To my brothers and sisters walking alongside someone you love battling addiction, allow me to share my story with you. I share it in hopes that your story, that your “someone”, doesn’t end up like mine. I wrote this on the sixth anniversary of my mother’s passing as a way to encourage you and to help you walk through to the other side of this journey. This is not a journey I would wish on my worst enemy, and for me, it wasn’t a happy ending. Your ending might not have been written yet, or it might have. Either way, here is my road map for how I got through it.
My mom was my best friend, although a codependent one. If I think about it, I know I enabled her drinking, because we always drank together. I thought it was a fun way to get to spend time with her, but little did I know that she would use our time together as an excuse to get drunk at any time of day, any day of the week. I defended her and my father’s drinking habits to my sister, I even agreed with my parents that my sister was the one with the problem with their drinking- that they didn’t have a problem at all, they just liked to have fun. My sister was in Al-Anon learning to cope with our difficult and dysfunctional upbringing, whereas I didn’t see it as such. My sister made the healthy choice to cut ties with our parents, I didn’t feel the need to do something so drastic. After all, our parents were just social drinkers, who were just really social. When my sister made her choice to remove herself and her children from our parents’ influence, my mother’s drinking shifted to a whole different level- it went from bad to worse. My efforts to “snap her out of it” redoubled. I gave she and my father chance after chance to see the light and do the right thing- to either quit drinking or just cut back- but they kept chasing after my sister and her family, to the point of ignoring me and mine. I got to the point where I felt like I wasn’t good enough for them, that my kids weren’t good enough, because my parents kept complaining about the family they weren’t allowed to see, even though they were allowed to spend time with us. I couldn’t understand why they just couldn’t be grateful for the chance to see my children and me, instead of pining away over the ones they were not allowed to see.
With age comes wisdom, and the wiser I got, I finally came to realize that their behavior wasn’t my problem to fix. I realized that I was, in fact, the adult child of alcoholics who were also adult children of alcoholics. Although my father was a “high functioning” alcoholic, he was still suffering from the disease. My mother, though, didn’t have to work and didn’t have anything else to do with her time, so she would wake up in the morning and fix a 20 ounce vodka drink and keep refilling it until she passed out in the late afternoon. She’d come to in time for dinner, where she’d continue drinking until she passed out again. By the time I finally saw the writing on the wall, that she was in the throes of a terrible addiction to alcohol, she was in the early stages of cirrhosis of the liver. I kicked into codependent savior mode again and found a rehab facility for her, got her funding to go, and prayed that she would actually do the work and want to get better. She relapsed about two months after she got home, crawled into the bottle and never came out. I had to come to a place of acceptance, and realize that I had done all I could do, but I had a young family to care for and they needed me to be present in their lives. I made peace with the fact that my mother was going to die from her addiction, and I chose to love my mother from a distance.
I tell you this backstory so I can tell you this YOU ARE ENOUGH. You cannot control your loved one’s behavior; it is not your job. Your loved one is suffering from a horrible disease of their own making, for whatever the reason (and there are myriad reasons that led them to this sad place), and nothing you say or do, nothing you use to entice or deter them will make it get better. Your loved one has to make those hard choices on their own, they have to do the “heavy lifting” of recovery, and they have to fix the underlying issues that started their addiction in the first place. It hurt me so much to discover that nothing that I said or did, or didn’t say or didn’t do, would make my mother change. I felt that she loved the alcohol more than she loved me. In all actuality, she was sick, and it was her own doing. She was the key to fixing it, not me.
We are human. We don’t want to acknowledge the fact that we don’t have control over much of anything on this earth. I’ve heard it described as the hula hoop principle: if you can fit it inside of a hula hoop with yourself, then you can control it. Outside of that, we can only control how we react to situations. We can make suggestions, but until the person to whom you are making the suggestions is ready to hear them, they won’t ever take root. Mom’s advice comes to me all the time, and one of those axioms was delivered when my husband and I were getting more serious in our relationship. She told me, “Honey, the only time you can change a man is when he’s in diapers.” She meant that he was already a grown man and would never change unless he wanted to. That principle applies to us all, I think. I also know that the only time we will change is when the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of the change needing to be made. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
During a recent workshop I attended on dealing with healing our past hurts, one of the speakers said something that I have adopted, and I hope you will too. She said, regarding dealing with someone who refuses to listen to your pleas to get help, “Love you. Mean it. Call me when you’re ready and I’ll help you as best I can.” There is no shame in distancing yourself from your loved one if they refuse to take steps to get better. You can still love them at arm’s length. You can still love them from a different area code. Or ZIP code. You still have to live your life. There’s a reason the flight attendants tell you to first secure your own oxygen mask before you help the person next to you: you’re no good to anyone else if you’re gasping for breath. You can’t pour from an empty cup, and let’s be honest, your loved one is taking up a lot of your precious time and energy. So say it with me: “Love you, mean it, call me when you’re ready.” I hereby absolve you of any guilt you might have because of this, because you can’t save them. It’s not your job. Addiction happens to anyone, for any number of reasons. It affects all socioeconomic groups, all ages, all genders, all races. It’s an equal opportunity destroyer. It’s not just you. Their choices are not your fault, not ever.
I lost my mom to alcoholic cirrhosis. I made very conscious decisions and choices when it came to when and how I interacted with her, and I was very lucky to have the support of my husband, my sister, and several trusted friends. There is no shame in seeking help for yourself through this horrible walk, because not everyone is as lucky to have that kind of support. Rebel is a perfect opportunity to do just that. We’re a community of people who are all going through similar things- it’s not just you. We’re all here to help one another, which is what our world needs now more than ever.
Hello, my name is Elizabeth Thompson.