"The hardest emotion for me to overcome is the feeling of selfishness. I am constantly questioning myself and my "new method" of dealing with my brother's alcoholism as being selfish. I have recently taken a hard line with not wanting to put up with, witness or contribute to his drinking, which in turn has alienated me from the rest of my family - each trying their own method of coping with his problem. How is it possible to get my parents and my other brother to all agree on how to best help my younger brother with his alcoholism?" -Lost
Lost, you wrote about your brother and how the family is trying whatever they can to cope with his alcoholism. Since alcoholism is a family disease, it is important for the family to go to Al-Anon meetings and learn some coping skills that will help in their daily lives. Remember that alcoholism is a disease. Remind yourself daily, or hourly if necessary, that your loved one has a disease and you are powerless over it. You can’t fix it, no matter how hard you try or how “good” you are. It is impossible to “earn” the love or attention of an isolating alcoholic. Let that idea go – stop trying to manipulate the alcoholic and force solutions to the problem.
I used to think that my detaching and not wanting to enable the alcoholics in my life was selfish also. I used to spend so much time worrying about the alcoholic and little about myself. Finally, I learned to keep the focus on me and not on what the other person was doing. I still struggle with this at times. But it has begun to dawn on me that I am not being selfish. I'm simply learning to think about my own recovery first and foremost.
What I have literally done is divest myself of those things that cause me a lot of stress. I attend meetings, I do activities and hobbies that I enjoy and if I don't want to do something, then I don't. For many years, I just went along with things, going to parties when I was bored or anxious, or trying to fill my time with work or other duties. I don't do that anymore.
There can be repercussions from this. Once I started to have a life of my own, I began to enjoy time spent by myself. My wife, who is an alcoholic, was at first not used to my not being around all the time. She and I both struggled to keep a way to detach and maintain boundaries without isolating.
During her drinking years, I felt invisible and in need of attention. I no longer feel that I have to be "around" all the time. And my attitude has improved dramatically. I used to feel angry and found fault easily with others and myself. Now, I feel happy most of the time and have learned to not be so serious or critical of myself or others.
Since being in Al-Anon I've learned that I wasn't powerful enough to make another person drink. I knew that I was not the cause of anyone else's alcoholism. That was a great relief.
I quit beating up on myself for something that I might have done to control the alcoholism. There was nothing that I had tried that worked. After a lot of Al-Anon meetings and attending open A.A. meetings, I realized that it didn’t matter why my wife drank. The point was that every time she drank, she affected not only herself, but also me.
When it finally came clear to me that I was powerless over what my wife did, I started to get better. I was able to shift the focus onto myself –the person that I could change. And when that happened, I started to recover because I was stepping off of the emotional roller coaster of the illness of alcoholism. And that is also how I could help my wife. Feeling guilty didn’t do a thing except to make me feel bad about myself and to do and say some very outrageous things.So I am selfish with my time and my recovery. But that selfishness has helped me to become a better person who is able to deal better with the stresses of living with an alcoholic. I don't pay as much attention to those things that I "should" be doing anymore. The trick for me is to find balance in this state of recovery. I started off on one side of the pendulum swing, doing all this stuff for others and letting my mental well-being and spontaneity slide.
My Higher Power continues to hold me accountable for my emotions and actions. I used to blame my alcoholic for all of my problems, but my growing awareness won't let me. Instead I have to take responsibility for my part.
Maybe we both are grieving the old way of life where I was always available to her at the expense of things that I wanted to do. I used to long for the time that she would realize how valuable I am and treat me accordingly. Now I've realized through the program that I'm much happier with myself and know my value as a person. And my guilt at keeping the focus on myself has diminished considerably. I'm going to continue to work towards balance as we meet on middle ground where we can both be comfortable.
It sounds as if you are accepting that there isn't anything you can do to cure your brother. It's important for those around him to stop doing things that he is able to do for himself. It's best to stop all manner of enabling behavior, and “detach with love”. An alcoholic will test boundaries and your resolve many times, but if you keep the focus on yourself and stop the enabling, your life will get better. And just maybe your brother will figure out that he needs to get some help.