By: Rev. Daniel Gowan, M.Div, M.A., LPC-S, LCDC, CSAT
“The alcoholic is a sick person trying to get well, rather than a bad person trying to get good.” “I am convinced that the number one feature of this disease is denial. This is true for both the alcoholic and the Al-Anon member.”
Many clients trying to cope with the disease of alcoholism are unfamiliar with the concept of a family disease. But when we discuss it, they begin to recognize its pervasiveness. Frequently, the idea comes up around the morality of alcoholism amidst the struggle of family members who are trying to “make the alcoholic quit” or at least modify the other person’s behavior. I encourage the family members to consider that the alcoholic is a sick person trying to get well, rather than a bad person trying to get good.
Al-Anon is a useful resource for family members and friends to discover how they participate in this system or family disease. We are hopeful about getting alcoholics to modify their behavior, but I challenge family members to consider that they need to begin to look at where they can change their own behavior and perspective.
Alcoholism is a family disease; and members of the family must show willingness to address this issue no less than the alcoholic. My rule for members of an alcoholic system is: don’t put more effort into the alcoholic’s recovery than the alcoholic does. But conversely, everyone must be willing to work on their own stuff. As a family disease, alcoholism must be treated within the entire family. The drinking is only a symptom of the problem. Otherwise, abstinence would eliminate all problems, which is not usually the case.
Al-Anon helps clients understand this principle of participation in the system. In counseling jargon, they are invited to understand their own level of self-differentiation within the family.
Attending Al-Anon meetings is the fastest way I can get clients to engage in a healthy way with this disease. I point out that to resist treating their role in the system is no different than the alcoholic refusing to quit drinking.
I am convinced that the number one feature of this disease is denial. This is true for both the alcoholic and the Al-Anon member. Solution focus within the meetings and for the participants moves the clients to a place where they gain some relief, begin to grow, and move them to deal with their own situation productively.