort after trying everything in my power to get my husband to stop drinking.

I’d heard about Al-Anon from a couple who were in the programme. They visited our home and the husband spoke to my husband about his programme of recovery in AA and asked him if he would like to come to a meeting.

My husband wanted to have nothing to do with all of this; he was adamant that he didn’t need to go to meetings to give up alcohol, he could give up the drinking at any time.

When I reflect on how I was prior Al-Anon, I think of how I could just mouth off without stopping to think about my words and actions. Talk about hanging out our dirty linen for all and sundry to hear.

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The wife, in all her wisdom took me aside and asked me to zip my mouth. Well I was shocked; I thought what is wrong with this woman, why is she asking me to stop talking, couldn’t she see that I needed to tell the whole world about the miserable life that my husband was subjecting me to? She proceeded to speak to me about Al-Anon and the difference this family programme of recovery was making in her life.

I listened to her share her experience, strength and hope and thought, what have I got to lose, I am going to give this a try. I remember thinking that I was in such a mess emotionally, but through all the mess and chaos I knew that I wanted a better way of life for myself and for my family.

This couple picked me up on the Monday evening and I attended my first meeting with the Isipingo group. This began my miraculous journey of healing and discovering me.

I walked into a room of smiling, happy people and I thought “I am in the wrong place; these peaceful, happy people cannot be living with drinkers”

They said that I will not get everything that first meeting but I must just keep coming back and that I will achieve what they have. I remember crying through the whole meeting so I certainly didn’t get too much that first meeting.

However, I did latch onto the ‘keep coming back’ phrase and this is what I did. It was easy for me to keep coming back because of the warmth and love that I experienced in that room. I learnt to take my hands off my drinking partner and to place them on myself.

This was so difficult for me to do as my whole being revolved around my husband; where he was going, how much he was drinking, who he was drinking with.

I also learned that the programme will work for me to the degree that I work at it. I am so glad that I listened and I decided to make this a way of life for myself.

Prior to joining Al-Anon I automatically took on all the responsibilities in my home as I couldn’t trust my alcoholic to be responsible with managing the home. So, I exhausted myself by trying to juggle all the balls of wife, mother, employee – and all the responsibilities that go with these titles.

I learnt to let go of the home responsibilities and allowed my husband the dignity of managing his own life

Things didn’t always work out the way I wanted it to, but this empowered him to make his mistakes and hopefully learn and grow from it. I also learnt to let go of the unhealthy enabling of our only child by allowing her to make her mistakes and to hopefully learn and grow from them.

This letting go liberated me and I soon discovered how inefficient and exhausting it is to try and do everything by myself – life is not so overwhelming when I don’t take on more than I can handle.

Over the years I have been going to Al-Anon, I decided that doing a service by helping others would be a big part of my recovery. I am learning to share tasks and to ask for help from others. Members are willing to help, knowing that they are not expected to do it all. I have also come to understand that I need to improve the way I communicate to others about what is required to complete a task.

Service in Al-Anon is a gentle and safe process, and I came to understand I could apply the programme to all aspects of my life – work, being a parent, a wife and a friend. When the load is shared and people are empowered to take responsibility, they are able to participate and grow as well.

I have come to learn that I cannot be a committee all by myself and control everyone and everything

It takes the commitment of a group of individuals for a relationship or entity to prosper and to grow. I have learned to recognise my abilities as well as my limitations. More importantly, I am learning to delegate. I admire the abilities of others and can trust them to complete their job. I am learning that we all have responsibilities; I can take care of mine and allow others to take care of theirs.

Al-Anon has changed my life and I am passionate about giving back what I have learned to those others in need of our strength and support.

To those dealing with the disease of alcoholism and how it affects their family, Al-Anon offers hope, strength and support. More information is available at www.alanon.org.za and a 24-hr Help Line 0861 252 666. Currently all meetings are held online via Zoom and available to anyone living with a problem drinker. Someone else’s drinking can affect your life – be it a relative or friend, male or female.