When I was actively drinking, I was not the person I wanted to be. I think it’s fair to say no one sets out to become an addict or an alcoholic—I know I didn’t. Active addiction is a lonely, desperate, and dangerous place to be. I never would have put myself there, or put my family through what I did, on purpose. But, it happened and none of us can change it now.
My alcoholism, and the choices I made when I was drinking, caused my family to wash their hands of me, even after I got sober. That loss has made me think a lot about what I wish my family knew about me when I was in active addiction. Of course, when someone is drinking and behaving the way that I did, there is no opportunity to express these things. It’s only been after the fact that I have had the clarity of mind to recognize what I wish they had understood then.
Unfortunately, I have lost those relationships—at least for now, but maybe forever. So, I write this for the families of addicts in the hope that it might help them to better understand what their addicted loved one might be feeling even though they probably don’t have the capacity to express it.
These are some of the things that I wish my family knew when I was drinking.
No, I can’t just stop. One of the things that is so hard for “normal” people to understand is that by the time a person is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it’s nearly impossible for them to just stop. I wanted to stop drinking for a long time before I was actually able to do so. It took two stays in rehab, countless twelve-step meetings, many therapy sessions, and psychiatric care for me to achieve the sobriety I have today. Without any one of those things, I wouldn’t have stopped drinking. I couldn’t have stopped drinking.
I don’t love you any less. I know that for many family members of addicts it seems that their loved one is choosing his or her drug of choice over them. I understand why they would feel that way. I continued to drink even though I knew my family didn’t want me to, and even though I knew I was losing those relationships. I get why they would believe that I was choosing booze over them. But for me, and for many other addicts I suspect, my ability to choose was gone. I had to drink, there was no longer a choice to be made. That fact did not mean that I loved my family less, though. I loved them every bit as much as I always had—I just couldn’t do anything about it.
It’s not your fault. Every family has a level of dysfunction. In mine, it was very high. Even so, just as there was nothing they could do to make me stop drinking, it wasn’t their fault that I started. It’s easy to place blame when it comes to addiction. Some family members blame the addict, and others blame themselves. I wish that my family knew that I never blamed any of them for my drinking—it was all on me. While I may not have had a choice once I was truly an alcoholic, my drinking was my fault.
I really meant it every time I said, “I’m sorry.” If there’s one thing that addicts are good at, it’s apologizing. We say we’re sorry for our drinking, behavior, needing to be bailed out (of jail and otherwise), screwing things up, saying horrible things, and the list goes on. At a certain point, I think addicts’ families simply think they don’t mean it anymore. I did. I meant it every time I said it. I was truly sorry for all the bad things I did. And not just ones for which I was caught. Just like my family members, I wanted every “I’m sorry” to be the last one I had to say—but that hasn’t happened. I have had a deep sense of remorse from the time I started drinking alcoholically up to now; even after years of sobriety.
Addiction is a horrible, ugly, all-encompassing disease that affects not only the addict, but everyone around them. If you’re not an addict yourself, it’s hard to know what or how an addict thinks. I hope my two cents gives you a little bit of insight.
Jami DeLoe writes the Trauma! A PTSD Blog for HealthyPlace at www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/, blogs personally at www.sobergrace.wordpress.com and can be reached at email@example.com.