February 10, 2011
Alcoholism – A Disease That Affects The Entire Family
Alcoholism is a disease that affects every member of the family, to the extent that the kids who make it into the Alateen rooms report they generally have more problems dealing with the non-drinking parent than they do the alcoholic.
What? I don’t have a problem! He… him… he’s the alcoholic! He’s the one who is in trouble all the time! He’s the one who causes all the problems…
True, but he’s also predictable. Kids can read the alcoholic like a book. They know exactly when it’s the right time to ask for extra money, or to go somewhere with their friends, and also know when it’s time to make themselves scarce and get out of the way. They know the routine as far as the alcoholic is concerned. But they never know where the bedraggled non-drinking parent is coming from next.
One minute she (or he as the case may be) is screaming at the alcoholic — threatening him with everything from from divorce to death — and the next minute she may be compassionately rescuing him from the consequences of his latest episode — dutifully cleaning up his messes, making excuses for him and accepting an increasing degree of unacceptable behavior.
The reality of alcoholism changes the life of the entire family, the attitudes and thinking of everyone changes perhaps more dramatically than it does for the drinking spouse and is often hard to recognize. Why? Because it creeps up slowly.
Frog In The Water A few years back, there was a story going around the 12-step rooms about a frog in the water. It goes like this:
If you put a frog into a pan of boiling water, it will jump out faster than the eye can see. But if you put the frog into a pan of water that is the frog’s body temperature and then slowly turn up the heat the frog will stay in the water — even to the point of boiling alive. Why? Because the frog does not notice the gradual change in temperature.
Alcoholism works the same way… the heat is slowly and continuously turned up but nobody notices the temperature change. Cunning and baffling! It’s an ongoing, insidious disease. It normally begins with the casual acceptance of what would otherwise be considered unacceptable behavior. As time passes the behavior slowly grows more and more unbearable, but it is still being accepted and soon becomes the “norm.”
What you finally end up with is chaos that a few short years ago would have been unthinkable. If you looked out the window and saw the same kind of things taking place across the street at the neighbor’s house, you undoubtedly would pick up the phone and call 9-1-1 to get those people some help!
An Insidious Disease As that same type of behavior becomes routine in her own home, the last thing that would occur to her is to pick up the telephone and get help. She has slowly been drawn into the thinking that the alcoholic should be protected. She has learned to cover for him, lie for him and hide the truth. She has learned to keep secrets, no matter how bad the chaos and insanity all around her has become.
Few recognize that by “protecting” the alcoholic with lies and deceptions to the outside world we are, in fact, enabling him and creating a situation that makes it easier for him to continue in his downward spiral. Rather than help the alcoholic we actually enable him to get worse.
The heat increased so gradually, over such an extended period of time, nobody noticed the water was beginning to boil and it was time to jump out of the pan.
The disease will continue to progress for the alcoholic until he is ready to reach out and get help for himself. Waiting for the alcoholic to reach out is not the family’s only choice.
Other family members can begin to recover whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not. But it can’t happen until somebody picks up the telephone and asks for help. There is hope and help out there.