It’s never easy to care for a sick husband or wife, especially if they suffer from a chronic illness like MS, or some other debilitating disease. It’s difficult to care for an elderly parent who needs round-the-clock help. But that is sort of what life is like when you try to care for an alcoholic. You do the best you can, but it may be too much, or not enough.
On the one hand, caring for someone can be an act of love and compassion, but on the other it can be more like ducking the punches. Alcoholics rarely go out of their way to thank someone for loving them, but their very lives might depend on someone to be active, strong and persevering.
The alcoholic might be fully functioning, that is they go to work, bring home a paycheck, and yet still be on a downward spiral that leads to health complications and the destruction of personal and professional relationships. The person living with the alcoholic, or caring for the alcoholic has a tough job.
Why don’t they quit?
Joe Herzanek’s book, “Why Don’t They Just Quit?” attacks the ultimate question of alcoholism and drug addiction. Why don’t they just quit? Joe went out with a camera crew and asked people in a shopping mall that question and got some interesting responses. One of the conclusions or answers to the question is simple—“It’s hard to quit—really hard.”
Alcoholism is defined by several factors, not the least of which is the inability of the alcoholic to stop drinking. They may not enjoy it. They may want to stop. But they can’t. They may promise their spouse and their family that they will “cut down” or they will quit, but they don’t. It is not a matter of will power, because once the progressive disease of alcoholism has taken hold, the person no longer has control.
But unlike some other chronic conditions, alcoholism can be treated and people do get into recovery and live happy, productive lives. Someone with MS, or heart disease or severe diabetes, can’t do anything about their condition but try to manage the disease. The alcoholic is not going to be cured, but they can live a “normal” life, free of the devastating physical encumbrances of other conditions, and free of limitations.
Must be REAL!
Alcoholism care begins with getting real about the situation. They don’t just quit, because they need treatment and that takes time and effort. They don’t just go back to drinking responsibly, because they probably started that way, but they discovered that they were part of the one in nine people that will develop the disease over time.
That’s why the Alcoholics Anonymous program is effective, because it deals with the reality of the disease. It helps people completely rebuild their lives after treatment. For those who can’t afford treatment, AA provides an alternative that will work if the person allows it to move forward.
Body, Mind, and Spirit
The reality of alcoholism care centers on the necessity for dealing with the complete person—body, mind and spirit. The alcoholic may require medical detoxification, to rid the system of the alcohol and help them begin their treatment. Obviously, treatment will include care for the mind, to help the alcoholic establish new paths of thought and new ways of thinking about the world.
But as the AA “Big Book” says, the disease of alcoholism may require a spiritual solution. That is why the 12 Step process is so powerful, it deals with the spirit. The problem is many people shut down that process and categorically refuse to allow it to move forward. They claim 12-step does not work and they spit nails defying anyone to say differently. AA has a simple answer, “It works if you work it.” Alcoholism care requires this spiritual journey.
A process not a quick fix
The spouse and family need to understand that treatment and recovery are a process. That means relapse is a part of the disease. People may ask how many trips to treatment are necessary. The short answer is –as many as it takes. People will sometimes fail at treatment. Why?
Not all treatment is for everybody. One size does not fit all and treatment professionals understand that a tailor-made program is required. That’s a process. People who are in the grips of the disease do not want to stop. The disease has taken over and the disease doesn’t want to be treated. People will resist.
They go to treatment for a few days then walk out triumphantly, declaring to the world that they don’t need this. They blame the counselors, they blame the center, they blame their families. They don’t accept responsibility, because to do so would clearly point the finger at their own failings.
In it for the long haul
Alcoholism care is a long-term, sometimes extremely difficult path for spouses and family. But it’s a necessary journey and one that renders huge results. Left unchecked, alcoholism’s logical destination is death. It’s saving a life, by getting someone into treatment that cannot help them.