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Collateral Damage

This is something I have wanted to write about for a while, but honestly didn’t know where to begin. Advance warning, this could become a two-parter or series. Here we go.

My family has been dealing with alcohol addiction for at least 25 years that I am aware of. One of my siblings has a serious problem, and in December 2019, right before Christmas, we had an intervention. Some of you were there.

Since that time, we have been dealing with her in treatment, managing finances, dismantling a home, and getting a house ready for sale. All while having other unexpected things come up like the corona virus. It has been draining, to say the least.

As we cleared out the house, my family and I have had to revisit the trauma of the last three decades, and all of the pursuant disappointments, anger and frustration which surrounds having an active addict in your midst, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. It has been an endless cycle of remorse and regret. Shoulda, coulda, woulda…sound familiar?

And you’re wondering what does this have to do with health and wellbeing? Why is my health coach writing about this? It all seems so personal. TMI.

Not really. It is quite common, more so than you may think. Or maybe you already know that.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 26.5% of adults over 18 acknowledged they had binged on alcohol in the past month, with 6.6% admitting to heavy alcohol use in the same time period, in 2018. And the NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) , which annually surveys the population on alcohol use and abuse, has found that according to DSM- V criteria 14.4 million adults suffer from a dependency to and abuse alcohol with regularity.

Now how this impacts a family can be devastating, especially for the children. More than 10% of children in the U.S. live with an alcoholic parent. And I am seeing first-hand the devastating effects of my niece and nephews experience with not one, but two addicted parents.

Alcohol is the 3rd leading preventable cause of death, after smoking, which is the leading cause of death. A sedentary and poor nutrition lifestyle is in second place.

These are 2018 numbers. I can only imagine things will spike in 2020, with all the stress we have been having lately.

My family is not the only one out there. If you are in this situation too it can feel that way from the time you first suspect there is a problem, to confronting the addict, only to be promised things will change and then repeating that pattern for a while before you realize the futility of thinking you alone can do anything about it.

Then you are navigating through getting someone into treatment, which is a byzantine affair of getting them sober on your own and then finding a bed in a treatment facility. I had the misfortune years ago of having my sister stay with me over the weekend, waiting for a bed. They wanted her sober so I kept her from drinking that weekend. Imagine my surprise when she went into a seizure in my car, while I’m driving. I learned later how dangerous that is. Alcoholics must be weaned off the alcohol under medical supervision or they risk dying.

A big component of the family disease which is alcoholism is the shame that is often associated with this problem. Many families keep their circle limited so as not to expose the “family secret” and get more insular as things get worse, which they do. And then the alcoholic gets better… and then they, you know. It puts tremendous stress on the individuals, and the family as a whole. Relationships get strained in this kind of situation. It can really tear a family apart.

Speaking of treatment, hopefully your loved one can get quality care with the right insurance. And if not, they are going to go on the 21- or 28-day merry-go-round of getting cleaned up and then sent right back out without the resources or time they need to fully recover. And that depends on the state you live in. It could be less time for treatment, as little as 12 days. If you have someone in your family in recovery or recovered, you know what I am talking about. It can be a vicious cycle. And this is not a swipe at the people in the addiction field who really care about the people they are treating and want to see them recovered. It is just a comment on a lack of mental health resources.

As someone who is committed to living a healthy lifestyle, which includes a mental, physical, and spiritual balance, I always think about the family members of the addict. How are they doing? Who’s taking care of them? How are they coping, adjusting to the always shifting environment they live in? Having been in situations where I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop, I fully understand how it feels to be diligently on guard all the time. It will wear you out.

Maybe this is why I was drawn to health and wellness coaching in the first place. I am solution-oriented and want to change things that don’t work. Well, unfortunately, you can’t “fix” an alcoholic. That was not the easiest thing for me to understand, as a Ms. Fix-it.

What you can do is figure out how you can create the best environment for yourself, that helps you keep your equilibrium when things get difficult. My path took many twists and turns; massage and Reiki, coaching, mediation, yoga, healthy eating and movement. I developed processes and systems that support me, so that when things get tough, I can keep it together. Everyone has the ability to do this and I would encourage anyone who needs emotional support in crisis to learn these skills.

Sometimes the person with the drinking problem recognizes it and goes for treatment voluntarily. Sometimes they have to be forced such as when their employer makes treatment a requirement of staying employed or they get into legal trouble. Most will choose treatment and away they go for a month, while the family has to stay and clean up the mess, take care of the children, bills, pets, and house. They usually have to clean the home as well. And these are all responsibilities and stressors that you didn’t sign up for. How do you manage to keep all the balls in the air? When do you get to take a full breath?

Where do you let off steam? When do you get to relax and let go of all of the stress you are holding in your body? How do you manage your feelings of resentment about the alcoholic’s behavior? How do you square it with the love you have for this person (your spouse, your child, your sibling) And how do you learn to forgive?

I have asked these questions many times of the numerous facilities, counselors, and therapists I have encountered in relation to this over the years. I always get the same answer. You can go to Al-Anon or find solace in your faith community. And it always seems lacking.

So, I am trying to figure out how to best help support those of you out there who are going through a similar experience. Does what I have shared resonate with you? Have you thought these very same thoughts in an equally adverse situation? How would you best like to be supported in a crisis or just managing from day to day? How are your coping skills right now? What is lacking? Where do you see managing from one crisis to the next affecting your physical or mental health? I am curious. I hope you are too.

Stay well, my friends,until next time.

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