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A Gentle Conversation

It is not unusual to experience some resistance from people facing the prospect of alcohol use treatment. Family members, friends and work associates notice the drinker whose alcohol use has surpassed social use and has begun to spark a few problems.

Because it’s a progressive disease by nature, the person who uses alcohol may be able to drink for years without experiencing societal consequences. This means they don’t get fired from jobs (although they may be unhappy with work situations more than once and quit to “find something better”). They haven’t experienced arrests for driving under the influence although you know they have driven more than once after a heavy period of drinking. They are not isolating at home although their friends have changed over the years. Because the consequences are subtle, often the person using beverage alcohol cannot, unassisted, see a correlation between any events in his life and alcohol.

Utilizing justification, rationalization and denial, the alcoholic describes his relationship to alcohol as “social”. He tells you he enjoys beverage alcohol with friends to heighten his feelings of excitement. He uses beverage alcohol, like someone else might use warm milk, as a means of relaxation.

And yet, family members and friends describe a completely different person when discussing this individual and his relationship to alcohol. They talk of someone who is withdrawing socially. They speak of a person who does not believe the rules apply to him. They bring up the idea that this person feels many people have wronged him and if they would just behave as he suggests, everyone would be satisfied.

The difference is simple. One person is looking through beverage alcohol, the others are looking at beverage alcohol.

Imagine that your children are afraid of you. Your mother cries herself to sleep. Your wife has stopped going out with you. Your co workers won’t go to lunch with you. Your drinking buddies suddenly have to go home after work when you ask them to go out with you for a drink.

The “I can take it or leave it” drinker does not find himself in these circumstances.

Families may employ an interventionist to assist their loved one in acquiring an honest vision of his relationship with beverage alcohol. Local treatment centers will be able to give you referrals. Two or three interventionists should be interviewed. A great deal of confidence is being given to the person who will facilitate the intervention. The family needs to feel comfortable with their choice. The interventionist should know the fear related to alcohol abuse and respect that fear as the primary driver of the drinker.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous, a text for people who choose to recover from alcoholism in the program Alcoholics Anonymous, talks about fear. “It was an evil and corroding thread: the fabric of our existence was shot through with it.” Regardless of how confident the drinker may appear, he may be using beverage alcohol to move through life, a life that is riddled with fear. This will make the willingness to leave beverage alcohol and enter treatment astronomically difficult.

An intervention might get the drinker to look at four specific questions.

1. How do you feel about being sober?

The initial response might be a shrugging of the shoulders, a little wave of the hand and the assurance that “being sober will be alright”. In his mind the drinker is assuring himself he just has to play the game. In his mind he says, “Answer some questions. Get them off my back. There’s no way I am going to be sober so what can answering their question hurt?”

“Yes, yes”, he says out loud, “being sober would be just fine.”

2. What’s your ability to be sober?

“Oh”, he answers quickly, “I can be sober any time I want. It’s not a problem”. He reminds the family of the time they were on vacation and he didn’t drink for 10 days. The family just as quickly reminds him he got drunk the day they came back and someone had to go pick him up because his friends wouldn’t let him drive.

He mentions the time his wife had to be hospitalized when their youngest son was born and he had the other children to care for. He didn’t drink at all during that time. The family reminds him that he and his father went out the day the baby came home from the hospital and drank for several hours.

In his mind he is thinking, “Why is she asking this? If they would just leave me alone I would be OK. I never hurt anyone. What has she done, kept a journal of my drinking habits?” The drinker replies, “There are lots of other times. I just can’t think of them now”

Whether he never tried or he tried diligently, the drinker who is moving toward a problem with alcohol, will have no ability to stay stopped.

3. What would it be like to be sober?

The person who uses beverage alcohol for the effect produced will not be able to answer this question in any sort of positive terms. He’s thinking, “It will be a dreary existence. There will be no fun. I won’t be able to go to a ball game or a wedding. There will be no celebrating. What he says, “I really have no idea.”

4. What will be expected of you if you are sober?

The person who over uses beverage alcohol will not have the vocabulary to answer this question. The reality is, nothing more will be expected than what is currently expected but the person will be handling these obligations, duties and privileges in a manner quite different from the way he is currently meeting them.

The intervention has gently led the drinker to a place where he is beginning to question his actions. He may be slightly willing to enter treatment to investigate his relationship with beverage alcohol. Should that relationship be one where alcohol has stripped the drinker of choices, the treatment center will guide him to a program where men and women learn skills for living full, productive, engaging lives without the use of beverage alcohol.

Families have hope when the drinker is willing to engage in a conversation about alcohol use without anger or belligerence. No one feels defensive because no one is being challenged.

Me? I am going to have a conversation with a woman who cries herself to sleep each night because she doesn’t know where her son is and she will remind me of his last words to her, “I am not hurting anyone”.

By: Patti

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