Loved Ones of Alcoholics

5 Common Experiences of Loved Ones of Addicts & Alcoholics

When in a relationship with someone struggling with addiction or alcoholism, it is important to remember that they are not the only ones effected. We too become impacted despite our good intentions and best efforts. The following are just a few ways our emotions, thinking, and behavior may shift:

1) Obsession: It is not uncommon to learn that loved ones begin to focus on another’s drinking including counting how many drinks they’ve had, searching for alcohol in the house, getting rid of any alcohol found, or wondering if where they are going involves alcohol. This is one way we loose focus on ourselves and our well-being.

2) Anxiety: As the alcoholics behavior begins to change and the importance they’ve placed on their own well-being, relationships, career, or responsibilities decrease, we often find ourselves making up the difference. We may feel the alcoholics feelings for them by worrying about their health, job, education, bills, etc. We may assume the alcoholics responsibilities as a way to keep them from suffering consequences as well as reduce our own anxiety. We might even get involved in the alcoholics relationships as a way to repair any upset the alcoholic has caused.

3) Denial: As a way of self-protection, we often ignore our instincts or any perceived red flags due to our desire for connection and/or peace. We may focus on the positive aspects of the alcoholic and what we love about them even though we might rarely get to experience these wonderful parts of who they are. We may even minimize unhealthy and unacceptable behavior during brief periods of sobriety or in response to sporadic loving gestures. Being honest about the reality of our situation would require tolerating immense self-relfection and change.

4) Feelings of Guilt: With enough time, we may begin to feel as though we are somehow responsible and to blame for the alcoholics behavior. We may feel that we are the cause of their drinking, insecurities, rage, etc. We may tell ourselves that if we only would have said something a bit differently or didn’t say it at all, perhaps the alcoholic wouldn’t behave the way they do.

5) Anger: Often times, the longer we are in a relationship with the alcoholic, we begin to experience anger. We feel angry about the hurtful things they’ve said or done, the times in which they’ve lied, or how they seem to take for granted how much we provide for or take care of them. We start to feel resentful towards the alcoholic and may even want to make them pay for how much they have hurt us (even though we’ve voluntarily assumed more responsibility that was ours).

Therapy and Al-Anon are wonderful sources of support and can help you begin to learn how you have been effected by alcoholism and ways recover. If you are the loved one of an addict/alcoholic and would like to begin taking care of yourself, feel free to contact me at 858.888.3261.

So You Love an Alcoholic

Alcoholism is a family disease meaning it not only effects the person who drinks, but also those they are in relationships with. Alcoholism does not discriminate, therefore, whether you are a co-worker, friend, significant other, or family member, you too may be effected. Yet those that are the closest to the alcoholic are usually the most deeply impacted as we find ourselves preoccupied by their emotions and behavior.

We may or may not be consciously aware of how we have been effected, yet often times we wind up reacting to their drinking and the behaviors that come along with it. We may feel anxious or angry when they drink, we might personalize things they say or do while intoxicated, we might began to avoid social gatherings due to fear of what the alcoholic might do, or we may try to control or stop the drinking.

However, regarding alcoholism, it is important to remember that we did NOT cause it, we CAN’T control it, and we CAN’T cure it. It is not our responsibility to fix, save, or rescue the alcoholic from their own emotional experiences, behaviors, or consequences. It is a fruitless effort that will often leave us feeling emotionally drained, helpless, hopeless, and inept. And often, our efforts to help actually perpetuate undesired behaviors as we shield the alcoholic from suffering the very consequences that may motivate them to change.

What we CAN do, is focus on what is within our control (ourselves) and learn how to best take care of our own well-being. Therapy and Al-Anon can be wonderful tools in which to learn how to focus on and honor our emotions and behavior, identify our role in the relationship, and see our ourselves and our circumstances more clearly. As a result, we can begin to explore various ways to approach our loved one and our situation in a more adaptive manner.

We CAN also learn how to love the alcoholic without necessarily loving their behavior. We do so by developing the ability to separate the person from the disease. As a result, we are then able to enjoy and appreciate the wonderful things we love about them as well as how to detach, disengage, or let go of what we don’t feel comfortable with. We don’t have to try and fix everything we don’t like about the alcoholic, we simply need to adjust how we respond to it.

How Al-Anon Works for Families & Friends of Alcoholics

If you love someone struggling with alcoholism and would like to learn about how you may have been effected, this book can be a wonderful resource. It can help provide a deeper understanding into the disease of alcoholism and the impact it has on both the alcoholic and those in relationships with them. It can shed light as to how a loved one’s perceptions, feelings, and behaviors often change as a result of the effects of alcoholism. Further, it will provide helpful information regarding various tools that can be employed to practice new and healthier ways of living and loving the alcoholic.

How Al-Anon Works for Families & Friends of Alcoholics

Courage to Change

Courage to Change (One Day at a Time in Al-Anon II) is one of my very favorites pieces of Al-Anon literature provided by the Al-Anon Family Groups. It is a wonderful daily reader that provides insightful and educational ideas that I believe can be useful for anyone, not just those affected by a loved one’s alcoholism. A few days ago, I read a page that I found so powerful that I decided I had to share it:

     “In Al-Anon we talk a lot about the need to let others experience the consequences of their actions. We know that most alcoholics have to hit “bottom” and become uncomfortable with their own behavior before they can effectively do something about it. Those of us who love alcoholics often have to learn to get out of the way of this bottom. We learn to detach with love.

      Another reason for detachment with love may be equally important in building healthy, loving, respectful relationships. Many of us have interfered not only with a loved one’s problems but also with their achievements. I may have the best of intentions, but if I take over other people’s responsibilities, I may rob them of the chance to accomplish something and to feel good about what they’ve done. Although I am trying to help, my actions may be communicating a lack of respect for my loved one’s abilities. When I detach with love, I offer support by freeing those I care about to experience both their own satisfactions and disappointments”.

Often times, detachment is the best way to communicate love and respect for someone. By detaching, you are treating them with dignity and acknowledging that they are their own person who has the right to make their own choices.

Separating the Person from the Behavior

How many times have you caught yourself obsessing about something someone said or did to you? How often do you find that you allow others to influence your mood or day? And how often do you feel the need to explain yourself repeatedly and force the other person to see your point of view?

Although most of us are likely to find ourselves relating to any or all of the above, those behaviors do not often create inner peace or strengthen the connection within a relationship. Instead, it can often perpetuate or intensify the negative emotions we are experiencing or the argument we are having.

Therefore, it can be useful to practice detachment as it helps us to let go of our obsession with another’s words or actions. It allows us to take a step back and separate the person from the behavior. By doing so, we are less likely to personalize something hurtful. For example, if an alcoholic in the midst of drinking (or a loved one in the midst of anger/sadness/etc.) is verbally hurtful, you can allow it to make you feel bad and/or try to obtain an explanation for why they said such things OR you can recognize that their current behavior is not a true reflection of who they are or how they feel. Again, you can challenge yourself to separate the person from the behavior.

It is important to note that by detaching, you are not excusing, enabling, or rationalizing the behavior. You are merely giving yourself the right to not be effected by another’s unhealthy behaviors or engage when they are not in a healthy state of mind. In any given moment, you can choose to let go of your obsessions, disengage from the person or situation, and choose to protect your emotional well-being. And you can always readdress the situation and share your experience when all involved have calmed down and are able to engage respectfully.

Learning to Detach

Whether you suffer from the effects of alcoholism or not, detachment can be a valuable skill. It can increase one’s experience of serenity as well as improve dynamics within relationships. However, many of us find this difficult to do as learning to practice self-care and setting healthy boundaries can be uncomfortable and at times seem mean or selfish. More often that not, we have been taught that if we care about someone we will do whatever it takes to help. However, the kind of help we offer may not always be what fosters growth and forward momentum for our loved ones or ourselves. It may just in fact keep someone stuck and perpetuate our feelings of frustration.

However, it is possible to learn new and more adaptive behaviors by working with a psychologist and/or attending Al-Anon meetings. The following is an except from one of the many offered Al-Anon pamphlets that provides information about what can be learned:

“IN AL-ANON WE LEARN:

• Not to suffer because of the actions or reactions of other people

• Not to allow ourselves to be used or abused by others in the interest of another’s recovery

• Not to do for others what they can do for themselves

• Not to manipulate situations so others will eat, go to bed, get up, pay bills, not drink, or behave as we see fit

• Not to cover up for another’s mistakes or misdeeds

• Not to create a crisis

• Not to prevent a crisis if it is in the natural course of events”

Detachment

“Detachment is neither kind or unkind. It does not imply judgment or condemnation of the person or situation from which we are detaching. Its simply a means that allows us to separate ourselves from the adverse effects that another person’s alcoholism can have on our lives.” (Al-Anon Literature)

Whether you grew up in an alcoholic home or were effected by alcoholism later in life, many find it difficult to separate themselves emotionally from the behaviors of their loved one, especially when they are hurtful.

Despite efforts to improve our relationship or situation, many of us have developed patterns of behavior that do not serve us well and often perpetuate the very dynamic we wish to change. For example, we may not like conflict yet find ourselves engaging in an argument when the alcoholic is not in a rational state of mind. In addition, we may try and force them to see our point of view or validate something we said or did. (Ever hear the phrase “it’s like going to the hardware store for bread”?). Further, we often allow ourselves to personalize alcoholic messages or behavior that have nothing to do with us and everything to do with the alcoholics current mindset.

However, with the help of a mental health professional and/or Al-Anon (or another related 12-step program), we can begin learning how to loving detach from those who are actively in their disease while still maintaining a connection. It is important to keep in mind that detachment does not always mean severing a relationship, although in certain cases that may be the appropriate course of action. It also does not imply a lack of caring. In fact, we do so because we care about our personal well-being and we care about cultivating healthier dynamics with our loved one. It is merely a way to keep ourselves from suffering the consequences of alcoholism.

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