Monday, January 09, 2012

My name is Jennifer, and I'm a family member of alcoholics

I've mentioned here that there is alcoholism in my family. One of my family members who is an alcoholic is in a real crisis right now. Having already lost pretty much everything to the disease in recent years, this person is now at the point that if he doesn't hit rock bottom and get some help, he's going to be living on the streets. I am also worried he might die. I find this overwhelmingly upsetting. It has been an ongoing problem - a crisis here and there, for the past couple years, and it is tiresome. It is hard for him, of course, but it is also hard on people around him, like me.

I have come to realize that I play a part in my alcoholic family, and I am an enabler to some extent. I try to help, to get help for him, to offer to do things for him, and to generally do what I can to help fix the situation, which is obviously an impossible thing to do. I do this because I love him, and it genuinely pains me to see someone suffer who I care about. I also do this because I am from an alcoholic family, and this is what I was trained to do. This is the result. If you read about alcoholism, you read about people who are enablers or helpers or martyrs or other not-so-positive things because they are in that family and, even if they never pick up a drink themselves, they too have part of the family disease (or what some call a disease). I am one of those people.

I have written here about my qualms with twelve-step groups, but tonight, out of desperation and genuinely not knowing what else to do, I went again to an Alanon meeting - the first one I had gone to in about a year and a half. I am actually  glad I went. I don't embrace the Higher Power concept, and I have problems being in a group where there is so much focus on that, but being in a room where people really understand what I'm going through, the feelings I'm having, the desire to help but the need to learn that this is not really helpful at all....this is good for me.  I need something like this. At least right now.

I don't have a therapist anymore. The mental health center had allowed me five visits with my therapist for free - and those visits ended. So she is technically not my therapist anymore. The first time the therapy ended was months ago, but then when I had my psychosis start up, they thought I needed to go back. So I did, and then that ended. So now, I really don't have anyone to talk to. It's okay. I mean, I wasn't going to stay in therapy for the rest of my life anyway. I think there is only so much you can learn with the same therapist, and my therapist was good for four years. I will miss her, but I will be alright with this, because I knew it was coming for a long time. I just don't have the money for the therapy. Medicare won't pay for her, and that is what it is. It has been ongoing for a while, and the mental health center gave me a lot of low cost therapy for months before I got the free therapy for five sessions. So I have technically ended therapy now for the third time in the past couple years with this therapist.

The point is, I need someone to talk to. Maybe I could meet an understanding soul in an Alanon meeting to talk to on the phone once in a while who will really get where I'm coming from. I have a couple friends I've talked to about it, but I need more people to be able to talk about it more often. And I need to improve myself, to stop being a caretaker all the time, to stop trying to solve someone else's problem for him. I can't solve it. He is going to live or die at his own hand.  I will do whatever I can to help him if he's willing to get help. But if he's not, then there is really nothing I can do at all, except remind him that I care. I can't support another person financially, even if I wanted to do so or if it was a good idea to do so. I can't have someone live on my couch, because my landlord has a lot of rules about who lives here since it's a mental health agency through HUD housing that owns the place. I can't give him a job or a car or a house. I can't do a lot. He has to dig himself up from the bottom, and I hope, desperately I hope, that he will.

It is hard to watch someone you care about suffer. I know that, in the past, when I have suffered from mental illness, people watched me, and they didn't know what to do or how to help, and mostly they didn't help. My mom tried, but nobody else really did, until I was finally hospitalized for five months and got professional help that worked. It is going to take a trip somewhere - if rehab is possible without insurance and without money - to help my family member. So far it looks like no rehab is possible without insurance or money, but if it is, he has to take some initiative and call the phone numbers I gave him to the places I already called for him, and he has to talk to them himself. The people there already told me this. If he does this, he has a chance at recovery, I think. If he doesn't, then I don't know how long he can continue to languish like he is right now, with no money and nowhere to go.

It's hard not to blame myself. I think, if only I could fix this....but this is not my fault.  This is not my problem. I did not create this problem, and as they say in Alanon, I cannot cure it or change it. I am not the cause. I must remain strong in my resolve to detach and remain supportive but not take on the other person's problem and let it destroy my own sanity, occupy all of my thoughts, and distract me from my own life. I feel guilty even saying this, but this is what the experts say, what Alanon says, and what probably makes sense. If someone doesn't want help, then, they can't always be helped.

I gave him the AA hotline, the suicide hotline, and the numbers two detox centers. I called the detox centers myself, also called his insurance, found out he doesn't have any insurance anymore, and called him repeatedly to tell him all of this information and to try to help him. I offered to drive him to the detox, to drive him to AA meetings. He didn't want to go. So what else can I do? If someone is going to rent a motel room to do nothing but sit alone and drink and lose their job and get kicked out of yet another home, then what can I do? I don't think I can do much else. So I have to detach from this situation, as much as I can, or I'll be a constant nervous wreck, vomiting and crying and feeling ill, and being totally distracted. And I can't afford to live like that. Not again.


  1. It is so tough when you see a disease eating someone up. Someone you care about and love and not being to do anything for them. He does though have to have the desire to recover within himself or no matter what you do for him nothing will change. What is most difficult though is when the addiction has gotten so out of hand and so far that it has eaten up that will within him. I don't know where you can really go from there an intervention perhaps?

  2. I think you have to let it go(to the extent that you can)because it has the potential to drag you down....& you just happen to be dealing with probably as much as you can handle right now.

    You aren't deserting this family member...not under the circumstances you have explained.

  3. You've done all you can Jen, now it's up to him to pull himself out of his illness and get help. I know it's hard, but all you can do is be compassionate and loving towards him and have hope.

  4. Dear Jen,

    I am very sorry to hear about your family member and yet this might be the break he needs. That's the problem, he's at a critical point and it could go either way--towards recovery or towards death. We've both been there in our own illnesses. My ex-boyfriend was an alcoholic and heroin addict. One night after a party where he drank and used heroin, he got into his car! A little while later he drove off a cliff. A police officer rescued him, but the damage was done--he had become paraplegic. A couple of years later he committed suicide. And all the while before his accident and after, I was praying for him to find recovery. But he didn't. It was too much for him. It would have been too much for me too to be doubly addicted and paralyzed. He had less than a fighting chance, but your family member does have a chance.

    You have done all you could and then some and yes, you have been affected by the disease of addiction and have become, in part, an enabler. Co-dependency is to my mind an addiction too. I have stayed out of relationships for a very long time and now that I've found a friend in my community I see that I still have the same desire you have to fix and control what's wrong in her life. But now I see it and don't act. I respect my friend and help out only when I can and when it's comfortable for her. I've lived and learned. And you are too right now.

    I'm so proud of you for going to the Al-Anon meetings. They aren't perfect, but there's a lot of wisdom and comfort to be found there. Just keep going Jen. Use the group to center and guide yourself, the way others use the concept of the higher power. When you go you are admitting that you are ill too because of alcoholism even though you are not addicted to alcohol and you are reaching out for help and to help. You are setting a good example for your family member. Let that member know that you too go to meetings and that they help you.

    Write to me anytime,

    Love, Kate : )

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