Searching and Servitude

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the gift of Al-Anon.



I’ve stumbled upon something quite brilliant and magical in the last several weeks, and I’ve gotten to the point where I think it is selfish to keep it to myself because of the phenomenal gains I’ve achieved.

This is no hustle nor pyramid scheme. This is Al-Anon.

In June I had an epiphany after, yet-again, finding myself overwhelmed by extreme anxiety and upset due to circumstances beyond my control in my own little circle of life. While the alcoholic in my little world is not under my roof, I continue to be dumbfounded by the ripple-effect of one person’s choices on those near and far. My brain goes to the butterfly effect and Chaos Theory.


I didn’t enter the doors of Al-Anon because of that person-who-must-not-be-named.

I entered because of me. I was upset with my upset. While it dissipated quickly (thanks to years of hard work with therapy and Family Systems Theory training), I was annoyed at being upset in the first place. I was annoyed that my calm, my peace, and my joy were disrupted so easily by a single outburst that – at the end of the day – had nothing to do with me. Or, I suppose, very little to do with me.

Coincidentally, the concepts of Al-Anon overlap significantly with Family System Theory’s cornerstone concept of Differentiation of Self. Or perhaps, not so coincidentally, as it is rumored that Murray Bowen was consulted to help lay the groundwork for Al-Anon in the first place.

That reminds me (pardon the quick aside): I have, for the most part, achieved solid serenity in my relationship with my ex-husband. When something comes to the surface, and upset is directed at me, I have learned to cock my head to one side and think to myself, I wonder what is going on in his world that is causing him to kick this dog?

Me being the dog, of course.


I bet John ate Garfield’s lasagne.

My ultimate goal in life is to respond in this manner to any upset that is projected in my direction. It gets me out of the emotion, lets me take a step back, and gives me pause to consider the larger picture – including the role that I play.

FYI-zees: I also have excelled in my ability to realize when am the one kicking the dog, and what led me to kick the dog in the first place.

Which leads me to the first thing that Al-Anon taught me: The Three “C’s” when it comes to alcoholism (and, in my experience, a great deal of life):

I didn’t Cause it;

I can’t Control it;

I can’t Change it.

And, if you’ll permit me – a fourth “C” that someone added on once:

But I Contribute to it.

Woof. I contribute to it. This has been incredibly eye-opening for me. And so, I’ve spent the summer thinking about my contribution in my relationships. Not just in my relationship with my alcoholic, but in all my relationships. And my efforts to change my contribution have had significant impact; a little chaos theory in my own emotional backyard.

More than anything, I have learned some good tricks to help me to stop, breathe, and think. I’ve learned to W.A.I.T.:

What AmThinking?

Why Am Talking?

And I’ve settled, for the time being, in a trust in the universe, and in the lovely pale blue dot that I occupy, and yes – even in its inhabitants – in spite of the turmoil that befalls every second it exists. I trust it will continue to sustain me. At least for today (One Day at a Time, people).

Though my belief in a Higher Power has yet to be determined, I appreciate the intentions that underscore the tradition, and I think there is a greater purpose behind those intentions. And I’m glad to be open to the tradition, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to accept the gift that prompted this writing in the first place, and here I come to my thesis and conclusion simultaneously. I have always been a fan of the Serenity Prayer (both the abridged and original versions), but I recently learned a variation that captures the essence of all this work and I look forward to it’s effect on my life.

In an affiliate meeting of Al-Anon, Adult Children of Alcoholics (of which I am not one, but check out The Laundry List, and if any of these resonate with you, you might want to find yourself a meeting), the group I attended opened their meeting with this version that may just offer you a smidge of serenity today.

PS: I prefer to leave the “God” part off the beginning, but that’s just me. Don’t ask me who/what I’m hoping will grant Serenity to me – I haven’t figured that out yet. I suspect, though, that it’s me and my work.:

ACA serenity prayer



2 comments on “the gift of Al-Anon.

  1. Elizabeth Shulman
    January 15, 2018

    Great reflection, Colleen. I was shocked to discover how many similarities there were between AA and CPE.

    • cemmaillie
      January 17, 2018


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