Is there a non-religious AA out there?

Or therapy program at all, for that matter?

A person I love very deeply has had an alcohol problem for about half my life. This person hit an all-time low in 2011, started therapy, and started to change—only to relapse. That’s okay; we just pick ourselves up again as this person did. This time, however, the therapist who helped the person—who had been trying to convert the patient to god all along—succeeded, and now, I don’t even know this person at all.

It would be okay if it were just that. I am happy for people who feel they have something bigger in the world to live for, something to stay alive for. I have something like that in my life, too—a few somethings, actually. But now this person is not only pushing such beliefs into the family, but also constantly bringing it up—and pushing me away in the process.

The person knows how strongly I feel about this. In fact, this person felt even more strongly than I did before, identifying as an atheist! It has gotten a bit better since the beginning, but this person waxes on about Jesus and being a Christian more than any Christians I’ve known my whole life—and I know dozens—and has already successfully converted another family member.

What I feel like doing, however, is going to that damn therapist and screaming in her face, “Thanks for the help, and thanks for brainwashing (insert name)!” I’m so ambivalent. I’m so glad this person is alive with us while feeling as if he/she has been taken away from me at the same time. Go figure—I’ve spent all that time trying to support (some say enabling, listening to those drunken phone calls for hours a day, every day, for two years) and regain lost ground when now, it feels as if the ground is no longer there at all. I miss this person just as much as I did when alcoholism was in control. Only now, it feels as if something else, perhaps less dangerous (depending on the setting and whether or not you’re after the Holy Grail or jihad, I guess) but even more potent, is steering the wheel.

I wish I knew what to do to reconcile the way I feel, to be able to be close again without having to touch this subject—and especially not to have my seven-year-old thrown in the middle.

The line between enabling and full acceptance

I’m still trying to figure it out.

I’m a firm believer in unconditional love. If you love someone, it’s warts and all, or nothing at all. That said, what do you do when the person you love is an alcoholic who has not only repeatedly hurt him or herself, but hurt you and your family in the process?

I’ve been told that I am an enabler by some people when, for years, I would take calls and just listen to a person every. Single. Day. As he or she repeated the same thing over and over, drunkenly complained, and generally took up hours of my day. I would know it was coming and even do laundry or something while it happened just so I wouldn’t feel like I “lost” time. That said, others have said that I was supportive doing the same thing, which has left me feeling so confused.

Today I have places to be and people to see, but after discovering that said person, sober for months after a particularly violent and scary act, has not been for weeks just last night, I am a complete and utter mess. I am sick to my stomach, I am having chest pains, and all I want to do is curl up in a ball and pretend that none of this is happening. I am thinking of locating an Al-Anon to attend, something I once toyed with but didn’t go because I was in denial; I refused to see my loved one in that light, just as my loved one did. Since I’ve been admitting it, it’s been like getting a huge weight off my soul, admitting to half a lifetime of pain and denial; yet part of the catharsis was also the celebration of sobriety.

My house is a wreck; I sort of wrecked some of it last night during a crying fit. My heart is a wreck; that’s a given. I just don’t know what to do. One loved one says we should just ignore people and move away as soon as we can; go figure. Friends have suggested the same thing, if only for a little while. Others have simply said that we cannot force people to do anything they don’t want to do, which is true—so how do I unconditionally love this person without hurting every moment of every day? And how do I survive without allowing that complete immersion into it all again that had me in such an emotionally harrowing state before—and protect my daughter from having to be in it, to even see it, as well?

Asking for help when recovering from an addiction

If you've been getting along all by yourself, in your addiction, we know those habits can be hard to break. But at the same time, if we really want to keep from getting too hungry, angry, lonely or tired, we have to ask for help. But how do you do that if you're brand new and don't have those support-seeking skills?

First of all, start small. Now I know “start small” is the first step of pretty much everything from learning to scuba dive to building turtle juggling skills, but even if “start small” is not altogether original, it is pretty useful.

If you aren’t accustomed to asking your friends and family for help, it probably will be uncomfortable at first. So asking a very close friend for a very easy favor is a great first step, almost like practice.

If you can ask your best friend for a small favor, then expand the exercise by making a similar request to someone who you are not quite as close to. Or if asking anyone for any kind of help feels really hard, ask yourself “When have I been able to ask for help? Who was I able to ask? What was it about the circumstances that made it possible?”

Hint: A circumstance in which almost everyone accepts help is when they need someone to listen to them. So if you’ve vented to a friend lately, guess what, you CAN accept help. Maybe that friend who you vented to can be someone who you would feel comfortable helping you in other ways as well.


There's a (recovery) app for that

While it's true that I've recently posted about the pitfalls of virtual recovery and I still believe that human contact is a really important part—perhaps the most important part of most recovery—I still can't help testing out the technology recovery gadgets.

The most recent thing I found was a recovery app (iPhone operating system only so far) called, suitably enough, iPromise. There are a sizable handful, maybe even a basketful of recovery apps out there, but this one caught my attention because a friend had it and because the promises are such an inspiration to me. I like being able to look at my phone and instantly be reminded of them.

iPromises isn't really about the promises, but a recovery logistics management app. The first thing you are prompted for when you open up the app is your recovery date. Then using the built-in calendar function of your iPhone, iPromises calculates your clean or sober days and then displays it every time you scroll through the main screen. It's nice to see and might even be a little relapse prevention: who would want to see that big red number go down to zero?

Another cool feature is the trigger reminder. It presents possible triggers and you indicate what triggers are trouble for you. Then it prompts you to fill in a daily accountabilty screen to see if you're in any kind of danger. It reminds me of the “failing to plan is planning to fail” of early recovery, with an easy way to circumvent that tendency.

Virtual Recovery

I was recently talking with a friend about an acquaintance who has become known for his bad behavior in one of the smaller concentric circles of overlapping communities we both belong to. My friend briefly described the acquaintances poor behavior, including some activities are pretty problematic in terms of how he treats (and apparently) is treating) women. So there's no question that this guy has needs to be called on his behavior; especially in small communities where we often don't want to create bad feelings within our own overlap, sometimes confrontations are long delayed, much as they are in dysfunctional families. So it did seem like this guy's behavior did need to be confronted, but this is how the concerned parties did it: they created a website about him.Since much of the dude's bad behavior happens when he's drinking, the concerned parties called the website an “intervention” (it's down, so don't try and look for it) and it was really set up like a virtual intervention. There were letters that started “your drinking has affected the community in the following ways” for example, as well as photographic evidence of the guy's behavior. There was also a list of bottom lines that the website creators would hold, although they called them “demands” and that, to me, doesn't quite seem in the same spirit.

Beyond missing the entire point of confronting the person, not the world, with their own behavior, it made me wonder what the purpose was of this kind of interaction, and made me even more scared of the concept of virtual recovery. The old-timers' adage of “if all else fails, go to a meeting” means a real meeting with other people present I'm not sure a computer, even one with a very high speed internet connection, can be a substitute for that.



Psych Help: Not Bad For An App

Anyone who has struggled with addiction, mental illness, substance abuse of a family member or even (relatively) uncomplicated adjustment issues knows that finding help is no small matter. In fact, telling someone “you need help” without some kind of follow up or additional suggestion is more simple insult than it is helpful intervention.

If you're struggling with substance abuse issues with relatively few complications in a situation where you don't need medical detox, you might find all the mental health intervention you need can be found in 12 step meetings. For many people though, 12 step meetings aren't adequate to process the trauma and emotional difficulties that made them start using substances to numb out in the first place. So the search for a therapist begins.

If you have insurance, often the simplest way to find therapy is to call the 1.800 number on the back of your card and say that you are looking for mental health care. They will probably have a separate line you will need to call, but they can tell you about your benefits and who eligible mental health care providers are in your system.

If you don't have insurance, don't want to go through your insurance, or have special circumstances that you want your therapist to know how to address, the Pscyh Help app might helpful for you. You download it on your iphone or android, tap “yes” that it can access your geographical location, and you're presented with options for different types of therapists, including some you may have never heard of (what's an “existential therapist?”) and direct links to their email or phone.

Why Do We Love Candy Finnegan So Much?

Like anyone experienced with addiction and addiction issues, I have reservations about the television show Intervention, as I do with all reality tv. It's hard to know where helping stops and exploitation begins, and how effective the actual intervention process is, since we see only carefully edited clips of what actually happened.

At the same time, it's really hard to turn off an episode of Intervention once you hear the beginning sequence and, you can find yourself thinking, hey, I can stop anytime I want. In fact a recent video by Fred Armisen on Funny Or Die parodied this exact situation, calling for an Intervention Intervention.

Part of the draw is the dramatic arc. Another part of the draw, for me at least, is watching a family come together and decide that they really need to take a stand and taking that stand with what often seems like a lot of love. It's true that there is always at least one relative that is just a big jerk, and there's no specific recovery process for that so it often goes unaddressed and that on certain episodes it has seemed like the problem is the family less than the addiction. This only furthers my interest, since the whole thing seems pretty hit or miss despite what one would think was pretty intentional editing.

But I wonder sometimes if I don't like to see that tough old bird herself, Candy Finnegan. I love to watch her as she stands up to the addict/abusive boyfriend of the addict, or the family member who can't talk with love. I love how she some sentences you can't even figure out what she's saying because they're bleeping out the curse words. And I love that she isn't afraid to share her story, looking the addict straight in the eyes and saying “I am only alive by the grace of god and because I wanted to keep from losing my kids.”


Share the Care

Managing the Community in Times When Extra Help Is Needed

I suppose it's not altogether surprising that as an adult of child of an alcoholic I'm often get so busy taking care of others, that I forget to take care of myself. In fact, it seems like “learning self care and care for others that doesn't diminish you” is practically the backbone of most al-anon recovery work. This is why I recommend the book Share the Care for anyone with a history of family alcoholism who is then thrown into any kind of intense caregiving situation.Share the Care is the blueprint for healthy caregiving and healthy caretaking. The basic premise is that if you spread the work of caregiving around, no one in the caregiving group needs to feel unduly burdened by the work of it. In addition, because the caregiving is done within a group, with structure and support, no one who is helping needs to feel overwhelmed or isolated. As a basic premise, it is really basic, but that's why it works, and it's especially needed for those of us who have been caregivers in unboundaried relationships. Share the Care is an embodiment of Robert Frost's “good fences make good neighbors” and because there are real, specific, and enforced boundaries in who does what for the person needing the care, Share the Care's model purports that caregiving can actually be a positive situation for both the person who needs the care and the people who are giving it. For people in al-anon groups, or adult children of alcoholics, this message and this model are almost revolutionary!

Journey to the Heart

A Classic With Something To Say

I read Melodie Beattie's companion books on codependency when I first started my process of therapy and program to try and figure out how not to duplicate the mistaken I saw other people in my chock full of alcoholics family make. The books have stayed on the market and I hear people talk about them at meetings event now, I believe there have been some updates and new editions but the basic information stayed the same. I'd read it all. Sure, there was lots more to practice than I could get from one or two or even three or four readings, but the information itself was no longer new to me.

That's why I wasn't super thrilled when, for Christmas last year, a friend gave me a copy of Beattie's Journey to the Heart (as comic Kate Clinton says “how codependent do you have to be to give someone else a book on codependency?”). I figured that I already knew everything that was in the book, even if I dispaired of ever practicing it all. Well, in the true spirit of progress not perfection, I found that there was plenty in this book to interest me. Instead of an instruction manual or recovery memoir, I found daily meditations for every day. And not just chopped up pieces of her older books either. The content was specifically written to be in a daily reading format. Each meditation starts with a challenging title and ends with an action step, often in the form of a prayer. The content may not be something I've never heard before, but the format is quite good at reminding me to work on my challenges, one day at a time.

The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs

Did anyone really enjoy their fifth step?

The "admitted to ourselves, another human being and our higher power the exact nature of our wrongs” is a difficult one and it's certainly caused more than one program to go offtrack. Can't we just admit the exact nature of our wrongs just to ourselves? Or just to our higher power?Or we want to fudge with the “exact nature of our wrongs” part. Can't we just admit the general nature of our wrongs? Or just admit we messed up a lot? But there's wisdom in the program here. It's human nature (well, my human nature, I can't speak for yours) to excuse ourselves, to see what we can get away with. We want to know, how close we can walk to the edge without falling down the abyss; how close we can come to running a red light, by gunning through the yellow light; how close we can go to the bar without going in.

But the fifth step is all about accountability. Although one of our primary points of accountability is to ourselves, the cunning, baffling nature of our disease demands accountability not only to ourselves, but often to the whole fellowship. Even though the ultimate accountability of course is to our higher power (my higher power is a cheese sandwich, I don't really do the god thing) we need other humans to help keep us on track. We especially need other program people who won't put up with our nonsense or let us make excuses for our behavior.