Alcoholics Anonymous has a very clear sense that it’s purpose is to help people who have a drink problem. However, the experience of this happening very quickly showed family members that they also had been affected by someone else’s drinking and these help as well.
Out of this realisation, was born another 12 step fellowship, Al-Anon, which uses the 12-step program and the underlying experience of Alcoholics Anonymous as a way of helping family members deal with and cope with the effects of alcoholism within the family.
Singleness of purpose
As Alcoholics Anonymous began to grow, people began to believe that its 12-step program could be a spiritual solution for virtually all the problems in the world.
The co-founders of AA were very aware that this could easily become a sort of spiritual ego trip, and very quickly established what they believed was important as AA’s singleness of purpose.
This was simply an understanding that AA had a process and a program that worked for alcoholics, or people who had a drink problem and that this should always remain its only focus.
This singleness of purpose was never intended to limit the effectiveness of the 12 step program, or to make AA some sort of fundamentalist movement, but to preserve its integrity in terms of what its experience could do to help people.
The wives of AA
When AA first started, it was pretty much exclusively men, partly because it was believed that women could not be alcoholics, although thankfully, this changed over time.
The men of AA would usually meet for their regular weekly meeting in someone’s house or a church hall, whilst the wives of these men would wait in the kitchen till the meeting had finished.
As inevitably happened, the wives would talk about each other and about their husbands, and there came a realisation over time that they had problems as well that had to a large extent, been caused by their husbands alcoholism.
This realisation that they as people had been affected by someone else’s drinking or alcoholism made them aware that they could use the same 12-step program that their husbands had been using to help solve their problems, and help them grow spiritually as individuals.
Al-Anon family groups, widely known as Al-Anon, was the first 12-step fellowship to grow out of Alcoholics Anonymous, and largely consisted of the wives of members of AA, as outlined above.
They realised they had been affected in many different ways by their husbands alcoholism, and adapted the principles of AA to form their own fellowship, but with a different focus.
As time went on, Al-Anon began to realise that it was not just the wives alcoholics who had been affected, but also the children, the husbands of female alcoholics, work colleagues, friends etc.
Whilst this changing focus within Al-Anon had some tensions, the fellowship itself slowly began to acknowledge that there are many people who have been affected by someone’s alcoholism, and that if so inclined they could benefit from the 12-step principles that Al-Anon used as a recovery program.
Al-Anon has its own clear focus, that it is there to help families and friends of alcoholics, and has its own clear boundaries around this. However, there is a definite understanding between AA and Al-Anon that both12 step fellowships can help each other within these boundaries, and there is a clear crossover of experience.
Many people as individuals are members of both fellowships, but generally keep their membership separate in order to focus on the relevant singleness of purpose that both organisations adhere to.