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Grief and Loss – This page is dedicated to people grieving the loss of someone they love due to death from alcoholism or alcohol-related problems.

 

Alcoholism creates grief and loss in many ways, for all who are affected by it. Family members and friends may experience loss of relationships, financial security, homes, jobs, health, hopes, dreams, self-esteem, dignity, and other important tangible and intangible things. Sometimes alcoholism ends tragically, in death of the alcoholic from the disease or from related conditions. The grief process for family members and friends who experience the death of a loved one due to alcoholism can often be especially difficult and painful due to the types of experiences and the mixture and complexity of feelings and emotions that may have preceded and/or surrounded the death, the circumstances that caused death, the general lack of understanding about alcoholism that is prevalent in our society, and the stigma, secrecy and shame that unfortunately often accompany the disease of alcoholism.

 

How can Al-Anon/Alateen help

Other Resources

Al-Anon/Alateen Literature

Professionals say -

Member Stories

 

How can Al-Anon/Alateen help? In Al-Anon and Alateen, we do not tell others what they “should have” done or “should” do now or later, or how they “should” think or feel. Members share their own experience, strength, and hope with each other.  We share about what has personally helped us to recover. No one can take away another person’s pain, but here are some of the ways that Al-Anon/Alateen may be able to help a person who has lost a loved one due to alcoholism:

¨      Al-Anon/Alateen meetings: Al-Anon/Alateen meetings provide an opportunity to share even the deepest, most painful grief in a safe, caring, non-judgmental place, and receive understanding and support.  You can hear from others who have struggled with problems of alcoholism as well. At an Al-Anon/Alateen meeting, you can find an opportunity for emotional release, a place where it is OK to share feelings, an antidote to isolation, listeners who understand and empathize without judging or providing advice, sharing from others who have been deeply affected by another person’s alcoholism, and a program that can help you deal with many life problems, including grief.  Al-Anon is a fellowship of men and women whose lives have been affected by someone else’s alcohol use. You do not need to be certain whether or not your loved one was an alcoholic. If you think Al-Anon/Alateen may possibly be helpful for you, you will be welcome.

 

¨      Al-Anon/Alateen members: In Al-Anon and Alateen, you will find people who care and empathize. There are others in Al-Anon/Alateen who have experienced the death of a loved one from alcoholism, and many more who have lived with or live with the fear of losing their alcoholic loved one to this disease. The people you meet at an Al-Anon/Alateen meeting may not have had the exact same experiences as you, but they understand the toll alcoholism takes on those who live with its effects, and they have found ways to cope. It can help to talk to and hear from others who have lived with the effects of alcoholism. Also, while many communities have Al-Anon meetings every day of the week and often at various times of the day – you may need to have an outlet for your grief and want someone to talk with at other times. Many meetings have phone lists of members who are willing to share their number to receive calls outside of meeting times. An Al-Anon/Alateen sponsor can provide additional support; most meetings have members willing to sponsor newer members. 

 

¨      Al-Anon/Alateen literature: Al-Anon/Alateen literature describes what members have learned about alcoholism and how they have coped with its effects. Some “conference approved” Al-Anon/Alateen literature specifically deals with or describes members’ experiences with the death of a family member or friend from the effects of this disease. Program literature can offer comfort as well as helpful and practical information. Some suggestions for Al-Anon literature are below.

 

¨      Learning about our loved one’s disease – and understanding our role in it: Sometimes death from alcoholism comes after a long struggle with the disease. Other times, death may come so suddenly and unexpectedly that family members and friends may not have been aware that their loved one had an alcohol problem, or that an alcoholic in recovery had relapsed.  In Al-Anon/Alateen, our first Step happens when we gain an understanding that we are “powerless over alcohol.” Family members/friends often feel responsible for their loved one’s problems with alcohol, and often the grief experienced by family members and friends over losing a loved one to this disease is complicated by guilt over what we feel we should have done, or not done. The alcoholic may have blamed us for their problems, or others who do not understand alcoholism may blame us.  Maybe we had an argument, after which our partner left the house and died in a drunk driving accident. Maybe we told our child that he/she could no longer live in our home unless he/she went to treatment, and he/she later died, homeless. Maybe we bailed our partner out of jail, and he/she overdosed that same night. Maybe we threatened to leave our spouse, and he/she committed suicide. Maybe we did everything we could do to try to help our loved one and were not able to save him/her. Maybe we did not intervene, and feel we should have. The possibilities for remorse, regret, self-recrimination, and self-blame over what we did or did not do are endless - but misplaced. Al-Anon/Alateen helps us understand that in reality, we do not have the power to control the progression, consequences and outcome of our loved one’s alcohol use. Often the actions we took were the only way we could allow our loved one to experience the consequences of his or her behaviors and thus have the opportunity to become motivated to change. Often our actions or reactions occurred simply because we are human. What we learn and experience in Al-Anon/Alateen can help us to gain perspective, and to stop our preoccupation with the “what if’s” and “if only’s” that keep us from acceptance and healing.  The Al-Anon/Alateen program can help us understand the disease of alcoholism – and come to understand and feel in our hearts that our actions or inactions were not responsible for the outcome and consequences of a loved one’s use of alcohol. 

 

Life with an alcoholic can be difficult, and the memories we have of our loved one may include arguments, threats, violence, lying, dishonesty, hurtful words or actions or events that are painful for us to recall and to live with. The last time that we spent with our loved one may have been bitterly unhappy. The Al-Anon/Alateen Steps and principles can help us come to terms with our often painful feelings and memories and to gain perspective that enables us to recall and be comforted by the good memories that we have.

 

¨      Learning about ourselves: Al-Anon/Alateen can help us to acknowledge, understand, and accept the losses we have experienced as a result of someone else’s alcoholism. Al-Anon/Alateen Steps and principles can help us learn about ourselves and understand our feelings and reactions, and to come to terms with the complicated emotions that may surround our loss. For example, grief may be complicated by anger – at our loved one, at others, at our God or Higher Power, or at ourselves. We may struggle with forgiving our loved one, ourselves, our Higher Power or others.  The Al-Anon/Alateen Steps and other program tools may not at first appear to be at all what we need when we have lost a loved one, but many members find that when they have been in Al-Anon/Alateen for awhile and are ready to work the Steps, the process helps them come to terms with whatever troubles them, gain acceptance and healing, and move on with their lives in a productive way. 

 

Other Resources:

Al-Anon/Alateen does not recommend specific resources for other sources of help – but Al-Anon/Alateen encourages members to use whatever outside resources may be helpful to themselves and their families. Individual and family counseling; peer or professionally-facilitated grief support groups; support from family and friends; spiritual guidance, counseling or support; literature, books or self-help workbooks; Internet resources and other resources have been helpful to Al-Anon/Alateen members experiencing loss. Some people find comfort and healing in talking with others about their loved one; from journaling, other forms of writing, scrapbooking, art or other creative expression; from creating a tribute, legacy or memorial to honor and remember their loved one; from developing a family ritual or other practice that helps them to recall and re-experience loving memories and moments; from becoming involved in volunteer or service work or other ways of helping others; from finding physical and emotional outlets that help reduce the tensions in their mind and body; or from other activities that help them to heal and to regain a feeling of purpose and meaning in their own lives and from the life of their loved one. There are times when we want to be with others and times when we want to be alone. When others want to help but are not sure of what to say or do, you can let them know what you need, from just being there to listen to helping with such necessities as funeral arrangements, chores, child care or other needs. We all deserve help.

 

Al-Anon/Alateen Literature

Al-Anon Family Groups publishes books, meditation books, pamphlets and brochures that can be helpful for members struggling with grief and loss. Some deal specifically with grief and loss, or include stories from members who have experienced loss due to alcoholism. Reading stories from others who are coping with the effects of alcoholism can help others suffering similar losses to feel less alone. These Al-Anon/Alateen publications may be helpful to members who have experienced the death of a family member, friend or other loved one due to alcoholism:

¨      “Opening Our Hearts, Transforming Our Losses.” Item number B-29. This book addresses issues of grief and loss related to alcoholism, and includes stories from members who have lost a loved one due to alcoholism.

¨      “In All Our Affairs: Making Crises Work For You.” Item number B-15. This book includes a few stories written by members who have lost a loved one due to alcoholism.

¨      Other Al-Anon/Alateen literature includes references to death of loved ones from alcoholism, e.g. the meditation book “Courage to Change” (item number B-16) includes two sharings from bereaved members, “How Al-Anon Work for Families and Friends of Alcoholics” (item number B-22) includes stories from members who have lost loved ones to alcoholism, “Hope For Today (item number B-27,) an Al-Anon meditation book for adult children of alcoholics, includes a few items on death of a parent from alcoholism, and there are many items of Al-Anon literature that include sharings that may be comforting to members experiencing grief and loss even if not specific to their situation.

Please see our Literature page for information on finding Al-Anon/Alateen literature.

 

What do professionals say about how Al-Anon can help people experiencing grief and loss?

We asked professionals who practice in the District 5 area to share their professional experience of how Al-Anon can help people experiencing grief and loss related to another person’s alcoholism. {Please note: per Al-Anon’s Traditions 6 and 10, Al-Anon has no opinions about, is not affiliated with and does not endorse any outside enterprises or organizations, and does not support or oppose any matters outside of the Al-Anon program. The opinions expressed in this section are those of the writers; their inclusion does not imply endorsement of any organization, business, practice, religion, denomination or publication.} We are grateful to all who have shared their professional experiences with Al-Anon on this web site!

¨      The Multiple Losses of Alcoholism” contributed by Nancy Quay, LMSW; Life Coach and Psychotherapist, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

¨      Helping a Grieving Friend during the Holidays” contributed by Janice Firm, LMSW; Clinical Social Worker, Department of Social   Work, University of Michigan Hospital.

¨      How Can We Help Ourselves Cope With and Work Through Our Grief, Especially During the Holidays?” contributed by Janice Firm, LMSW; Clinical Social Worker, Department of Social Work, University of Michigan Hospital.

 

Member’s Stories

Despite our differences, members of Al-Anon find that we find we have much in common. Although our stories differ, we share an understanding that cannot be found anywhere else. Please see our Member’s Stories page for additional personal accounts written by Al-Anon members. The following stories have been contributed by Al-Anon members who have lost a loved one due to alcoholism or related causes. We are grateful to the authors for sharing their experience, strength and hope on this page.

 

District 5 Al-Anon members and District 5 web site visitors share their personal stories:

¨      Barb’s Story 2. (written in 2008. Please note: Barb contributed another story in 2006, posted on our Stories page.) 

-   If you would like to contribute your personal story involving grief and loss, please contact us!

 

Al-Anon Member’s Stories from the Forum, Al-Anon’s monthly magazine:

¨      My son’s suicide – the ultimate price of my family’s struggle with alcoholism.

¨      On the other side of grief and loss.

¨      Focusing on myself helped me heal.

¨      Celebrating anniversaries, making amends.

¨      Daddy’s little girl again – making peace with my father. 

Stories from the Forum are reprinted here with permission of ©Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA.

 

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