How did I find compassion for the actively drinking alcoholic in my life?
At first, I had no compassion. I had anger, frustration, and frustration, instead.
Why would I want to find compassion? The two big reasons were, for me and for her.
For me—I could start to release my anger, resentment, and frustration, or at least move it off of my loved one.
For her—I could stop blaming her and start supporting her (as Tradition 5 says, “by encouraging and understanding our alcoholic relatives.”)
How I got there
I learned about the disease of alcoholism. A residential treatment facility offered weekly lectures about alcoholism as part of their “friends and family day”. There I became intellectually convinced that alcoholism was a disease of mind, body, and spirit. I learned that my loved one did not choose to be alcoholic, and that the disease affected not only her body, but also her thinking and behavior.
I attended many “open talks,” at which an AA member would tell “what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now.” For me, these gave me two things:
- An insight into the experience of the disease “from the inside,” and from people with whom I had no pre-existing anger, resentment, and frustration. I could hear their experience with an open mind, and then start to see the parallels with my loved one's experience.
- Hope. Here were many people who had descended into the depths of despair and sickness. Some went deeper and some less deep, but they had all found their way to recovery. This gave me hope that my loved one would also find recovery some day.
As I learned and listened, I found an image that was my first step towards compassion. I visualized her as the passenger in a car driven by her disease. It was driving recklessly and crazily. She was trapped in the car, sitting in the passenger seat, screaming in terror.
OK, I have compassion. Now what?
What other principles and tools did I learn that worked along with the compassion to enable me to continue to live in the chaos of active alcoholism? I'll mention just a few of the most important.
First, the “3 C's”. That I didn't cause her alcoholism, that I couldn't cure it, and that I could not even control it. When I first heard these words, I felt a weight come off of me that I hadn't realized I was carrying. Those words encouraged me to come to my first Al-Anon meeting that same night. Much of my frustration and anger stemmed from the idea that it was my job to control or cure her drinking. I now had permission to stop that fight.
Next, detachment. Specifically, detachment with love. That bizarre concept that I can let go of my attachment to her behavior but stay connected to her, and I can start to learn where the boundary is between me and the rest of the world. That I can detach her from her disease, love the one and hate the other. That I can realize that the behavior I hate is part of the disease and not part of her. This helps me to let the anger, resentment, and frustration flow out of me.
And last, but certainly not least, is the Serenity Prayer. Where I ask for help to accept the things I cannot change (mostly other people and their behavior), change the things I can change (mostly just myself), and, perhaps most importantly, the wisdom to know the difference. Because I can not do this by myself.
These tools, meetings, our literature, program friends, my sponsor, and the compassion they helped me to find meant that I was present when my loved one said “I don't want to drink today.”
Readings and Links
We read from Courage to Change, Feb 11.
A listener asked about the “Loving Sober” workshop that my wife and I attended several years ago, and sent a link to the worksheet.
Our topic for next week is “in all our affairs”. How do you use your recovery tools and principles in your daily life? Please call us at 734-707-8795 or email email@example.com with your questions or experience, strength and hope. Or just leave a comment right here.