This week several parents posted new comments to one of the columns we wrote for Good Therapy called “Freeing the Parents of Adult Alcoholic and Addicted Children” . This is one of the most widely read pieces we have published with reprint requests having come from as far away as Australia.
We think that the main themes of the article are worth repeating:
* You can’t force someone else to change;
* No one changes as long as they are being protected from the logical consequences of their behaviors;
* Alcohol and drug abuse are choices, not diseases;
* It’s really, really hard being a parent and watching;
* Sometimes that’s the best, and only, thing you can do.
One thing we didn’t mention in that article and probably should have is that alcohol and drug abuse always occur within a context.
For example? Alcohol and drug abuse occur with a framework made up, usually, of social, physical, psychological, and emotional aspects. There may be legal, educational, vocational, and other contributing factors as well.
What this means is that ending the behavior means addressing it on a number of fronts – a coordinated effort. But that takes sensitivity, skill, and competence on the part of anyone offering professional services.
It also usually means including family and significant people in the life of the person who’s working on changing their self-destructive behaviors.
Simply put – alcohol and drug abuse don’t exist in isolation, and they rarely get fixed in isolation either. Causes, effects, patterns, and responses are all too interwoven to be successfully overcome without at least some awareness and the cooperation of others.
The good news here is that it’s possible for those of us who are around the “Problem Person” to encourage change by changing our own behaviors:
* No more bail money;
* No more excuses or covering;
* No more rent money;
* No more pretending;
* And so on.
After all, why would anyone change a destructive behavior when they are being rewarded and protected for maintaining it?
Granted, it’s hard for a parent to do nothing, and sometimes even harder not to do the wrong thing – we all hope that this time things will be different, even though we know better – but it will be a little easier if you do know some of the right things to do:
* Listen – but not to excuses (it is a choice, after all);
* Offer to help find help;
* Offer to pay for tuition (but not food, rent, cars, etc.);
* Invite them to dinner once a week (but not to stay!);
* Visit them.
You can also find help by looking for professionals who will listen to your “context” and help you find options and possibilities. Look for listing at sites like Good Therapy or Smart Recovery, or Moderation Management.
Or give us a call – we’re available to talk with you about you particular situation.
The Bucket of Crabs
The “bucket of crabs” is one of our favorite analogies. Those of us who’ve gone crabbing know that you never need to put a lid on the bucket you toss the crabs into.
Because as soon as one crab starts to climb out, the others will drag him, or her, right back down into the bucket. And they’ll keep doing that until they all end up in the steamer.
Pick your support carefully. Most so-called alcohol support groups are, in fact, merely a collection of crabs who will keep dragging you back down.
That’s not because they are evil, but because the participants are scared – terrified of the possibility of actually getting a life.
So they stay in the “meeting” bucket and work hard at dragging you down to their level.
But we imagine you’ve already figured out where you’ll end up if you agree to pursue that route.
Frankly, it’s a lot more rewarding to live your own life, without alcohol abuse, or an alcohol focus, than to be “recovering” in the false security of the crab bucket.
Another Thought or Two:
Last week we mentioned our client who talked about “getting a grip” and “getting a life” and this week we’d like to add two more phrases for you to tuck away for consideration:
“Let it be.” It’s not just a Beatles title, but a reference to the past. Let your past be, skip mucking around in it, and stop contaminating your present and future.
The Native American proverb, “Yesterday is ashes; tomorrow is wood; only today does the fire burn brightly,” applies too. You create your life and you can create a good one. Your choice.
“Let it go.” This is an extension of “Let it be.” Whatever you think is holding you back, let it go. Focus instead on what will get you where you want to go.
We frequently tell clients that it doesn’t matter a whole lot how they ended up with an alcohol problem, what matters is getting over it and staying over it.
So, skip the search for reasons or excuses, just let the problem go and get on with creating a good life. That’s far more productive than staying bogged down in the bottom of the crab bucket.
Questions? Please! Always feel free to call – for information or just to talk. One of us answers the phone personally from 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time, Monday – Thursday, unless we are with clients, or from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.