Tag Archive | counseling

Helping someone newly sober…what you can do.

Last week, my friend, El, over at Running From Hell with El wrote a blog post about walking away from a gin and tonic that she saw sitting in HER kitchen on the counter.  It was a brave and honest post and I felt proud and happy for her in the end.  I say in the end, because as I read the post the single thought that kept running through my head was this: “What in the hell was a gin and tonic doing on the counter in her kitchen?”  As an alcoholic in recovery, I was angry for her, and at whoever had made the drink in HER kitchen and left it sitting there.  I was so upset that I almost called her immediately and asked her the question that would not leave me, “El, what in the hell was a gin and tonic doing on your kitchen counter?”  But, I didn’t.  I didn’t want to intrude–her house, her family, her rules.

Today I gave El a call on an unrelated topic.  We talked a lot about writing and then we hit the subject of blogs.  It was at that point that I did ask the question about the gin and tonic.  I asked because El is an alcoholic in early recovery, sitting at about six months, and I remember well what that period of time looks like and feels like.  It is a vulnerable time where sometimes it feels as if you are staying sober minute by minute.  Early sobriety looks and feels a lot different than five years of sobriety does, or ten, or twenty, I suspect.  Early sobriety is a tight wire walk where balance is continuously being reevaluated and reestablished.  It is a very selfish time in a great many respects, because in order to maintain the balance needed to stay sober, we need to ask for help from a variety of different types of people.  The people who we will need the most help and support from are those closest to us…our friends and family.

This can be very hard for many of us to do—to ask for what we need during that first year.  El told me that she didn’t want any booze in her house, but felt she might be asking too much to demand that alcohol not be present in her home.  She is not asking too much.  In fact, by not demanding that there be no alcohol in her house she is asking too much of herself, and too little of those who need to be supporting her.  Alcoholism is a disease and yet so many people see it as weakness of will, or a character defect.  It is a disease just like diabetes, or heart disease.  Most of us would never dream of sitting down and eating a big bag full of candy in front of a friend newly diagnosed with diabetes, especially not his favorite candy.  We would think that rude, lacking support, or just plain disrespectful of his battle, and his feelings.

Likewise, when a person is newly diagnosed with heart disease, the whole family makes changes.  This was certainly the case when my father was diagnosed with heart disease.  My mother kicked into high gear and changed what she cooked and how she cooked it, and she did not just make the changes for my father.  We all had to make the same  dietary changes.  We loved him and wanted him to live, so we didn’t complain.  We just did it.  We didn’t care if we ate chicken every night of the week.  We could get a hamburger somewhere else.  We could not get another father.

Just like diabetes and heart disease, alcoholism, if not treated, is a progressive, fatal disease.  People die every day from alcoholism and addiction.  Also, just like diabetes and heart disease, alcoholism in a family member affects the entire family.  Everyone will need to make changes to support the one who is working to stay well.  Giving up cake, or steak, or a nightly drink is precious little to have to give up if it mean helping to keep someone we love well and making them feel loved, and supported during a time that is stressful by its very nature.  Alcoholism is a chronic disease and anyone living and coping with a newly diagnosed chronic disease will grieve and move through many emotional phases as they find their center again.  In turn, the entire family system will need to lovingly recalculate their choices, behaviors, and roles in the now changed family.  Flexibility, understanding, and love is required of all those involved.

What can you do if you are living with someone in early sobriety?  First off, you can and should give up your nightly drink and keep alcohol out of the house.  If this is a change that you are not willing to make then you need to ask yourself if you might have a problem yourself, of if there is a rather ugly agenda underneath your unwillingness to give up your drink.  It is not uncommon for a partner to miss drinking with his loved one and may, unwittingly or not, seek to have that special bond back.  A relapse would do just that… That is selfishness and it is playing Russian roulette with your loved one’s sobriety and very life.  Certainly, you would never force them to drink, but action do speak louder than words… Oftentimes, a family member may have a hard time dealing with the raw emotions of the newly sober person and might unconsciously want them to drink again so things will go back to “normal.” Examine your own feelings honestly.  Of course, if an alcoholic really wants to drink they will find a way.  I know I sure did, but why place temptation right on the counter?

Also, if you do give up that drink and get rid of the booze in the house, please don’t act put out, as if you’ve made some sacrifice akin to giving up a kidney for them.  Do not talk about “the good times” you had drinking together, and don’t glamorize drinking, or talk about how much you miss booze.  Take the time to educate yourself about alcoholism and addiction.  Read all that you can, and if you need more help understanding, find an Al-Anon meeting and go to it.  Get family counseling, and individual counseling.  Denying this is big for the whole family is a big mistake.

Be respectful of what your loved one is going through–and this goes both ways–and forgive.  Forgive your loved one for being an alcoholic and for causing you to have to give up things that you like, and times you cherished.  Love each other.  Rediscover each other.  Move forward together, gently, respectfully, and with the greatest amount of love and understanding possible.  Be a team because that is what families do.

I know better than anyone that no one ever poured a single drink down my throat when I was drinking, and I am not implying that it is anyone’s responsibility but the alcoholics to turn away from the drink, as El did.  I am saying that if you can make changes that will make it less likely for a person new in their sobriety to have to walk away, then you should do it, and do it gladly, with no resentment.  Over time, things will change and sobriety won’t be as brittle and thread-like anymore.  When that time comes, everyone will know it, but until then, simple changes can make a huge difference, so please make them.  It’s the opportunity of a lifetime to create health for your entire family, and for generations to come.

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The Dawn of Reckoning–I never wanted a neat life.

The other day I wrote a post about radical acceptance.  In it I make mention of my messy life in contrast to those people with the neat and tidy lives.  After I had gotten done writing the post, it hit me.  I do not think that I ever truly wanted a neat, tidy, conventional life.  I didn’t know that until last week, but I know it now completely.  This is not to say that I wanted all of what I got in life; abuse as a child and an adult, PTSD, alcoholism, jail stays, rehabs, and prison, but in some way, all of those experiences have lead to to this extraordinary realization.  Those experiences helped me recognize in myself what others did not recognized in me as a child, or appreciated, namely my parents, and the schools of my day.  I am gifted, and probably always have been, but my gifts run towards the creative, more than the logical.

Parents and schools in the 60’s and 70’s valued logic.  It’s not that I am without the intellect to go with the creativity, my IQ is in the gifted range, but my grades did not show that, and any markers from testing while in school were ignored.  For example, I was found to be reading at the college level when I was in the 5th grade, but not a thing was done with that information.  My creativity was apparent from an early age, but it was seen as a flaw, not a gift.  I clearly recall overhearing my mother tell her friends about my school conference in the 5th grade.  It must have been less than stellar, and I remember her say, in a tone that was less than pleased, “But the teacher says she’s *very creative…*  I thank God that today’s school recognize, and try to nurture all kinds of gifts, and I bear no anger towards my parents, or the schools that I attended.  It was the times.  People only knew what they knew.

That I am gifted, the realization of that, was a gift that I received while I was in prison, from two different women who came into the reentry center to do counseling and programming.  That each, never having spoken to the other, would put forth the same notion to me–the notion of my giftedness—and its ability to intimidate others who don’t understand it, parents, spouses, and friends, was something that took me a while to wrap my head around.  I am still working on it, in truth.

I believe there are a lot of adults out in the world who are gifted, and like me, never knew it.  A gifted adult who has no idea that  she is gifted is likely to have a harder road in life than others.  This goes back to Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities and his Theory of Positive Disintegration.  Adults who are gifted have certain characteristics that set them apart from the crowd.  These include differences in the way they process information, high levels of creativity, high sensitivity, both internally focused, and externally.  Gifted adults are intense, idealistic, and they are perfectionists.  They have a unique sense of humor that of everyone gets.  They are internally focused, they are self-determined, and they hate injustice, and lack of integrity, and lack of moral character.  They see things globally, and they do not fit well into traditional roles, or careers.  Often, they do not feel they fit in anywhere.

Well, what do you know!  That sounds like me!  Gifted adults often need help realizing that the way they are is okay, and some help to fully realize their potential.  A good therapist who understands giftedness can help a lot.  This site offers a lot of insights 😉  It is so important to realize that while you may be different, you are not flawed, and that you have great potential.  That takes time, as I have mentioned.  As you might imagine, gifted adults are apt of have messy looking lives.  This will be especially true of those who have suffered from trauma as children.  It takes a lot of hard work for a gifted adult with PTSD, substance abuse issues, or other mental health issues, to get to the core of their genuine self.  Too much has come along to override it.

My first husband is a true genius intellectually.  Yet, as one of our son’s says, he has the emotional intelligence of a 4 year old, and he’s got not a drop of creativity, nor much of a sense of humor.  He is rigid and logical in his thinking.  He’s exactly what you’d want in a surgeon, which is what he does for a living.  There are a lot of geniuses in the world who may not be particularly gifted, or as well suited for their careers.  Imagine a psychiatrist who has no compassion for people with mental health issues, and disdain for people with addiction problems.  That’s not a good match, and the genius who lacks gifts can do more harm than good.  A pure genius who meets a person who is truly gifted is likely to become aware of their shortcomings, and unfortunately, may even work to control, tear down, or defeat the gifted person.  I’ve had this happen to me, and I have seen it happen to others, almost always gifted women.

Now we come back to my discovery that I never wanted a neat life, though I certainly gave it a try, as well as going in the exact opposite direction.  I wanted to study music and theater, to which my parents said no.  It was too hard a life, which is true enough.  So then, I wanted to be a doctor, but since I also very much wanted a family, I was told to be a nurse, which is what I did.  Then I got married, and had the children I so longed for, and who were and are the light of my life.  I entertained, and sat on boards,  I worked for charities and ran for the school board, and I drank myself to sleep every night.  I was miserable.  Not with my children, or being a mother, but because all of my creativity and intuition has been so dismissed, and berated, and tied up, and bashed, that I gave up.  My second marriage to an unconventional man was far worse, because he is so disordered.  Of course, I couldn’t/wouldn’t see that at the time.

As I was growing up, the woman who had the greatest influence on me was my great aunt, Stella.  She’d been married once, for a very short time, and she had no children.  She had a head full of gorgeous, curly hair that she often tied back with a ribbon, bow off to the top side of her head.  She had a lovely smile, complete with a Lauren Bacall gap in the front.  She had been an Art History professor at The University of Washington, and she had traveled to Africa in the 1950’s.  Much of her artwork was inspired by what she saw in Africa.  To a child, she was a little scary.  She said whatever was on her mind, but she was kind.  Her house was magical, with an attic filled with treasures.  Visiting her was better than Disneyland.

As an adult, I moved to Seattle, and lived in the University district, as she did, and I’d often go over to visit for a day, or overnight.  She’d make me a tuna sandwich and we’d smoke True cigarettes and talk.  She took me on drives all over, and while her driving was more than a little scary, she told me all about the history of Seattle.  In the evening, she’d pour us each a glass of concord grape wine, and we’d talk some more.  She was clearly a happy woman, truly eccentric, genuine as can be,and very well loved.  She was adored by her neighbors, mostly college grad students, and at 90 years old, she died, not from old age, but from falling on a patch of ice on her way home from one of their Christmas parties, to which she was always invited.

I have a head full of curly hair, and I had the Lauren Bacall gap, but braces fixed that.  I am far more domesticated than my Aunt Stella, but like her, I am happiest when I am creating, be it writing, cooking, knitting, sewing, or making something spectacular out of something ordinary.   I am artistic, but no artist.   I am not my mother, though I know she didn’t live the life she wanted, and I am not a conventional person.  I don’t think I’ll ever care about balancing a checkbook to the penny, or calling whoever for quotes, or having a neat and tidy refrigerator.  I don’t care a whole lot about money, but I do know life is easier with a little around.  I am more my Aunt Stella than anyone else.  I got side tracked somehow.  Thank God she did not.  I believe we are all gifted in some way.  It is just a matter of finding that gift, and then letting it soar. I think it’s time for me to go buy some ribbon for my hair in celebration of my discovery, and my messy, happy, creative life.