My sponsor loves the Twelve Traditions of Al-Anon. She gets really excited about them, and she always wants to work a Tradition at the same time we’re working a Step, whether it’s one-on-one or at a meeting. She says the Steps are for our personal growth, but the Traditions help our interpersonal transactions, which is why she sought recovery in the first place. For a while, she seemed to me the only person so concerned with the Traditions, and it kind of made me want to discount it as her “thing,” really unimportant, but something about which to humor her. I figured, unless I took a leadership role in Al-Anon, the Traditions were not relevant to me.
Today Father showed me why it’s not just my sponsor’s “thing,” why the Twelve Traditions are important, and why he wants me to start paying attention to them.
In an alcoholic environment, it is difficult to know what is expected. Rules are often unspoken but rigidly enforced. And those rules are likely to change at any moment, without warning, at the whim of the alcoholic. The result is an atmosphere of anxious confusion. We struggle to follow these impossible rules in order to please the alcoholic or at least to keep the peace, but when we can’t keep pace with the sudden, unannounced changes, we fail. Thus, no matter how hard we try, we are always in the wrong, always subject to criticism. ~How Al-Anon Works for Friends and Families of Alcoholics, Page 104.
I break relationships. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve done as long as I can remember. People who have married me, who have committed to being with me until we die, have left. Even my relationship with my mother is broken. Like my sponsor, my inability to relate is what drove me to Al-Anon. I knew that if I continued living without recovery, when my children were no longer legally required to live in my home, they would maybe leave and not come back. I knew this because it’s what I did when I was a young adult, in a broken relationship with my parents and siblings due to alcoholism and codependency.
Despite my recovery work, my disease still rears its ugly head, trying hard to destroy my close relationships. I have made progress, but still have a very long road of recovery ahead of me–I will continue to work my steps. However, this morning I finally understand that when it comes to close relationships, I should also be consulting the Twelve Traditions. Al-Anon refers to them as “guidelines for working, living, and growing together,” and a diverse group of Al-Anon members have done just that for an impressive 60 years now.
The Traditions are a set of guidelines that hold our program together. They advise us about how to avoid involving ourselves in anything that might interfere with our common interests, and they help us to remain focused on our purpose. They suggest ways to make groups decisions that are int he best interest of all concerned and provide a structure that is based on spiritual principles. . . .
Many of us have never learned how to get along harmoniously with others. We don’t know how healthy families operate. We are surprised but grateful to find that these spiritual guidelines can also help our personal lives. Just as they can provide unity within our meetings, they can help us have healthier, more positive relationships. ~Pages 104-105.
By way of example, Tradition One is all about maintaining unity with one another. It states, “Our common welfare should come first; personal progress for the greatest number depends upon unity.” It seems a simple, easy to grasp guideline.
Unity is scriptural. For instance, in Ephesians 4, Paul writes, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” He writes that we are able to do so because Christ “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3).
How much simpler could that be? And yet, not easy at all. As soon as I feel slighted, or my abandonment issues are triggered, or I don’t seek Father regularly, or I get hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or unmedicated, unity goes out the window. I completely forget that we’re on the same side, and begin to prepare my defenses, or worse yet, plan my attack. I begin to fortify my protective walls, thus alienating the very people who are closest to me, who always have my back, who have always been on my team. When I do this to the people I love, and who love me, I am breaking trust with them, and in the process, slowly destroying the relationship.
I desperately want to break this pattern of relating, but cannot do it by myself. The first step is recognizing the unhealthy patterns in me, and understanding the better way of relating. The Traditions help me with this part. But the next step is real life change, and the Holy Spirit does that one, if I will let him do it. The breakdown of these unhealthy behavior patterns is spiritual growth, and only the Spirit can initiate and sustain it. My part is to take part in the means of growth regularly and consistently; in other words, work my program.
Father, you say it is You who works in me “to will and to act in order to fulfill [Your] good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). I pray for your continued work in me, that I would cooperate with you and allow you to work, and that I would grow in my ability to relate with other people. I pray for all my close relationships, especially those I have with my three children, that you would protect those relationships from my disease, and from my sinful nature. Please sustain my relationships and help them to fulfill good work for your Kingdom, despite my shortcomings.