“How do I make my alcoholic change?”
I got asked that question in a dozen different ways when I spoke with a few families with alcoholic/addict spouses and children recently.
It’s human nature for a person to rephrase and change the approach to get the answer they feel desperately need.
“How do I get them to want to change?”
“What do I do to make them willing to get help?”
I had to tell them the truth each time, no matter the angle they approached it from.
At least not directly.
If you are asking those same questions, I know those aren’t the answers you are hoping for—I get it.
I really do.
Here’s what I can say:
It may get darker before it gets light, but hope is NOT LOST.
There Must Be a Way
Those families I spoke with were certain there must be a checklist of things they can do, a recipe for a fix, a prescription, a hospital… SOMETHING.
DAMN IT, THERE MUST BE SOMETHING!
I felt their desperation in the room, and I grieved with them.
Describing the alcoholic’s or addict’s actual circumstances, the authors of Alcoholics Anonymous have the following to say:
“We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help.”
Ask yourself this question: Where do I, as the spouse or loved one appear in that description?
Unfortunately, you’re not the answer.
You can’t heal your loved one, and you cannot make them willing to accept help.
As an alcoholic, I can assure you that I wished my loved ones could have healed me. They tried, and the situation got worse.
It’s not their fault. They were doing everything that made sense to them.
Everything they could think of.
Their hearts were in the right place.
You cannot fix them.
You run the very real risk of destroying your own mental health entirely (and long before you realize it) in the process.
I’ll bet that, if you’re reading this, you’ve been trying so very hard, and you’re experiencing serious anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
There is some very real hope and direction I feel you can access.
The Point Where Recovery Begins
If your loved one has a “problem,” but they’re managing to function, they may not realize how serious their situation is, though you so clearly see and are frightened by the rapidly worsening circumstances.
It may be somewhat worse than a “problem,” there are probably some consequences that, much to you’re astonishment, they brush away, including:
- Acquaintances steering clear of you both
- Employment problems
- Physical and mental indications like shaky hands and memory deficits
- Hiding their drinking/using
This person could get well if they grasp the seriousness of their problem. Unfortunately, many in the grips of this illness still don’t see the reality yet.
They May Not Be Done Yet
Then… Shit gets bad.
If you’re in this place, I don’t have to tell you what that looks like.
He or she still may cling to an insane notion that they can find some way to control their drinking or drug use, but if you’re lucky—and I mean truly blessed—they may wake up to how desperately they actually want to stop, and how powerless they are to do so under their own willpower.
I encourage you to read that bold print again.
The Situation Becomes Desperate (A Good Thing)
What it takes for someone with true alcoholism or addiction to recover:
Desperation—their own, not yours.
Desperation for help is not something you can give them or force on them.
The hard truth is:
You, as the one who loves them and so badly wants to help them, are virtually powerless to help them directly until they reach their own desperate, unquenchable desire to stop, a place we often call rock bottom.
Although it isn’t always the case, many have to face an absolute life-and-death decision.
Yes, that means it’s likely to get worse before it gets better, which begs the question:
How am I possibly going to deal with that?
Waiting on Rock Bottom
You don’t have to sit around waiting.
Life can get better, starting today.
Maybe not for them, but for you.
During all of this drama, turmoil, bullshit, and uproar, you, as the family member or loved one, need to recover.
YOU NEED TO GET WELL. NOW, NOT LATER.
Not after the dust has all settled and your loved one is well.
You need to find relief from what’s going on inside.
And, here’s the kicker…
A better life is not tied to whether your loved one stops drinking or getting high.
Not at all.
I’m Not Sick! (Yes, You Are)
“But, I’m not sick. They are.” is the great deception for family members.
A hard truth, to be sure, but truth nonetheless.
Alcoholism and addiction is a family illness.
Ask yourself honestly if you’re as blind to your own condition as the alcoholic/addict is to their own…
It’s a tough question.
We’ve found it true, time and time again, that family members are just as unwilling to face and be rid of their own broken behaviors as the alcoholic/addict.
Breathe that in.
I know it hurts, but the healing facts often do.
How Badly Do You Want Change?
WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO DO ABOUT IT?
Are you willing to stop demanding they change first and look inward?
So many are not.
Blame is so much easier and more sickly satisfying in the short-term.
Healing your home likely starts with you, and your happiness has shockingly little to do with the behavior of the alcoholic/addict in your life.
Are you willing to consider that it is possible to have your own happy, joyful life with a freedom you have probably forgotten was possible, no matter what your loved one is doing?
It may seem a ridiculous notion, but I can assure you that it’s entirely possible.
Restoring Your Own Joy Is (Also) a Powerful Form of Help
Alcoholism and addiction is a destroyer of all that is good within a home if you don’t know how to break the cycle of family illness you’re currently stuck in.
“(Alcoholism) involves those about us in a way no other human sickness can… for with it there goes annihilation of all the things that are worthwhile 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.”
Homes that are full of tension and insecurity, where conflict is ready to erupt at any moment, are miserable places for everyone.
This situation stacks the odds against the alcoholic/addict getting well.
It destroys all that is joyful for you both.
Shared feelings of guilt, anxiety, and pain drastically increase the likelihood of exactly what you fear—another relapse.
It is a family cycle of misery and illness.
You may have to be the one to break the cycle within your home.
And, you’ll likely need some help dealing with the turmoil going on inside.
Better Odds: Help Yourself (Not the Alcoholic)
Are you willing to do what you demand of your alcoholic loved one in order to help them (and yourself)?
Your spiritual and emotional recovery needs to come first in your life for so many reasons.
You don’t have to live in misery, and by taking care of what is killing you from the inside out first, you increase the odds of seeing an end to the cycle of drinking, using, and destruction within your home.
There is NO REASON why you have to continue to suffer even though your loved one does.
There is a way, and the members of a good Al-Anon group know how to get it done.
Al-Anon is a group of people, family members and loved ones of alcoholics and addicts, who have been where you’re at and have recovered.
They are ready to help you find relief for the pain within yourself and increase the chances of your loved one’s recovery.
You don’t have to do it alone.