When to Engage and when to Withdraw

There is something so profound in working through the steps in the larger 12 step community. For so many, it is life changing because it is truly a program of action. To work the steps literally requires "work". It means stepping out of our comfort zone in ways that we normally would never have imaged. The beauty of the program is the community of people that have gone before you and are willing to let you go at your own pace. 

Al Anon is one of those 12 step programs. In many ways, it is a program on learning how to be in relationship to others around us. The tool of detachment is one of the most helpful tools Al Anon has to offer. Al Anon has a lot to say on the subject of detachment. Detachment is the idea of stepping away when you sense chaos, control, or intensity. A phrase often used is "don't pick up the rope". The heart behind detachment is letting go of control and allowing another person to maintain "their own side of the street". Al Anon encourages detachment "in love" and not in abandonment or neglect. In a sense, it acknowledges that we are not God therefore we will step out of the way and let God be God to that other person. But it doesn't stop there. 

The program also encourages us to look at our part or "our side of the street". I believe the heart behind any 12 step program is relationship. So much of the program is about re-engaging others when there often times has been a great deal of discord. In a sense, we detach from the negative cycle / relationship in order to get our bearings in how to re-engage when it is safe and calm to do so. It is during these times that we take an honest account of our part in the relationship. It is only after this that we can really own "our part". This then allows to be ready to engage.

One the most impactful moments is often found in "making amends". It can be a very risky and vulnerable process. Re-engaging with a person puts yourself at a place of powerlessness. We really do not know how the other person will respond. Will they accept us, shame us, or ignore us? This is the real crux of relationship. We cannot control others and what they feel. But we often try by hiding our real feelings or dismissing them entirely. So much of our relationship struggles are really rooted in fear. Fear isn't necessary bad and in many ways it is very good because it helps us access our needs. We need to be affirmed, valued and assured that we matter. But we really can't do this unless we make the first step by re-engaging.

All in all, the beauty of a community that practices making amends is that you get to hear stories along the way the inspire and motivate. Otherwise, we are doing it alone and life is just not made to live solo.