A problem shared
Sharing one’s pain and anxiety with others can be a therapeutic experience in itself, and certainly a lot better than the loneliness and fear generated by serious addiction. Although opening up about a problem is nearly always preferable to suffering in silence, there are other benefits too, from planning the best way to do this. Here are some points to consider. Everyone is different and there is no definitive way that suits everyone. Nevertheless, a little planning rather than impulsive action should always give a better result.
It’s not about stigma
It’s very easy to buy into the commonly-held view that people with alcohol problems are weak, stupid or somehow lacking in moral fiber. In reality, many recovering alcoholics are high-functioning and determined people who have become stronger through successfully addressing their addiction. When you decide to ‘open up’, remember that you are simply speaking as someone would wish to do when talking about any serious illness.
Don’t be a victim
It is very easy to view negative life events including addiction, as reasons for low self-esteem and poor performance. But if we treat them as challenges rather than catastrophes, we can learn to deal with these situations and come out stronger. Our behavior while in active addiction can easily lead us to feelings of shame and guilt so we end up seeking something or someone to blame. Instead, we should recognize the reality – that we have an illness, and we can take positive action to address it by changing ourselves. As always, it is our response that matters, not the event itself.
Find the right moment
It is best to act sooner rather than later because the perfect moment may never come, and secrets keep us sick. Having said that, time, place, and mood do matter. Try to pick a time that is quiet, and distractions are minimal. Try to make it somewhere you feel safe such as your own home or where you don’t feel watched. It will probably be helpful to avoid stressful moments too, such as when someone needs to go to work or anticipates having an appointment to keep.
Plan what you’re going to say
You don’t need to learn a script, but it is advisable to think about what you need to say. Is it enough simply to tell those to whom you are close – at home or elsewhere – that you have a drinking problem? Perhaps there is more you can say if you think you only have one shot at such a meeting. Should you take the opportunity to take things a little bit further? Do you want their active help or are you just seeking their love and understanding? Remember, your nearest and dearest may already have their suspicions and might have already made a few inquiries themselves about further steps to take which could be useful to know about. This could be the moment to ask for help or at least for a discussion about support. Have you already considered your own course of future action – AA, detox, residential rehab, or something else?
Explain why you’re telling them
Relatively few people have any understanding of addiction and its consequences. It is therefore likely that their response will be muted or confused – they simply won’t know how to respond. Their first reaction may well be one of shock. It will thus be helpful to explain to them why you are telling them. Taking the approach that you are dealing with this in the same manner as you would deal with any serious disease can be reassuring and will also show them that you are wanting to change. If relations are already strained due to your behavior while drinking, then this moment of truth can be enormously helpful in ‘clearing the air’.
Be honest and take responsibility
It may seem scary to talk, perhaps for the first time, about your drinking problem. It may help to remind yourself that you are now taking responsibility for your life and your eventual recovery. Those you are speaking to will recognize this and will most likely treat you with respect. Your drinking has probably had negative consequences for you, otherwise, you would not be taking the step of talking to them. It is highly likely that there have been negative consequences for them too, and they will be relieved to hear that you recognize this and wish to address the matter.
Make sure you’re telling people for the right reasons
Beware of mixed messages. Take a moment to review exactly why you are opening up. The position you’re in seems to indicate that you need help, but do you really want help? Try to be as honest with yourself as possible. If you just want sympathy or to be bailed out of a difficult situation, people will see this sooner or later and you may be simply making the situation worse.
Remember that by taking this action, you are ‘going public’ about your problem and, by implication if not verbally, your intention to do something about it. You are in effect stating not just the problem but your commitment to change. This is therefore a significant moment because from now on, people will be observing you in a different way. This will hopefully make you more determined to address the matter because you will not want to let people down.
Prepare for reactions, both positive and negative. Some people may react badly to your words either out of shock or ignorance of the problem. Alcoholism has a very negative image, partly created by the media. However, some people may be influenced by past bad experiences such as addiction in their own family of origin. It is important to realize that other people’s expectations and reactions are up to them – not something that you can change. Instead, you should accept their point of view and seek to show them a positive outcome through your own behavior. Recovery from addiction involves change for everyone affected and it is bound to take time. Your goal should be to work on yourself and leave the attitudes of others to them.
Be open to getting help
If you are contemplating talking to those close to you about your addiction problem, or if you think you might be the recipient of such an announcement, it may be helpful first to explore the available options to help you recover. Alcoholism is a very complex disease that gets progressively worse if left untreated, but it is also very treatable. A good first move would be to contact your GP should be able to make referrals after due discussion. The treatment options most probably will range from individual counseling, daycare in an alcohol recovery program within the community, or residential treatment. There is also the very successful self-help program provided worldwide by Alcoholics Anonymous.
Some people find the intensive few weeks in a residential rehab to be the answer because it provides a safe place where they can focus totally on recovery while in the 24-hour care of a professional team. This is especially helpful when a person has co-existing issues such as childhood trauma or PTSD. At Stockholm’s Beroendekliniken in Sweden, we recognize that addiction is a family disease. That is why we like to encourage those close to the addicted person to participate in family sessions as they progress through treatment and beyond.