It may come as no surprise to those who have experienced the torments of a family member who has become ravaged by the disease of alcoholism.
The countless hours, days, months and years invested in a desperate attempt to save someone who really doesn’t want to be rescued.
Money, time and effort are among the many ingredients that have been invested. And, in all too many circumstances, to no avail.
However, to those people who are experiencing the journey in the early stages, having some foundation is necessary.
Understanding the best way to help an alcoholic family member is going to be crucial in knowing how you can and cannot help them to begin with.
Before you are able to understand how you can help them, you need to understand how you cannot.
The Battle Is Theirs – Not Yours
All too many times family members engage in a battle that is not theirs to fight.
What happens is that you, the family member, take position on the battlefield alongside of the alcoholic family member. You are positioned to fight with them. That fight may look like or resemble various battles.
One may be a battle of no communication. As alcoholics, we tend to stay gone for days on end without contact from the people who really love us, care about us and worry about us.
Another battle may be self-harm or self-destructive behavior, such as driving drunk or becoming violent while intoxicated.
Other battles come in the form of countless incarcerations for various reasons: intoxicated in public, disorderly conduct while under the influence and worst case scenario, drunk driving or even vehicular manslaughter as a result of an accident caused by the alcoholic family member.
Granted these are just a few that touch the tip of a very long iceberg that family members find themselves engaged in.
What you have to understand as family members is that this a war that the individual has chosen to be a part of. It may not even be that he or she really wants to be in it, but they have CHOSEN to do so.
As family members, you can neither see, hear nor feel their enemy because it is not your battle. You cannot fight an adversary that YOU do not have.
It’s like both of you being on the battlefield but only one of you sees the enemy.
The alcoholic knows the enemy. They see the enemy. They feel the enemy. They lose the battle with the enemy.
On the contrary, family members only see the casualties taking place against the alcoholic.
The good news is that the battle is lost but not the war, not as long as they are still alive.
Unfortunately, you cannot help them in the battle, you can only encourage them to continue to fight.
Encouraging vs Enabling – A Huge Difference
When you find yourself on the battlefield with the alcoholic, trying to fight a fight that isn’t yours, the only thing you are doing is providing an enabling system to the individual to allow you to pull half the weight that he or she alone needs to carry.
In other words, you can’t possibly want to save his, or her, life more than they do. So remember the difference in enabling and encouraging is simply this: enabling is to provide the strength or ability to. To encourage is to mentally support, to help motivate and to transmit courage, hope or spirit to the individual, if possible.
While enabling may be effective in other realms of discussion, alcoholism and addiction is not one of them.
Strength and ability can not be provided by the family member. They would have to physically put that strength and ability into the individual and that’s not possible.
The asset of strength and abilities belongs to us all, individually. Some of us are stronger than others. Many of us have different abilities or even more abilities, that differ from one another.
However, increasing strength or ability, on ANY platform is not something that can be given. Not by another human anyway. You cannot enable someone to increase their strength or ability.
What you can do, though, is encourage them by transmitting courage and motivation to overcome and achieve. Encouragement is the only thing we have to offer an individual to increase their strength or abilities.
In other words: You cannot do the work for them, you can only provide encouragement for them to do the work.
Encouragement May Or May Not Work
Though your best efforts to support and encourage may never be enough, it is all you will ever be able to provide effectively to anyone with the disease of alcoholism or drug addiction.
Encouragement is a powerful mechanism. It speaks to the will of men and, if accepted, can provide a spiritual meal for a hungry individual who is in much need of motivation to overcome the harshest conditions of any situation, and realizes it.
Rather, encouraging works or not, it is not an engraved in stone solution. The solution lies with the individual who chooses to be encouraged or not.
Enabling Will Never Work
On the other hand, enabling will NEVER work for anybody who is suffering from the disease of addiction or alcoholism.
The only thing that enabling will achieve is weakening a vessel and continued heartbreak for all parties involved.
What enabling will do is leave you on the battlefield alone, after the disease has won the war against your loved one.
When it is all said and done, you will be left with the reality that the strength or ability that you possess provided absolutely nothing effective in their battle to begin with.
You could actually say that the enabling that you provided that you thought was love and was meant for good, actually was a contributor to their weakening, and, unfortunately, their demise.
Closing In On What To Say Or Do
The best way to help an alcoholic family member has been an unanswered question for decades really. There is no finite answer that sums it up.
It is a heartbreaking season to say the least, for many family members who have already experienced the loss.
My hope is that the understanding between encouraging and enabling is crystal clear.
You cannot give strength and ability to anyone.
You can only provide encouragement to the individual that would contribute to the motivation of developing the strength and ability that is needed to overcome.
Above in the previous paragraph I stated:
In other words: “You cannot do the work for them, you can only provide encouragement for them to do the work.”
Notice that I did not say, “provide encouragement for them to want to do the work” or “provide encouragement for them to need to do the work”. To reiterate, what I said was, “TO DO THE WORK!”
Not to ‘want to’ or ‘need to’ but rather ‘to do!’
Simply put, recovering from alcoholism or addiction is not for the people who want to do it or need to do it…it is for the people that DO IT!
The best way to help an alcoholic family member is to be able to convey a message along the lines, and boundaries, of this:
“I will support you as long as you have the will to stay sober & clean, to do the right thing. I will continue to encourage you to see that your life is worth living. I will support the correct decisions you make in the betterment of your own life, not mine.
I will encourage you in your battle, as long as you are fighting. Not wanting to fight, or needing to fight because that requires no encouragement and will not get it done. What will get it done is you fighting rather you want to or need to, or not.
You must be in the fight, rather you like it or not, or rather you feel like it or not. This fight is not for the people who want it or need it, it is for the people that DO IT!
What I refuse to provide are the means for you to stay stuck in your addiction or alcoholism.
If this means cutting ties and communication with you, it will get done.
I will not enable you to become weaker than you already are, knowing that you will need ALL of your strength to fight this adversary.
Nor will I fight your enemy for you. It is simply not my battle to fight.
Finally, there will be no resources invested, such as time, effort and money, into a battle that is not being fought!
Understand that no one can want to save your life more than YOU do!
And if you decide that you want to jump off of a bridge to end this war, you need to know that I am not going with you!”
I truly hope this message has reached someone today.
Please leave your comments and, as well, offer feedback if you or a loved one has had experience that may benefit someone’s struggle today.
Remember…the disease doesn’t just have an effect on the user…it affects the ones who love the user as well. Peace!