Sunday, March 13, 2011

We Understand As Perhaps Few Others Can.

I've been sick with the flu for a few days now, so please forgive me if this post is garbled, my brain feels rather cotton-woolish at the moment.

Every time I hear someone in a meeting talk about how they felt they had "come home" when they found Al-Anon, I remember with a rush of feeling, just how powerful that sense of being understood was for me, when I was new.

Until then, I could try to talk to friends or family, and they could give advice and whatever help they could offer, but I felt like I was lost and alone in a world full of aliens, because nobody, but nobody can understand the loneliness of living with an alcoholic, (especially a charming one,) but another person who has been there.

Until you have driven home from a satisfying day at work, with the maelstrom in your stomach growing larger with each block that passes, you will not understand why the spouse doesn't just "tell him you want him to be nicer to you when he's had a few drinks."

Until you've walked the floor in the wee small hours of the night, with every siren slicing through your numbness to expose the fear beating within, you don't get why the partner doesn't just "tell her you want her to come home on time."

Until you've begged, pleaded, reasoned, argued, manipulated, tricked, expostulated, yelled, threatened, or any of the other ways in which we've tried to control the drinker, you don't understand why co-dependents don't just "tell him you want him to stop drinking."

Until you've been on the receiving end of a conversation in which the other person is re-writing history, denying, weaselling or being verbally abusive, you don't know why we don't just "talk to her about it."

Until you have sat with a person whose denial is operating at warp ten, you do not understand how it can be utterly impossible to reach them; you don't know the way we know it, what true "crazy-making conversations" are. You lucky souls believe that all it takes is some rational conversation, and the problem is on its way to being solved; you don't have experience with the addicted brain.

By the time we've broken the secret enough to speak out about what's happening at home, we've talked and talked and talked to the alcoholic. We've spent hours on the gerbil wheel inside our heads, having imaginary conversations in which we present again the reasons they need to stop drinking, and they (responding in a way they never  do in real life) agree to get help. We've bored ourselves and the alcoholic senseless with our reasoned arguments against their continued use. We've counted drinks, hid the booze, stormed and shouted, we've made every effort possible, except the one which can save us: to detach.

I remember so well, the feeling of having come home to a group of people who could help me, who wouldn't judge me, and who would show me how to save my own sanity, if I were willing to expend the effort. I believe it's very important to welcome newcomers, to approach them after the meeting for a chat - that ten minutes of empathetic listening, and the giving of my phone number and/or an email address, if they prefer that method of communication, can be huge comfort for someone living with alcoholism. When I was new to Al-Anon, my self-image was so bashed and degraded that even though I wasn't comfortable at meetings, in any sense of the word, I went back week after week, because I felt that I was seen, recognised, and understood.


  1. It is hard for others to understand what it is like to live with an alcoholic for years. I have done so many emotionally blunting things to myself in trying to get the alcoholic to see what is the right way to think! Crazy stuff. I am glad to not be that crazy anymore. I know when I have had enough and it's time to detach and take care of myself. Hope that you feel better soon.

  2. WOW! Your words take me back and certainly make me thankful for my recovery group and the understanding I found there!

  3. Thank you. That's exactly what I needed to hear tonight. You've made me feel less alone.