Living with an Alcoholic?
Find Serenity in Alanon
If you are a member of Alanon, an organization established to provide help to the families and friends of alcoholics, at some time or another you may have picked up a brochure or hear someone read the "Do's and Don'ts" at an Alanon meeting. These are suggested practices that members have found helpful in finding a better life for themselves. In the past, many of us did the "Don'ts" and avoided the "Do's" ... just the opposite of the recommendations! Now we learn that when we reverse our behavior, we'll eventually discover a sense of contentment and serenity. Read on to learn more.
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The Alanon "Don'ts"
In Alanon we learn we should try to avoid being self-righteous. It is easy to believe that we know what is best for someone else ... not only with regards to their alcohol or drug use, but also concerning what they eat, where they go, who they see, etc. We convince ourselves that we are right and they are wrong. This self-righteous attitude not only makes it unlikely that the alcoholic will stop drinking, but it also leaves us feeling frustrated and angry. An important slogan that goes along with this suggestion is "Live and let live." This change in attitude will make you much happier.
In Alanon we are also taught to stop trying to dominate, nag, scold and complain to the alcoholic. The reasons for this are exactly the same as the suggestion above. Nagging an alcoholic will not change their behavior, but we are certain to become upset. Getting angry at an alcoholic is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die! In addition, the frustration we feel can cause us great emotional distress.
Ideally, we learn in Alanon to stop losing our temper with the alcoholic, or to at least lose our tempers a little less often. Of course, this is easier said than done. Most members of Alanon continue to occasionally lose their tempers, no matter how long they have been in the Alanon program. This is a goal, not an absolute; however, it is something worth striving towards. Not only does it create more peace in the family, but it makes us feel more comfortable, too!
An important tenant of Alanon is to stop trying to push others. It is so easy to see what others should be doing, at least in our opinion. It is so much harder to focus only on ourselves. Leave the alcoholic alone, and see how much happier you will become. It may seem like a novel idea, but other people have the right to fail, and to not live up to our expectations.
Alanon also recommends that we should stop bringing up the past. When we focus on the past, we can succeed in making an alcoholic feel guilty ... and then they may go drink because they want to escape that guilt. The past is past and nothing can change it. The same can be said for the future. We really have no idea what is going to happen. It is far more satisfactory to live one day at a time.
We should stop checking up on the alcoholic. Ahhh ... but it is so tempting to try to find out what they are up to! However, do you really think it will change anything if you count how many drinks they are having, or tally up the hours they have spent at their favorite bar? Alanon teaches us to let it go.
Alanon also suggests that we stop feeling sorry for ourselves. Self-pity is not constructive and it will not bring us a sense of serenity or contentment. Let injustices go, and move on. Yes, I know it isn't easy, and so do the other members of Alanon. All of us have felt sorry for ourselves at one time or another. However, letting go is in our own best interest.
Alanon emphasizes that we need to stop making threats, unless we are totally committed to carrying them out. You know what this means. How many times have you said things like, "If you get drunk one more time, I'll leave ... or you'll have to leave ... or this will be the end of our marriage." Only say these things if you know you are prepared to act on them. Otherwise, the alcoholic will begin to tune out everything you say!
Perhaps one of the most important thing that Alanon teaches is to stop protecting the alcoholic from the consequences of their own actions. Have you ever called the alcoholic's place of employment to tell them that he has "the flu"? Have you lied to your friends about why your spouse behaved so erratically at the neighborhool block party? Have you loaned them money, or bailed them out of jail, or saved them in other situations? It is far better if they have to deal with the problems themself. If they create a mess, they have to deal with the consequences. Otherwise, they have no reason to change. This may seem particularly difficult if the alcoholic is your child, or if the alcoholic provides financial support to you and your children. There may be times that you are unable to follow this suggestion. However, the more discomfort the alcoholics cause themselves, the more likely they are to reach the conclusion that they can't live that way any longer.
The final Alanon "Don't" is to stop being a doormat! Most of us come to Alanon because we have let an alcoholic or drug abuser walk all over us. They have taken our money, embarrassed us, and left us to clean up after them. At some point, you have to decide that you have had enough, and stop the cycle.
The Alanon "Do's"
First, Alanon suggests that we need to start forgiving ourselves for the times we messed up in the past. Realize that you are now beginning to change. It may take a while before the alcoholic notices the change in you, but eventually he will. Until then, you will know that you are thinking and acting differently than you did in the past.
Alanon teaches us to be honest with ourselves about our situation. We need to stop pretending that the alcoholic is on the verge of changing. We need to stop believing their lies. We need to honestly assess what is happening, and realize our part in letting it continue as long as it has. And don't forget, we are still going to forgive ourselves!
We need to be humble. We are not going to be able to "save" another person. They have to save themselves. Don't try to force someone else to change, and don't take credit when they do change. Instead, we need to learn to take care of ourselves. Eventually, we can only hope that they will learn to take care of themselves, too!
We need to take it easy. Stress can kill us ... and leave the alcoholic untouched! Find time each day to relax and do something you enjoy. If that means you don't have time to take care of the alcoholic, that's OK! They need to take responsibility for themselves. You don't always need to be there to prepare their meals and baby them.
Play! Have some fun! Find a hobby or something to do that you enjoy. Sing, get exercise, read a book, ride a horse, take a class in yoga, art, music or anything else that interests you. Keep yourself busy doing the things you love, and you won't have time to nag the alcoholic.
Keep trying to live up to these standards. We all slip up from time to time. If you slip, and find yourself nagging the alcoholic or counting their drinks, relax and let it go. We all do that from time to time. It is never too late to start the day over.
Learn more about alcoholism. Take time to listen to other Alanon members share their stories, go to open AA meetings, listen to speakers, read books. All these activities will gradually help you learn to accept that the alcoholic has a disease and he cannot easily change his behavior. However, you can change your behavior towards them!
Attend Alanon meetings as often as possible. The friendship and comfort you find at these meetings will help you survive the tough times.
Finally, don't forget to pray. When you pray, you will often find the help and support that you need to get through just one more day!
Do all members of Alanon follow these suggestions perfectly? Of course we don't! We only try to lead the best life we possibly can, using these ideas as guidelines to help us live a healthier, happier life. What we have discovered is that the closer we are to following these recommendations, the more at peace we become.
You may also find help by reading some of these other Alanon articles:
Learn More About the 12 Steps of Al-Anon
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