Support for the Supporters
Reprinted from "Alcohol" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 2 (9), p. 31-32
Have you ever tried to stop a loved one from the compulsive, selfdestructive drinking of alcohol? Do you feel that you are the only one in the world with this problem? Are you angry when promises to stop drinking are broken? Do you feel that you are responsible for the drinker’s behaviour?
Let me assure you that you are not alone. Feeling responsible for an alcoholic’s behaviour is common in relationship dynamics with a person who has the disease of alcoholism—a disease that can be arrested, but not cured.
Like many others, I felt that everything I did and everything I did not do set my partner off on a drinking spree, and I didn’t know what to do, what to say or how to react. That lasted until I attended my first Al-Anon meeting, where there were other people with whom I could identify. I was told that I do not cause my partner’s drinking, and that I can neither control it, nor cure it. What a relief it was to learn that!
Caring about someone who drinks alcoholically and who becomes physically or verbally abusive can turn love into hate and make you try even harder to stop the cycle. Even when an alcoholic no longer drinks, your fear that they will start drinking again causes intense stress and worry.
Al-Anon is a worldwide organization that offers a program of recovery for the families and friends of alcoholics, whether or not the alcoholic seeks help or even recognizes the existence of a drinking problem. Al-Anon Family Groups include Alateen for teenaged members. Membership is voluntary and there is no fee for participation. The only requirement is that one’s own life has been deeply affected by someone else’s drinking problem.
Al-Anon teaches that alcoholism is a family illness and that changed attitudes can aid recovery. Al-Anon has one purpose: to help the families of alcoholics. This is done by welcoming and giving comfort to families of problem drinkers and those who live or have lived with an alcoholic. Members give and receive comfort and understanding to each other through the mutual exchange of experience, strength and hope. Al-Anon members also offer understanding and encouragement to the alcoholic.
At Al-Anon we learn to accept alcoholism as a threefold disease—physical, mental and spiritual. Those who live with alcoholics generally neglect their own well-being, so Al-Anon addresses members’ health needs on these three levels.
Let me step back a bit. At 20, I married a man who was sometimes charming, but was very physically violent when he drank alcohol. Because of the violence, I divorced him.
Like many other women, I promptly set out to find another man. And I did: a fun-loving fellow I met in the Royal Canadian Legion. He told me the night we met that he was an alcoholic and had previously been a member of AA. He was intoxicated when he told me this. After a short courtship, we married.
I tried all kinds of things in an effort to make my second husband stop drinking. I poured out his liquor, cried, threatened, and on three occasions hospitalized him when I became the violent one. I neglected my own physical health, became a raging crazy lady, and stopped seeking spiritual help. For years I complained to doctors about my husband, never attending to myself.
Eventually my husband went back to Alcoholics Anonymous. Life was better, but not without a new set of problems: I was overly watchful and untrusting of him, fearing his relapse. He had been sober for six months before I was introduced to the Al-Anon 12-step program.
Al-Anon can be reached at 604-688-1716 (Vancouver) or through our headquarters at 1-888-425-2666. Much of our literature is available at public libraries. See also www.al-anon.alateen.org
We had to work hard to make our marriage work and learn how to communicate truthfully. These tasks were easier to do with the help of the AA and Al-Anon programs. The many new friends we found through these programs have helped us through the rough spots. The Al-Anon program also helped me to look after myself.
I persuaded my daughter to attend Alateen and follow the program for herself. Alateen is for children who live or have lived with a parent, sibling or grandparent who is a problem drinker. Our family became healthier in every sense, because each of us had a program to follow and to share with each other.
I encourage anyone who lives or has lived with an alcoholic to attend AlAnon, and to send younger family members to Alateen. The problem drinker does not have to be in a recovery program for family members to attend AlAnon or Alateen.
Do you need al-anon or alateen?
The following questions are designed to help you decide.1 If you answer yes to three or more of these questions, Al-Anon or Alateen may help.
Do you worry about how much someone else drinks?
Do you have money problems because of someone else’s drinking?
Do you tell lies to cover up for someone else’s drinking?
Do you feel that if the drinker cared about you,he or she would stop drinking to please you?
Do you blame the drinker’s behaviour on his or her companions?
Are plans frequently upset or cancelled or meals delayed because of the drinker?
Do you make threats such as, “If you don’t stop drinking, I’ll leave you”?
Do you secretly try to smell the drinker’s breath?
Are you afraid to upset someone for fear it will set off a drinking bout?
Have you been hurt or embarrassed by a drinker’s behaviour?
Are holidays and gatherings spoiled because of drinking?
Have you considered calling the police for help in fear of abuse?
Do you search for hidden alcohol?
Do you often ride in a car with someone who has been drinking?
Have you refused social invitations out of fear or anxiety?
Do you sometimes feel like a failure because you can’t control the drinking?
Do you think that if the drinker stopped drinking, your other problems would be solved?
Do you ever threaten to hurt yourself to scare the drinker?
Do you feel angry, confused or depressed most of the time?
Do you feel there is no one who understands your problem?
About the Author
Rose is Public Outreach Coordinator for the BC/Yukon Area Al-Anon Assembly
Al-Anon Family Groups Headquarters, Inc. (2003). Are you troubled by someone’s drinking? Al-Anon is for you! Retrieved from www.al-anon.alateen.org/pdf/S17.pdf.