Monday, November 9, 2009


I occasionally will get questions either by email or in the comment section. The following is something that I've thought about myself from time to time:

"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.


  1. Syd, when one fine day you retire, you might well consider some extended unplanned "go-where-the-spirit-leads" traveling and carry your superb message(s) to Alanon groups and AA groups all over this wonderful country

    Maybe you already do that. A few AA groups here make it a point to invite Alanon speakers once a month, and these are ALWAYS enlightening talks for AA Peeps.

    Thank you for SO much service you perform here and elsewhere.

    Love and PEACE!

  2. This was excellent Syd! I sooo needed to hear this this morning! Us Al Anon'ers can often feel that we are being selfish and my qualifiers know exactly how to hit below the belt and even accuse me of being "selfish" when I am doing what I want to do...setting boundaries, especially when it comes to money. I worked 25 years in a prison and I am struggling in retirement because I have been such an enabler all my life..and certainly throughout all of their young lives! It's tough. Bless you for your message! XO, Lisa

  3. I'm just off to my local Al Anon meeting and your message has put me in a very good frame of mind for it. Thank you for sharing those eloquent thoughts with us.

  4. You certainly have a calling! Thanks for this wonderful example of recovery.

  5. God has given you the gift of expressing your feelings in such a simple, and inspiring way. I was thinking you should write a book after you retire...but I like Steve's idea even better! I could definitely get you a speaking gig here in SoCa! Thank for some incredibly valuable suggestions.

  6. Letting go and taking care of me makes me feel selfish too. It helps to read about others who feel or have felt the same.
    Thank you.

  7. I spent years waiting for the alcoholic to show his gratitude for all I did. Never happen!!

    Great post, I'm printing it out for someone who needs it.

  8. an most excellent post Syd. it was great to hear the flip-side of this serious issue, especially when i realize that the people in my life all detaching and letting me face my consequences was exactly the thing i need to hit bottom and try something new.

    happy monday

  9. I felt so quilty my first year of sobriety - it was unreal. Not only was I struggling to remain sober, I had to live with the reality of a father who would not choose the same path. Eventually I had to let go and save myself.

    I can't even begin to tell you how even knowing the things I do now, I still feel I let him down. I have to constantly remind myself he made his choice and I made mine. The hardest lesson is the realization that some people "don't" want to be saved and there is nothing you can do.

    Wonderful message dear friend. (Hugs)Indigo

  10. You are always so clear in your Al-Anon message. It is such a blessing to so many. Thank you for this post.


  11. Al-Alon speaks a slightly different language than AA does, like detaching for instance. But we need to know this language because we all work with alcoholics in varying stages of disrepair, those newcomers as well as some long-timers who don't have anything I want, and let alone our AA marriages when the question arises how do you make an AA marriage work? Joe and I have stumbled onto some Al-Alon tools accidentally, and AA actually has some useful tools too. Ao we stay married but free to be the people we want to develop into in sobriety. Thanks for a thoughtful post, Syd.

  12. Just wanted to say hello! ;)

  13. Dear Syd

    Thank you so much for your comments. They have really helped me today.

    With warm regards.

  14. one has to let go of stress lest it destroy us in the process. never easy though...

  15. Spot-on Syd. Amazing post! I just know this is going to benefit so many people. Thank you so much for the reminder of things I already knew as well some new things that I haven't thought about before.

  16. Syd, well said... (not that you need my approval or anything :-) )

    God Bless Lost and the family... Geeze this disease wreaks such havoc among those it inflicts!

  17. Hear.hear! Thank always make sense of what is going around and around my head all the time.

    There is an award for you at mine. And I know I don't get to you everyday....five children are time consuming but I always catch up on your could and should publish them in a book, they are inspiring.

  18. I notice when you are not around, buddy. I hope everything is okay with you.

    Love, SB.

  19. Stress and tried to beat me many times, I do not handle it well. It really plays havoc on my body.

    You always send such wonderful messages.. Blessings

  20. The best way we can help our beloved alcoholics and addicts is to learn how to best take care of ourselves first.That isn't selfish,that is important life and sanity saving self care.

    I understand how challenging that can feel - at first - but you get used to it,eventually.Thank gawd.


  21. "'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"

    I have also found that treating those other family members as alcoholics/alanons themselves is helpful - i.e. you cannot make any other family member detach and
    "best help" the alcoholic in the family. I call it "needing alanon for my alanon." :) Trying to control the other family members and how they deal with the alcoholic is as futile as trying to control the alcoholic. I can share my experience, strength and hope in finding recovery on my own, but I can never convince them or train them to do it the way I think is best, no matter how sound or "based in recovery" that way may be. (Attraction rather than promotion.)

    For my own sanity and recovery, I have to let everyone else deal with the situation in their own way, and I have to focus on myself and how I am going to deal with the situation.

    Regarding selfishness ~ I have found it helpful to think of it like a basic instinct, that is necessary for survival, but if left unchecked, can cause great harm to others. So long as it is "in check" (i.e. done through recovery), I'm O.K. It's when my selfishness runs amuck that I need to be concerned.

    Thanks for the great post! :)

  22. Another perceptive post Syd. As a recovering alcoholic in AA I am able to work with newcomers and those still struggling and their families. Detachment is so important. No rescuing or enabling.

  23. I agree with the others, Syd. You truly have a gift of inspirational messages for those seeking recovery or those affected by addiction. I'm learning the importance of taking care of ME... and I'm already experiencing the benefits. Great post!

  24. Thanks for this share and detachment
    Nice and warm here out west......


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