So You Love An Alcoholic
ALCOHOLISM IS AN ILLNESS
The first thing for to you acknowledge, believe, ACCEPT, is that alcoholics suffer from a real sickness--a sickness which affects all those close to them. The American Medical Association and many other authorities the world over declared the alcoholic suffers from an illness over which he or she has no control. Alcoholism is not caused by weakness of will, immorality or a desire to hurt others.
Recent scientific advances in the understanding of this disease have overthrown all the age-old ideas based on superstition, ignorance and prejudice. The success of the new approach is proved by the powerful evidence of many thousands of recovering in Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon and Alateen.
Once you have accepted the idea that alcoholism is a sickness from which compulsive drinkers and those who are about them CAN find release, you will have no reason to be ashamed of alcoholism--and no reason to fear it.
LEARN THE FACTS
Wipe your mental slate clean of everything you THINK you know about alcoholism. Then apply yourself to a LEARNING program.
If there is an alcoholism information service near you (consult the telephone book), visit it. You'll find information based on research and experience. Read everything you can get hold of. Ask for a list of books on the subject, then look them up in your public library.
You can get valuable first-hand knowledge about alcoholism by attending the OPEN meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. AA is usually listed in the telephone directory; call and ask when and where meetings will be held. If AA is not listed, consult the alcoholism information services or you doctor or clergyman. Feel perfectly free to attend these meetings. Don't hesitate because you feel you're a stranger; anyone is welcome who is interested in the problem of alcoholism. Talk to members after the meeting; you can discuss your difficulties with the people you meet there.
HELP YOURSELF NOW
Don't wait for the alcoholic to seek help before you take action on your own behalf. Anyone who is close to an alcoholic is under constant emotional strains and pressures, and needs help in relieving these. Nothing will give you greater relief than the understanding and warm-hearted help you will find in an Al-Anon Family Group. There you will, as one member put it, "learn to live again."
The Al-Anon Family Groups, Al-Anon and Alateen, are wives, husbands, children and other relatives and friends of alcoholics. If there's a group near you, you're in luck. The members are compassionate, well-informed and have first-hand knowledge of problems just like yours, because they have them, too!
Look up Al-Anon in the telephone book. If not listed, consult AA or the alcoholism information services.
Conversations with people who share your problem will convince you emotionally--as your other investigations may have convinced you intellectually--that the alcoholic is sick and not sinful. Sharing this knowledge can help you begin your own recovery.
SOME IMPORTANT "DON'TS"
Learning what not to do is an important part of the program.
Alcoholics suffer from feelings of guilt beyond anything the non-alcoholic can imagine. Reminding them of failures, neglect of the family and friends and social errors is all wasted effort. It only makes the situation worse.
The "if you loved me" approach is likewise futile. Remember that alcoholism is compulsive in nature and cannot be controlled by willpower.
Equally useless are promises, coaxing, arguments and threats. A word about the latter: DON'T THREATEN UNLESS YOU ARE PREPARED TO CARRY OUT YOUR THREAT.
Guard against a "holier than thou" attitude. Hostility and contempt cannot cure an illness and are unbecoming attitudes.
Sometimes a crisis can convince the alcoholic of the need for help -- the loss of a job, an accident or an arrest. Steel yourself against coddling and overprotectiveness as such a time. The crisis may be necessary to recovery.
Do nothing to prevent such a crisis from happening -- don't cover bad checks, pay overdue bills or go to the boss with excuses. The suffering you are trying to ease by such actions may be the very thing needed to bring the alcoholic to a realization of the seriousness of the situation -- literally a blessing in disguise.
WHEN THE ALCOHOLIC ASKS FOR HELP
Often the first sign of an alcoholic's desire to stop drinking comes at the end of a desperate and hopeless period. It may come during the remorse of a hangover, or it may be precipitated by a crisis that brings realization.
It is then that your knowledge of alcoholism, and your wiser attitudes toward the alcoholic, will pay off. To the desperate question, "What shall I do?" simply say y ou know of things that can be done. If asked for suggestions, you can then be specific, mentioning AA or whatever other source of help you may have found that is available to the alcoholic.
Remember, though, that this outcome cannot be forced. The alcoholic must be ready for help before he or she can be helped. Don't even insist the drinker use the world "alcoholic." Even such a phrase as "I might have a drinking problem" may mean acknowledgment of the need for help.
When it is clear that the alcoholic wants help, the nature of that help must be decided upon. A talk with an AA member may be the next step--not requested by you, however, but by the alcoholic.
Whatever course of action is decided upon, the decision must be the alcohlic's -- it should be plainly understood that he or she is taking the step freely.
At this time, you can help yourself by staying in close contact with your Al-Anon group.
THE ROAD BACK
During the recuperation time, remind yourself constantly that Easy Does It. Don't expect immediate, complete recovery for the drinker or the family. Alcoholism, the illness, took a long time to develop; convalescence is a slow process, too. There may be what are known as "dry drunks," emotional tensions in the alcoholic which have nothing to do with actual drinking. Try to be patient. At such times you may think things are worse than they were in the drinking days, but they're not. Patience and tolerance on your part will help these trying times to pass.
Extreme fatigue for a year or more after drinking stops may be one of the symptoms of the drinker's withdrawal from alcohol. Don't try to force things.
You can plan your own activities and continue to go to Al-Anon meetings.
Don't be overprotective. Recovering alcoholics have to learn to live in a world where alcohol is served and answer for themselves.
Guard against feelings of jealousy or resentment about the method of recovery chosen. Many alcoholics need daily AA meetings; just remember it is treatment for an illness. Try to be grateful that the alcoholic accepts treatments, even if it means his or her being away from home to be with those who can help.
Once sober, the alcoholic will have time for other activities, including AA. Try to be encouraging. As he, or she, gets rid of old drinking friends, habits and haunts, there will be time for other enthusiasm. Allow yourself, too, to be caught up in this wave of change by finding interesting activities for yourself in Al-Anon nad by helping others. You both will be on your way to a new life, each in your own way, together.
Both of you may have slips and set-backs. Don't take them seriously. Believe that a firm foundation for recovery has been laid. If you feel that either of you has made mistakes, learn from them and forget them. Let go of the disappointments and setbacks and push forward!
The way ahead is not always easy, but it can be full of rich rewards in a satisfying life for you and those you love.
© Al-Anon Family Groups Headquarters, 1974