I don’t claim to be an expert in AA or Al-Anon, although I have known and loved people in both. There is a healing method at the heart of Al-Anon called loving detachment which I find both compelling and challenging. Generally, it states that detachment is neither kind nor unkind. It does not imply judgment or condemnation of the person or situation from which we are detaching. Detachment allows us to let go of our obsession with another’s behavior and begin to lead happier and more manageable lives. Some the lessons learned in Al-Anon is not to do for others what they can do for themselves, not to cover up anyone’s mistakes and not to prevent a crisis if it is the natural course of events.
This is definitely counter-culture. Our culture often approaches life from a reactionary point of view, judging and obsessing over another’s choices, making them effect us so much that their poor choice becomes all about us. We are taught to take control of another person’s decisions when they cannot make them for themselves, even to the point of manipulation, in order to curb them from doing what we think they shouldn’t do. I don’t know about you, but I have found myself there before. It leaves us with shallow unchanged relationships while the other person is left with resentment and frustration.
Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t believe the alternative is to not care and completely detach. Here is part of the challenge with this method, the semantics around the word detach. But, I believe it is tempered by including the word “love”. Loving detachment is about loving the person without liking the behavior. Offering help and care where able, but realizing that ultimately the decision is theirs and theirs alone and consequently, our decisions on how to care for ourselves is ours to make as well. For me, this approach echoes the type of relationship that God and Jesus models for us, one that is loving and concerned but allows us to choose for ourselves even when our choice takes us further away from the Godhead. It can be a very hard thing to learn, and not without pain.
Years ago, I used to sing a Christian contemporary song called “Show Me How to Love”. The lyrics asked God to lead us towards understanding how to fully love, teaching us to sacrifice without expecting anything in return—that our words are not enough. Loving someone, even when we are challenged by their choices in life is exactly the kind of self-sacrifice that Jesus showed on the cross, and when we can live that love, showing that love to others, we come closer to whole and holy relationships with one another and with God