I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately – how things used to be and how things are today. It’s like black and white TV versus color. My life before I got sober is almost unrecognizable to me. On August 28th, I celebrated two years of sobriety and my husband would agree that the last two years have been the best of our almost 10 year marriage. I often wonder why me? Why was I one of the lucky ones who got to this point? The only thing I can come up with is by the grace of God. And, a husband who said, enough is enough.
In just the past couple of weeks, I’ve been approached by a number of people who are worried about a family members drinking. “What do I do?” they ask. “How can I get them to stop?” It’s really the million dollar question. And, I don’t pretend to have the answer. I can only share with them what I know from my experience and what worked for me. And, a few things I’ve learned along the way from Al-Anon.
First and foremost, you cannot make someone stop drinking.
But, you can take control of your environment and how you react to someone’s drinking. Believe me, you can yell at a person, bribe them and threaten them until you’re blue in the face and it’s not going to make them quit. The problem I see most often, is that the family has allowed the person who is drinking to have total control over their environment. I know because I did the same thing when I was drinking. Everyone tip-toes around the issue because God forbid you create a stir. No one wants to make an “issue” out of it despite the fact that the “issue” is ruining everyone’s life! People become so wrapped up in the drinker’s life, that they forget they have their own life to live. And, so the cycle begins: denial – enabling – denial – enabling. And, so on.
It’s a vicious cycle and the ones who get hurt the most are the family members. Heck, the drinker doesn’t care because they’re going along their happy way doing what they’ve always done. They have you right where they want you. Fearful and feeling helpless.
So, what do you do? You say enough is enough. You create boundaries. You tell the drinker you love them, but you do not love their drinking. You take control of your life and do what you need to do to reclaim a healthy environment for you and your family. Despite the fear of the unknown or the fear of others finding out your family’s “secret,” you reach out for help. If you’re living with the drinker, you pack up your things and leave. “But, I don’t have anywhere to go.” Yes, you do. There is ALWAYS a place to go or someone to call.
Alcoholism is a family disease. Living with the effects of someone else’s drinking is too devastating for most people to bear without help. – Al-Anon
When my husband sat me down and asked me if I was ready to stop drinking for good, I finally knew I had come to a fork in the road. I could either continue drinking and lose my marriage, my kids and everything I loved, or I could get help and stop drinking. For me, that’s what it took. For others, they might have to lose everything before they get to the point where they want to stop drinking. It’s not our decision to make as family members. First and foremost, we take care of ourselves and strive to live happy and joyous lives.
In Al-Anon we learn:
- Not to suffer because of the actions or reactions of other people
- Not to allow ourselves to be used or abused by others in the interest of another’s recovery
- Not to do for others what they can do for themselves
- Not to manipulate situations so others will eat, go to bed, get up, pay bills, not drink or behave as we see fit
- Not to cover up for another’s mistakes or misdeeds
- Not to create a crisis
- Not to prevent a crisis if it is in the natural course of event
“By learning to focus on ourselves, our attitudes and well-being improve. We allow the alcoholics in our lives to experience the consequences of their own actions.”
And, to those of you who drink or use, let me say this: you are not a bad person. More than likely, you have the disease of alcoholism or addiction. But, you want to know the really good news? Unlike cancer or other diseases, it’s curable. Yes, a curable disease! How did we get so lucky?! All you have to do is reach out and ask, and you will find the keys to the cure.
Before I end, let me ask those of you who drink or use two important questions that my husband once asked me. 1) What are you willing to lose in order to continue drinking or using and 2) Is the drink or drug more important to you than those you love? You would think those would be simple questions, but I had to think long and hard before answering them. Remember this, even those who love us can only take so much before they break.