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Al-Anon: Making people aware without breaking confidences

January 18, 2001

Al-Anon: Making people aware without breaking confidences



By KEVIN CLAPP / Staff Writer

For information on Al-Anon and Alateen meeting dates and times in Washington and Frederick counties, call 301-293-3803.

Information on Al-Anon or Alateen meetings in Pennsylvania and West Virginia is available by calling the international headquarters at 1-888-425-2666 Mondays to Fridays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., or go to www.al-anon.alateen.org on the Web.

Here is the quandary facing Al-Anon: Spreading the word about their existence without betraying confidences and anonymity.

"It's an ongoing challenge just to make people aware that we're here," says Mary Lou, director of public outreach for Al-Anon's international headquarters in Virginia Beach, Va.

A nonprofit organization dependent on volunteer support, there is not a lot of funding available for splashy public relations campaigns.

The 55-member staff in Virginia Beach produces posters and public service announcements, but they can only do so much with limited resources. As a result, they rely heavily on volunteers at the district level.

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At Washington County Free Library, Al-Anon books and pamphlets are available. A hotline for people to call for meeting information is published in the phone book.

Where Al-Anon needs to boost awareness most is with those professionals - physicians, teachers, clergy - who can suggest Al-Anon to people they think would benefit from it, according to Jolene, a three-year Al-Anon member. Al-Anon statistics show more than 50 percent of members were referred to the group by a professional.

It's also important not to beat yourself up if you didn't recognize symptoms of alcoholism and your role in it before attending meetings, participants say. Often, even trained professionals don't see warning signs or behaviors when it happens to them.

"When the situation is in their own family, they don't see it. They don't recognize what they're doing," Jolene says. "When you're inside it ,you don't have that perspective. Somehow you just don't see it."

Prospective members should not to be afraid of giving it a try, participants say.

Washington and Frederick make up District Two, one of 25 Al-Anon districts in the area that stretches between Frostburg, Md., and Washington, D.C., including Baltimore. Mary, an alternate district representative for District Two, says that new members should prepare to give Al-Anon at least six-week trial commitment.

"Six weeks isn't enough, but it's a start," she says. "It takes awhile to heal. We don't realize the devastating effects over the years and what they can do to us."

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