*By Autumn Cavender*
Have you ever stopped to consider what was running through the minds of people when they first discovered alcohol? What thought processes were responsible for their notion to share this substance with the rest of the world? You’d think these questions would preoccupy people with loved ones entering and exiting 12 step rehab. You may think that if a member of your family was an alcoholic, you’d consider these topics. Even if it was just until you at least had a rational explanation. Or, you could even be looking for someone or something to blame for all of it.
But, the truth is, coping with one alcoholic loved one is tiring enough. Living in a family with multiple alcoholics can be exhausting. And there are a lot of maybes.
Every day, you may be disappointed by promises that sounded beautifully hopeful, but are broken shortly after they were made. You may have no more energy for pinning blame. Anger and frustration may linger beneath the surface, but you might just be too tired to recognize your emotions, much less cope with them. Maybe you’re saving your energy and resources for your personal survival. Or focusing on ways to keep yourself from imploding.
Denial is a tool that many use. When you’re away from your family members, you might simply pretend that they don’t exist. And you may feel that if they didn’t exist, you wouldn’t have any problems. You might practice an enigmatic smile in the mirror. It’s not that you’re trying to look mysterious, although you think that wouldn’t hurt. But, you may feel as though you need that smile ready anytime somebody asks about your family. Or, if a friend asks you how you are doing, you might give that same enigmatic smile and hope that it works.
You hope that it masks how you’re really feeling.
The problem with denial is that guilt often follows all too soon. The conscience and inhibitions of alcoholic family members can be unreliable. They can also cause an affect on you and produce a sense of guilt. No matter how many times they’ve embarrassed you in public. No matter how many times you’ve had to lie about them and for them. No matter how frustrated you are because you aren’t able to enjoy simple things – like making schedules or hosting friends.
But, you may not be able to live with yourself if you deny the presence of your loved ones completely. Acknowledging your alcoholic family members doesn’t mean that you have to talk about them constantly or call attention to their presence — or absence. It just means accepting that they are your family members and that you need to find ways to cope with their conditions on a daily basis. You have to find other ways to protect yourself and ultimately, other ways to survive.
It’s not easy but others have been able to cope. It is possible.
One useful tactic is learning all you can about this disease, that has sunk its claws into your family members. Why did they become alcoholics? What are the effects of alcohol on people’s health? How responsible are people for their own actions? Knowledge may lead you to a way out.
There are other questions you may want to ask. Can this problem be addressed? How does rehab work? How do you choose the most effective treatment for your loved ones?
Sure, your family members might have already gone to rehab. Maybe even more than once. But, if they’re still struggling, that doesn’t mean that it’s time to quit. When the situation is at its bleakest, maybe it’s time to focus on two additional tools in your survival arsenal: bravery and compassion. Yes, you have these tools and have used them already many times. Only a combination of these two could have allowed you to survive.
Bravery has made it possible for you to get up in the morning. To make your breakfast. To find a job that supports you and others. To interact with others while knowing that people may talk about you behind your back. Compassion, meanwhile, makes it possible to fix breakfast for your family. It keeps you from leaving and abandoning them to fend for themselves, even if others have done the same to you. Compassion can allow you to understand others and forgive yourself as well.
However, in the end, while a combination of these two can help, they will still not be enough. You’ll need yet another tool: hope.
You already have it. Hope has encouraged you to stay in touch with your loved ones and has motivated you to try several available approaches, such as logic, threats, and emotional appeals. Hope has prompted you to learn about and describe the dangers of alcohol. Hope can also spur you to discuss treatment and life after treatment with your loved ones.
And, if your loved ones go deeper into the darkness, your hope could be the beacon that leads them back into the light.
Autumn Cavender works primarily as a freelance blogger. Autumn loves to write about mental health, addiction, and recovery with the use of holistic methods. She is a frequent contributor to the Sunshine Behavioral Health Blog. She currently lives in Rochester Hills, Michigan with her dog Beignet and her cat Salome.
Photos by Unsplash and Autumn Cavender