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.