“A Doctor said to us, ‘Years of living with an alcoholic is almost sure to make any wife or child neurotic. The entire family is, to some extent, ill.’ Let families realize, as they start their journey, that all will not be fair weather. Each in his turn may be footsore and may straggle. There will be alluring shortcuts and by-paths down which they may wander and lose their way.” – Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous pg 122.
This was one of the ideas from which Al-Anon was formed. The fact that living with an alcoholic for many years can make the whole family ill. Al-Anon is a 12 step program for families of alcoholics. It has it’s own program and book dedicated to help the family. Many times codependency and manipulation can occur in the family unit. Family members may not know how to set boundaries with their alcoholic children or parents, they ask when is enough enough? How can I turn a loved one away when they’re in need? How can I look myself in the mirror and be alright with the fact that I just can’t support their behavior and can’t let them into my home? How can I deal with the fact that they keep relapsing or don’t seem to want to get better?
The following is a powerful letter that has circled around the internet. It is from a brother to an addict sister. It lets us in on the extreme regret, remorse, guilt, shame, disappointment but above all, love he feels for his sister who just can’t seem to get and stay sober. As an alcoholic/addict it opens my eyes to the pain I have caused, that in my selfish disease I was not in tune with. Hopefully as a family member of an alcoholic/addict it helps you realize you are not alone in the pain that occurs with having an alcoholic/addicted family member.
We’re back here again. We’ve lost you to your darkness, and no one knows how to entice you back to us.
You and I come from the same people. Literally. So does our other sister. The three of us were born of the same blood and raised the same ways. This is part of what makes it hard for me to understand how you have been pulled into this dark web so many time for so many years.
I’ve been to meetings with you. I’ve heard the horror stories from other addicts childhoods and thought, “this is not her life. This is not what made the addiction so powerful.”
So I’m left with the thought that it is purely a chemical thing. Something in you has caused you to spend (what some would argue) the most formidable years of your life (16-24) chasing a fix that would never satisfy.
Two years ago you suffered through something so unimaginable and horrible I thought for sure it was your “rock bottom”. Following your release from the house you were held prisoner in… Following the arrest of the sick piece of living shit that raped you for a week straight and kept you pumped full of drugs… post all of that, you and I had a conversation. We sobbed and you told me your eyes were open. That you NEVER wanted to put yourself in a position like that again.
After years of dropping everything to come to your rescue, THOUSANDS of dollars spent trying to help, our parents stepped up yet again, and put up the money (they took out a second mortgage on our house) to send you to that amazing facility in Colorado.
You stayed in Colorado for a year. You got clean. You got happy. You learned too much about yourself and about your addiction. We talked and you said things that you’ve never said before. There was a clarity in your eyes and in your thoughts that I haven’t seen in years.
After the year was up they offered you a job. You were so excited. You wanted to give back to others like yourself. You wanted to teach others how to find the sobriety you so desperately now held onto.
Then, mysteriously, you were fired. We all worried. As was the pattern, you told us your firing was “unfair” and “not your fault”. You said you wanted to leave Colorado and move home.
Everyone told you to reconsider. Everyone told you that moving home was a risky move. You insisted. You promised it would be different. You regurgitated all of the things you learned in sobriety.
You were only home for 5 months when our sister found that needle in your room. You swore it was a tiny relapse. That you had it under control.
A month later you got arrested. You BEGGED to go on Subutex. You said that if you were on that you could go back into your recovery. So our parents got you into the best doctor and got you an RX.
You stopped taking it as directed. Then you just stopped.
It’s hard to know the finer details because I’ve been living across the country all this time. I only hear what Mom and Dad tell me. Or our sister. I only know that when I come home you’re distant. I only know when we talk you swear that your recovery is going fine.
Then I get a call last week. You’re back in detox. From detox it’s back to rehab. That amazing job you were so happy about last time we spoke… you got fired.
Then I get another call. You’ve left rehab. You’re missing. You’re back on heroin. Again.
I’ve been through every emotion. I’ve raged at you. I’ve become furious for everything you’ve put Mom and Dad through. I’ve been pissed because they cry and try and POUR THEIR HEARTS AND SOULS INTO YOU and you stare at them with empty eyes and a blank face. You look through them. All they’ve ever done was be supportive. Maybe even to a fault. You don’t even thank them for what they’ve done to try and give you support and help.
The anger subsides and I feel guilty. Guilty that I ever smoked a bowl with you. Guilty that I screamed at you for something that I know is out of your complete control. I feel guilty because, at this point, I don’t think I am as invested as I once was.
It’s with this notion that the guilt turns to sadness. Sadness because I realize that my lack of investment stems from the sobering reality that you’re running out of time, luck and options. Sadness because you’re 25 in June and no longer can I say, “she’s a kid. If she gets sober she has so much time to set things right”. Twenty-five is past college. I’m sad because every year you’re not sober is another year of precious adult-life you’re wasting. Sad because I have become resign to the three options that remain for you: Sobriety, Prison, or Death.
I don’t want you to die. I don’t want you in prison. You’re such a nice girl. You’re my sister. My little Roo. We are so damn similar in so many ways that losing you feels like I’ve lost a piece of myself. Our sense of humor, our sardonic wit… Such a happy older brother I was when I realized one of my two younger sisters was going to turn out to be just like me in so many ways.
Now it’s like I don’t even know you. I can’t trust a word you say. This last year and a half you had us all fooled. We thought you came back from Colorado with confidence. With a bit of self control. Then we find out that too was a lie. Then we find out that you’ve been using from the moment you got back home. That for the last YEAR AND A HALF YOU’VE BEEN LOOKING US IN THE EYE AND LYING!
So here we are. No one know where you went when you ran away from rehab. No one knows what you’re doing right now. Are you alone? Is it scary? Are you too high to give a shit? Part of me hopes so. Do you miss me? I miss you. I miss your silly laugh and your stupid jokes. I miss you so fucking much it hurts so bad.
Please go back to rehab. Please don’t die, alone, with some needle sticking out of your arm. Please don’t die at all. Just go back to rehab. You know that moving back home isn’t the answer. You need the help. I don’t care if you have to stay in rehab the rest of your life. I want you to do whatever it takes to NOT DIE A JUNKIE!
I’m hoarse from crying. My head is pounding from whirling around the thoughts of what’s going to happen next. My heart skips a beat whenever mom or dad call, in fear that they’re calling to tell me we’ve lost you for good.
I don’t know what else to do. We’ve said it all. We’ve screamed, yelled, hugged, fought, made up, cried, begged, pleaded, reasoned, grounded, threatened, and begged some more.
The only person left to help you, is you. Please do it soon. I don’t know if I can handle putting you into the ground. I really don’t think our sister could. You know her. She’s weak and dainty. She’s super smart but as sensitive as the princess and the pea. Shit, you know Mom too. We BOTH know she’ll implode if she has to bury you.
but more than that there are SO MANY REASONS TO GET CLEAN AND LIVE LIFE:
love, happiness, loss, awesome TV shows, McRibs, ska music, The Reel Big Fish, water parks, babies, babies laughing, Archer, having kids of your own, having amazing sex (with other people, not with me you weirdo!), so that I can share my success with you, so that you can share your success with us, because it’s what Gey and Poppy wanted, because of Mom and Dad, because the world is actually a pretty cool place, to travel, to see the end of a rainbow (it’s there, we can find it together), to hurt together and heal together. To be a family again…
Okay. I’m at work and I’m crying so much I can’t really see clearly anymore. I also think people are staring. Please come home. Please get clean. I don’t care that you relapse. I don’t care if you relapse a million more times. I care that you’ve stopped trying to get clean. i care that it appears you’ve given up.
I love you. I miss you. Be safe, little roo-ha.
With More Love Than All The Atoms in the Universe,
If this letter, as a family member of an alcoholic speaks to you Al-Anon may be the right place for you. There you will learn to be empowered with the tools to set boundaries and coping with these emotions. It can be incredibly frustrating to look at a loved one and not see the same person looking back but know that there are resources out there. These resources are based in the same principles your loved ones are using to get sober. Even if they are having trouble staying sober, know that there are many out there that do in fact get and stay sober for a very long time. This program can work, and it can help you as well.
You may think, “Well they are the one that needs to get sober, why do I suddenly have to go to meetings?” You would be absolutely right. It doesn’t seem in the grand scheme of things fair that there is work for you to do as well as your loved one. As said in the passage from the big book, the whole family is to some extent ill, caused by living with an alcoholic. The illness is fixable. The family can also learn to pick up tools to help themselves not get taken advantage of, manipulated, or come to a greater understanding of the mind of a loved one in active addiction. The whole family can benefit from just one person getting sober. My mom and Dad, who read this blog every week, shout out to you, has been there every step of the way in my recovery. My mom says she absolutely benefits from my recovery as well. I am extremely grateful for that. She was very supportive at every difficult crossroad and has found understanding in her own life. While not an alcoholic herself, she has found a better way of living through my own journey in alcoholics anonymous.
Mainly I want to say, that no matter what happens, please remember that some of us do get better. It’s so easy to go for the movie screen ending of dying dead and alone but some of us do get better. I was one of the shittiest people I’ve ever known for years and years but my family never gave up hope. Love is not conditional, and you can still love someone as they struggle. Don’t forget that. The trick is minimizing their struggles impact on you. I hope for those of you reading this find the help to heal the family unit as a whole as it is so important. My hope for any sober (or not sober) alcoholics reading this realize what our addictions do to our loved ones and no temporary high is worth putting them through that before, now, or again.