Monday, March 1, 2010

The Right Stuff

In watching the terrific slideshow Lou posted the link to, another slideshow caught my attention. This one on adult children of alcoholics.

It was my daughter that got me to Al-Anon, so that was my initial focus. But over the past year or so, I’ve been more and more interested in the specific ways alcoholism affects those of us who grew up in this disease.

Ultimately, I’m not sure it matters much from a recovery perspective. The longer I’m in the program, the more I understand that we all get affected the same way, regardless of how we got here.


So I watched this slide presentation and realized they had me pegged. Even the part about me not realizing what I was doing in my relationships. Working the steps is what made me finally realize what was wrong with me. It helped me to see my patterns.

There’s a lot of good information in this slide show. But one thing really got my attention. It was this: Sometimes people in recovery need professional help beyond Al-Anon. And when they do, it’s important to find a therapist who specializes in substance abuse.

The presentation pointed out that psychologists and psychiatrists have specialties, just like medical doctors. A therapist who isn’t well versed with the dynamics of substance abuse might conclude: “You are depressed.” Or, “You have some anxiety.”

Well, duh. Those are symptoms of our disease, and many of us have them to varying degrees. The presenter goes on to say that without addressing the underlying issue, we become like a hamster on a wheel, going round and round and not getting anywhere.

That was certainly my experience, when I had counseling as a teenager. After I tried to commit suicide by swallowing a handful of sleeping pills, the psychiatrist I had been seeing insisted I was not abusing drugs. I was, in a big way. My mom knew this and he didn't believe it.

It’s also been my experience with my daughter. I practically went bankrupt paying for psychologists, psychiatrists, psychological testing and hospital admissions.

None of them did her a bit of good, as far as I can tell.

Looking back, I’m shocked by how few of these professionals even considered substance abuse as either the problem or a contributing factor. Much of the advice these professionals gave was in direct conflict with what I’ve learned in Al-Anon. They gave me license to enable. They made me feel good about it.

I came to Al-Anon convinced that my daughter had a mental illness that made her incapable of taking care of herself. I thought her care would be my burden for life. I see now that all I did to “help,” hurt her.

I was in the program for several months when it struck me like a lightening bolt that she was behaving like an addict.

Joining Al-Anon was the best thing I ever did for my daughter. It’s been more helpful than all of that expensive therapy put together.

And it cost me a voluntary contribution of $1 a meeting.

That said, I also believe that, for some people, a 12-step program isn’t enough. I have sponsees who struggle with bipolar disorder and depression. They need medication and counseling in addition to what Al-Anon can offer.

And that’s where the advice in the slide presentation comes in. If I were to need professional help, for myself or someone close to me who has been affected by this disease, experience with the family dynamics of substance abuse would be one of the first qualifications I would look for in a therapist.


  1. A great post! I know from the blogs, adult children who have sought therapy, and found it helpful with a knowledgable therapist. One who understands substance abuse. I used to be skeptical, but for many people, it helps to have therapy and the support of AlAnon. I think they complement each other.

    I didn't grow up in an alcoholic home, but after my 4th step, I certainly saw I had issues (who doesn't?). I have been thinking about short term therapy for myself.

    You brought up some great points, ones that all loved ones of an addict wrestle with.

  2. For me, I don't drink or use but with the final straw of the trauma in 2008 with hubby's bipolar manic episode I finally got help, 15 months of heavy duty therapy. For hubby, the bipolar, with 10 manic episodes requiring hospitalization so far, and nine years clean and sober, he agrees with the need for his meds and therapy. This is just the way it is. Acceptance. You bring up a most important point: people with substance abuse seeking help need to find a therapist who deals with substance abuse. I think this is really important.

  3. That's a great point. I know Heather goes to a psychiatrist, but don't know if he knows anything about substance abuse - and am not sure of the medications he prescribes AND sells her (yes, in Florida MD's can prescribe & distribute). BUT, there's not much I can do about it - BUT - if ever asked my opinion I will bring it up!
    Saw the slideshow was 58 minutes long, but I plan to watch when I get the time. It is something I have been very interested in lately - but same as you - I guess it doesn't really matter in recovery - I've also ordered a book. I guess I just want to know SPECIFICALLY, nit sure of any ulterior motives!
    Thanks for the information :)
    God bless.

  4. Great post and also thank you for sharing the slide show at ACOA.

    I suspect that most people who have suffered from abuse in childhood - whether or not the parents were alcoholic - would share a lot of the traits mentioned in the slideshow.

    My father did use alcohol to excess on occasion, but the main focus in our family was on his mental illness (narcisistic/borderline personality disorder). It had the exact same affect on the family members that being an ACOA has.

    Every single thing in that slide show fit me, but before I started therapy I would not have recognized it. Even after seeing my first therapist for seven months I would not have recognized most of it.

    My current (second) therapist is extremely well-versed in all the alcoholic and "children of" psychology. That is not what I went to her for, but the fact that she has worked closely with people in treatment for alcoholism and people in AlAnon and has herself attended CoDA meetings has given her the needed edge in helping me work through my issues. She has mentioned a lot of the things that were in that slide show, including the family member "types" they listed ("clown" "scapegoat" "Hero" etc.)

    So I believe you are right - it is important to get the right counselor because if they are not familiar with your issues how can they counsel you?

  5. What a fabulous post... (hugs).

    It is amazing that $1.00 can do so much good.. more than some therapist for their patients. People in program all have the same thing in common.

    I watched that slideshow Lou posted. I'm definitely going to watch the adult children one.. since that is me.. an adult child.

  6. A lot of the feelings in the slides represent those of almost everyone, don't they? Too bad there isn't alanon for all. As for therapists (no insult to therapy intended), I've never met one that an addict couldn't manipulate, distract and walk out with a new RX and a diagnosis of mental illness. That alarms me. But that's just me. I'm sure there are good ones out there.

  7. Awesome transparent post dear one. That slide show that Lou presented is powerful and a lot of info. Thanks for sharing.