A big question for most family members: “Why should I go to meetings? I’m not the one with the problem.”
After all, you might argue, if your spouse has a heart attack, you don’t attend cardiac rehab. Maybe you do some reading or take a class, but that’s it. There are folks who have been attending Alanon faithfully for decades – why is a mystery.
You don’t want to commit to that, do you?
Of course, the main reason cardiac patients and their families don’t attend support groups is because it’s a relatively new concept in medicine so there aren’t that many out there. If there were, you can bet many cardiologists would recommend them. Cardiac rehab, like alcoholism recovery, depends on lifestyle change. That occurs over time and patients are vulnerable to relapse (in this case, leading to another heart attack). Same thing with the mental health field, which over the past decade has moved steadily towards a recovery model that depends on active participation from the patient and the family.
The reality is, if you’re involved with an alcoholic, you do have the problem. You didn’t cause it, and you can’t control it, and you can’t change the alcoholic’s behavior – but you definitely feel the effects of drinking. And you’ll feel the effects of recovery, too. Some will be quite challenging for you.
Treatment doesn’t ‘fix’ the alcoholic, despite claims you may heard to the contrary. In fact, the goals of addiction treatment are comparable to cardiac rehabilitation. With the cardiac patient, rehab aims to:
- Help people recover from the effects of their latest episode;
- Provide education and counseling about heart health and how to maintain it;
- Support the patient in implementing a plan of recovery; and
- Take steps to reduce the risk of future problems.
The first is similar to detox and stabilization. The second is very like the patient education in most addiction programs. The third and fourth echo the emphasis on healthy lifestyle and relapse prevention that are a principal focus of alcoholism treatment.
It’s a simple process but not an easy one, and there are plenty of bumps along the way. As family members, we’ll be affected. Our choice is whether that effect will be positive or negative.
If your alcoholic comes home from treatment to find you in the grip of anxiety over whether he’ll drink again, that’s a negative for both of you. If on the other hand you’ve learned to manage those feelings and get your support from others, you’re way better off. And so is your alcoholic – it’s one less thing to worry about.
If you’ve made friends among people who share your experience and are willing to listen, you’re miles ahead of most family members, who still have no place where they can safely vent their own problems.
In other words, if we as family member have established a program of recovery, it makes things easier not just on us, and on the alcoholic, but frankly, on everybody else involved.