I dedicate this to all 12 step programs around the world. Nearly 6 years back this changed our lives. My alcoholic is now sober. I still focus daily on what I learnt from the Al-Anon 12 steps.
The Three C’s
One of the things that I’ve learned in Al-Anon is that I’m not responsible for someone else’s drinking. The slogan that captures this is “I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it”. A lot of people come into the program trying to find a way to stop their alcoholic from drinking. Look at the writings of Lois Wilson and all that she tried to do for Bill W. She tried everything including getting drunk herself to show him what the terrible effects of alcohol were. There are a lot of people who come to Al-Anon to find that answer. But what they hear is that they can’t stop anyone from doing anything (Step One) but that we ourselves have problems that have to be dealt with. Some of these issues that we bring into the program are very self-destructive. The controlling behavior, the anger, sadness and fear can make life miserable. We think that it’s possible to exert control over another, yet we don’t want to be controlled ourselves and, in many cases, our emotions are out of control. Some, including myself, have just been ready to give up on everything when I first went to a meeting.
What I’ve come to learn through Al-Anon, is that the alcoholics in my life don’t drink because of me. They drink because they are alcoholics. Nothing that I can say or do will change that. Instead I have learned through the steps to deal with my own issues and to take care of myself. When I do that, then I can begin to recover from the effect that the disease has had on me.
The first part of the Three C’s is that I didn’t cause my loved one’s alcoholism. Nothing I did caused the alcoholic to drink. The drinking started many years before I even knew the alcoholics in my life. It’s not unusual for alcoholics to cast blame on the people who are closest to them. This is simply an attempt to justify the drinking. By accepting that I didn’t cause alcoholism, I am relieved of guilt that I have felt about my partner. If only I had been a better partner or if only I had been a better listener, more tolerant etc well, I’ve learned that no matter what I would have done, nothing would have been different for the alcoholic. It’s an illness/disease that caused the problem, not me.
Learning that you can’t control your loved one’s behavior is another crucial part of recovery. You can share your thoughts and feelings with an alcoholic. You can even impose certain consequences if your loved one drinks. But the decision to seek treatment is one that only your loved one can make. For some, this means watching a descent into the abyss. For all who love the alcoholic, it means that they have to detach and no longer manipulate situations so that the alcoholic won’t drink. In Step One, I learned that I am powerless over people, places, and things.
The final part of the trilogy is that you can’t cure your loved one’s alcoholism. There is no cure for alcoholism. Alcoholics will always be recovering but not cured. There’s no treatment that allows alcoholics to return to moderate drinking. The Big Book indicates that it’s best to completely abstain from alcohol. But again, the decision to abstain rests with the alcoholic, not me. By not being able to cure alcoholism, I don’t need to repeat all the same old things over and over hoping to find a solution. There is no magic cure, and I’ve learned that I don’t need to exhaust myself hoping that the “last ditch” effort will make the drinking stop. I know now that the best thing to help an alcoholic is another alcoholic.
Remembering these three points has allowed me to respond to an alcoholic’s behavior by taking care of myself rather than reacting based on anxiety or resentment. If I start feeling anger, fear and resentment, then I will take the steps necessary to stop my destructive thoughts and get back into myself. This may involve leaving for a while, calling my sponsor, going to do something that I want to do or a host of other things that will get the focus off the alcoholic and onto me. And this is the essence of detaching with love.