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February, 2011, Recovery Tip of the Month
USING 'NORMAL' RELATIONSHIP TERMS------ WHEN IT'S ALCOHOLISM
It's often said that ''compromise is what we do, in a marriage''.
Got me thinking about the difference between marriages without abuse or alcoholism ------vs. marriages with alcoholism.
In the "April, 2006, Recovery Tip of the Month" (on that section of this website), there is this paragraph -------
"We subconsciously feel like we should be like that new trash bag that is advertised on tv now------- the one that stretches and stretches --- to way beyond what other trash bags have been able to do ------- to accomodate more and more garbage."
That's akin to us, and the idea of "compromise".
When WE compromise------it goes wayyy beyond the pale.
When counselors see couples, we of course help them to learn to compromise --------so, what kinds of things are typical?
We teach him to maybe go golfing one day a week, only, since he watches sports on tv (and does not want to be interrupted except for emergencies), three nights a week.
We teach her (when he has been travelling for work, 5 days a week for decades---------and he is now retired) to 'catch herself' when he is wanting equal input into how things, large and small, will be managed in that home. In those years of his travelling most of the time, she of course had to make all those decisions, and grew used to it.
What is different in homes with alcoholism? It's like there is one partner who is normal-------and one with alzheimers. And we're trying to teach them how to make judgments about life, together.
Why say 'alzheimers'? Because it, too, is a disease where the brain does not function properly, and one cannot rely on their judgment about matters. Oh, sometimes, while the disease is in earlier stages, the alzheimers patient will be very lucid and fool everyone------but it is progressive, and that is less and less, over the years.
In marriages with alcoholism, we, of course, focus so much on how he behaves toward us------that we sometimes forget------and think he 'just needs to learn how to behave right'.
He has, if he is alcoholic-------a toxic-brain disease. A toxic-brain disease that is progressive and will either kill him or lead him to the back wards of a psychiatric hospital, with no more memory and no more ability to make more memories. Alcoholics who reach that stage have "wet brain"....... a blank brain with no knowledge of who you are------or who they are. When an alcoholic reaches that stage, it is irreversible.
There are literally millions of alcoholics in the back wards of hospitals, with wet brain. The V.A. hospitals are filled with them.
No, we do not "compromise" with alcoholics in a marriage. For, 'compromise' means that two sides of a discussion make joint decisions about how to BOTH 'give in' to make things work out well.
We, instead, adapt. Adapting is done by the non-alcoholics in a family, to make the alcoholic 'happy', for a time.
And we do learn ways to make that happen, in the short term. But, we also need to keep that 'trash bag stretching' ------- to accomodate to what they demand.
And those demands not only grow larger. Our 'rewards' get smaller. And occur less often.
We reach the point where we "really feel we know them"...... where we are pretty vigilant about 'reading them' to see what they want-------to anticipate what they want------ in order to 'head them off at the pass'.
To be sure to meet their 'needs'/wants -------- hopefully, to make sure we reach our goal-------to stop them from hurting us-----to make them at least temporarily half-way-nice to us.
We stretch and stretch and stretch........ to be able to 'do' for them...... so we can have a modicum of a relationship....even if it is a pretense of a relationship....so they will want to be with us.
No, we've gone way beyond the pale about 'compromise'. That word is not even within sight of what we do, to keep an alcoholic relationship going.
SO------HOW DO WE HEAL?
One of the MOST important ways to heal ----- is to "watch our language".
HEAR ourselves when we use terms that make it seem that we 'have normal relationships' when it is alcoholism.
Saying, "I compromise" SEEMS like it is what is done and expected to be done, in marriages. AND THAT IS TRUE! Compromising IS what is done in 'normal marriages'. But it is NOT what we are referring to, when we talk about what WE do.
Part of our healing is to pay a LOT of attention to our terminology------for, our terminology is the language of denial.
The language of SUBTLE denial that keeps us locked into the craziness of alcoholism.
P.S........ We often say to ourselves, when we don't want to hear all this, "oh I know what I mean when I say xxxxx".
Even though we 'know' what we 'mean'------- when we keep using 'normal relationship' terms when referring to what we do in an alcoholic situation, it is a subtle way of minimizing what is going on.
And when we 'fight for our right' to continue to minimize ------- we OF COURSE are just not wanting to face the whole kit and kaboodle entirely.
And that is understandable!
But we if we want to heal MORE QUICKLY------ way down deep------ we need to tell ourselves the truth and face the truth------NO MATTER IF WE STAY OR LEAVE.
For, if we skew the truth to ourselves, with all kinds of justifications....... we still are thinking, then, that it will be easier for us to stay in the relationship if we don't tell ourselves the entire truth as it is.
And that is just not true.
The devastation we feel when the crises happen------- when the INEVITABLE crises happen------ are LESS devastating to us when we "kept one foot out of the circle" all along. When we did not let ourselves forget the truth-----even when we are enjoying the moments when it is good.
Yes, we can---------AND SHOULD------- stay in 'one day at a time'.
But staying in it realistically is one of the things that attendance at Al-Anon, on a regular basis, is so good at.
Going to those face-to-face meetings does help so much to learn to keep a balance....... to learn to enjoy the moments when he is nice......and to learn to still be self-protective.
And to be really self-protective, we cannot tell ourselves half-truths.
Why say 'self-protective'?
Because when we do not want to face the alcoholism and the fact that it is progressive------ when it does progress------if we've let our guard down, so to speak (i.e., tried to 'forget' that there is alcoholism when it is good for a time with him) ------- we get hit like a tidal wave.
This happens mostly with people new to family recovery.
When we've been around recovery for a while, we each learn, in our own way, to find ways to enjoy the moments------without entirely forgetting what is really going on. That as long as he is drinking, it is of necessity-------not of his choice------that it will get worse. But it "hits us" not at all as much------when it progresses----- when we expect it. We can then deal with it SO much more easily. And how to "expect it"? By not forgetting that it is inevitable as long as he keeps drinking.
January, 2011, Recovery Tip of the Month
Telling others//oneself --- to "stay strong"
On the discussion bulletin board on the www.GettingThemSober.com website, part of the Guidelines say, "do not give any advice" includes not telling people to "stay strong".
What happens when that is done?
a. people think, when reading this, "Wait---- that it good to 'not be weak'.......after all, who wants to "be weak"? Or who wants to be considered to "be weak"?.
But, almost all of us are going to vacillate--- go back and forth on feelings, actions--- at least 8 times ---or 80 times----- before we 'land' where we want to finally be-----at a place that is good for our own unique situation.
b. Then, what happens after we post asking for help------and we read a reply that says, "stay strong" from a well-meaning person?
We at first, think, 'oh yes --thanks for the reminder! I'll do that!"
Then-----for MOST of us------ reality sets in----the anger dies down for the moment----- and we miss them---- and we DON'T "stay strong" (whatever that means to you).
And then what?
We feel shame.
We get scared to post that "we reverted"......again.
ESPECIALLY if we have gone back and forth dozens of times-----and we're scared that people are rolling their eyes at us.
What then? Many of us then retreat into silence, and don't post.
We're just too ashamed to let people know that we "were not strong".
c. And------- what do most of us mean when we admonish someone to 'stay strong'?
We almost always say that to someone when they HAVE LEFT a situation...... like, "great! now STAY away!"......or we say it to someone when they 'stood their ground'....... or 'told him off'.
The same shaming applies to all that.
When they again stop telling him off-----or they go back home-----or they tell him they love him-----or they call him------ or whatever----- they do it with shame.......for, they remember that they were told to "stay strong".
And they think that weren't "being strong".
Please please do not post and tell others to "stay strong".
For goodness sakes, we ALL know that it does not feel good when we return to yukky situations!
We all know that it feels not-good when we call him-----and he has contempt in his voice when we do so.
THAT feels bad enough.
We don't need to feel shame on top of it.
We will ALL work through our particular dilemmas of whether to stay or leave------or find another option------ WHEN we are allowed to do so WITHOUT PRESSURES OR PERSUASIONS.
Al-Anon is SO wise.
It says, "we do not give advice."
And-----the paradox is, we all find our own ways, in our own time, on our own path-----when we ARE allowed to do so without pressures or persuasions------- SOONER THAN IF WE HAD HEARD THE WELL-MEANING BUT SHAMING WORDS, 'STAY STRONG'.
B)) And-------- alcoholics don't get involved with weak people!
As we all know, it takes a heckuva lotta strength to STAY in a relationship with an alcoholic!
There are SO many reasons why most of us stay with them....... Religious convictions//young children//teenagers who we worry are already alcoholics, who threaten to 'go live with and drink-with dad if you leave'//physical disabilities//financial problems//caring for elderly parents with the help of the alcoholic (yes, many of them do help with that)//having an alcoholic who is nice much of the time//in the midst of life-saving medical treatments....etc etc etc.
No one lives in your shoes.
No one who gives you advice from a bulletin board on the internet, will live through the consequences of whether you stay or leave....except you.
And almost no one posts their ENTIRE situation.
When I am doing a telephone consultation with a family member, I often find that "a little thing" that I hear from that person, completely changes my evaluation of that relationship.
On a bulletin board on the internet, we have NO idea of the whole situation.
And, it's often not even a conscious not-telling us about the situation------it's often, "oh, I didn't tell you because I didn't think it was important."
We get soooo turned-around and confused and in-shock from living with chronic abuse/alcoholism, that we often overlook very important "details" that would make such a difference in our decisions.
But----if we all totally drop the shaming words----and not drive people into silence----- they will post again and again.......and finally post those important 'details' that they overlooked.
And--THEY will 'hear' their posts!......and THEY will internalize their own words........ and THEY will go 'aha'--------and if necessary, then, alter their paths.
But we ALL need time and patience from others to do that more easily.
And goodness knows, we all need the gentleness to be able to do things more easily...especially us who live with this stuff 24/7......as Al-Anon says, "living with an alcoholic is too much for most of us."
But------- how we deal with that sentence in our own lives has got to be only our decision.
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