FEAR. Gripping, crippling, crushing FEAR.
“What if he doesn’t….” “What if she does….” “How can I….” “Maybe if I….” “I should have….” “I’ll never…” “If he doesn’t….”
These are the phrases that come tumbling out when loved ones of people who struggle with the brain disease of alcoholism or drug addiction call me. I can hear the fear and desperation and anger and panic in their voices as they talk faster and faster – the flood gates wide open – releasing on all they’ve been going through as every promise their loved one has made about stopping or controlling or getting better thus far has been broken.
I selected the image to the right because it reminded me of myself when I was where they are now — desperately looking for answers in the wake of decades of fear, anger, resentment, confusion, blaming, shaming, denial, deal-making, walking on egg shells, giving a new coat of paint to old broken promises for a fresh new round of what would finally, once and for all, make it all right.
“But nothing so far has worked,” they sob, sigh, screech or whisper in various variations of the same sentiment. (And for some, it’s a loved one’s second, third or fourth relapse after rehab that they’re dealing with.)
Like me back in 2003 when I started my secondhand drinking (SHD) recovery journey, they are so hurt, beaten up, often angry – fed up – and desperate for the answer to, WHY? Why if they love me or love my children or our parents or our sister or brother or… – WHY, if they love me, won’t they stop?
If you are feeling some of this, I’d like to share what I shared with a recent caller. And it’s not THE answer – dang it! It can’t be THE answer because this (alcoholism or drug addiction) is a very complicated brain disease, as is what has happened to THEM – the caller – the loved one that’s been trying for so long and so hard to make sense of insanity.
So here goes…this was shared in an email after we’d had a lengthly conversation and she’d been given other resources about the disease of addiction, help for family members, etc., so she had a sense of what I’d be sending her via email as a place for her to start – just for today – to step away from the FEAR. Also, there was no life-threating situation going on, nor is her husband drinking (following his rehab). They are living apart. He was saying he just didn’t know what he wanted, and she was terrified he wanted a divorce [which she did not], so should she talk to him on the week-end before he might file. She knows I am not a counselor or therapist nor that what I share is advice, rather I’ve done a lot, a lot of research and writing on this whole broad topic, so am a resource for next steps. Lastly, understand that what is shared here is specific to her situation, although it’s possible to “take what you like and leave the rest,” meaning, if you can find help from the following exchange – hurray! – that’s what sharing this is all about.)
Just for Today – Step Away From the FEAR
Everything you are feeling is soooooo normal for where things are right now. One of the outcomes of long-term coping with a loved one’s drinking is the constant activation of the fight-or-flight stress response system FFSRS – this post explains, The Fight or Flight-Stress-Response – Secondhand Drinking Connection.
As a result of all you’ve been through and this FFSRS-Secondhand Drinking Connection, the tendency is to want things “fixed” – NOW – because uncertainty is so scary and puts us in the midst of the feelings we were consumed with during the active drinking / SHD years.
All of this to say that if you wait a week or two to talk about your marriage and give yourself time to get a bit more settled with yourself, you will very likely have a better outcome, as you will be coming from a stronger, more secure place yourself.
One of the ways to get through this period is to write down what you’re afraid of (as fear is a big FFSRS trigger) and then write down the worst that could happen if it came true and then write down realistically how likely the worst is to happen. For example:
My Fear: I’m afraid my marriage is over and that if I don’t talk about it right now, he’ll file for divorce or keep moving away from me (emotionally).
The Worst Thing: He files for divorce.
Likelihood: Not very likely in the next week or so, and even if he did, there is still 6 months (likely longer) before it’s final, so I wouldn’t have to respond immediately, anyway. This gives me time to calmly think of next steps.
And remember – we can always change our minds.
This is where the phrases, “Just for Today” and “One Day at a Time,” can help. Just for today or for this week-end, you’ve done all you can about this particular fear, so just for today, you can go on and do something that you enjoy – for today. These two posts may help: Worried, Anxious Stressed? – Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There! and Make Time to Worry (and NOT) – Help for Families of Alcoholics | Addicts.
If you are comfortable sharing what has worked for you to help get a grip on fear, please share in the comments section below.
© 2014 Lisa Frederiksen