Overcoming an addiction is one of the hardest things imaginable. Alcoholism is a serious illness and a dependency that is incredibly self-destructive and potentially life threatening. To watch a loved one go through this vicious cycle is agonizing and dealing with the effects and aftermath can be just as challenging for you. An alcoholic can receive so much help along the way but ultimately the only person who can really help them on the road to recovery is themselves. They have to want to be better and they have to have serious conviction and strength to achieve this. What might be a simple every day task for you or me to achieve, can be a struggle for them and one of the hardest things can be coping in a situation where alcohol is present. For someone who is in early sobriety, often the easiest solution in this situation is avoidance. But as time goes by, life must go on and weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and so on, will always be a part of life that they are expected to participate in. In many of these situations there will be alcohol present, how they cope with that is again up to them but how (if we can) do we help them?
Firstly it’s important that we understand how they are achieving their sobriety. Are they in a 12 step program? Have they been in rehab and what follow on therapy are they receiving? The main thing is that we have to respect that is the choice they have made to get better and we also have to respect the steps they need to take in order to stay on the right track. We have to understand that they may not be able to be completely present, especially in situations where there are other family members whose alcohol abuse is still an issue. It is often too easy to exclude them from for fear of triggering a relapse but if you can take the time to talk to them and get to know how they are coping and what circumstances they are most comfortable in, they can be a part of your special events.
Many recovering alcoholics have coping mechanisms already in place for potentially difficult situations. We wrote previously about a 12 step survival guide to family events and this was from the recovering alcoholic’s perspective. (www.drugrehabcomparison.com/blog/12-step-survival-guide-to-family-events/) You can see from this that someone who is already in a 12 step program can use it to their advantage and draw from their own 12 steps and sponsors for strength and guidance. You can also see the fear that can be instilled by what may seem like a harmless question to you, for example “Are you seriously not having a drink?” Alcoholism is an illness, it was once explained to me in the following way; “You wouldn’t ask someone who had just recovered from lung cancer if they wanted a cigarette, so you shouldn’t feel it is OK to offer someone who is recovering from alcoholism a drink…” Because with alcoholism the old saying “One won’t hurt you.” couldn’t be further from the truth. Inevitably the key is to be understanding, empathetic and most of all respectful of what they have achieved.
This video from the NHS in England gives excellent advice on dealing with a loved one who is addicted.