An Appeal and an Encouragement to Families of Addicts and Alcoholics
“We women carry with us a picture of the ideal man, the sort of chap we would like our husbands to be.”
I read that sentence in the Alcoholics Anonymous book in the chapter dedicated to wives of alcoholics, and realized that such a picture is carried by anyone close to an alcoholic, particularly those who knew them long before their first drink. I have a brother who still suffers under addiction. My picture of him shows the brother with whom I would still work out, play games, and discuss our dreams and ambitions. While I have not asked my parents what their picture of him would look like, I am certain that it would look quite different from the withdrawn, stubborn individual I have lived with in recent years.
Speaking as one who has had several family members who have lived in addiction and alcoholism, some recovered, others not, I can understand us carrying around such pictures of the future we hope for. It is good that we long for their recovery, and take what steps are available to us to encourage them along that road. However, I fear that such pictures can prove dangerous once our loved ones begin their recovery.
When we see our loved ones beginning a return to normalcy, we are tempted to compare their progress to the picture we’ve imagined, and see how they measure up. This becomes a problem when we fail to realize that it’s not a person we have in our minds. It’s an ideal. Ideals are excellent things to have but notoriously difficult to live up to, particularly when it is somebody else’s ideal. And when we hold the ideal up to our recovering family member and see the ways in which they fall short, it is very easy to become impatient.
It is not my purpose to discourage people from holding these ideals. Often, these ideals hold very important things: spouses may long for the intimacy that alcoholism had denied them, while children long for the fun and happy parent to come back and play. By all means, hold onto your hope. Only remember that they are just beginning their recovery, as you are just beginning yours.
I cannot begin to tell you how many families to whom I have offered support who then instinctively told me that they were not the one with the problem, or that they are trying to leave that time of their life behind them. I believe these people often are holding to their own ideals, and strive to maintain them as best they can. While I do not accuse anyone, I am certain that many people have turned down support to maintain the ideal of a normal, functional family that doesn’t need help. In their pursuit of their ideal, they ignore lessons they could learn from their past by attempting to forget it.
I appeal to families of alcoholics to be able to look beyond their ideals and be able to observe reality. The addict’s recovery will take time, and you may need support from others as well. He may not be able to resume his proper role immediately, and it is certain that he will occasionally slip from your cherished vision. However, I also want to encourage you as your loved one begins to recover. You will find no shortage of opportunities to serve, support, receive support, and learn as you work with them towards your ideal. If you will accept these opportunities and work with your loved one, your ideal will become what it is supposed to be: a source of hope, not despair. You will be able to rejoice as you see both your loved one and yourself work towards it, and be able to love your reality without wondering when it will come close to the picture in your mind.
Family Outreach Liaison