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Are You Driving Your Alcoholic To Drink?

BY SHIRLEY KESSLER

Unless you know what you're doing, your efforts to cure can kill.

You live with an alcoholic and you want to help. You've tried "sweet
reason," emotional appeals, tears, lectures, coaxing and threats. You
don't keep liquor around the house or you hide it. Or you pour it down
the drain. But everything you do backfires. You're a heartbroken
failure. What now?

Now look into an organization called Al-Anon Family Groups. Patterned
after Alcoholics Anonymous it is aimed directly at you and the
20,000,000 others in America who are made miserable by 4,000,000
alcoholics. You cannot be innocent bystanders. What you do at home can
greatly hinder or speed an alcoholic's recovery. Al-Anon helps you help
your alcoholic. Its principles are based on sound, psychological
grounds. The first fact it helps you face, for instance, is that
alcoholism is an obsession disease. According to Dr. Ruth Fox, a noted
psychoanalyst who has treated thousands of alcoholics, "A patterned
response has been set up in the brain during ten or 15 years of turning
to the bottle as the only source of comfort for the vulnerable
personality disappointed in a cruel world." It is impossible to destroy
or remove this pattern. Your alcoholic's only hope, therefore, is total
abstinence. Even after analysis or 20 years in Alcoholics Anonymous, a
first drink will start up the pattern. Your alcoholic can never drink
again.

Getting your alcoholic to give up a self-prescribed formula for feeling
better and for saving himself sometime later from his disability, is not
your job. But you can help by spotting symptoms:

1. Drinking with defiance or out of necessity, not for either fun
or relaxation.

2. Inability to limit the amount imbibed (unlike the "heavy
drinker" who can moderate.

3. Progression. Untreated, the disease grows more virulent.

4. Blackouts-a later stage, a form of amnesia. This isn't passing
out but "not remembering a thing" while under the influence.

Dr. Fox interviews an alcoholic's mate early in treatment. It's urgent
he or she understand that alcoholics are supersensitive, easily upset
and likely to project blame rather than face up to inadequacy. Dr. Fox
reassures husbands and wives of her patients that they are not
responsible for the illness, and cautions against adding to the
difficulty.

If they will allow themselves to become allies of psychiatry, "the
disease," according to Dr. Fox, "can be arrested at any stage, not after
Skid Row or tragedy."

Yvelin Gardner of the National Committee on Alcoholism says, "members of
the family mustn't let an alcoholic's gyrations send them into such a
spin they think he's 'mean' or 'willful.' He's sick. It has been
definitely shown that family members who have adopted understanding
attitudes and approaches have brought alcoholics to seek help and
recover many years sooner than would have been the case, and thus have
prevented many broken homes and death itself."

Just as your alcoholic can't fight the battle alone, you need the
support of others in the same boat. This focus on you came into view
after the advent of Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics struggling toward
sobriety were often being encouraged by everyone except their families.
Husbands and wives sat about AA anterooms waiting until group therapy
began to work for their alcoholics.

While some of them had the patience to wait for the alcoholic to regain
emotional balance, others worked unwittingly against AA by sarcasm and
needling, shoving many AAers off the wagon.

In Come Back, Little Sheba, analyzed recently in the "Journal of
Psychiatric Social Work," the sensitive hero was doing fine in AA until
" by reminding him of the past and by not having any life of her own, the
wife confronts her husband with his former inadequacies, provoking a
bout with open aggression against her."

Growing aware of the importance of the non-alcoholic's role in a slip or
a comeback, some wives of AA members organized a "clearing house" in
1951 to seek the help they needed before they could help their mates.
This clearing house became Al-Anon Family Groups.

Mail coming to the still current P.O. Box 1475, Grand Central Station,
New York 17, tells of pitiful mistakes. Some family members punished
alcoholics by horsewhipping or not cooking for them, while others
coddled them into asylums.

Information underlined by the National Committee on Alcoholism was sent
out. Mates were told that alcoholism is not a sin, but a disease, an
addiction manifested by uncontrolled drinking and not to be subject to
home therapy.

Al-Anon Family Groups incorporated this year as a separate entity from
AA. There are 700 world-wide groups, mostly in the U.S. and Canada. Any
two people can start a group meeting in a home, church, school or any
other room, to help each other, and eventually take the alcoholic into
treatment in AA or psychiatry.

The Family Groups give husbands and wives a chance for releasing
tensions in talks with others who understand. It is an
experienced-exchange oasis. Doctors and social workers have called
alcoholism a "family illness," because the wife or husband and children
suffer emotional impairment, too.

So, until you straighten yourself out, you can't act with balance and
the kind understanding to which alcoholics respond.

Since most alcoholics are men, the emphasis of Al-Anon is on the wife's
role in his cure. However, the Family Groups are open to the man whose
wife is alcoholic and the Al-Anon methods are equally effective for him.
What are these methods and how do they work? Joan T., a Stamford, Conn.,
housewife, who sought out an Al-Anon Family Group, is typical.

She considers herself modern and fairly intelligent. But until recently
she coped with the "problem" of her husband, Ted, a top engineering
consultant, as families did 40 years ago.

For a long time, Joan wouldn't acknowledge the fact that Ted, a top
engineering consultant, was an alcoholic. When she did, her concern
centered on the growing social isolation and the pile of bills, while
giving lip service to the concept "alcoholics are sick."

As Ted grew worse, heading for the inevitable straightjacket or hearse,
Joan belittled and screamed abuse of hid in her "private little closet."
She avoided seeking the necessary outright help. Acting the shrew, she
put Ted on the defensive. Partly to spite her, he refused to struggle
against their enemy, alcohol.

Luckily, Joan saw a doctor about her "nerves." She couldn't sleep,
laugh, or talk coherently any more. Ted's sexual demands, abuses in
front of the children, and other selfish behavior, characteristic of the
disease, were making life impossible. She was startled when it was
suggested that although Ted wasn't ready for help, there was a new
organization she could join.

In a neighborhood Al-Anon Family group, Joan was welcomed by 15 other
wives and two husbands of alcoholics. All were well groomed, alert and
cheerful. First, Joan received pamphlets on alcoholism. Then she heard
others tell of their experiences, stories all could feel kinship with.
Gradually Joan felt relief and hope. Finally she achieved a sense of
peace as the meeting closed with the prayer: "God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I
can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

At Al-Anon meetings the tales that are told are not gripes about mates
but self-inventories. "My name is Peggy Adams and I am the wife of an
alcoholic," one pretty brunette facing the group says. She tells of
beatings and other indignities, but admits that she has provoked
hostilities. She'd greet her husband with name-calling, like "bum" or
" no good."

Since coming to the group her resentments haven't changed. But her
tactics are more subtle and in keeping with the facts she's learned
about alcoholics. "Hon, it's okay," she says now after an outburst,
" call me anything you like. It won't change my love for you." This stops
him cold. She then gets him into bed and then leaves him gracefully
alone.

Others tell of their experiences about abusive behavior, understanding
that it isn't the mate's "real self" but things erupting from his
unconscious while drunk.

A middle-aged man confesses to forcing his wife along as a drinking
companion, even when she pleaded for a "recover." When she tried
suicide, he sobered.

Exploring their own motivations, Al-Anoners discuss the problem of being
a crutch to an alcoholic. All agree it's as destructive to be too
permissive or to pamper an alcoholic as it is to punish. Tortured
clock-watching, going along on bouts to protect and running at the
alcoholic's every phone call can be emotional crutch methods. These
don't help the immature individual to grow up.

A girl named Nancy came to a Jackson Heights, New York, group with her
mother. Nancy wanted to marry Tom, a newspaperman who drank, but Mama
said no. A few months later, Nancy was insisting to the group, "If I
jilt Tom, he'll drink himself to death." She was advised that
" disappointment in love" is an oldie, like "a death in the family," and
she was actually preventing his getting better by always being around to
lean on.

Nancy, like all Al-Anoners, has been learning to live by the AA program.
She has developed more assurance and is now helping others. Now when Tom
phones for her to hurry over, a calmer Nancy is able to answer,
" Drinking is your problem, not mine. You can go on and on and get worse
or stay sober." Tom is already on his way to a cure through AA.

At first the Family Group members works on self-improvement. Week to
week progress is reported and commented on with encouraging suggestions.
Advice needn't be taken, however. Al-Anon has no pat formulas. Its aim
is first to root out neurotic fears.

Harmonious family relations are the next goal. Questions of finances are
discussed frankly in the groups. "I like to eat and pay bills. Ben cares
only about his credit at the local bars. Am I a 'financial crutch,' if I
go to work."

Usually it's considered best to let the male head of the house support
it. But if he's swollen from dehydration or can't concentrate, the wife
may have to work. If she does, she must make it clear that it is for the
family budget. She must not flaunt her superior earning capacity.

After an Al-Anon member is sure of her facts and feels more detached and
nurselike about her alcoholic's condition, she leaves literature about
the house. Discussions are held off until the hangover stage. Then
alcoholism is talked about objectively. In sober moments the alcoholic
is usually impressed with the statistics on the 4,000,000 compulsive
drinkers and the 150,000 recoveries through AA and psychiatry.

A family's best weapon in this slow, patiently fought battle is the
change in themselves. "Those meetings sure do you good," one alcoholic
told his wife between drinking bouts. "The whole atmosphere at home has
improved. Even the children aren't sassing anymore."

To prevent children from growing up feeling nobody cares, and often
becoming alcoholics, too, they must know the facts. The ex-alcoholic
can't drink, they're told, although it's socially acceptable. His
emotional makeup is such that alcohol makes him sick. He'll get better,
when he understands he can live without the bottle. But meanwhile he's
confused and needs encouragement for the struggle ahead. Once the truth
is known, he often goes to his first AA meeting with his teenager along
as an ally.

You, the non-alcoholic, must be something of a psychological juggler.
You mustn't pit the children against your mate or bar the alcoholic from
the family circle. (on the other hand, the children may have to pick up
and leave, if a drunk becomes dangerous. In that instance, they must,
without warning, just pull up the rug and go.)

You must lead an active, normal life. You cannot be obsessed with "the
problem" as the alcoholic himself is obsessed with drink.

When Ann's husband blurted out, "So I drink too much. But I don't need
AA. I'll limit myself," she told him it was no use, but she said, "Okay,
test yourself. For at least three months have any prescribed number of
drinks per day, but no more. You'll see." He did.

She didn't plead with the old hat, "Stop drinking if you love me and the
children" or "Please, be a good father." She simply reminded him if he
went on he would lose his mind and probably die of a "wet brain" or a
heart attack during D.T.'s. Slowly he realized that he wanted to stop
drinking. He would no longer put off what Ann termed a "necessary
operation."

The convalescence period is rough. Converts are usually over-zealous.
They are on call like a doctor at all hours. Their home was crowded with
drunks, where before there'd been just one. But unlike the women of a
decade ago, Ann had her parallel work in the Family Group. She and her
husband had a closer partnership than ever. And as he lived by the AA
rules, he no longer felt inadequate. He was no longer the juvenile AA
had married.

Al-Anon is still in the trial and error stage. But, the "Family Groups
Forum," its newsletter, reports progress from Austin, Texas, to Sydney,
Australia. At AA's July convention the alcoholic's relatives held forums
on family matters. Al-Anoners are making decisions and giving the help
alcoholics need.

Anyone can be alcoholic-ditch-digger, bridge partner, dentist, man or
woman. Those in Al-Anon know this all too well. To their alcoholics
they've extended a friendly hand at last. And they'll help you extend a
friendly hand. You can help. You are not a failure.

Source: Pageant, December 1955

 


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