Ten rules to avoid rescuing an alcoholic

Unable to relax and enjoy life for fear of abuse
The children of alcoholics suffer ongoing pain from witnessing the chaotic behaviour of their parents. As adults it continues to affect their ability to relax and enjoy life, their ability to connect with others and trust. Many end up constantly on guard, locked in fight or flight, watching for danger, their nervous system still expecting the moment when the alcoholic snaps from being happy to emotionally abusive. It takes a long time and a lot of healing to shift this and be able to enjoy life fully.

Although there are many ways of ‘Rescuing’ an alcoholic, some ways are typical. Here are ten of them:

1. When three or more suggestions to an alcoholic have been rejected you are Rescuing. Instead, offer one or two, and wait to see whether they are acceptable. If they are not, stop making suggestions. Don’t play “Why don’t you… Yes, but…”

2. It’s O.K. to investigate possible therapists for an alcoholic, but never make an appointment for him or her. Any therapist who is willing to make an appointment with an alcoholic through a third person is probably a potential Rescuer and eventual Persecutor.

3. Do not remove liquor, pour liquor down the drain, or look for hidden stashes of liquor in an alcoholic’s house, unless you’re asked to do so by the alcoholic. Conversely, do not ever buy, serve, mix for, or offer alcohol to an alcoholic.

4. Do not engage in lengthy conversations about alcoholism or a person’s alcoholic problem while the person is drunk or drinking; that will be a waste of time and energy, and will be completely forgotten by him / her in most cases when he / she sobers up.

5. Never lend money to a drinking alcoholic. Do not allow a drunk alcoholic to come to your house, or, worse, drink in your house. Instead, in as loving and nurturing a way as possible, ask to see her again when she / he is sober.

6. Do not get involved in errands repair jobs, cleanups, long drives, pickups, or deliveries for an alcoholic who is not actively participating in fighting his / her alcoholism.

7. When you are relating to an alcoholic, do not commit the common error of seeing only the good and justifying the bad. “He’s so wonderful when he’s sober” is a common mistake people make with respect to alcoholics. The alcoholic is a whole person, and his / her personality includes both his / her good and bad parts. They cannot be separated from each other. Either take the whole person or none at all. If the balance comes out consistently in the red, it is foolish to look only on the credit side.

8. Do not remain silent on the subject of another’s alcoholism. Don’t hesitate to express yourself freely on the subject, what you don’t like, what you won’t stand for, what you think about it, what you want or how it makes you feel. But don’t do it with the expectation of being thanked or creating a change; it’s not likely to happen. Do it just to be on the record. Often your outspoken attitude will be taken seriously and appreciated, though it may not bring about any immediate changes. Just as often it will unleash a barrage of defensiveness and even anger, which you should staunchly absorb without weakening.

9. Be aware of not doing anything that you don’t want to do for the alcoholic. It is bad enough if you commit any of the above mistakes willingly. But when you add to them the complications of doing them when you would prefer not to, you are compounding your mistake and fostering an eventual Persecution.

10. Never believe that an alcoholic is hopeless. Keep your willingness to help ready, offer it often, and make it available whenever you detect a genuine interest and effort on the alcoholics part. When that happens, don’t overreact, but help cautiously and without Rescuing; doing only what you want to do, and no more than your share.

Remembering these guidelines about Rescuing will be helpful regardless of what else is done. You can’t fix the problem, the alcoholic has to do the work. By rescuing and reducing the painful impacts of the alcoholism you are allowing the alcoholic to continue to drink. Often it’s only when things hit ‘rock bottom’ that the alcoholic will decide it’s time to change. That is when you should be there for them to support them through the process.

(Adapted from: Steiner C, undated, Healing Alcoholism, http://www.emotional-literacy.com/hea3.htm)

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