Appropriately titled The Family Afterward, the ninth chapter in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous begins to answer the first question I am asked by those surrounding their newly sober loved one. Now what? The alcoholic has begun their journey and the family is curious as to where to place their own energy and what role to play moving forward. This chapter applies to many beyond the scope of a family member. It could in fact be titled, “To Anyone Who Loves an Alcoholic.” The disease of alcoholism and addiction is so deeply rooted in shame and it extends to those who do not even have it. The effects flow freely into our homes and then out into the world like a rip tide penetrating our occupations, social structure and personal affairs.
“All members of the family should meet upon the common ground of tolerance, understanding and love. This involves a process of deflation. The alcoholic, his wife, his children, the in laws, each one is likely to have fixed ideas about the family’s attitude towards himself or herself. Each is interested in having his or her wishes respected. We find the more one member of the family demands that others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness.” (Big Book pg. 122)
This can be a very tall order for someone who has been badly mangled by the disease of addiction. Some of us have interestingly enough played more than one role in this family dynamic. We have been the person entering recovery, the partner, the in law or the child. What could all of these players possibly have in common? Each of them longs for the return of happiness and security. Invariably each one would like for those comforts to return immediately with the cessation of drinking or drug use. The chapter continues on to tell us that it is only the first step away from a highly strained, abnormal condition. We have all had to learn how to trust the process and that lesson in growth is often propelled by pain.
A number of years into my personal recovery from alcoholism, I was confronted with a statement that I felt unprepared to acknowledge. During a casual conversation with a man I respected, I recounted my dissatisfaction regarding the way a particular situation was unfolding in my life. I explained my position and the desire to be helpful although my efforts had been to no avail. His kind eyes stopped me dead in my tracks as he said these words, “Audrey that is 100% about you and your level of codependency.” I was floored. My father had gotten sober after all, so surely I could not be wrestling with codependency. I was left to consider the possibility that I may be wrong. I was no longer attempting to control his recovery but was still plagued with fear, loss of control and lack of boundaries manifesting in new areas of my life. These things had not been put to rest with his sobriety and my emotional discord was the obvious result. In order to break free from this bondage of self, a new admission of powerlessness and commitment to my recovery would be required. It will forever be a journey for me and those I am blessed to help.
It is a privilege to be working in a capacity with BRC that allows me to offer families these connections and support them in a life of abundance. How does the family begin to engage with concepts such as boundaries, detachment and codependency? The comforting news is that there are many valuable resources for families available. Therapeutic professionals, literature and 12 step fellowships are waiting to show us how to reclaim our lives. The power of God goes deep and there is no limit to the amount of freedom available to me when I am willing to take the necessary action. Today I am grateful to be a woman participating in both sides of my recovery.
Audrey Woodfin, Director of Outreach Programs