Posted by fxckfeelings on December 18, 2014Share This Post
The human mind is capable of many complex, inscrutable functions, but when it comes to hopeless situations, they’re processed by a part of our brains that hasn’t evolved since we had tails. That’s why, in those moments, our instincts tend to go one of two stupid ways: either you deduce that nothing’s working and never will, or that nothing’s working but definitely will if you try the opposite of whatever you’re doing now. Thus does our lizard brain control our response to foreign policy, midterm elections, and alcoholism. Better to force some human-level reasoning to what’s rarely an either/or situation and respect what you’re able to accomplish with what you control. When your instincts tell you to give up is when you know you need to give a situation more thought.
I’m an alcoholic (with twenty years of sobriety), so when it became clear my daughter also had the disease, I tried to stay focused on doing my best to help her and not start freaking out and blaming her or myself. I think I did OK because my daughter is trying to stay sober and goes to meetings every day (I know, because she’s living at home now), but every eight weeks or so she stops going and, a couple days later, she’s drinking again. We then have a talk and she gets back on the wagon, but it wears me out and I’m losing hope. My goal is to figure out how we can get out of this rut without something horrible happening first.
It’s tough to see your daughter with an illness you know so much about and yet couldn’t prevent; given the season, you must feel like her ghost of Christmas future, if Christmas was less about Jesus and more about just drinking a lot.
On the other hand, it also sounds like you bring a great deal of knowledge and wisdom to the job of helping her. You don’t get outraged when she slips, and, perhaps as a result, she recovers her sobriety pretty quickly. Then, you manage to keep from losing it when she loses her sobriety all over again. At least until now.
It’s upsetting, not just to watch her lose her sobriety, but to be able to predict days in advance that it’s going to happen. It’s also hard not to put pressure on her at those times, or feel like relapse is a defeat when you can’t prevent it. You’ve gone through the cycle so many times, you no longer see a way out.
Remember, however, that relapse is never a defeat if you learn something from it or remain committed to trying something new next time. Instead of letting the cycle grind you down, use what you’ve learned from your numerous turns to lead you out of it.
So, instead of sighing and keeping your mouth shut, ask her whether she’s noticed the same pattern you have, and whether, together, you can use that pattern to help prevent the next slip. Maybe you can put up a calendar on the wall and record her attendance at 12 step meetings, so her high-risk periods are more visible and public. Or you can ask her to talk with her sponsor about a behavioral intervention she can do with herself when her relapse risk is higher than usual.
If she seems unmotivated to think about managing these breakouts, ask yourself (and her) whether stronger incentives might help, like insisting that she spend one day out of the house whenever she loses her sobriety. Don’t punish or confront, just problem-solve using your knowledge, patience, and persistence.
There’s no way you can know when or even if she will achieve your level of sobriety, but you’ve obviously helped her get on the right path since she’s sober most of the time. Slips may be unavoidable, but don’t stop offering her help in identifying triggers and creating incentives.
Even if she was unlucky enough to get your bad genes, she’s lucky to have you as her sober Santa; your gift is knowledge from experience, and, if you can stomach it, a great deal of patience.
“It’s depressing to watch my daughter struggle with the same illness I’ve had all my life and think that my genes are responsible, but I know that managing alcoholism made me a much stronger person and I see that she’s made great gains. I won’t let negative thinking interfere with my ability to keep her focused on a positive future.”
My fiancé’s always partied a little too much, but he recently showed up at a lunch with my family totally smashed and went out of his way to offend everyone, and now I can’t deny that he has a problem. Afterwards, he couldn’t remember it, said he’d just had a few drinks with a friend earlier that day because that’s what he does on weekends, and told me I was being crazy. I don’t want to nag him too much because I know he’s got a confidence problem, but I really believe that if I can get his family’s support and we shock him into reality with an intervention (and threaten to cut him off if he doesn’t get into rehab), we can get him to stop partying altogether. My goal is to figure out how to approach our families to help me confront him, so we can save his life.
Some people say that tough love is the only way to get through to an alcoholic and everything that isn’t tough is “co-dependent,” but, in reality, toughness is often as ineffective as coddling or the silent treatment or anything else. Certainly, if no one has tried confronting your fiancé before, it’s worth a try.
Often, however, the intense emotion backfires, leaving the confrontee feeling like, if he does agree to, as they say, accept your gift, he’s only doing it in order to please others and get you off his back, rather than because he knows he needs it himself.
Another unfortunate side effect of confrontation is that it feeds the spirit of rebellion that most addicts have; they take the Asshole™ mindset that nobody understands and everybody’s out to get them. That will give him more reason to stop pleasing-you-by-getting-help if he feels you’ve criticized or disappointed him, which will make you angrier and less effective. So give confrontation a try, but don’t expect miracles, and don’t bank on an intervention as the ultimate answer.
Regardless of your ability to influence him, give thought to your own reasons for considering his drinking as dangerous to him and your life together. Observe whether it makes his behavior nasty, off-putting, or unsafe, and would thus affect his ability to work or his relationship with you.
Then you’re ready to ask him about his criteria for deciding whether drinking is good for him. Without actively sharing (or denying) that you feel negative emotions such as anger or fear, insist on your right to know what he thinks about his behavior and its impact on relationships and his future. Let him know what you’ve observed and what you think it means; if you think his behavior presents a risk to your marriage and that you can’t go ahead until you see better control, say so with sadness, but not anger. Then offer him time to reach his own conclusions and decide whether he wants treatment.
If he can’t accept that his alcohol-driven behavior has caused you to lose confidence in your partnership, quite apart from feeling angry or disappointed, then you’ve done your best, and he’s unlikely to respond to any other intervention, formal or otherwise.
Perhaps, if he doesn’t convince himself that he needs help now, time and additional losses will persuade him that your concerns are based on reality and a real desire to see him get healthy. If they don’t, then bypassing tough love for the tough decision was the better choice.
“I may be able to persuade my boyfriend to get help for his alcoholism by showing him how upset everyone is with this drinking-related behaviors. If that fails, however, I’ll make my own decisions about his behavior, share my thoughts without anger, and hope that time and future events will turn him around.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname