Giving Up Hope: The Stress of an Alcoholic Family
by Lisa Birnesser
Alcohol addiction is a painful, devastating disease for drinkers and those who love them. Alcoholism not only destroys your thinking and overall health but causes countless painful experiences with friends and family members. The constant stress of what will happen next takes a toll on everyone.
The active drinker can give a sea of empty promises as the disease continues to worsen:
“I need your help. I really want to stop drinking”
“I’m going to cut back my drinking”
“This time I’m going to stop and really going to make it stick.”
One friend talked to me about her brother and his drinking habit. “I hate that his kids have to witness him drinking again. I worry about them all of the time. I really fear that someday he will just be alone. Just how many chances will he get? How many bad things will happen before it’s all over?” She also went on to say.”I’m just numb. I don’t care anymore. I feel guilty about it but I got tired of being disappointed all of the time.”
Alcoholism is costly in more ways than one. According to a 2006 study by the Center for Disease Control excessive alcohol use costs the United States over 223 billion dollars. Loss in workplace productivity alone is 72 percent of that total cost, with health, judicial system and motor vehicle crashes being the remainder of the cost. But the statistic that was listed was the cost of the peace of mind of the alcoholic’s loved ones.
Another woman I know talked about her daughter’s drinking. “I was constantly worried and upset over her drinking. I wondered what it was doing to her body and mind. Our relationship was so broken. I worried if she was going to hurt herself or kill someone while she was driving. I didn’t know what to do. I finally decided to tell her how concerned I was, regardless of what happened. I loved her too much not to.”
There can be endless times an alcoholic swears to change and quit drinking forever. But the fact of the matter is that choosing to stop has to come from the drinker. There has to be a switch that flips on that says, “I’m done.” No amount of consequences or begging that will cause the change to happen until the alcoholic wants help.
Meanwhile, loved ones have their own wounds to heal. Maybe you know someone who is working through this turmoil. Or maybe it’s you. What choices can you make to relieve the stress and heal?
Set Boundaries. Setting boundaries can be tough. Somewhere, with help the family or friend learns that to love someone doesn’t mean you change them. It’s hard for folks to sit on their hands and not fix the person. Learning to detach from the drinking behaviors and illness is important. Supporting healthy behaviors are different from enabling the illness. Setting boundaries are a way for you to make healthy choices for yourself, too.
Self Care. Speaking of healthy behaviors, it’s very important to make positive choices for yourself. When you are a caretaker, it’s far more commonplace to be actively dealing with the constant drama of the drinker. You never know which person might walk through the door. This level of unpredictable chaos is way beyond stressful. When you are caring for someone at this level, there seems like little time left for you. Feelings of all kinds come, to the surface- guilt, sadness, anger and resentment just to name a few.
There are many natural ways to get stress relief that are quick and easy. Deep breathing will help release anxiety. Use relaxing therapeutic grade essential oils, such as lavender, clary sage or other blends for quick relaxation. It’s so important to take time for yourself, fill up your reserves and learn new ways to look at your situation.
Get Help. There are a number of support groups and counseling opportunities available to help heal the wounds. Moving out of the caretaker role is vital for your well being. Remember the only thing you can control is changing how you see things and to heal yourself. It’s all too easy to think you are all alone. This will only lead to more stress. There are thousands of other people going through a similar situation. Sharing with the next person can bring you a sense of relief. Stay connected, heal your mind and find hope and strength in your heart.
Lisa Birnesser is a Stress Management Coach, author and speaker at Stress Relief Solutions. She helps people who are overwhelmed and at the end of their rope with stress. When clients work with Lisa they learn how to relax, get focused, and learn techniques to do what matters most every day, leading happier, healthier lives.
For the past 25 years, Lisa served as an occupational therapist in a variety of settings. In addition, she owns a thriving massage therapy practice that focuses on stress and pain relief. She currently lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.