Help for Adult Children of Alcoholics
5 Steps to help your loved one and yourself
After years of struggle, frustration, and sacrifice, your parent is celebrating one month of sobriety. This is the day you’ve only imagined in your dreams and even those you tried to quiet for fear of more disappointment. Maybe you’ve “fallen” for this before and you’ve learned to become numb in order to protect your heart, not to mention your mental health.
Yet, here we are. Your mom or dad is in recovery. What next? This can be a nerve wracking and sometimes even exciting time. You’re not sure if you can be hopeful yet, maybe you’ll settle on “cautiously optimistic”.
1. First things first, let’s address Alcoholism for what it is – a disease.
Alcohol cravings occur in the unconscious part of the brain. They are not under conscious control and cannot be overcome with willpower. Understanding what your loved one is going through may help you address issues in a different way and not take things that are said as personally.
Since Alcoholism is a disease, relapses can happen. Your parent is learning to be sober and when you’re learning something, mistakes happen. They are re-training their brain. If a relapse happens it doesn’t mean treatment didn’t work or they’ve failed, it just means they had a relapse.
Learn what you can about their addiction and what it does to their brain.
2. Join a support group
Al-Anon has lots of meetings. Al-Anon is for anyone who is worried that a loved one has a drinking problem. You don’t have to do this alone and even better; you can meet with people who are going through what you are. The advice you receive here isn’t from people are just good at reading self-help books, they’re living it.
3. Move your loved one out of the center of the problem and toward whole family healing
A positive step forward in healing for yourself and your family is to address your parent’s alcoholism differently. Linking Human Systems suggests, “shifting the family perspective”.
In this example we’re going to show a Mother who is an alcoholic. In the first diagram, you can see how most families initially address the problem of dealing with an alcoholic. (POC = Person of Concern)
In the next diagram, we’re going to move the POC, the mother, out of the center and have her join the circle with the rest of the family.
Now “Addiction” is in the middle, we’re getting closer, but not quite there yet. What if we move “Addiction” outside the family circle and also add other circles of trauma the family has faced, like Grandma’s cancer and your uncle’s DUIs and your father’s unresolved grief from the sudden death of his best friend’s car accident?
That’s what the next diagram shows.
So what are we looking at now? For one thing, we’ve brought out the family “secrets” and laid them out. Once you do that you take away some of their power. The other thing that happens when you put the trauma on the outside is your family can start to heal. You can address these issues through communication and empathy and focus on your resilience. Secrets fester, the truth sets you free. Now you can change the story and talk about your family’s resilience in the face of hard times. Look at what you’ve overcome, look at your strengths. You’re still here!
4. Keep your lines of communication open
Ask your parent if there’s anything you can do to help. It may be that they want you to do less. Sometimes when someone we love is struggling, we feel like we need to carry the whole load, but in the end, they may improve faster if they take back some of the work. It can be hard to let go after working so hard for so long. Listen to them and let them know that you’re there.
Another thing to remember is that your parent is going through withdrawal. Symptoms can include anxiety, insomnia, depression, and disorientation. Don’t take things they may say during this time personally. Their brain and body are working hard to heal.
5. Manage your own anxiety
You’ve spent so much of your life solving and smoothing over your parent’s problems. Now they are working to get sober and you feel guilty because you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. You think, how dare I feel hopeful and if I let my guard down for one minute, it could all come crashing down. You need to take the minute. Take a day. Take what you need.
Self care isn’t just for “perfect people” who get massages once a week and post pictures on Instagram of them drinking green juice while looking beautiful and relaxed holding their smiling children who must always be angels. Self-care is for you. It’s especially for you. You who couldn’t even think of the last time you’ve had five minutes to sit alone in silence. So do it. Be as strict about your own well being as you are with everyone else’s.
“Doing your best” does not mean working yourself to the point of a nervous breakdown. ~Author Unknown
Learn more about the ARISE® Network and our Continuing Care Services
The ARISE® Network offers Continuum of Care Services that can help your parent and your family through the most vulnerable parts of the recovery process. If you would like to learn more, feel free to email or call us.