Therapist helps the mother of an alcoholic understand powerlessness

Ed Hughes, MPS, LICDC
Portsmouth, Ohio

In working with the families of alcoholics, I provide education about alcoholism as a disease, how the disease progresses, the process of hitting bottom, the impact of the disease upon the family, and how someone can recover.

There eventually comes that moment when a family member tries to change the way they respond to the alcoholic’s behavior, only to find that this change is much more difficult than anticipated.

A mother of an alcoholic said that she had decided to say “no” to her son’s next request for money. When the request came, she was surprised that she said “yes.” She said she was aware that her “help” was really hurting him; that the money was going to alcohol; that the promise she extracted from him, “that this would never happen again,” was not going to be kept; and that she was going to feel awful afterwards. Knowing all this, however, she still gave him the money.

This was my opportunity to introduce her to a word she thought only applied to the alcoholic, powerlessness. I told her that she was powerless to say “no.” She responded by asking, “If I am powerless, then how am I ever going to say ‘no’ and stop enabling?” I said, “That is what Al-Anon is for, to help you do the right thing for yourself and your son.”

In my 32 years of providing counseling services, I have seen family members go to Al-Anon to find help for their addicted family members, but instead find help for themselves.

Alcoholism thrives in an environment of secrecy and shame. Al-Anon is a powerful influence for families to break the silence that surrounds their family, while breaking the cycle of shame that fosters misunderstanding and a reluctance to seek help.

For some family members, being in recovery has initiated changes that dramatically changed the role they were playing in perpetuating the disease of alcoholism for their loved one, thus creating motivation for the alcoholic to recover. Other family members found a path to happiness, peace, and serenity, despite the continued drinking of their loved one.

As a treatment professional, I realize that each person in recovery carries the hope and potential to help many others. The power of recovering
Al-Anon members who share their stories with a newcomer far exceeds any power that I have ever witnessed in a professional treatment setting.

In Al-Anon, I know they will receive acceptance, love, and guidance.