I grew up with an alcoholic mother and watched many people I loved, including myself struggle with drinking. “Drinking alcohol was not the problem, but there was always a problem when we drank alcohol." I met a man with the same affinity for drinking and we were on our merry way.
My husband’s parents had long term, sustained recovery and were very active in Alcoholics Anonymous. We used to laugh at the pamphlets they would send and even use them as cocktail coasters. When I became pregnant and had to stop drinking, I could. My husband’s drinking continued until it became evident that he could not stop. He struggled through several recovery programs but found his way through his family and the 12 steps. 2 years before his brother found the rooms of AA. His other brother continued to struggle for a long time. Both of my husband’s grandparents were alcoholics and several of his Uncles. To say this is a family disease is an understatement.
We all worked our programs very hard and applied the steps and principles to all areas of our lives. As most members of my husband’s family, we had two boys. They were not going to be affected by this cunning and baffling disease!...so I thought. We know so much about addiction and recovery, of course we can keep this from impacting them. The truth of the matter is, putting down the substance is the easy part. It is what addicts are trying to avoid, not feel, escape, or drown out that is the real disease. Mental health is the driving force behind addiction. Sitting in our self-defeating thoughts, anxiety, depression, anger, trauma or any other emotion is hard and substances can make that go away…for a little while.
When several family members are in recovery it is important to remember that each person got there on their own, with their own “stuff”, so must they find recovery.
I have had several parents come in and share their own recovery story and try to micro-manage their child’s, “because they know”. This is not entirely untrue, but do they really know? Life impacts us all differently, our resilience, our experiences and our relationships. There is no “one-size -fits-all” recovery and addiction does not discriminate.
Autonomy in recovery is not only important, but necessary. If an individual is not doing what they need to do for themselves, then it won’t work. Many start recovery when they are given an ultimatum from a loved one, or are court ordered. This is effective for changing pathways in the brain that tell us that when we experience difficult emotions “you should drink”. We can learn coping skills, identify triggers and work on putting the substance down. To truly recover and maintain sobriety, each individual has to find their own path, what works for them. This can be Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery or several other options. For some exercise, faith, music, art, the options are endless. Addressing mental health concerns is the difficult part. It is hard enough to identify what you may be struggling with, let alone find the solution, but it can and has been done, over and over.
Project Courage resources:
AA Meeting: Fridays @12noon
SMART Recovery Meeting: Wednesdays @6:30pm