Alateen group a ‘wonderful opportunity’

FORT FRANCES—The “Step With Me” Alateen group in Fort Frances is for children and teens aged 10-17 whose lives have been affected by another person’s drinking.
Although it was started locally two years ago, the group’s sponsors want other youths to know they are welcome to join—and hope adults are watching for signs of the impact of drinking on young people.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for these children,” said Marilyn (whose name has been changed for anonymity purposes). “We want the group to grow.
“If one person starts something positive, it can have a major impact and stop the cycle of abuse,” she stressed.
She noted with more than 18 million alcoholics in the United States and Canada, many children are affected by another person’s drinking—and the young people often have nowhere to turn for help.
Alateen is part of Al-Anon, but is for children and teens instead of adults. Where Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the main group, Al-Anon and Alateen are under the same umbrella.
Marilyn explained the purpose of Alateen is to bring young people together to:
•share experiences, strength, and hope with each other;
•discuss their difficulties;
•learn effective ways to cope with their problems;
•encourage one another;
•help each other understand the principles of the Al-Anon program; and
•learn how to use the 12 Steps and Alateen’s 12 Traditions.
“There is no advice-giving and we’re not trying to fix the problem,” Marilyn stressed. “It’s all about experience, strength, and hope.”
She indicated the group was started in Fort Frances by two long-term members of Al-Anon who felt a strong desire to reach out and help the community through working with the youth.
“It takes a big commitment of time, but I know how much it has changed the youths’ lives, even if they only stay a short while,” she remarked.
She noted it’s recommended a young person go to the Alateen group for six weeks before deciding whether they want to continue with it.
They can be rewarded by the parents or grandparents as a motivator, if needed, since some youths are not readily willing to seek help—and come dragging and kicking their heels.
But then they love it and it just becomes a way of life.
Others are so ready, they need only be given the information and they never miss a meeting.
“They learn they didn’t cause, and can’t control or cure, the person’s drinking,” Marilyn noted.
The youths also learn that compulsive drinking is a disease, and that they can detach themselves emotionally from the drinker’s problems while continuing to love the person, as well as many other lessons.
Every Alateen group needs two active adult members of Al-Anon to serve as sponsors. The sponsor is an active part of the group, guiding and sharing knowledge of the 12 Steps and Traditions.
Marilyn explained young people often are introduced to Alateen by concerned friends, neighbours, school counsellors, and clergy. But they also are able to join without any recommendation.
She hopes adults are aware of ways a person’s drinking can affect a child or teen.
“It comes out in many different ways,” she noted. “Some kids act out at school and home while others are really good at school because they don’t want to feel like they are giving their parents a reason to drink.”
Marilyn also said the drinking doesn’t have to be by a child’s parents. It could be grandparents, siblings, or even a friend’s drinking that is troubling them.
“And that’s not to say that these people are alcoholics. It’s their drinking that is causing a problem,” she stressed.
She indicated there are incidents across the country where teens drink and drive, and then are killed or seriously injured as a result.
The feelings others may have because of an incident such as this could be a reason to attend Alateen.
“It’s any kind of wound—how much someone is suffering and how they’ve been affected by someone else’s drinking,” Marilyn said.
“And everything is held in confidence.”
Marilyn is proud of the Alateen group here. She noted there is only one such group in all of Winnipeg, and that people from Kenora are coming here soon to see how the group works so they can start their own.
She also can see the group is very worthwhile.
“In Alateen, I have learned not to take the alcoholic’s words and actions personally. I realize that he is a sick man,” shared one teen from Pennsylvania.
“In the time that I have been here, I have found a family,” another stated. “In this family, I have found acceptance that I could not find in my real family.
“In Alateen, I can be myself and express my true feelings.”
There is no religious affiliation with Alateen, but the local group meets each Tuesday at the Church of the Holy Spirit (824 Victoria Ave.) from 6:15-7:15 p.m.
The local Al-Anon group meets following that.
For more information about Alateen, call 274-1333.
(Fort Frances Times)