By: Keith Berger, Coordinator of Family Integrated Services (The Family Guy)

Someone I care about suffers from alcoholism, addiction, and mental health challenges and I have been affected. Even though I have personally never used alcohol or other mood-and-mind altering chemicals compulsively (and I choose not to indulge in any substances for a couple of decades now), I still suffer the adverse effects of having been in close proximity to someone else’s toxicity and having to watch powerlessly as they slowly self-destruct.  Fortunately, the support available to me in the worldwide 12-Step fellowship of Al-Anon has provided me with solutions and serenity as I continue in my own recovery from this family disease and its effects, whether my loved ones choose to embrace their own recovery or not.

One of the ways I’ve been affected is that sometimes I think like an alcoholic drinks – obsessively and compulsively till I’m drunk on my thoughts and feelings and my sanity and serenity are all but washed away by the anxiety-producing chemicals in my brain.

Unlike the alcoholic who has the power to choose not to take that first drink, Al-Anon teaches me that I’m powerless over that first fearful thought – one may just show up like a snowflake fluttering down from the sky and instantly create feelings that can dictate my behaviors if I let them – but I’m also taught that I have the power to choose what to do with that first thought: do I react and add more thoughts to that first thought, attaching to it and energizing it so the snowflake becomes a blizzard and the blizzard becomes an avalanche, burying and debilitating me under its weight, leaving me to dig myself out of the crisis I’ve created… or do I pause and take a breath, giving myself the chance to respond and make the choice to brush that snowflake away or, better yet, just accept it as the single harmless snowflake it is and let it melt away as they all do in time?

Mutual support meetings, sponsorship, spiritual literature, and the application of the Twelve Steps and Traditions in my life have taught me that I have choices as to what kind of life I want to live based on the actions I take.  There is a direct cause and effect relationship between my behaviors and the state of my serenity and if serenity is indeed the “priceless gift” I hear about in every Al-Anon meeting I attend, then it seems in my best interest to treat it as such and not give it away to every thought, feeling, person or situation that might seem to challenge it.  When I ask the God of my understanding to “grant me the serenity”, it’s granted and then it’s my responsibility to guard and maintain it.  And when I forget its value and give it away (I never “lose” my serenity – I always know exactly where or to whom I gave it away), I know not to go back to the person, place, or situation to which I gave it away, because it’s simply not there for me anymore.  Instead, I go back to my Higher Power, humbly ask again and recover the serenity that’s mine to have.

Clear skies or cloudy, every season of the year, no matter what weather may be looming outside or inside, Al-Anon has given me the tools and coping skills to recover from the effects of having lived with the family disease of alcoholism.  Today I can walk through my day with serenity, knowing that feeling a few snowflakes on my face now and then can be a beautiful experience!

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