10 Things to Stop doing if you Love an Alcoholic
Place the Problem in a Different Perspective
Those of us who live or have lived with active alcoholics or addicts find that we have been deeply affected by the experience. Many times, the frustration and stress that we feel can be caused by our own actions and choices. By adjusting our approach and our attitude towards the problem, we find that we can place it in a different perspective, so that it no longer dominates our thoughts and our lives.
Here are 10 things that you can stop doing that may help relieve the pressure.
It's typical for alcoholics to try to blame their drinking on circumstances or others around them, including those who are closest to them. It's not unusual to hear an alcoholic say, "The only reason I drink is because you..." Don't buy into it. If your loved one is truly an alcoholic, they are going to drink no matter what you do or say. It's not your fault. They have become dependent on alcohol, and nothing is going to get between them and their drug of choice.
Taking It Personally
When alcoholics promise they will never drink again, but a short time later are back to drinking as much as always, it is easy for family members to take the broken promises and lies personally. You may tend to think, "If they really love me, they wouldn't lie to me." But if they have become truly addicted to alcohol, their brain chemistry may have changed to the point that they are completely surprised by some of the choices they make. They may not be in control of their own decision making.
Trying to Control It
Many family members of alcoholics naturally try everything they can think of to get their loved one to stop drinking. Unfortunately, this usually results in leaving the alcoholic's family members feeling lonely and frustrated. You may tell yourself that surely there is something that you can do, but the reality is not even alcoholics can control their drinking, try as they may.
Trying to Cure It
Make no mistake about it; alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is a primary, chronic and progressive disease that sometimes can be fatal. You are not a healthcare professional. You are not a trained substance-abuse counselor. You just happen to love someone who is probably going to need professional treatment to get healthy again. That's the alcoholic's responsibility, not yours. You can't cure a disease.
Covering It Up
There is a joke in recovery circles about an alcoholic in denial who screams, "I don't have a problem, so don't tell anyone!" Alcoholics typically do not want anyone to know the level of their alcohol consumption because if someone found out the full extent of the problem, they might try to help! If family members try to "help" the alcoholic by covering up for their drinking and making excuses for them, they are playing right into the alcoholic's denial game. Dealing with the problem openly and honestly is the best approach.
Accepting Unacceptable Behavior
It usually begins with some small incident that family members brush off with, "They just had too much to drink." But the next time, the behavior may get a little bit worse and then even worse. You slowly begin to accept more and more unacceptable behavior. Before you realize it, you can find yourself in a full-blown abusive relationship. Abuse is never acceptable. You do not have to accept unacceptable behavior in your life. You do have choices.
Having Unreasonable Expectations
One problem in dealing with an alcoholic is that what might seem like a reasonable expectation in some circumstances, might be totally unreasonable with an addict. When alcoholics swear to you and to themselves that they will never touch another drop, you might naturally expect that they are sincere and they won't drink again. But with alcoholics, that expectation turns out to be unreasonable. Is it reasonable to expect someone to be honest with you when they are incapable of even being honest with him or herself?
Living in the Past
The key to dealing with alcoholism in the family is staying focused on the situation as it exists right now, today. Alcoholism is a progressive disease. It doesn't reach a certain level and remain there for very long; it continues to get worse until the alcoholic seeks help. You can't allow the disappointments and mistakes of the past affect your choices today, because circumstances have probably changed.
Often, well-meaning loved ones, in trying to "help," will actually do something that enables alcoholics to continue along their destructive paths. Find out what enabling is and make sure that you are not doing anything that bolsters the alcoholic's denial or prevents them from facing the natural consequences of their actions. Many an alcoholic has finally reached out for help when they realized their enabling system was no longer in place.
Putting Off Getting Help
After years of covering up for the alcoholic and not talking about "the problem" outside the family, it may seem daunting to reach out for help from a support group such as Al-Anon Family Groups. But millions have found solutions that lead to serenity inside those meetings. Going to an Al-Anon meeting is one of those things that once you do it, you say, "I should have done this years ago!"
Detachment with Love
DETACHMENT WITH LOVE: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
One of the great gifts of the addiction recovery movement is the concept of detachment with love. Originally conceived as a way to relate to an alcoholic family member, detachment with love is actually a tool that we can apply with anyone.
Al-Anon, a Twelve Step mutual-help group for friends and family members of alcoholics, pioneered the idea of detachment with love. A core principle of Al-Anon is that alcoholics cannot learn from their mistakes if they are overprotected.
That word "overprotected" has many meanings. For example, it means calling in sick for your husband if he is too drunk to show up for work. Overprotecting also means telling children that mommy didn't show up for the school play because she had to work late, when the truth is that she was at a bar until midnight.
Such actions were once labeled as "enabling," because they enabled alcoholics to continue drinking. Today, the word "adapting" is more often used because it is less blaming.
Originally, detachment with love was a call for family members to stop adapting. But as Al-Anon grew, people misunderstood detachment with love as a way to scare alcoholics into changing: "If you don't go to treatment, I'll leave you!" Such threats were a gamble that fear could force an alcoholic into seeking help.
Detachment with love means caring enough about others to allow them to learn from their mistakes. It also means being responsible for our own welfare and making decisions without ulterior motives -- the desire to control others.
Ultimately we are powerless to control others anyway. Most family members of a chemically dependent person have been trying to change that person for a long time, and it hasn't worked. We are involved with other people but we don't control them. We simply can't stop people from doing things if they choose to continue.
Understood this way, detachment with love plants the seeds of recovery. When we refuse to take responsibility for other people's alcohol or drug use, we allow them to face the natural consequences of their behavior. If a child asks why Mommy missed the school play, we do not have to lie. Instead, we can say, "I don't know why she wasn't here. You'll have to ask her."
Perhaps the essence of detachment with love is responding with choice rather than reacting with anxiety. When we threaten to leave someone, we're usually tuned in to someone else's feelings. We operate on raw emotion. We say things for shock value. Our words arise from blind reaction, not thoughtful choice.
Detachment with love offers another option -- responding to others based on thought rather than anxiety. For instance, as parents we set limits for our children even when this angers them. We choose what we think is best over the long term, looking past children's immediate emotional reaction.
In this sense, detachment with love can apply whenever we have an emotional attachment to someone -- family or friend, addicted or sober. The key is to stop being responsible for others and be responsible to them -- and to ourselves