A woman at a local AA chapter recently shared a heartbreaking story about her struggle with alcohol addiction during pregnancy. She had managed to maintain 4 months of sobriety and had a relapse during her pregnancy. The next day she ran to a local AA meeting she saw online, and in the midst of her anxiety and distress, didn’t realize that the meeting she found was a men’s only meeting. She ran in, tears falling from her face, while failing to realize she was the only woman there. “Please help me,” she cried to those around her. “I’m going to drink and I can’t hurt my baby.”
The men welcomed her to the meeting with open arms. Others listening to the story in the meeting had mixed reactions. Recovering addicts understood the woman’s angst, but certain supporters who were not addicts were disgusted with her lack of control. One lady whispered, “I don’t understand how anyone could think of putting their baby in harm’s way. How could she do that to an unborn child? How could she even think of drinking?”
In all reality, the latter woman is completely right. There is no rational explanation why a pregnant woman who clearly loves and cares about her child enough to attend an AA meeting to avoid drinking would even consider drinking in the first place. When most pregnant woman find out they are expecting, they easily throw alcohol, deli meat, sushi, and in some cases, caffeine, without a second thought. They don’t even consider indulging in such things. But the addict is a different type of person. Giving up an addiction, regardless of how dire and consequential the circumstances are, is not always so easy.
It is very difficult for a non-addict to understand the mental anguish that addicts go through. They may understand from a textbook version how addiction works, but they have trouble remaining compassionate towards addicts when the behavior of the addict seems so irrational. And they are right. It IS irrational to drink when pregnant, or spend one’s life savings on drugs, or lose one’s family, or go back to drinking after 20 years of sobriety. It makes no sense whatsoever. So how does a non-addict remain compassionate towards the addict he or she loves, and yet stay firm and assertive in the boundaries they set forth with the addict? Here are 3 suggestions.
1. Recognize that the addict has a disease, not a moral defect. Read up on alcoholism and addiction as a disease, and it will be easier to remain compassionate towards the addict. If one thinks of addiction like cancer, it will be easier to remain sympathetic towards that person. However, like any other disease, it is the responsibility of the addict to do the best they can to get the treatment they need to survive. If the addict is not seeking treatment, then there is no reason for the non-addict to continue supporting this person. They can feel compassion towards the person suffering from the disease of addiction, but they do not have to support or enable an addict who refuses to get the treatment he or she needs.
2. Attend Al-Anon Meetings. Al-Anon is a wonderful program that helps people who have lived with someone suffering from an addiction, or who know someone who suffers from an addiction. It uses the same 12-step program that AA does in helping these people recover, set boundaries, and form relationships with other co-dependents or those who live with someone suffering from an addiction. Al-Anon meetings can be found across the country simply by searching online for meetings in the local community.
3. The addict needs tough love to survive, not judgment. It’s ok to secretly judge. We all do it. It’s hard not to judge someone who lost his or her husband or wife because of an addiction. It’s hard not to judge someone who drank alcohol while pregnant. It’s hard not to judge a friend who stopped talking to you and their family because they were out getting high. But condemning and yelling at these individuals, or trying to bully them into sobriety will do little good. It will increase their shame, and they will be more prone to isolate and less likely to recover.
The best think you can do to support those suffering from an addiction is to show them tough love. Tell them, “I love you and I will always support you. I am here for you if you need help. I cannot have you around my family until you get the help you need, but I am willing to do whatever I can to support you in getting help.” Ask how your friend is doing in early sobriety; attend an AA meeting with them to understand what they are going through.
Love can be a much more powerful weapon than intimidation, or trying to make someone feel so terrible that they change only out of guilt. There is no reason to enable someone in your life who is causing damage. Sometimes this person needs to be cut off entirely until they get their act together. However, there is a way to show love and support without letting this person take advantage of you or playing on your already fraught emotions.
Are you an addict who lives with someone who is a non-addict? Or are you an a non addict who needs support but doesn’t know where to turn? Contact Linda Rose today at Footprints Behavioral Health. Call 949-558-4723 and start your roadmap towards recovery now.