The smell of their breath or the lateness of the hour give away the secret. Sometimes speech is loud and boisterous. Other times the words arrive like marbles rolling jumbled through slurred speech and discoordination. A family member, someone you truly love and care for, has been drinking again. It’s a helpless mixture of frustration and sadness. Now you watch your loved one held hostage in the perpetually performative state of the alcoholic.
Drinking and lying. They disappoint themselves and others. This contributes very little motivation for alcoholics to put down the bottle. Attempts to shout reason or plead understanding seem to fall on deaf ears. The descent into alcohol abuse seems to progress even faster. This leaves you to wonder if your efforts to help your family member have actually made the situation more tenuous.
Set Healthy Boundaries. Then Stick to Them.
Setting healthy boundaries can be difficult. This is especially true when we are not sure what those boundaries should look like. The good news is that boundaries are a personalized expectation. This is unique to each individual and each relationship. Boundaries or Tough Love can look like setting limits on how often you communicate with your loved one. Or they could present ultimatums such as “get help for your alcoholism or you will no longer be allowed to live in this house.”
Deciding which boundaries to set can be a daunting task. The real work comes from enforcing those boundaries in the face of discomfort. Most alcoholics will attempt to negotiate boundaries. They may ask for “one more chance” or promise to follow through tomorrow or the next day. Your job as a supportive family member is to stay strong in those boundaries. This effectively creates unpleasant circumstances for the alcoholic. The greatest motivator for change is pain. If we continue to help our family members avoid that pain, we also prevent them from experiencing situations or circumstances in which they may feel enough distress to seek relief or recovery from alcohol abuse.
Be Honest About Fears and Feelings in Communication
Our alcoholic family members may seem fragile or broken. They often struggle with emotions. They may easily become upset or agitated when presented with the information they find distressing. Loved ones may feel as though they are walking on eggshells when sharing space or conversations with someone abusing alcohol. In an effort to avoid conflict and further trigger the alcoholic into drinking, close supports will often censor their thoughts or feelings. This is especially true when it comes to the subject of alcohol or recovery.
This filtered relationship may seem beneficial to the mental and emotional wellness of the alcoholic however, these unspoken feelings only serve as an invisible weight around the necks of concerned family members who must watch helplessly as their loved one moves further away from health and happiness. There is no right time to tell someone you are concerned for their wellbeing and there is no limit on how many efforts you should make in an attempt to save someone’s life. When the inevitable consequences of alcoholism arrive, family members are never left thinking “I wish I’d done less,” the biggest regrets are often the words left unspoken and the chances not taken.
Learn More About Alcoholism
When dealing with the alcoholism of a family member we sometimes find it is difficult to react without emotion. The pain they have caused. The trust they have broken. The emptiness they have left. This all stands like memorials to the person you once knew. Anger and outrage easily surface as we prepare for confrontation. But, entering a conversation about alcoholism without a critical understanding of alcoholism as a disorder leaves us void of the empathy and compassion needed to truly connect.
By researching alcoholism through the lens of a medical condition, we begin to see how drinking is only one symptom of a much deeper issue. Reading studies and watching videos of brain mapping can broaden our knowledge. It can also help us to recognize the words and behaviors of our family member as side effects of alcoholism. Rather than personal insults or apathy.
There are countless resources for learning more about alcoholism. With more knowledge comes more power. That power should be used to help guide you and your family through the perils of alcoholism and the path to recovery.
Listen and Show Compassion
When you can successfully engage your family member in a conversation surrounding their drinking, it is best to create an open, non-judgmental space for the individual to share his or her feelings. This does not mean we don’t take a turn in sharing our own struggles as they relate to alcoholism. It means that we try not to argue or interrupt.
Listening and remaining open-minded can sometimes create the safe circumstances needed for a family member to admit fear or helplessness. If an alcoholic sees you as someone who wants to be supportive rather than someone who wants to fight, they may consider allowing you an opportunity to lend that support.
Compassionate listening includes practicing empathy when responding to the feelings or information being shared with you. For example, if your family member shares that they feel alone and they believe no one understands their struggles you may initially feel angry or defensive. It is okay to have these emotions. Compassionate listening includes acknowledging your own feelings while attempting to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. This helps us remove the impulse to scream “how dare you?” and replaces it with thoughtful consideration for how you’ve both struggled under the conditions of alcoholism.
Offer Concrete Support
It is always important to let our loved ones know we support them. Providing compassion and a safe space for discussion can be invaluable to someone struggling with alcoholism. Understanding is helpful but the utility of these conversations can fade as time marches on and alcoholism remains. Before you decide to provide support for your alcoholic family member search online or contact a professional to find out what options your loved one has for recovery.
Some treatment centers offer 24-hour support for families coping with the stress and heartache of alcoholism. The goal of this service is to provide options and education to families who may feel they have nowhere to turn. Trained addiction professionals will do their best to assess the severity of your loved one’s condition while walking you through steps to help them find recovery as soon as possible. Armed with resources and recommendations you can return to the supportive conversation with your loved one fully prepared with instructions of action.
Having these tools ready helps to turn moments of despair into opportunities for hope. The next time this individual expresses a feeling of helplessness or resigns you can offer a concrete solution. Without the overwhelming barrier of finding and contacting a treatment program or wondering how to begin, your loved one will be free to only consider the option of treatment. These moments do not arrive daily, so the best way to maximize your chances of success is to contact professionals. The team at Mississippi Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center will walk you through the process of saving your family member from alcoholism.