What do you mean “family disease”?

Living with an alcoholic can be very frustrating. “What would my friends think if they knew about the everyday insanity I am subjected to? It was bad enough when he was occasionally coming home late, but now I stay up all hours of the night wondering if he’s lying dead in a ditch somewhere.” “What excuse can I give my parents for why he’s lost yet another job and where are we going to come up with the money to replace the car he totaled?” “How do I explain to my children why Mommy sleeps all day and lashes out at them for the most minor infractions?” “Who are these people my son is bringing around late at night?” “Where are all these pawn slips coming from… and where’s my camera?” “Will that next 3 am call come from the police or the hospital?” “Did she really just run away from rehab?!” “The doctor said if he didn’t stop he’d be dead in a year, but there he is drinking again.” “Are those… track marks??”

It can quickly become a full-time job worrying about your alcoholic. I don’t blame you because we give you all sorts of crazy reasons to worry. How can you not be crazy with anguish, anger and hopelessness when someone you love so dearly is desperately trying to kill themselves through addiction? “She used to be such a sweet, intelligent and loving little girl. Who is this vile creature who has taken her over and where has my little girl gone?” If you only knew the half of it, you would worry twice as much… but let’s not think about that too much. You’re thinking about it aren’t you? And now you’re obsessing. Your 3 year old child tugs on your arm for attention and you turn to look at her with vacant eyes because your brain is fixated on why your husband has now taken 4 hours to run a 20 minute errand. Sit the kids down in front of cartoons, then go out and throw a circular saw through the window of the truck you absentmindedly locked the keys in last night so that you can go search the streets for the man you just know is dead somewhere because he hasn’t answered his phone in hours.

So much of the insanity I put my kids through was not due to my own addiction, but Bobby’s. Munch & Wee don’t remember him much, but they remember that morning, riding in the truck with towels covering the seats just in case there was broken glass left on them. (And my ex-father-in-law still can’t understand why I busted the window.) But it wasn’t just him. I can easily get swept up in concern for Biggie’s occasional moodiness or in questioning the actions of those in my family who aren’t alcoholic, but definitely exhibit traits common of the –ism. When someone so close to me acts in these ways, it feels like I am being judged by association. “Why can’t you keep your husband in line?” “You must be a terrible mother to have raised an alcoholic child.” “Your father has to drink all the time because you’re such a horrid child.” “Mommy just doesn’t love me.”

Al-Anons are addicts in their own right. The alcoholic will lose sight of everything else in his life in pursuit of the drink. The booze or the drug becomes the alcoholic’s higher power because he lives according to its will. His whole life revolves around this singular focus in his life. Likewise, an Al-Anon’s higher power is the alcoholic. All of your thoughts and actions are consumed by crazy schemes designed to get or keep your alcoholic sober or to hide or lessen the damage caused by addiction. The Al-Anon is obsessed with the pain inflicted on them by their alcoholic with no mind to the pain they inflict on those who love them – the husband who just wants his wife back instead of this crazy woman obsessed with whether her son will ever get sober; the children feeling unloved and running wild because the alcoholic parent is out drinking and the Al-Anon parent is constantly making excuses or because Mom and Dad seem to only care about the one kid who keeps screwing up, so why bother busting my ass for straight A’s?

I was given the imagery once of the alcoholic family as a mobile with the alcoholic at the center. When one figure turns, it causes all the other figures to turn as well. Even those not directly affected by the alcoholic will be affected by the actions of the Al-Anon. When one figure on the mobile stops turning, all the other figures are affected. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the alcoholic will get sober if the Al-Anon detaches herself from the situation, but it will usually help. Even if it doesn’t, the process of detaching will improve the lives of the Al-Anon and all those who love her.

My name is Laurie and I am an alcoholic and a terrible Al-Anon. Children who are raised in an alcoholic home often remember the Al-Anon as the crazy one while the alcoholic is usually painted in a more forgiving light. Some even come to the conclusion that Dad has to drink because Mom is insane. I think that is most telling. I don’t want to raise my kids like that and I work to keep God as my higher power so as to avoid letting any of the alcoholics in my life dictate my actions.

[Disclaimer: To all those concerned with my use of general pronouns… get over it. He/she gets super clunky and I hate using it. Women are as easily alcoholic as men and men are as easily al-anon as women. We all know this and I tried to include examples of this. We also know that the stereotypical image is that of the alcoholic man and the woman who loves him, so the gender neutral pronouns are more easily understood.]

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