A note from Ellie: At Crying Out Now we recognize that addiction is a family disease, and we encourage stories from loved ones of alcoholics and addicts in the spirit of helping to heal, educate and support one another.
***Submitted by Michelle
It's often said as a joke, "the first step is admitting you have a problem". I know I had, in the past. I thought I knew what that first step says. It was a revelation to me then, on my first visit to an Al-Anon meeting to hear the real thing: "we admitted that we were powerless over the alcoholic, and that our lives had become unmanagable".
Unmanageable was definitely the word. I had tried everything to stop my alcoholic from drinking. I took away his money, his car keys, his credit cards. I warned the kids to keep an eye on him, not to give him money, not to ride in the car with him. I searched the house and the shed and the garage looking for the bottle that I knew was there, and when I found it I ranted and raved or became silent and sullen. I was miserable and I was going crazy. I found myself one day contemplating staying home from work, just because I wanted to stop him from drinking. I was seriously considering quitting my job of 15 years, working for the best bosses anyone could ever dream of and our families sole source of income at the time, to stay home and watch a full grown adult who resented my presence.
When he finally made that choice and went into rehab, the program had specific requirements for family members, including educational meetings and group therapy with the patients and without. I heard those questions over and over again, and asked some of them myself...."how can I help him? ...how can I stop him?...what am I supposed to do?" They encouraged us all to go to Al-Anon meetings, and eventually I went. I was a sponge, all I wanted to do was soak up knowledge, find the answers. I wanted him to be all right. I wanted my life back, and would do anything to get it.
The first thing they tell you is that you can't stop the addict from using. It's there in the prayer they recite at every meeting, "the serenity to accept the things I can not change" and the biggest thing you can't change is someone else. I will admit I was kind of peeved when they said that I was the one I had to change. Damnit, I am not the problem here, I said. Oh, but you are, they replied.
No one gives you answers in Al-Anon. There is no advice, just a hand extended by people who know where you have been and have been there themselves. They gave me their phone numbers, and listened to my tearful and/or angry rambling sentences about the injustice I felt I was living in. They smiled, and said "keep coming back" and I did.
I have learned so much about myself, and have found some peace in those rooms that I didn't think was even possible. One thing that I have noticed the most was the different social aspect of going to the meetings. Here is a whole new group of friends, and things to do. I was astonished at this hidden world of activities and meetings and retreats that had been going on in my area all along that I never knew about. Just like an alcoholic finds in AA, you suddenly have a whole new social circle that you automatically have something in common with.
It's not all perfect, there have been relapses and there are days that I forget my own learning and just lose it completely, but I have hope again that with practice we will all be okay. I have found in myself a serenity that I thought might have been gone forever, and I know that no matter what happens, I can handle it, with the help of these wonderful people and my own resources.
I encourage everyone who is struggling with someone else's addiction, be it a parent, a spouse, a child or even just a friend to look up a meeting in your area and go. You don't have to talk if you don't want to, just listen. Give it a chance, and give yourself a chance to change and heal. The best way to help everyone else is to take care of yourself. You are worth it!