I’ve always been an outspoken advocate for asking for help. From therapy, to support groups, to long cries over coffee, to bubble baths and self help books. I truly believe that when a solution isn’t readily visible, it shows strength to seek out help solving the problem.
I am no exception to that belief. So when I was confronted with a problem that I couldn’t handle on my own, I got help.
Alcoholism is a horrible, scary thing. Having people in your life who suffer from this illness is very difficult to watch. It’s like being a ghost, looking in on a situation but having no ability to affect the outcome.
A very bad incident happened a few months ago. It was emotionally debilitating. My husband tried to talk me through it. He said things like “you should always forgive”. Normally that would work for me. Normally I just need a cooling off period and I’d get back in the ring. This time was different. A whole month had passed and all I’d been saying is that if I didn’t feel better soon I’d be calling for help. My work provides a family assistance program that includes counselling and I’d used those services while we went through many failed fertility treatments.
If I didn’t feel better soon I planned on using them again. Then one day something happened, I was exhausted and emotionally drained, and I finally made the call.
I explained my story to the therapist who specialized in drug and alcohol abuse. She was horrified. Did you know that after everything a therapist hears in their career they could still be shocked? Her response to some of my account of events was “Wow”. That’s simple enough, but helped establish that the feelings of hurt, betrayal, anger and frustration that I had were justified. We’ve talked several times since then. Each time she provides me with sound advice. It’s not always the advice I want to hear, but it’s always that advice that protects me from situations where I will get hurt more.
When I say my story out loud, I hear how incredible it is. I realize the denial on the part of the alcoholics. It’s heart breaking. So when my therapist suggested I attend Al-Anon (for families of alcoholics) I decided to give it a go. Nothing else I was doing made me feel better, it couldn’t hurt.
Walking into that room was petrifying, even though I wasn’t alone. Brandon and I walked in together looking for support from people who understood what we were going through. It meant I was admitting I didn’t know what to do. It meant admitting that someone I care about is an alcoholic.
The group was welcoming. I offered to speak first, because I knew if I didn’t get it out right away it wouldn’t come out. “Hi, I’m Tiana.” “Hi Tiana.” This has become normal to me now, but was daunting at first. I began telling my story. Or at least I tried. But all that came out were sobs and gasps for air. The group waited patiently. They didn’t speak, interrupt or offer condolences. They just waited. I told my story of how badly I’d been hurt and how that affected me. I explained that I felt emotionally unsafe, that I felt my relationships had been permanently affected, that I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to enable, but I didn’t want to close the door on the relationship.
Al-Anon taught me about detaching with love. Basically, this involves identifying there is a situation you can’t control. Setting boundaries that you can live with. And putting the responsibility for future decisions on the alcoholic. That all is easy. The hard part is the “with love” part. The concept that you have to accept if you put these boundaries on someone they may never come back, that they may never accept your request, that they may hate you forever. And through all of that you must love them and release them from your anger. I’m still working on that.
Sharing at Al-Anon is highly beneficial. It allows me to vent everything that happened that week, to express how the alcoholism is affecting me on a daily basis. When Thursday comes around, I always have something to say. And when I speak, people nod, understanding what I’m going through, relating to what I’ve said, picturing themselves in my shoes. Everyone has a turn. And then after, everyone reaches out to everyone else.
The point of Al-Anon is not to teach family and friends how to handle or change their alcoholic. The point is to teach family and friends how to take back control of their life and not let alcohol be in control. The steps are tough for me because I don’t believe in god, but I still understand them. Step 1 – admit I have no control over alcohol or the alcoholic. Step 2 – believe that my sanity could be restored. Restore my sanity??? This program is amazing. Alcoholism had torn my world apart and reading the word “Sanity” really rang true. This had made me insane. For me, the point of Al-Anon is to regain control of my life, realize I cannot change the alcoholic, and not let my life continue to feel insane and out of control.
I’ve made really great personal progress. It’s not really something you can measure, but it’s definitely something you can feel. Every week I feel stronger. I’m empowered by my strength to set boundaries and no longer let this drive me insane. I’ve realized that guilt has been used for years as a tool to drag me back into the insanity. I’ve learned that the drinking patterns are not normal or healthy. I’ve identified the denial, and the role I played in enabling drinking. I took back control of my life, on my terms.
Attending group meetings like this can be frustrating though. Many people arrive at Al-Anon when their family members start attending AA. Many people are at some point in recovery. Al-Anon talks about how the family of alcoholics have to recover as well, and I really do believe that. The problem is that my alcoholics are in complete denial. So much so that I was forwarded a check list of signs of problem drinking. The alcoholic thought this proved drinking isn’t a problem; for me 15/20 questions confirmed drinking is a problem.
Because my alcoholics are in denial, it is hard to go through some of the steps. When the option to attend an open AA meeting came along, I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted to hear what it looked like from the alcoholic’s perspective. It was eye opening to say the least. People from all walks of life are alcoholics. I already knew this, but I’d never seen it before. People shared their stories about how long it took before they got help. They talked about their denial before finally coming to AA. I saw so many parallels to my life that it was almost scary.
One story really rang true. This alcoholic talked about anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs, and then coming home and drinking. This person repeated this dangerous and careless behaviour for years until finally checking into rehab. This person has been sober for many years. This gave me hope. And showed me that there is something on the other side of the huge mountain I’m trying to climb.
Going to AA opened my eyes to a different, very helpful perspective. That of the alcoholic. It’s hard to understand alcoholism. And like some recent studies, I’m not sure I buy the “disease” thing. But I do know that it’s debilitating. And that people need help to overcome it. AA has helped me understand what behaviours help and hurt the situation. What things I can say and do that are counterproductive. The people at AA have been honest with me. Many have said that nothing I say or do will change the alcoholic as long as they want to drink. They’ve also told me that the only thing I can do is take care of myself because they wouldn’t have changed for me, and no alcoholic will. That’s hard to hear, but it’s helpful because it’s true.
I hope one day the alcoholics in my life are ready to ask for help. I am here. Arms open. Waiting (im)patiently for the day to come when they admit there is a problem and that they want to be part of the solution. I’ve been to AA, I’ve seen it’s possible. There are people who overcome this. They are happy and healthy.
My husband is being as supportive as he can. He’s learned that telling me to mend fences and make up only hurts me. That was hard for him to understand. But he finally sees that telling me to move on only prolongs the pain and sets me up for future incidents. He is learning how to deal with alcoholism too. We’re in this together, to support each other through our journey to finding happiness through all of this.
Tonight at AA I recited the Serenity Prayer for the first time. I realize that I can say it without having to pray, or believe in god. It’s a powerful, yet simple reminder for how to live. And the wisdom of support groups has helped me understand how valuable its lesson truly is.
Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The Courage to change the things I can,
And the Wisdom to know the difference.
I accept that I cannot control alcoholism or change the alcoholics.
I have the courage to change what I tolerate in my life.
I know the difference.