A member's view:
Learning detachment started for me with the first of the Twelve Steps of Al-Anon—admitting that I was powerless over my daughter’s choice to drink or to abstain, admitting that I had been trying to control the uncontrollable. The gradual acceptance of my powerlessness brought relief and the recognition of another way to live and to love rather than exhausting myself in misguided attempts to “save” the alcoholics in my life. The first of these was my older sister.
As a child, growing up in my warm, affectionate and enmeshed family where our closeness tended to blur individual boundaries, I came to believe that loving my parents and siblings meant not only caring about them but suffering when they suffered, and like the heroic dogs I read about in books, never leaving their bedsides if they were ill. Though I had no idea how to solve her problems, I felt pangs of guilt for happily playing outdoors when my big sister was unhappy. By the time I was a young adult, she and I had switched roles. Out of fear for her safety I became the big sister, trying to reason her out of some reckless plan, coax her out of thoughts of suicide, and repeatedly trying get her to go to AA. Once in a while my tactics seemed to work, but it was always temporary. As I was trying to push my sister into AA, I was also resisting Al-Anon. I was overwhelmingly busy and too tired to go to meetings. Of course there was no time; I was trying to live both my life and hers! It was years before I recognized this irony.
When my adult daughter went into an alcohol recovery program, I finally came to Al-Anon where I have had the experience of what it means to detach with love. It is a continuing process, both difficult and enlightening. I have learned there are no easy rules or formulas, and no one else can tell me exactly what to do in a given situation, but by following the Al-Anon principles, talking to my sponsor and friends in the program, the concept of detachment, which started as an intellectual understanding, has gradually become part of my emotional experience and behavior. Although it is still sometimes trial and error, I am learning how to give my daughter encouragement and support rather than trying to change her, rescue her or give advice. The better I get at detachment, the more loving and lighthearted our time together becomes. Although I first needed to learn detachment because of the alcoholics I loved, it is now a guiding principle in many other situations, one of the powerful Al-Anon principles that, as our Twelfth Step says, “ we practice in all our affairs.”