Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Alcoholism and Our Dance with It

I feel compelled to write about our dance with alcoholism. On this post, I risk identifying who I am, a little bit, at least to those who know me from counselling where my wife is in outpatient rehab.

This will be a series. For there is too much information to provide in one post to this blog.

First let me make sure to all, I am like you. I may be a male, while you are a female. I may be a father, whereby you are a mother. I may be a husband, whereby you are a wife. I read a lot on this subject, perhaps too much. I am not a councillor. My knowledge only lies in my living it. I can write about it objectively. But at times, I suck at putting my knowledge into practice. My wife is my qualifier (what a strange word Al-Anon uses for the alcoholic in our lives). My father was also a drinker - I was raised by my mother - who is a SAINT - along with 3 brothers.

We all (my brothers) survived by the way. We are all very successful (success = good jobs, happy, nice looking, well meaning, courteous, etc). We do have our little issues, as I believe everyone does. I write this to provide hope to other moms and dads reading this. We are all scared - and I do mean scared, about the future and how this impacts our children. But I am convinced, we can all be OK in the end.

The counselling session that opened my eyes WIDE.

In one session at family night the therapist (and I will cut this down from an hour to 10 minutes), called a "volunteer" from the circle of 30 people (family members and alcoholics) to stand in the center of the circle (we all sit in chairs in a circle). Then we moved the circle to a "U" shape

This volunteer (A) was the alcoholic. He was placed and stood at the head of the open "U" shape in the front of the room. The therapist placed the volunteer (A) on a big phone book. "What does this represent? He asked. "Represents - he is not grounded." was the answer. Then the therapist placed a glass in the hands of (A).

A wife (or spouse) was called up - another volunteer (S = spouse). While (A) was facing us, (S) stood to his side, facing the alcoholic left side of his shoulder. This made her (S) looking at the (A) and the glass. (S) was standing right next to (A) - very close - eyes on (A) and the glass. Again - the (A) was looking out at us in the U pattern of chairs.

Note - try to visualize this for a second.

Now enter the first child. A volunteer was brought up representing a child. (By the way no children are in the room nor are they allowed - for they are too young.) Volunteer (C1) is the first born. The child was placed - guess where?

(C1) was placed behind mom or (S). This was the "perfect child." Usually first born. But facing mom's back. Helping mom or (S) maintain the household. Getting great grades, star in school. But still facing mom's back - who is looking at the alcoholic.

(I will place a diagram here - later)

Now introduce the rest of the children. C2 was out further in almost like an orbit, as was C3, and C4 (although C4 sat in a chair behind the three in. One child represented the child who acted out. Another was the "lost" child - usually last born who was (C4). The family was all doing it's "thing" to "keep the eyes on the alcoholic."

But the children were playing roles too. They wanted attention and were vying for it.

The message here - again - I risk doing this important example injustice - but this "orbit" and "eyes on the alcoholic and the other children playing supporting roles because of the alcoholic in the family was/is critical."

Breaking the "eyes on the alcoholic" and the dance - in which our entire family is affected - is what we must try to do. I am going to add, "in a loving kind way," for our children and, and this is important, for us too. You and I are important. AND you and I should never forget that or feel guilty for caring about ourselves. And, this is NOT selfishness. I learned this today - the part that you should love yourself and care for yourself - that this is not selfish.

I will show a diagram later - when I can - later this week.

I pray you all are well.

Your friend - Joe


PS - This post was written for me probably more than anyone else today.


Deb said...

Hi Joe,

I am the daugher of an alcoholic, the first born of two children. I was the high achiever of our family, looked after my Dad the best that a child could do. My mother did a pretty good job of holding down things financially, but was very miserable. Being raised in an alcoholic home the emphasize was always on the alcoholic. When he was happy and not drinking then everyone was happy. When he was unhappy and critical, we tried to make him happy and accepting of life. I never stopped to think about my happiness, separate from his behavior and disease.

I am also the mother of an alcoholic daughter. Because of her, I am so thankful that I have found Al-Anon, and have begun to live for what is best for me. I got sick and tired of being miserable and anxious about my daughters condition. I am thankfully learning a new dance with her and maybe I can stop this cycle in my family, maybe not, but at least I can say that I am making progress in the wonderful program of Al-anon. I have found more peace and serentity that I ever dreamed was possible.

The exercise was interesting to read about. I had a therapist ask me to draw a circle that represented my Dad. I drew a big circle (quarter sized). Then she asked me to draw a circle of me in relation to his circle. I drew a pea sized circle, right next to the large circle. Then she asked me to put my younger brother's circle, sadly, I could not place that circle anywhere.

Thanks for your blog,


Joe said...

Deb - you are now a big circle. You are and ever shall be.

Thank you for sharing.

PS - what a great visual. I too was once a small circle - I can relate.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that story.
I am almost afraid to say I could easily fit my family into both scenarios.

Syd said...

I am the son of a heavy drinking father and have married an alcoholic. I am the only child which I think is critical in the issues that I brought into therapy and Al-Anon. Therapists think that I never was really parented and never learned to really be a kid. I'm learning how to do that every day.

Anonymous said...

Hi. nice blog.Hopefully, this does not come across as spam, but rather a heartfelt reach out to the thousands of addicts/alcoholics who struggle every year with relapse and depression, which has become all too common within the recovery movement. With some hard work and self-discipline, using the program mentioned above, I feel no one ever has to relapse again.please advice them to take a drug treament program.

Kathy said...

You have described my family and I can see my children, there are 5 of them,adults now with their own families, some of them are alcoholic and one is married to an alcoholic. The last, lost child is a recovering alcoholic but an agoraphobic. There is also obesity in the family and depression. I didn't find Al-Anon until they were in their 30's. The alcoholic father/husband is deceased now for 14 years but still not forgotten. But never talked about. I work my program to the best of my ability and today have a wonderful relationship with 3 of them, so so with 1 of them, and the lost child calls me once in awhile. Thank GOD for Al-Anon.

Kathy said...

I wanted to say this. My oldest son said he raised himself. I didn't know what he meant then.