Friday, October 23, 2009

Giving advice

I sometimes get phone calls from people in the program who are looking for advice. They need help with something that's going on in their lives.

This morning I got a call from a man who suspects his son is an alcoholic. He had heard from the hostess of a party that the son attended in July that he became drunk and belligerent, yelling insults to his girlfriend in the yard. The father wanted to know whether he should confront his son in order to impress upon him that people are talking about him with regard to a) drinking too much and b) his behavior when drinking.

My first thought was that I don't give advice. This program isn't about giving advice with a bunch of "you should" statements. I have become hyper-vigilant about "shoulding" on others and myself.

I know that I just need to share my E, S, and H. But I couldn't help asking a question: "What do you want to accomplish by telling your son that the hostess was worried (=annoyed) about his behavior?" He replied, "I want to let him know that people are talking about his drinking. This is a small town. Maybe he will be ashamed enough to stop."

Ahh...the shame tactic, I thought. I know that one well. I used to do my best to lay a heavy guilt trip on my wife, whose behavior during her heavy drinking days was sometimes socially askew to put it mildly.

So I shared my experience. My wife and I would go to a social event, she would over indulge. During the worst of times, she would black out, lash out, knock things over and so on. It wasn't a pretty scene. The next day I would be cold as ice in my martyr role. When she would say she was sorry, I would recite all the things that she did the night before. And proceed to tell her how embarrassing it was. And predictably, she would say that she wasn't going to do that ever again. I believed her for a long time. And I kept being hopeful that she would stop.

I told the father that my experience of shaming my wife did nothing to cure her alcoholism. It made her feel awful guilt and shame, but that guilt and shame only furthered what she already was feeling and drank to avoid.

In Al-Anon I've learned that I can't do anything to cure or fix others. I can establish boundaries and not accept unacceptable behavior in order to take care of myself. And I've learned that if something doesn't have my name on it, then I don't pick it up.

The father kept asking if I thought shaming the son would help. I kept saying "It never worked for me."

The program forces no one to do anything. It only reveals itself to us through the literature and through the people who are living it. Anyone who is suffering can decide whether they are willing to stop trying to fix, control, manipulate or shame others and instead do what it takes to get better themselves.

What a huge difference that has made in my life.


  1. sounds like you shared some pretty tough stuff there. honesty. most of us don't want to hear that and we build walls of denial up.
    i am glad you are strong in your program. i am glad you and your wife survived her alcoholism.
    i struggle with giving advice, my ego loves to give advise and feel so smart!! so i always try to check my motives before i open my mouth. i listen to the other person to hear if they really want a solution or just someone to co-sign their actions and thoughts. great post

  2. Oh Syd, do you read my mind or what? This is the PERFECT post for me today, truly perfect. Today, I will work on myself and my own recovery, one minute at a time. Have a great weekend my friend. Renee

  3. I agree with you that one has to change themseleves.. they have to take the steps. We all try anything we can to get them to see the shame in what they are doing. For some it works, most not. I learned that the hard way dealing with my dad, my sister in law who lost her life because of drinking, my ex- brother in law. When one will choose the bottle over their children, you give up. It is a struggle I know for both..

  4. Shame - all it has ever done when I put the shame blame upon myself or others is LOCK me tight into a prison and suffocate.

    Advice - telling my own experience within my own frame of life is not is simply being as we are without "the example syndrome". I like that I don't have the responsibility to anyone to ADVISE them, that by simply seeking, others can find their answers and sometimes we find our answers within the context of another persons experience. It is a beautiful piece of Al Anon that I have carried with me all my days. I LOVE the release and relief of living life this way!

  5. Well, he might not have heard you, but I certainly did! :) I am a total shamer ... I want to use shame to try to fix, control and manipulate others. And often I don't even do it in the context of trying to "help" them - it's just to make myself feel more comfortable - I want to fix, control and manipulate THEM so that I can feel more comfortable. Yuck! I have GOT to do some serious work on character defects!

    Thanks for the post!

  6. Nice post, Syd.

    Have a great and relaxing weekend.


  7. This is a really, really great post, Syd. Thank you for sharing this because it really was what I needed right now.

  8. Great thoughts and perspective.

    Blessings and aloha...

  9. What a great, and different, perspective......have you ever done a post about what made your wife seek help? I would like to read about it.

  10. The question my sponsor usually asks that really gets me honest is "What is your motive?" You asked it in a much nicer way!!

    I hope that person keeps attending and keeps calling. There is always hope...


  11. I saw myself in your description of your "morning after" behavior towards the alcoholic. I liked your comment to the gentleman that "It never worked for me."
    It didn't work for me, either, but I still used it as an emotional bludgeon, in my futile efforts to make my ex stop drinking.

  12. I kept thinking,who's shame is it? I love that you kept handing the ball back to him. Have a great weekend Syd! jeNN

  13. Your timing is impeccable! On Monday I debated sending you a message asking you what made your wife get sober...hoping your answer would be something I could use for my husband. Normally a stay at home and hide in the house drunk, last weekend he attended a guys skeet shoot party and...well let's just say fortunately no one was hurt or killed...but people, including my 17 year old nephew, had to endure and see things I wouldn't wish on anyone. Out of anger I resorted to shame, but then I backed off. A few days later he expressed the desire for help. It seems genuine. He's going to a meeting tonight - Celebrate Recovery - I hope this is the program that does it for him. As he begins this process I need to remember this post. Thank you Syd!

  14. Yep shaming sure does not work and def has the opposite affect.
    Great post.
    The father really needs an al-anon meeting..if he is ready to listen that is.

  15. Syd, I learn SO much from you--and from PG, because she also is in your program, thank God.

    And thank you!

    Now if I can only DO what I am learning....


  16. Absolutely right! Shame and guilt never got me anywhere - not receiving it or trying to give it.

    Great post. Sharing our E.S.and H. is the most effective way to help others.


  17. The poor dad has a journey to begin. I think dads typically believe that there's surely something that can be said to fix the situation.

  18. What a wise way to share your experience in a helpful way. A great (and very useful) post.

  19. Absolutely brilliant post Syd, as usual you are right on target. Giving advice even when my E, S, or H it ius still advice; I like you try to steer clear and just speak to my own ... shame and guilt never really worked for me, either giving or receiving.

    Thank you..

  20. Ah, Syd, you make me think so hard! I don't like giving advice any longer. But sometimes I do feel that it is important to confront denial, to speak up in truth.

    As you did when you asked that question. There is a responsibility in relationship to ask hard questions or disagree at times. It is never easy but sometimes it may open a window for someone stuck in a locked room.

  21. Recently my wifes sponsor came up to me and said that I needed to make my mind up whether I wanted to be in the marriage or not. Boy that set the fireworks off I can tell you. It nearly destroyed a marriage. I think you handled it well Syd, goes to show you're maturity.

  22. Sometimes, I still "give advice" when I should not. Before I can think something comes out and I haven't even realized it got there until much later.

    Thank God this program works and there are those who give the right answer.

  23. Someday, that dad will have his own experience to share with others.

  24. It's the boundary setting and not accepting unacceptable behavior that sometimes trips me up....

  25. The addict/alcoholic already feels like a failure/useless person.

    Shaming has no place in any relationship, whether it be recovery or anywhere else.

  26. I'm still amazed how often someone outside the situation, keeps expecting that cure all answer. There is no single answer that will cover all the different aspects of this disease.

    The best the father could do was say he was worried and cared. No blame, no shame, no or else threats. Simply be there and hope the message gets through. (Hugs)Indigo

  27. thansk Syd for sharing that... It would seem that Al-Anon would be helpful to me in dealing with my sober wife (and probably helpful to her in dealing with me)... time to bust out the literature that's been collecting dust since my last foray into Al-Anon over 10 years ago.

  28. Thank you for this. I am just starting my Al Anon journey and I realized very recently that I do this. I'm working on changing that and I have to really make a conscious effort to reverse the behavior that has gotten me here. It also makes me feel sad that I have done that to someone I love very much. I'm learning a lot. Thank you for your blog, it helps!!


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