..Living the Blues
We all get
the blues now and then, but if you really want to wail, just
try living under the same roof with a chemically-dependent person.
Then you’ll be living the blues.
in the shadow of alcoholism or other drug dependency is a lot
like no life at all
and despair become a big part of everyday life — and stay that
encounter with a dependent person is loaded, with the risk of
argument, replays of past injuries and injustices, or outright
each incident only seems to be a prologue to some bigger
doom-laden incident to come, which sucks energy and life out
of everyone involved.
can get so thick that it’s hard to move, which only gives the
chemically-dependent person one more reason not to do what chemically-dependent
don’t want to do: change.
everybody stays stuck in the same groove, with the same funky
So what’s the
though life with an addict or an alcoholic is bleak, it starts
getting better as soon as family members realize that they don’t
have to keep on singing the same tired lyrics to the same old
How do you
aware of basic properties of addiction and the mental processes
that keep a dependent person locked in a box.
And the key
that helps unlock the box is communication.
But we’re not
talking about just talking. Addicts usually love to talk — to
tell you what they could have done or should have done or would
have done, if only
about clear, responsible communication that isn’t easily twisted
by the verbal pretzel logic of addiction.
but that’s about all it has in common with the language that
most people with a chemically-dependent son or daughter, husband,
wife or lover use.
it’s not passive or reaction-based, the kind of small talk that
comes up when you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.
on telling it like it is — after you fully understand that a
chemically-dependent person has a disease that affects the brain
and the body, the heart and the soul.
And the only
way you can get that message across is to stop playing the tune
that the disease wants you to play.
So how do you
get things to change?
Start by seeing
how futile it is to stay where you’re stuck. Then force the issue:
Change yourself first.
it. Old habits die hard, but they will stop running your life
as soon as you stop letting them.
Here are some
places to start stopping them:
Create. Don’t react. Communicate as a creative act, rather
than a reactive process. Focus on your feelings and the responsibility
you have for fixing them. It might just become contagious.
Explain. Don’t blame. Focusing on blame and shame doesn’t
work, and also feeds the same addictive processes that got
you here. It’s harder to be in denial if no one’s accusing you
Use ‘I’ rather than ‘you’ messages. Messages that start
with the word “you” usually only generate “you”
responses: “You always…” “You never…”
“You you you…” “You” messages are
like boomerangs — they come right back at you.
the heart and the head, and keep your focus where it belongs:
on your limits, their disease, and what you can and can’t be
So what’s the
new commitment to communication likely to produce? Not much,
at first. Then maybe a lot.
First of all,
the person will probably try to bog you down in your habitual
pattern of communication.
Say your partner
is an alcoholic and you come home from work 15 minutes late.
He or she confronts
you with accusations: “You’re always late…” “You
never call…” “Who were you out with?” Take your
pick or fill in your own “you” message.
How do you
If your old
blues theme song is still running through your head, you’ll get
mad. Your partner’s full of crap. You do not always do something.
You do, too, sometimes call. You weren’t with anyone.
ready to get it on, to give as well as you just got.
You know you
can beat this sucker. A fight to the finish-no-holds-barred,
12 rounds, winner-take-all. After all, you’re right. Your partner
really is full of crap.
Don’t go there.
Go somewhere else, instead.
Start by examining
your options. You have several of them. You can:
Try to defend
yourself. It’s a normal
response, but if you fight back, you won’t “win.” Remember:
You’re trying to use logic on someone who’s illogical, due to
an addictive disease. Good luck.
with no comment. This
can help, since it stops an argument before it begins. Still,
it may leave you feeling incomplete or beaten down, and only
result in the other person following you from room to room, bullying
you for a reaction, or pouting for the rest of the evening.
Try a new
theme song. You take
a deep breath and confront the disease of addiction as the real
culprit. Then speak from your heart — and let your partner know
that you can both stop singing the blues.
If confronting a family member’s
addiction head-on sounds scary (or impossible), talk to a counselor
first. But whenever you decide to change your tune, remember
to be honest, be brave, and be determined.
And be sure
to include five core statements:
- Affirmation. Tell the person directly that you love
or care about him or her. (Whichever is true.)
- Perception. Say that you believe he or she has
a disease called alcoholism (or chemical dependency).
- Personal Fact. Admit that by reacting to their illness,
you’ve enabled it to continue.
- Purpose. Declare that you’re not going to participate
in negative behaviors in the future — that you’re going to change.
- Hope. Tell the person that you’re willing to help whenever
he or she is ready to get help.
Using the theme
song in the previous example might sound something like this:
- “I love
you, but I’m worried about you.”
- “I think
your behavior and accusations are symptoms of a disease that
you’ve developed that we’ve avoided talking about: alcoholism.”
- “In the
past, I’ve reacted to your behavior and your accusations in a
crazy, unhealthy way. I’ve contributed to your illness by responding
going to change. I’m not going to keep on enabling your disease
or react in an unhealthy way to behaviors that result from it.”
you decide to do something to solve your problem, I’ll help you
learned a basic structure for communicating concern, compassion,
and control to a person who needs to hear all that as cleanly
It lets you
pull back from reactive patterns of communication, and respond
authentically to a chemically-dependent person’s denial without
feeling the need to “win.”
We call it
a theme song because anyone can sing along — and the words fit
all chemically-impaired families and relationships.
It works because
it puts responsibility for change where it belongs: on the chemically-dependent
It leaves out
discordant notes and harsh phrases that don’t work by focusing
on addiction itself as the problem.
And it can
help you blow new life into a relationship by separating the
person from a disease that warps both people and families.
It allows you
to verbalize (and reinforce) your own commitment to changing
your behavior so you don’t have to be dominated by a family member’s
chemical dependency — whatever else you decide to do.
It’s only a
basic rap, and it leaves a lot of room for improvising.
But to someone caught up in an
endless replay of the old chemical dependency rag, it can be
the sweetest music of all.