Living on the bottom

NMLG-cover300-201x300Debra Jay addresses the belief that families should let an addicted family member hit bottom:

Hitting bottom is an old idea, still imposed upon families as if it were an absolute. Many families sadly believe that they must wait for alcoholics to hit bottom before there is any hope for recovery. They rarely stop to consider that this belief sentences them to years of unhappiness and devastation. No one ever mentions the fact that alcoholics and addicts don’t take the trip to the bottom alone–the family goes with them. Families are never warned that the journey to the bottom takes even the smallest children.

. . .

“Bottoms” can be temporary. Alcoholics resist getting sober even when things are going badly in their lives. They are good at weathering storms. Perhaps they’ll swear off alcohol for a while, but as soon as things cool down, they begin drinking again. The addicted brain can’t make lasting connections between alcohol and the problems it causes. Once the problems go away, alcohol is their best friend again. Addiction is both invisible and sacred to alcoholics: they deny its existence yet sacrifice everything to it.

Addicts don’t want to cause trouble or hurt the people they love. Quite the contrary: they struggle to be the person they think they still are, the person they were before the addiction took hold. They can’t make sense of their own actions. As their addiction progresses and troubles mount, they work harder to manage their lives, but addiction never lets anyone lead a life free of trouble. There are always problems, big and small. Bad behavior, poor decisions and emotional upheaval are all symptoms of this disease that affects both the brain and soul. Families are confused, too. Not understanding what is happening to their loved ones, they mutter: “When will she learn?” But addicts can’t learn because addiction keeps tightening its grip, demanding complete allegiance.

3 thoughts on “Living on the bottom

  1. Great post. It baffles me that my own family never said anything about my drinking, that my friends–who no doubt talked about me–never said anything. I mean, no one EVER in my life told me to get help, to go to meetings. Maybe there was *one* man… Baffling.

  2. When I was an EAP I met people who had family members who would not support their alcoholic or druged behaviors. They actually got help early and saved themselves years of devistation. I cannot say the same for their employers. We tried to get the boss to address the behaviors but they often did nothing but complain, make excuses and cover for the employee.

  3. As a family member, I had a reaction to your post. I tried for years to get help for my family member, and the truth is until the addict wants help, no amount of work can force their solution. In fact, the more I tried to help, the more I became the problem… the reason for the drinking and drugging. It is a conundrum.

    Al-Anon supports family members with their own program of recovery. In learning to take the focus off the addict, we learn to set clear and doable boundaries around the destruction of the disease. We learn to help ourselves and get out of the way and stop managing, manipulating, mothering, and playing the martyr. Maybe this is the help that you speak of…

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