This is a letter I have written for anyone who is undergoing the tragedy of watching a loved one be consumed by alcoholism. While there is no concrete way to navigate this disease, coming from a place of compassion, which requires self-care, will be our greatest ally as we battle this seemingly insurmountable darkness.
One of the biggest problems of alcoholism, is the afflicted does it to themselves. While alcoholism is a disease according to the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and alcohol use and alcohol dependence has been classified as a mental illness by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), we still struggle to see the alcoholic as not having a choice in their illness.
Another complication is that it’s a “family disease”, meaning, in part, that it affects the entire unit negatively. This can make alcoholism seem like a hopeless state, but it’s not. The Al-Anon members epitomize it perfectly with their motto, “Let it begin with me”. Oftentimes, we feel so powerless over our loved one’s drinking, that we find our own ways to escape. We get angry, we put up walls, we even move away.
But we do have the power to change the way we think and feel, and to embody peace and unity, even in the midst of instability. We all have inner resources within us, that we can call upon for peace and comfort, even in the heights of chaos.
And this is so good to do, because the disease is just that – a disease. While the afflicted might have started out drinking as a choice, it turned into an obsessive compulsive pattern that couldn’t be broken without some sort of intervention. Alcoholism turns from heavy drinking into mental and physical dependence drinking, and steals everything from us. I believe it is one of the darkest forces in this world, but we are not without hope.
The alcoholic in your life might very well be dying from the many complications of chronic drinking, such as organ failure. They need compassion, not criticism – they already know they are wrong, even if they don’t admit it to you. Compassion is a call to action. Try to keep the peace, first within yourself, and then within your relationship, no matter how strained it is.
Reach out. Ask them how they are feeling, even if you already know they will say they are “fine”. Offer little acts of kindness. Clean something up, share food, tell an interesting story. I know that some of these suggestions feel like tall orders, but I promise, you will never, ever regret it.
In conclusion, practice self-care, because having the space that self-care provides is going to help you stay in the eye of the storm. If you don’t know what self-care is, you can start by reading this article here, which is a great place to start for information on what it is, and how to participate in it. And remember, our peace never comes from an external source, it is always within us, and it can be called upon for strength at anytime.