Health & Fitness

Aid from Al-Anon

Twenty-one years ago, Audrea was a young mother at her wits' end. Her husband's drinking was getting progressively worse, and she felt overwhelmed by her responsibilities and unable to do anything about her life.

Then her mother-in-law suggested Al-Anon, a support group for friends and families of problem drinkers.

Audrea isn't her real first name: The traditions of Al-Anon include an assurance of personal anonymity, and she asked that the traditions be maintained for this story.

But the changes the Wichita woman experienced made her willing to talk, with the hope that others might have the same opportunity to change their lives.

She and others from Al-Anon will gather Sunday to watch "When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story," a Hallmark Hall of Fame film to be shown on CBS. It's scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.

The film, which stars Winona Ryder, isn't an Al-Anon film but it tells the story of Lois Wilson, wife of the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. She co-founded Al-Anon in 1951, long before support groups were common.

Though Al-Anon had been around for decades before Audrea found the organization, it wasn't easy for her to make contact.

"It took me months to make a call to the information line" and more time to actually go to a meeting.

But she finally did — and she kept going back.

"As I kept going, I started changing," she says. "Then, things started getting better for me," even though her husband's drinking continued to worsen.

She realized that "I didn't have to solve his problems" and that her response to his drinking was enabling him.

"I realized I didn't have to keep track of how much he was drinking — because I didn't have control over it anyway," she says.

She learned to quit expecting him to change his behavior. "Letting go of those expectations — whew. That's hard to do," she says.

She realized that alcoholism is a disease. "Al-Anon helped me come to grips with the fact that I could really hate the disease and love the man," she says.

Two and a half years after her first meeting, her husband was charged with driving while intoxicated and went into treatment.

But that's not the end of the story.

When he started treatment, "I really didn't think we were going to make it" as a couple, Audrea says.

His first year of sobriety was difficult for both of them.

But she kept going to meetings, and they stayed married. They've been married 25 years now.

"Even though he's sober, I still go to meetings," she says. "I use those principles" in dealing with her husband, their four children, her co-workers, even people in line at the grocery store.

Al-Anon isn't just for spouses, she notes. It's also for siblings and parents and adult children of alcoholics. There are separate Alateen groups for younger people.

Audrea hopes that others who find themselves in situations like the one she was in 21 years ago will watch Sunday's movie.

And then reach out for help.