An illness of this sort – and we have come to believe it an illness – involves those about us in a way no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of all the things worth while in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferer’s. It brings misunderstanding, fierce resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of blameless children, sad wives and parents – anyone can increase the list. We hope this volume will inform and comfort those who are, or who may be affected. There are many. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 18)
With those of us working the Twelve Steps who suffer from drug or alcohol addictions this may be painfully obvious. This also applies to many other addictions in a similar manner. For those of us reading this who are the friends or family of an addict or alcoholic you may or may not understand what this passage is trying to communicate.
Elsewhere in the Alcoholics Anonymous book (which was the origin of all things Twelve Step) it uses this description of the alcoholic specifically which translates to all addictions also:
The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted. Selfish and inconsiderate habits have kept the home in turmoil. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 82)
If you are the friend or loved one of a person that is and addict or an alcoholic their using does not just create problems in his or her life. This person’s sickness rips through the lives of every person in contact with him or her creating problems for all.
If you are one of these loved ones, one point that you must completely understand is that, “YOU CANNOT CHANGE ANOTHER PERSON!” They have to change themselves or at the least allow you to give the input that they will use in changing. If you want to force another person (especially an addict or alcoholic) to change it will end only in great disappointment for you.
The real question is what, should you do as the friend or loved one of an addict or alcoholic. Another point to remember is that, “ALTHOUGH YOU CANNOT CHANGE ANOTHER PERSON, YOU CAN ALWAYS CHANGE YOURSELF!” Start working on you.
One great way to begin is to learn as much as you can about the addiction or alcoholism, about recovery, and about what parts you play in the person’s problems as well as what parts you have nothing to do with. The passage we started with from page 18 stated:
We hope this volume will inform and comfort those who are, or who may be affected. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 18)
The Book was not only written for the person in recovery to read and learn from, but also for all of the people around that person to gain an understanding of the person and the process of change. There are specific chapters in the book written directly: To Wives, to The Family Afterwards and To Employers. The rest of the information in the book also informs the friends and loved ones also.
However, not only should those around the addict or alcoholic be informed about these things there is more that recovery has to offer to them.
Though an alcoholic does not respond, there is no reason why you should neglect his family. You should continue to be friendly to them. The family should be offered your way of life. Should they accept and practice spiritual principles, there is a much better chance that the head of the family will recover. And even though he continues to drink, the family will find life more bearable. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 97)
The “spiritual principles” spoken of here are the ones outlined in the 12 Steps. The family ought to work the program also for 3 reasons:
- To just grow in a more healthy way of living
- There is a better chance that the friend or loved one will recover if those around him or her are making the same changes and going through the same struggles to be better
- No matter what the person in recovery or in need of recovery does, it will be more manageable for the friends and loved ones who do the Steps.
As for the person in recovery who does not want to involve his or her friends or loved ones in the process because: “That is all the past,” “It is embarrassing” “I’ve already put them through enough” etc, their involvement is not optional, it is a part of the recovery process.
Sometimes we hear an alcoholic say that the only thing he needs to do is to keep sober. Certainly he must keep sober, for there will be no home if he doesn’t. But he is yet a long way from making good to the wife or parents whom for years he has so shockingly treated. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 82)
If either the person in recovery or the friends and family are under the impression that all that is needed is to abstain from the addiction or alcohol the person thinking this way is part of the problem instead of being part of the solution.
The bottom line for the friends and loved ones: Regardless of the person’s openness to the recovery process, start working on you and with others who have been in the same position as you. You must start working on yourself and you will find not only growth for yourself, but you will be an example to this person and you will know how to help that person understand the process. You may also learn how to better deal with this person recovery or no recovery.