How do I know this will never happen again? (Rebuilding Trust, part 2 – the family’s part)

Short answer: You don’t. There is absolutely no oath, promise, pledge or vow that an alcoholic can make to alleviate the fears of those who love him. How could there be? He’s sworn time and time again that this time it’s different. And time and time again, he has made fools out of those who believed him. Why then, should we have any hope that the bottom won’t fall out just as we begin to trust again? No one could blame you for your skepticism. No, the best thing a recovering alcoholic can promise is that he will do his best to stay sober today.

Normies often have this false notion that alcoholics are “regular” people who just won’t stop drinking. Take away the booze and bada-bing, bada-boom he just snaps out of it, goes back to “normal” and continues on with life just the way he was before he started drinking. And to a certain extent, that is pretty much on the nose, but not in the way you think. Alcoholics don’t just start drinking to excess just because it tastes good. “Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol.” It goes something like, “I feel strange, out of place, shy, sad, angry, confused, overwhelmed, etc., but when I drink that all goes away”. Take away the drink and yeah, we go right back to feeling strange, out of place, shy, sad, angry, confused, overwhelmed, etc., with nothing to ease those feelings. It takes a LONG time to learn how to live with these frightening emotions. (We say that we learn to become “comfortable in the uncomfortable.”)

How long is long? Alcoholics often come into the rooms as infants with no knowledge of how to appropriately react to the world. We have to learn how to “grow up in public.” Just as an infant child is learning his first words and taking his first steps at around a year old, the alcoholic infant could take this long or even longer to begin feeling moderately sane enough to handle himself appropriately in everyday situations. This could happen much faster, but often the alcoholic’s Texas-sized ego kicks in, all “I’m a grown man; I can handle this.” Yeah, no you really, really can’t or else you wouldn’t be sitting in these rooms listening to a bunch of drunks telling you how to live. Pride is always our undoing and most advances are met with cockiness followed by learning a hard lesson and having to rebuild. Trust me, I know this from experience; I’m constantly stepping on the scattered Lego’s from all the towers of Babel I’ve built.

Okay, but what does this have anything to do with me and how can I know when I can trust him again and what do I tell my kids in the meantime? Recovery never looks like we think it should. Often, when things look their best, it’s because the alcoholic is struggling and has fallen back into the old habit of trying to make himself look good. He’ll also surprise you with tremendous growth following a seemingly very dark period during which time he is dredging up his past and struggling with solution. Even a relapse, while certainly not preferable, is not necessarily a sign that all is lost. Many alcoholics fight against the process so hard that they feel they have to drink to relieve the stress of it, only to come back even stronger, having learned their lesson. There are those, too, that will never make it back from a relapse for any number of reasons. At Freedom, we begin each meeting by saying, “Someone will die tonight from this dreadful disease.” Yeah, I burst into tears the first time I heard that, but it is the unfortunate truth.

Take care of yourself, first of all. This is going to be a frustrating process for everyone involved. The alcoholic will vacillate between extremes until he can learn to find a balance between recovery, home, work, etc. I have yet to meet an alcoholic who has found this perfect balance (and I have met some with over 50 years sober), but we do learn to gauge ourselves better after a time and self-correction becomes less dramatic. For immediate family and others who are closest to the alcoholic, the frequent mood swings (happier now, but still capable of dropping very low) coupled with lots of time at meetings and engaged in other recovery activities (NEVER interrupt an alcoholic on his step work, even if the house is on fire, because God only knows when he’ll pick it back up) along with this new-found spirituality (“What on Earth are you doing on the floor? Oh, and since when do you pray? And on your knees, no less!”) can be completely unnerving. The best thing to do is find a hobby, smile and nod, and let him do his thing. Remember, “There are no more big deals.” EVERYTHING can be a matter of life or death in the brain of an alcoholic. He is going to be gung ho in one direction one day; flat on his back the next; and seemingly normal 16 different times in between. Just try not to react. “This, too, shall pass.”

My name is Laurie and I am an alcoholic. IF (big IF) your alcoholic is actively working towards recovery, it will be a difficult process, but it is well worth it… especially if you get involved by going to Al-Anon. There will be times you think this is worse than when he was drinking, but there will be times when you just want to weep in gratitude. Don’t get swept up in his craziness, but don’t patronize him. If we even think you’re patronizing us… well, we will anyway because we’re all paranoid. Just be cool, spend time with friends, family, church, support groups, etc., that can take your mind off what he’s doing and help walk you through the tougher times. Sooner than you know, he will become something unlike anything you’ve ever seen before and it will be amazing.

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