Alcoholism is a family disease meaning it not only effects the person who drinks, but also those they are in relationships with. Alcoholism does not discriminate, therefore, whether you are a co-worker, friend, significant other, or family member, you too may be effected. Yet those that are the closest to the alcoholic are usually the most deeply impacted as we find ourselves preoccupied by their emotions and behavior.
We may or may not be consciously aware of how we have been effected, yet often times we wind up reacting to their drinking and the behaviors that come along with it. We may feel anxious or angry when they drink, we might personalize things they say or do while intoxicated, we might began to avoid social gatherings due to fear of what the alcoholic might do, or we may try to control or stop the drinking.
However, regarding alcoholism, it is important to remember that we did NOT cause it, we CAN’T control it, and we CAN’T cure it. It is not our responsibility to fix, save, or rescue the alcoholic from their own emotional experiences, behaviors, or consequences. It is a fruitless effort that will often leave us feeling emotionally drained, helpless, hopeless, and inept. And often, our efforts to help actually perpetuate undesired behaviors as we shield the alcoholic from suffering the very consequences that may motivate them to change.
What we CAN do, is focus on what is within our control (ourselves) and learn how to best take care of our own well-being. Therapy and Al-Anon can be wonderful tools in which to learn how to focus on and honor our emotions and behavior, identify our role in the relationship, and see our ourselves and our circumstances more clearly. As a result, we can begin to explore various ways to approach our loved one and our situation in a more adaptive manner.
We CAN also learn how to love the alcoholic without necessarily loving their behavior. We do so by developing the ability to separate the person from the disease. As a result, we are then able to enjoy and appreciate the wonderful things we love about them as well as how to detach, disengage, or let go of what we don’t feel comfortable with. We don’t have to try and fix everything we don’t like about the alcoholic, we simply need to adjust how we respond to it.