Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Three C's - I Didn't Cause It, I Can't Control It, I Can't Cure It.

I was thinking about Al-Anon's 3 C's  today. Alcoholics are good at shouldering off the responsibility for their choice of behavior, onto their partners, their employers, their friends, the guy at the tire store. I have a half-joking, half-rueful shorthand way of describing this, I call it the 3-pronged excuse:

"I did not do that!"
"Okay, okay, maybe I did do that, but I didn't mean anything by it."
"And anyway, you drove me to it."

This sloughing off of responsibility has a childish feel to it that can be distressing in an adult family member. We wonder how they can do the fancy footwork required to rationalise this kind of thing, we wonder how they....oh, right, I'm supposed to keep the focus on myself, and what I can and can't do.

I can't change other people.

I didn't cause the alcoholism, (or the consequences of drinking,) I can't control anyone's drinking, and I cannot cure alcoholism. It's not up to me to take up the plow for another person - it's beyond my mental or physical strength, and I'm treating them like an invalid when I rush to shield them from the consequences of their choices.

I've had to make a choice this week, about something which I thought was helping, but that I now have come to realise, was enabling. I need to step back, and allow the alcoholic to sink or swim under their own power. I was taken aback, to realise that what I was doing was enabling, and that realisation was only brought about, by the alcoholic having blamed me for something else entirely. It was in thinking about blame, and responsibility, and consequences, and all of those things, that I realised I have been overstepping my mark. (I haven't quite reached the stage in this, yet, where I feel gratitude for the initial blaming, because it led to my realisation, but I'll get there, I always do.)

I'm not culpable for what another person chooses to do, only for my own choices. I can't be held responsible just because they don't like an outcome, which they, themselves, have set in motion.

I can see that I need to put more effort into detaching - for the rest,  my Higher Power will guide me.


  1. I laughed out loud -- HARD -- at your 3 pronged excuse. Why laugh? Because I recognize the truth in it.

    I heard a newcomer in an -Anon type program list another C: compete. Yeah, we can't compete with it, either. And that's not about us.

  2. Hi, just wanted to let you know that I have been encouraged & calmed by this for days; I've left the web page open on my phone so I can go back to it. Over two years later and your writing still resonates. Truth stands the test of time thank you so much.

  3. Thank you for sharing. I am a daughter in-law of 2 alcoholics. I've just begun to realise that I need to embrace the 3 C's and let go, detach myself.

  4. I have found 3 more C's, they are Choice, Chance, and Change. You must make a Choice to take a Chance or your life will never Change...

  5. thank you very much for this wisdom and insight. very helpful to me today.

  6. Thank you for this. I needed to read it, and I need to remember it.

  7. This is great! I'm just at a stage which seems to be long lasting that I don't believe that people who cannot truly relate can come to a deep acceptance of the addict. I am married to an a alcoholic and although I love him I do not trust him and where this disease will lead him... as if I'm only along for the ride, and I'm not, I will one day get off of this roller coaster. I'm not sure when and always hopeful one day the ride will just come to a natural end, with my husband accepting his disease and that he is powerless. A sense of "closure" is what I need. P.S. If you really look hard I believe most addicts do not have a significant other.

  8. Great wisdom. If you can handle the consequences, when they do hit bottom. I've been in therapy for 25 years, trying to be "re-programed" after all of the years of being an enabler. My father was an alcoholic, three times, he finally completely his suicide mission, I blamed myself for years. That was in 1993, and I still sometimes think to myself, what if... My brother was also an alcoholic/addict, I found him face down in a closet in 1995 dead. How, why, no one knows, years of crack, pot, alcohol, basically anything he could put down his throat. TO ESCAPE LIFE. We had a family business, which I think made it really hard, because I was so used to seeing them everyday. A few months after my brother's death, my male cousin confessed to me that he had been sexually molesting him since he was 7, and that their relationship was still ongoing at my brother's death. I was, to say the least speechless, everything made since. And, that confession made me feel worse, wondering how many other boys' had my male cousin molested through the years? The alcoholic/addict hits bottom and he may come up and he may just die. Which made me question all of the therapy, group meeting, self help books, meds I was on, Could I have made a difference if I had know the truth. Probably not, if I had know it was going to end like this, I would have gone away, as my father asked me to do, so many times. Get out of here, and make a life for yourself. No, I could not leave them, they were my life, no marriage, no children, no grandchildren, just I wish I had followed my father's life, and got the heck away from them.

    1. Correction, I found my brother dead in the closet in 2005.

      My father had been through 3 different treatment centers, and was clean and sober for 6 years, a joy to be around, a different human being. He was doing 12 stepping all of the time, helping people, up in the middle of the night going to the hospital, jail, working the program. But, when he fell off the wagon there was no coming back. My thoughts, you are not going to win, go away and save yourself because you cannot save them.

  9. The 4th "C". You have a Choice. Live with the alcoholic or leave. That's right, file for divorce, find another significant other. This "C" is yours to make or live with the ConCequenCes.

  10. wow a lil over a year sober and really glad i heard this again it has pulled me thru this day of others selfish think n i am greatful to be sober today let go let god

  11. I didn't cause it, I can't control it, I'll never cure it and will not contribute to it.

  12. I was enabling him before by trying to protect him, and then I stopped last year, now he is dead from Heroin over dose and I was the one who found him, now I am destroyed, my worse nightmare became reality, and I can not wake up, I can't reverse time. What if I at that day believed my intuition of why he was not answering the phone, I felt that day that a major thing is missing in life, like missing the sun or the moon or the sky, but barried that feeling and stopped the panic, I thought to myself he is OK, probably sleeping, until at night I realized and beleived in all my senses that he is not alive anymore, cried all night and went to his place in the morning and he was not there in his body, he was away far away and I can not hear his voice any more, I can not rescue him anymore, I can not run away from him anymore, I can't be scared from him anymore, I can not touch him anymore. he is dead so as my heart. he took it with him, and I can not reason with my self. I feel guilty.

  13. this is so hard to read because my daughter is just a moment, a day, a week away from this. I've found her near death from an heroin od twice but she survived. I'm so sorry for the pain you feel and wish it could have been different for you and him. No matter what you could have done, I believe that you couldn't have stopped this from happening eventually because this was his choice, heartbreaking as it is. I know this may be my future too, and I just have to say that if it does, it will be my daughter's choice and a decision she made for herself. Nothing I can do to change this.