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???”

The Needed “Helpful Discussion” With Loved Ones and Close Friends

  As each member of a resentful family begins to see his shortcomings and admits them to the others, he lays a basis for helpful discussion. These family talks will be constructive if they can be carried on without heated argument, self-pity, self-justification or resentful criticism.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 127)

Recovery from heavy drug or alcohol use is often not just a recovery process for the individual who is the “recovering person.”  Often, it is those close to him or her that also need to adjust the way they think, act etc.  also.  This is a post that is directed mainly at the loved ones around the person in recovery.

Some people have done things that have hurt the person and have never allowed that person to discuss or process it.  Some of the loved ones around the person were victims that adjusted to accommodate the alcohol or drug use so much that those loved ones have had their whole lives changed.  Some have suffered the same things that the person recovery struggles to deal with but they do not fall as far or as obviously as the person now in recovery.  Sometimes the loved ones around the person are doing everything right and the person in recovery has never taken the time or may have never had the opportunity to sit down and try to see the other perspective.

Whatever the case an open discussion, done with the right mindset and heart may be a huge step in the right direction.  It is great if all involved are more focused on themselves and not on others.  That also means that each person is focused on him or herself and his or her shortcomings, without “self-pity” or “self-justification”

Giving, rather than getting, will become the guiding principle. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 128)

If the focus of the group is an honest concern for each other and not self-protection or codependence, then there is a good chance something helpful will be discussed.  Let’s discuss those three things:  1) Not speaking out of self-protection, 2) not speaking out of codependence, 3) something helpful being discussed.

  1. Not speaking out of self-protection.   Many in recovery have built a world of defensiveness to hide whatever else is going on in the heart and mind.  If everyone around this person gets together and does the same thing what really happens is everyone blaming each other for what has taken place. 
    1. The other side of this is the “poor me” person that really believe that he or she is is totally responsible for keeping everyone around happy and will agree with whatever you blame on him or her.  This defensiveness on the parts of a whole group of loved ones will translate into:  “You are the worst person who ever lived and you are the only real problem that all of us have.”
    2. The truth is each person needs to be honest about where he or she is wrong and where it actually was the person in recovery that was wrong.  A little reality and truth all around is a must for this type of discussion.  This is not only good for all, but even if the person in recovery thinks the whole thing is stupid it is a great example of what it looks like that will help his or her recovery.
    3. Not speaking out of codependence:  One of the worst thing that could happen in such discussions is one or more people that blame themselves for everything the addict or alcoholic does.  If you were in fact this person’s entire problem, why is that person and not you in recovery.   Even if you were, are , or will be in recovery this person’s recovery is totally separate from yours.  He or she has his own set of problems and struggles that you may have played a part in, but they are uniquely his or hers. 
      1. If you take too much credit from the person in recovery, you give that person a way to avoid the truth or in other words to not work recovery.
      2. Something helpful being discussed:  Notice that something helpful is to be discussed.  There is no guarantee that the person will respond well or get it right away.  All such a discussion is supposed to do is to give such a person a chance to deal with reality and see those around him or her do the same.  If you are one of the other participants it is both your way of participation in the person’s recovery process and your process of healing also.  
        1. Your goal is to see your REAL “shortcomings” and admit them to the others in the group and hopefully the person in recovery will do the same.  But, if not, you have planted a seed that will hopefully be watered throughout recovery and you have had a chance to see and begin dealing with a shortcoming of your own.

The idea here is not blame or codependently taking the blame for that person so that he or she will not feel pain.  The focus is the healing of everyone involved and of the group as a whole.  This kind of connection with the friends, loved ones, family etc. can be helpful to all and especially for the person in recovery, the attitude of all is what determines how helpful it really is.  So if you have been feeling like you need to blame the person in recovery for everything or that you need to not speak of such things because he or she may not be able to handle it remember:

Perhaps they created the impression that he is to be wrapped in cotton wool and placed on a pedestal. Successful readjustment means the opposite. All members of the family should meet upon the common ground of tolerance, understanding and love. This involves a process of deflation. 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 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. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 122)

Family, Dating and Marital Relationships in Recovery

In spite of your new-found happiness, there will be ups and downs. Many of the old problems will still be with you. This is as it should be. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 117)

It always amazes me that both a person in recovery as well as that person’s significant other and family often get this strange idea that if the person does well in recovery all problems will vanish. As if recovery goes well all the problems of the past will disappear and the future will be one without any troubles or pain. This is not only a problem, but a set up for disaster.

If you and your husband find a solution for the pressing problem of drink you are, of course, going to be very happy. But all problems will not be solved at once. Seed has started to sprout in a new soil, but growth has only begun. In spite of your new-found happiness, there will be ups and downs. Many of the old problems will still be with you. This is as it should be.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 117)

It always amazes me that both a person in recovery as well as that person’s significant other and family often get this strange idea that if the person does well in recovery all problems will vanish.  As if recovery goes well all the problems of the past will disappear and the future will be one without any troubles or pain.  This is not only a problem, but a set up for disaster.

The truth is that the pains of the past are yet to be fully resolved if resolved at all.  For example, if a person was cheated on and one or the other finishes a recovery program, there will still be pain.  One or both of the parties may be better prepared to start working through the pain involved, but there is still hurt and confusion.  As the passage on page 117 states:  “Many of the old problems will still be with you.”  This is the absolute truth.  There will still be some of the old problems and, “This is as it should be.  ”

Why is it that this “is as it should be”?  Because, the discomfort and pain one feels when these old problems come up are not evil, they are actually opportunities in disguise.  Here is the fact:  Pain and discomfort are not your enemy!!  Pain and discomfort are neutral. 

Think of a thermometer.  If you stick on in your mouth and it states that your temperature is 98.6˚ you are doing fine.  If however, you stick the thermometer and it reads 106˚, you have a problem.  It would be foolish to get mad at the thermometer and yell at it or do everything you can to avoid the thermometer or to avoid talking about what the thermometer says.  The thermometer reading 106˚ simply indicates that something is wrong and needs to be dealt with just like the coughing, sneezing, stomach ache etc. that probably brought that person to the thermometer also were indicators of a problem that had to be dealt with.

These uncomfortable feelings and emotional pains that will come up are the same.  They are not evils to be yelled at or avoided, they are indicators of something that is wrong and needs to be properly dealt with.  Just like yelling at or avoiding the information on the thermometer, not only do such actions not help, the problem usually gets worse when not properly dealt with.  The discomfort and pain are not the problem.  That is what the authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book mean when they say “This is as it should be.  ”

The faith and sincerity of both you and your husband will be put to the test. These work-outs should be regarded as part of your education, for thus you will be learning to live. You will make mistakes, but if you are in earnest they will not drag you down. Instead, you will capitalize them. A better way of life will emerge when they are overcome.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 117)

These uncomfortable events that arise are called “work-outs” here.  Think of what working out is.  In the case of weight lifting, a person gets resistance in the direction a muscle moves which tears down the muscle tissue.   This tearing down of the tissue allows the muscle to be rebuilt larger and stronger.  These uncomfortable events may feel like they are tearing you down, but they are simply allowing everyone involved the opportunity to be rebuilt stronger if confronted.

But what about if not confronted or if confronted improperly? 

Some of the snags you will encounter are irritation, hurt feelings and resentments. Your husband will sometimes be unreasonable and you will want to criticize. Starting from a speck on the domestic horizon, great thunderclouds of dispute may gather. These family dissensions are very dangerous, especially to your husband. Often you must carry the burden of avoiding them or keeping them under control. Never forget that resentment is a deadly hazard to an alcoholic. We do not mean that you have to agree with your husband whenever there is an honest difference of opinion. Just be careful not to disagree in a resentful or critical spirit.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 117)

What may seem like a little thing can be blown way out of proportion in a hurry and the result will be far more tearing down than building up for everyone involved.  As far as the resentment or improperly handled issues every person in the situation, including the person in recovery carries “the burden of avoiding them or keeping them under control.”  That does not mean not confronting things, that simply means; “be careful not to disagree in a resentful or critical spirit.”

Notice in the beginning of this passage I quoted:  “If you and your husband find a solution for the pressing problem of drink you are, of course, going to be very happy.”  That is because every person has growing that he or she should be doing.  If you have been around an addict or an alcoholic, it is often the case that you have problems that either helped in making this person worse or that are a result of this person’s problems.  Blame, anger, resentment and so on will not do you or that person any good and may erupt into terrible harm.  The absolute truth is:  YOU CANNOT FIX ANOTHER HUMAN BEING, BUT YOU CAN WORK ON FIXING YOURSELF!!!  Along with that is the fact that you cannot fix another person, you can however do great harm to another person. 

The bottom line is that the discomfort, pain, disagreement and such are probably not bad; they are most likely just opportunities in disguise.  Confronting things in a “resentful or critical spirit” is the evil that will keep all involved from the “very happy” described here.

 Wade H.

Relationships in Early Recovery

I remarried in Alcoholics Anonymous, to a man who believes in A.A. the way I do.  (I knew we were off to a good start when he didn’t get angry that I stood him up to go on a Twelfth Step call.) We agreed to never be higher than third on each others list, with God always first and Alcoholics Anonymous second. He is my partner and best friend. We both sponsor several people, and our house is filled with love and laughter. Our telephone never stops ringing. We share the joy of a common solution.
(Alcoholics Anonymous 4th Edition pg 521)

I regularly get questions and encounter people in recovery who are struggling with dating or marriage relationships. There are many in the recovery field that feel that a person should be a year, three years, five years, or more in recovery before starting a relationship. The problem is that many of us going into recovery are married or have children with the person we have been with and so on and this may not be practical. Truthfully many of us also will simply ignore some parts of the recovery program we are in to do what we want anyway, so what do those of us who have relationships do to make them work?

I cannot tell you how to magically make these relationships work, but the “Big Book” does mention some of the key issues that will help.

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

The same root problem that is described in the Big Book as the root of our
addictions is also poison to our relationships. Some people take from the
other person and don’t give back. Some people give to the other person as a way to force that person to respond in some way you wish him or her to (such as appreciation, compliments, etc.). That is also a sort of selfishness it is just disguised as giving. It is manipulating another person to get your own needs met. Some people want someone to make the tough decisions, and help direct them in some way. In other words some of us like to be told what to do. The selfish behavior here is in finding a person you can use by allowing them to be in charge so you yourself feel comfortable.

First God, then your own work on recovery and sanity, then the relationship
(each other and yourself), that is the order outlined above. Steps 10, 11, and
12 must be practiced in all our affairs including these relationships. Such
concepts as forgiveness as in Steps 4 and 5 or making amends as in Steps 8 and 9 are key. Being completely willing to have God fix all of your own shortcomings and then asking Him is a must. Focus on the word “your” and no mention of the other person’s shortcomings in the previous statement and in the steps. Of course you cannot ignore Steps 1,2, and 3 in your relationship. You are powerless over your own foolishness in a relationship, but God can and will work in your relationship if He is sought.

But:

The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in a collision with something or somebody, even if our motives are good. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 60)

One more thing is to get help in the area of relationships in the same way you
get help in your using. Get the guidance and example of someone who is far more advanced in relationship issues just like you have to get a sponsor and have a strong group around you in recovery.