Letter to a Young-Adult Child of an Alcoholic
My mom is a physician with a specialist certification in chemical-dependency. Lately, she and my father have spent a lot of time trying to help a relative who, apparently, has been battling alcoholism for several years.
You would never know it to know her. She is a dynamic woman; very smart, hard-working, and a dedicated mom. But, she is horribly depressed and her drinking has taken its toll on her family. Her mother and siblings have recently reached out to my mom, asking for help and expressing interest in doing an intervention.
To add fuel to this cruel fire, her husband is battling cancer. His prognosis is actually quite good, but he is about to endure a very long stretch of chemotherapy. This is a very stressful time for all of them!
Her children are all in college. At this time, her oldest son is the only one who has expressed interest in the intervention. Everyone believes they need the support of all of her children in order for the intervention to be successful, but he’s a bit unsure. (Can you blame him?)
The following is a letter to her oldest son that I “drafted” in my head as I fell asleep last night. Every one of us is affected by substance abuse in one way or another; some people more severely than others, but we are all affected by a friend, relative, student, or co-worker that is battling some form of addiction or co-dependency.
(Names and specific facts have been altered to protect the privacy of the family.)
I hope you don’t mind me dropping a line. I’m sure things are pretty overwhelming for you right now, but I wanted to pass along my support. I used to see your mom a lot more when I was little and she was always a “cool big cousin” to me. I remember being at your parents’ wedding and admiring how much fun your parents had together. Being high school sweethearts, I don’t think I knew of a time when your dad was not part of the family. Since then, I’ve always heard stories about how industrious your mom is, helping to run your dad’s business while raising you and your brothers. I was pleasantly surprised when she took the time to come to my baby shower several years ago, just as you were all in the process of moving to your current house. I have always had a tremendous amount of respect for her!
I know the weight of the world is on your shoulders right now. I can’t imagine the position you are in, but I was thinking of a few things as I fell asleep last night. I don’t know how well you know Uncle Randy’s family (he has eight children), but I have grown up very close to them; his children are kind of like siblings to me…eight “big” brothers and sisters. However, Uncle Randy is a recovering alcoholic and all of his children are either alcoholics or married to alcoholics. They have had their share of uphill battles in life! In fact, my mom specifically got involved in chemical dependency to help Uncle Randy and his family.
I was in middle school when she began studying and working towards her certification. Since I was so close to Uncle Randy’s family, she shared a lot of information with me as she was learning it. I read some of the books she is sharing with you now when I was in high school and I attended a couple of seminars with her. As a result, I have learned so much that has helped me understand the struggles my dear cousins have dealt with. It has also given me tremendous insight in my career as a teacher and now, as an educator and business-person.
I am sharing this with you because I know you are at a cross-roads and initiating an intervention is a tremendously scary thing! However, I would encourage you to envision things a bit beyond the intervention: your mom getting help and your brothers and you having a better understanding of the disease that has been a silent part of your life. Just past the most painful part is a lot of joy waiting for all of you, if you can hang in there!
I was first thinking that it might be helpful to speak to one or two of our cousins who have been the center of an intervention. I am sure they will tell you they weren’t happy at first, but their quality of life is so much better now! I think it would be very helpful for you to know what the experience is like from their perspective. (My mom & I can arrange this, if you are interested.)
The most important thing to do is to learn as much as you can. The more knowledge you have, the more you will understand everything and trust the process. It is difficult (and painful) to make the time to read everything now, but it will give you such a tremendous sense of understanding that will be extremely beneficial for your family. Beyond that, the skills you learn through this process will make you a better person, a better employee, and perhaps someday, a better husband and father.
The father of a life-long friend of mine had several advanced degrees in engineering (at least three masters and two Ph.D.s). He ran an engineering consulting firm and was paid huge sums of money to fly around the globe (LONG before we used the internet or even heard the word “globalization”) to trouble-shoot engineering problems for various companies. However, he once confessed to me and my parents that he rarely used his engineering skills when working with his clients. He actually attributed most of his success to his communication skills. Inevitably, over 90% of the “engineering” problems he was called in to trouble-shoot were really a matter of one department not working with another department and various ego/emotional blocks that were preventing a company from solving their own problems.
I share this story with you because it is an example of the communication skills that can set a person apart in their job, yet is something no one ever talks about. Ultimately, the insight, knowledge, and experience you will gain simply from *learning* about the dynamics of alcoholism will help you understand so much more about human behavior in general, and give you a great advantage in your life. Of course, the most immediate concern is helping your mom, but I thought it might help to think of this as a life-long learning experience for you. This knowledge is never taught in any classroom, but will help you outperform competitors when you are looking for a job, working to “climb the ladder,” or even run your own business. Of course, you would have the potential to help a lot of other people along the way, too.
Finally, to be frank, statistics indicate that you and your brothers will likely have the same challenges in life if you don’t make a conscientious effort to break the cycle. The good news is that there is a way to break the cycle.
I hope I don’t appear to be a nag, but I was thinking about how intimidating this whole process must seem to you, yet how much you have to gain if you and your brothers are willing to learn about the disease and trust the process of intervention/recovery.
Meanwhile, I will keep all of you –including your dad- in my prayers! You have a truly outstanding family and I hope it won’t be long before all of the pieces of this crazy puzzle fall into place for you.
Good luck and God bless,