Family and friends of addicts and alcoholics suffer as well and will go to any lengths for their loved ones. Our addiction is to the alcoholic/addict. We want them to be okay and have a full life and survive. So we try to set up their life and circumstances in such a way that he/she will be successful, content, busy enough, have the right group of friends, etc. so that they are not tempted. We just want them to be okay. We become consumed with their well-being, and we forget to take care of ourselves. Everything else in our lives becomes secondary. However, the desire for any one of us to get better must come from deep within. We all have to arrive at that place on our own. No matter the degree of wanting something for somebody else, it never seems to suffice. Acceptance of this idea is the biggest challenge for parents, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives and significant others. For some it seems like am impossible feat.
In my experience, letting my loved ones figure things out empowers them to a sense of freedom and ability to manage their own lives. My interference essentially has sent the wrong message. I believed my way worked and that theirs did not. We can strip them of thinking we believe in them. I know I did. How demoralizing my behavior was. What did work was getting help myself. I had to pause and reconsider my actions and trust that they will figure out things in their own time and in their own way. They figured out very creative ways to get their solution in a drink or drug, and they are able to find a solution to living life. But it takes action on all of our parts to have a different result. If nothing changes, then nothing changes. As family and friends, we do not have to detach without love, we detach with love and in a reasonable way so that we can offer helpful assistance and not debilitating assistance. The question I have to ask myself is: Is my helpful being helpful? How do I define helpful? That is something to consider.
One of the biggest challenges for families and friends is to see our own need for help. We can clearly see that that the alcoholic or addict needs helps, but we can’t see how distorted our own lives have become and how our very being is rooted and grounded in the well-being of others. They need us to be well and the idea that has worked in my life is that if you really and truly want your loved one to get better, get involved in your own recovery.
The question is how did I come to these realizations? Well first, I will tell you a little bit of why it became a necessity to find help. I grew up in a family of five and my Mom died when I was thirteen years old. Life became very chaotic and unmanageable. All of a sudden the rules were different, and we all had new roles to play in terms of family dynamics. We all have memories of listening to Dad crying himself to sleep every night for years. In order for Dad to manage life and his grief, alcohol became his solution. My brother left for college the year after Mom died and my older sister spent as little time at home as possible. That left me with Dad and feeling the need to be at home with him. I fell into the care-taking role. I thought that it was my job to make everything okay for him. I did not spend much time with friends or doing any social activities because I had to ensure he was okay and be available for him whenever possible. I lost myself in this and never found myself until much later in life. In some respects, I became the surrogate spouse and spent my life trying to anticipate and meeting his needs. I thought this was the way of getting the family in balance. At the time, it seemed like the arrangement was a good one because his needs were being met and I was feeling useful, important, and loved. So this set up a pattern of behavior, and I thought it was my job to take care of others and be their answer or solution. After all, it worked so well with Dad! However, the truth was is that I felt isolated for a good part of my life, and I had confusion over my identity and where I fit in or where I belonged became a resounding voice in my head.
As a result of my alienation from friends and family and not really feeling like I belonged anywhere, I sought out a solution and to be part of something. In my sophomore year of college, I was introduced to a campus ministry which I was involved with for ten years. I lived in a community with them, went to Bible studies, led teen ministries, worshipped with them. I was 100% committed. I lost connection with my biological family as a result of being in this group. It was intense and my family was at a loss. I realized in the latter years of my involvement, that it was in fact a cult and it was extremely difficult to leave it. They had become the substitute for my family. I was thirsty for connection and feeling like I was a part of something. The need to be needed was the motivating force in my life and a large part of being in this ministry was to help others. However, it was more than the idea of helpfulness, it became all consuming and I had no time for anything else or anybody else. My focus was solely on “saving others.” So the pattern that had developed in my family years prior was being re-created with this group.
I managed to move on from this period in my life, and I got involved with and later married a sober alcoholic and drug addict. She eventually started using again, but is now a recovered alcoholic who strives to help others. My patterns of behavior that I learned early in life became the framework of how all my future relationships rolled. I was the ultra-responsible spouse who did the food shopping, laundry, cleaned the house, and did all the cooking. Did I mention it had to be perfect? My married life in terms of my responsibilities was a mirror of how I had grown up and it was all in order. It was all in order externally, but internally I was empty. We then opened our home to a struggling family member who was an active alcoholic and had two weeks of sobriety under her belt when she moved in. Again, my need to fix and manage her life became my number one job and might I say obsession! The pattern continued.
At this point I started to feel really out of balance. I was physically tired, emotionally drained, and I had no idea who I was. I had no interests or passions other than being the care-taker or getting involved in situations or circumstances that were none of my business. I was restless, irritable, and discontented and really needed a solution in my life.
I was introduced to a group of family and friends of alcoholics and addicts, and they used the book Alcoholics Anonymous as their guide for living. I learned all about the alcoholic and learned how to have compassion for them. I walked into this meeting with a lifetime of bottled up anger and resentment, and I honestly thought that this would be a lifetime condition. I was such a victim of my circumstances, yet truly a volunteer! Over and over again, I was the one who got the ball rolling and participated when I wasn’t even invited! I learned about my own addiction and how once I got an idea in my head, I could not let it go or I could not let that person go. I was addicted to the alcoholic. The 12 Steps that are outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous changed my life. I just needed to be willing and try something different. Today my life is full and has purpose and I no longer feel apart from but a part of, and I have hope!