Friday, October 23, 2009
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.