The Shortcuts and By-paths of Friends and Loved Ones

The Shortcuts and By-paths of Friends and Loved Ones

The alcoholic, his wife, his children, his “in-laws,” each one is likely to have fixed ideas about the family’s attitude towards himself or herself. Each is interested in having his or her wishes respected. We

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find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness.

And why? Is it not because each wants to play the lead? Is not each trying to arrange the family show to his liking? Is he not unconsciously trying to see what he can take from the family life rather than give?

Cessation of drinking is but the first step away from a highly strained, abnormal condition. A doctor said to us,” Years of living with an alcoholic is almost sure to make any wife or child neurotic. The entire family is, to some extent, ill.” Let families realize, as they start their journey, that all will not be fair weather. Each in his turn may be footsore and may straggle. There will be alluring shortcuts and by-paths down which they may wander and lose their way.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 122– 123)

For the friends and loved ones around the alcoholic/addict each life is incredibly altered by the fact of having an alcoholic/addict in their world.  Some people act as if not affected, but most often this is simply a massive misconception that will only be unraveled somewhere down the road with significant amounts counseling or a significant shock to that their system.

The behaviors, thoughts, interactions etc. of the alcoholic/addict in relation to those around him/her cannot help but impact all who come in contact.

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 18)

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. We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough. He is like the farmer who came up out of his cyclone cellar to find his home ruined. To his wife, he remarked, “Don’t see anything the matter here, Ma. Ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowin’?”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 82)

These are the worst case scenarios, but all are affected to some degree or other from those who have a permanent raised eyebrow for that individual to those who suddenly feel the urge to vigorously bludgeon the person past death and past a state of rigor mortis simply because that person’s name was mentioned. 

Here is a newsflash that most of us, particularly those of us with no alcohol or addiction problems:  If you do not deal with (or have not dealt with) whatever negative effects that person’s using has had on you, YOU WILL BECOME ONE OF THE OBSTACLES TO THIS PERSONS RECOVERY AND GENERAL GROWTH IN LIFE.

You may have had no blame whatsoever in this person’s previous using, you may have been the codependent enabler of this person, or you might have been the direct cause of this person’s use, but at this moment you are either becoming a part of the solution or a part of the problem.

The person who has been building resentment for years that this person would never pay any attention to your protestations probably should not take the first moment of clarity to vomit up every injustice this person has ever done to you up to the point of dry-heaving insanity upon this person in his/her first hard fought moment of clarity.

I am not saying there is not a need for a time and a place to confront and resolve each injustice, but weaponizing your confrontation of legitimate issues for this first opportunity to act out an effective ambush is probably not the way, unless your goal is to utterly destroy this person.  If your goal is to utterly destroy this person, you need to leave this person alone and go get help NOW!

If you are the more passive, not wanting to set this person off, kind of person, that has a whole other set of issues that arise.  The fact for those of us in recovery is expressed in this passage written to help us focus our efforts to fix the past.  This is how we should be looking at dealing with you on these issues:

Under no condition do we criticize such a person or argue. Simply we tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past. We are there to sweep off our side of the street, realizing that nothing worth while can be accomplished until we do so, never trying to tell him what he should do. His faults are not discussed. We stick to our own.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 77– 78)

If we do not get better “until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past” hiding the past from us or minimizing it is the equivalent of hiding our recovery from us.  We need your true feelings and emotions to have any hope of recovery.  We need your reality to understand how to correct the filters we use for our perception of reality. 

A person working Step Nine should not be allowed to blame you or manipulate you into minimizing what you feel or what happened.  Each person in recovery needs to work on preparing to look at the worst of his/her past, preparing to do whatever is humanly possible to repair each thing in the past and desperately and vigorously use that experience as the fuel to grow to a point of never repeating the same destructive behaviors ever again.  This person is supposed to be learning to be far less self focused and more humble in a healthy and balanced way.

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! .  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

That is the task that must be undertaken at some point.  There are appropriate times and places and processes of preparation that one must work through (Step Eight for example where you work towards each amends that you actually carry out in Step Nine) before each confrontation happens, but they have to happen or the recovery process has broken down completely.  The uncomfortable process that will serve as the motivating energy behind the radical changes the Twelve Step process requires to work simply does not exist if this is not carried out properly.  The change cannot happen and if you are not changed, you are the same and can expect the same results.  That means relapse and worse!

All of this needs to be confronted at the right time, in the right way.

Now, back to the family and the passage we started with (why we are really here):

We find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness.

And why? Is it not because each wants to play the lead? Is not each trying to arrange the family show to his liking? Is he not unconsciously trying to see what he can take from the family life rather than give?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 122)

According to this passage, the alcoholic/addict in recovery may not be the only selfish and self-centered person in the mix.  This may not apply to you specifically, but each person needs to honestly ask himself/herself the question HONESTLY.  There is no excusing your self focus because that person has been more selfish or deserves it or is stupid or whatever.  Either you are being selfish and self-centered or you are not. 

If you are the person who has to confront this right now however you feel it needs to be confronted two things are evident:

  1. This confrontation has nothing to do with any aspect of helping that person get better it is all about finding some sense of victory while that person is in a weakened state.
  2. This confrontation has nothing to do with finding any real solution to the problem or you would be looking for the right time when the person would be properly prepared to really get together with you and do whatever it takes to resolve each issue. 

If you are one of the people who will act as if everything is fine and none of that mattered or the “well I just don’t want to make his recovery tougher” people:  STOP IT NOW!!!

You are robbing this person of their recovery simply so you won’t feel uncomfortable or feel responsible if they freak out.  If this person does freak out, there are really two possibilities:

  1. That person is simply not ready to deal with these issues properly yet and cannot consider his/her amends to you completed
  2. This person is so used to manipulating you that he/she can avoid any discomfort he/she perceives is related to you by manipulating you into feeling guilty until you shut-up.  (That is another area that that person would need to make amends for).

Either one is a situation that needs to change for that person to get recovery.

The truth is that the archenemy of the alcoholic/addict is selfishness and self-centeredness in any form.  Granted, that person has to learn to live with the fact that the planet finds itself covered with more selfishness than it has land for all of the selfish people to stand on and is highly unlikely a person could figure out a path in life that avoids all selfishness.  The question is not one about fixing all of the selfishness on the planet however, the question is firmly:  “Are you as an individual a part of the problem or of a part of the solution for this person?”

As I said before, you may have never do much as lifted a finger to cause this person to use ever before this.  That’s awesome, but please don’t start being a part of the problem now!!!  We all struggle with an alcoholic/addict and their thoughts and behaviors to some degree or other.  We need to be willing to struggle through some discomfort for their health and you will probably find that actual resolutions to the problems will do wonders for your mental and emotional health also.  Focusing on ensuring that you are not selfish or self-protective can’t hurt either.

I suppose there are those people who have all of this in line and struggle with none of these issues.  I commend you and I am thankful that you are on our planet as an example to the rest of us.  I do however, present to you the idea that individuals cannot judge such things about themselves safely without at the least the consultation of a few folks that understand what we are looking at and can honestly tell you the truth.

In other words, if you are a friend or loved one of a person in recovery, PLEASE seek some outside assistance or advice from someone who understands these things (assume you would like to be a part of the solution or at least not be a part of the problem).  And never EVER EVER EVER EVER use the sentence “He/she is the person with the problem, why do I need to…”  That statement in and of itself is an indicator of just being concerned with yourself and not doing anything for this person.

You can be a huge part of the healing process for your friend or loved one and all it takes is to unselfishly confront the issues at the time that is best for the person and for you.  Yes there is discomfort, but at least the discomfort is along the path to freedom and closure.  You may have been a hero in this person’s life standing by them all of this time and they may not have truly even noticed, but this is an opportunity to be a beacon of hope and freedom for a person in desperate need at the moment it will count the most to him/her.  You just have to stay off of the shortcuts and by-paths.

If you are the person in recovery, consider your responsibilities in all of this and the challenges those around you will have confronting these issues with you at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way.  Don’t try to protect yourself from discomfort by avoiding any of these amends.  If you are not ready, then diligently work (with the help of others) on getting ready to make the amends.

There is a solution, and all of us involved can be a part of it.

Confronting or Not Confronting???

We realize some men are thoroughly bad-intentioned, that no amount of patience will make any difference. An alcoholic of this temperament may be quick to use this chapter as a club over your head. Don’t let him get away with it. If you are positive he is one of this type you may feel you had better leave. Is it right to let him ruin your life and the lives of your children?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 108)

 Some people in recovery immediately upon deciding to give all of this a shot become more caring and considerate, this passage is not describing that group.  This passage is describing the people who are still “bad-intentioned” even when abstaining from alcohol and drugs.  Some of those “bad intentioned” individuals even misuse the information they get in recovery to manipulate others.

These people may say that they want to change and this may or may not be true, but the point is that if their actions continue to be destructive to those around them, it may
be better to take drastic measures for the good of all.  Just letting the person continue to be an evil force, destroying his or her own life and the lives of all who he or she comes into contact with is the worst option.

I am not saying that all people who use heavily should be abandoned by their loved ones, but I do feel that allowing such a person to do whatever he or she feels, no matter
how destructive is actually a worse option.
There has to be a reasonable and balanced approach that is going to be helpful for all involved.

Let’s slow down a bit and look at this in more detail.  If you look at the page that the first verse we read is on, we see what may seem like the exact opposite message:

Try not to condemn your alcoholic husband no matter what he says or does. He is just another very sick, unreasonable person. Treat him, when you can, as though he had pneumonia. When he angers you, remember that he is very ill.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 108)

Sometimes, people assume this means to allow the person to do whatever he or she wants to do and say nothing.  Then you reach the passage we started with that says to not let the person “get away with it” and you may need to leave that person.  These seem like conflicting ideas or at least pretty different extremes.  The fact is, everyone involved needs to look at what is best for everyone.

Most of us have encountered the child who has the parents that can never say no to him or her.  The kind of parents who never confront the troubles a child has.  Those
are usually the kids throwing things in the isle of the grocery store or cussing the parents out in a crowd.  Then you have the parents that verbally or physically abuse their children.  Those children have all kinds of issues not the least of which often being drug and alcohol problems.  The point is that doing too much to correct a
child is detrimental, but doing too little is also terribly detrimental.

With those of us in recovery there are some things we need to be handled delicately, some things that we need to be told bluntly and some things we need to figure out
ourselves.  The problem is that even as the person going through it, we often do not know which approach goes where until after the fact.

What is clear with many alcoholics and addicts is that if someone approaches something that needs to be handled delicately with too much force, we tend to rebel against the idea without even considering if it is true or not.  If something that needs to be handled more directly and forcefully is handled too delicately we tend to either ignore it or use manipulation to just not deal with it.  If it is something we
need to figure out ourselves, delicate or direct approaches are both just information, but not really what is needed.

The point of all this:

If you are the friend or loved one of a person in recovery or in need of recovery:

  • Start with someone who already knows the ropes and have the person (or group of person’s) walk you through the process.
  1. Some of these kinds of people include the person’s sponsor, an Al-Anon or  CODA group, a professional counselor, a pastor, priest or other qualified religious leader,  etc.
  • Think in terms of what serves the greatest good!
  1. Am I helping or hurting the person (allowing someone to do something that is destructive to his or her relationships or to him or herself is often not good for that person while beating a person who feels terrible guilt while he or she is down is also not helpful)
  2. Am I helping or hurting those around us
  • If I do nothing is someone around us going to get hurt?
  • If I confront this is someone around us going to get hurt in some way?
  • Is there a way to confront this that will best solve the problem (instead of just making me feel better about getting it off of my chest)
  1. Am I allowing the person to hurt or abuse me in a way that hurts both of us?
  • Is this something I should plan a proper time for confrontation or I should do now?

Consider this passage which describes conversation with the person (confrontation) done appropriately:

We know these suggestions are sometimes difficult to follow, but you will save many a heartbreak if you can succeed in observing them. Your husband may come to appreciate your reasonableness and patience. This may lay the groundwork for a friendly talk about his alcoholic problem. Try to have him bring up the subject himself. Be sure you are not critical during such a discussion. Attempt instead, to put yourself in his place. Let him see that you want to be helpful rather than critical.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 111)

This may only be one example, but the focus is serving the greatest good of all while
confronting the problems.

If you are the person in recovery you need to keep in some things in mind:

Yes, there is a long period of reconstruction ahead. We must take the lead. A remorseful mumbling that we are sorry won’t fill the bill at all. We ought to sit down with the family and frankly analyze the past as we now see it, being very careful not to criticize them. Their defects may be glaring, but the chances are that our own actions are partly responsible. So we clean house with the family, asking each morning in meditation that our Creator show us the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness and love.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 83)

  1. Much of the mess you are dealing with and the crazy that seems to be around you is your own creation.  If you didn’t create the crazy around you, it is possible that you drew it into your life.
    • Part of your recovery is doing all you can to repair whatever damage you have created.
  2. You should not avoid conversations that confront your issues; it is part of your
    recovery to seek out those conversations.
    • If the people closest to you cannot tell you what they see that you may need to change, who can?  They probably know better than anyone (because they have often been the victims).
  3. If we expect them to be patient, tolerant and kind with us in spite of our “crazy”
    we owe them the same patience, tolerance and kindness when they approach us in some way that is a little crazy.
  4. Be willing to look at what the people around you are saying is important to them with the importance they say it has.
    • Just because you don’t think it is not that important does not mean that it’s not.
  5. Do not try to use your recovery information to manipulate those around you.
  6. When in doubt seek out council from your sponsor, some much more mature in recovery, professional counselors, a pastor, priest or other qualified religious leader, people from your group, etc.
    • Keep people who are knowledgeable, understanding yet direct enough to tell you the truth in your life for such purposes.
  7. ABSTAINING FROM ALCOHOL AND DRUGS IS NOT ENOUGH!!!

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. We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 82)

My point is that all of these challenges will have to be confronted; it is only a matter of how and when these confrontations will take place. 

One set of words from a segment of the book discussing Step 9 best sums this all up:

Whatever the situation, we usually have to do something about it. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 81)

Where Should a Friend or Loved One Start???

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:

  1. To just grow in a more healthy way of living
  2. 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
  3. 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.

Continue reading “Where Should a Friend or Loved One Start???”