Forum Article – Detachment

The Forum, Al-Anon’s monthly magazine, contains many personal stories of inspiration. Articles from members present their personal views and experiences. Opinions expressed here are not attributable to Al-Anon as a whole. In keeping with Tradition Eleven, individuals are identified by first names and last initials only.

“Without detachment, I was imprisoned while my boyfriend was in jail”

I came to Al-Anon when my boyfriend was sent to jail. For the first time in my life I could not maintain the illusion of control.

TrainIt was devastating to me. I crawled on my knees into the rooms of Al-Anon. Looking back, I’m grateful that I came in that way. I grabbed the Al-Anon program and clung to it like a life raft. Doing so saved my life. came to Al-Anon when my boyfriend was sent to jail. For the first time in my life I could not maintain the illusion of control.

When my boyfriend (whom I eventually married) was in jail, I put my life on hold as if I were in jail, too. I spent hours, months, and years waiting: waiting to get in to see him, waiting for him to call, waiting for him to get out so that my life could begin again, waiting for him to get sober so that we could make plans I could count on— waiting for the life I expected to finally appear.

Finally, I had an epiphany. I am addicted to problems—especially his. I always thought I was addicted to alcoholics, but it turns out that I am drawn to alcoholics because they are a reliable source of problems—problems with jobs, money, people, the law, or their health.

I don’t believe that being attracted to problems is a bad thing in itself. I enjoy puzzles, mysteries, and conundrums. If there is a dilemma to be resolved, I’m happy to be a sounding board. But like any character trait, taking that attraction to the extreme quickly reveals its dark side. Put a problem in front of me and I might as well be an alcoholic in a dark bar with a fresh shot glowing up at him. I have a really hard time not picking it up and letting the problem consume me.

That insight gave me a new awareness of how the First Step could work in my life. I am powerless over other people’s problems. As soon as I pick them up, my life is unmanageable. Based on that new understanding, I had a vision about how my addiction to problems actually works in my life.

In my vision, I see my husband standing in the center of a pair of train tracks. In the distance, a train is approaching. As the train gets closer, I become more agitated. I start with quiet warnings, “Look, honey, a train.” That soon gives way to loud and increasingly insistent repetition until I am hysterically screaming at him, “A train, a train!” But he remains unconcerned, looking away, smiling as if at some private joke. Finally, the train is upon him. I can’t stand it anymore, and in desperation, I throw myself in front of the train. I get flattened, and he saunters away untouched—again.

“This time, I let the train rush on by. As it passed me, I felt the wind on my face, felt it blow back my hair, and knew that I was where I was supposed to be—on the platform with my Higher Power, giving my loved one the dignity of dealing with his own train.”

For years, I threw myself in front of that train, because I couldn’t stand not to do it. I didn’t know that I didn’t have to do that. Finally, with Al-Anon’s help, it became clear to me that I needed to step back and let the train hit him. After all, it is his train; I have trains of my own to deal with.

Last year, as a result of his disease, my husband had a major meltdown, broke the law, and ended up back in jail. This time, it was different. This time, I let the train rush on by. As it passed me, I felt the wind on my face, felt it blow back my hair, and knew that I was where I was supposed to be—on the platform with my Higher Power, giving my loved one the dignity of dealing with his own train.

It was very painful to watch that train take him down. But this time, I did not go to jail with my husband. I focused on my own life and found my own joy while he was exploring what I hope was his bottom. When I was tempted to intervene, to try and make things easier for him, or to try and experience his imprisonment for him or with him, I reminded myself that his choices brought him to jail—not mine.

Today, my husband has 15 months of sobriety in A.A. Was it because I finally found the strength and understanding to keep off his tracks? Who knows? What I do know is that without that crisis, and the opportunity it gave me to practice responding in a new way, I would not have learned this important lesson in detaching with love—enough love for myself, to keep me from jumping in front of other people’s trains.

By Lisa W., Pennsylvania
The Forum, April 2010

Al-Anon’s monthly magazine, The Forum, contains many personal stories of inspiration, some of which are made available each month on the Internet. This sharing was reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA.

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