I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, and like your brother, my name is also Jim. I’ve been talking to your brother for 5 or 6 years now, and he seems like a pretty good guy. It tells me in the Big Book – that’s what we call our basic text in A.A. – that I should approach the family.
He told me that he wants you to buy him a new pair of shoes, and that you won’t give him the money directly; you’ll buy them for him. I get that. “Enabling” and “Tough Love” are not concepts or beliefs we have an opinion on in A.A., but I understand your position. I even think you’re doing about the best that you can do as a family member.
Let me tell you how I’ve been handling it as a member of A.A., and you can tell me if there’s something we can do together.
First of all, I’ve only had 6 or 8 conversations with him in the last 6 years. I had a few deep ones when he first came to a meeting, but then he disappeared for a few years. I saw him again about a year ago, and we talked for about an hour, then again a few months ago. I’ve seen him 3 times in the last 2 weeks. Today he saw me first, and came over to talk to me.
He remarked several times today that he was always surprised by the things that I said. He would expect a certain reaction from me when he said things, but I gave him a completely different response. He is also surprised and pleased is that I have never once over the years admonished him or made him feel bad about his actions. I say things like: “Of course you did!” and “That’s what alcoholics do!” and “It never surprises me when an alcoholic gets drunk, it surprises me that any of us ever stay sober”. When we parted ways I even gave him a dollar and told him to go buy himself a beer. He looked like he really needed one. That shocked him.
That probably shocks you, too, and you’re not sure I’m the kind of person who should be “helping” your brother. Let me explain why I do what I do, and why nothing that a family member does or says – throughout history – has ever shown any positive results: you have “an angle”.
You are “his sister who loves him” and “a Physician’s Assistant” and “a person who wants him to quit drinking”. That’s your angle, and everything you ever tell him will come from that angle. If you tell him “You’re going to die!” he thinks “That’s what medical people have to say… I’ll be all right.” If you tell him “You’re more fun to be around when you’re sober!” he tells himself “Bullshit! She just wants me to quit drinking!”. When you say “If you stop drinking you could meet a nice girl and be happy!” he thinks “Ahh! She’s just my sister. She has to love me, but no one else ever will.”
Your angle makes every single thing you say ineffective. It’s not your fault, that’s just the way it is.
But, you see, I don’t have an angle. As harsh as it sounds, I really don’t give a shit what he does. I don’t care if he gets sober or not. There’s nothing in it for me. I don’t get a gold A.A. Star or increase in rank for “getting someone sober”. I mean, he does seem like a nice guy, but I really don’t care if he sobers up and becomes the mayor of Tampa in 2 years or is dead in the gutter tomorrow. Either way my reaction will be about the same: “Huh… Check that out!”
I don’t have an angle but I do have an edge, and that’s it: I don’t have a horse in the race.
I don’t tell him he needs to stop drinking, or chase him down and drag him to meetings – I even bought him a beer – to gain his trust. I don’t mean that in a sneaky way – like “trick him into trusting me” – just that I’m never going to do or say anything that will betray him. He’s in complete control; not me. When I tell him “In time you won’t even want to drink… and not that much time, either!” he’ll think “Bullshit! That’s gotta be wrong… but why would he lie to me? If he has no reason to lie to me, maybe he is telling me the truth, and there’s a way out of this hell…” He might even ask me a few more questions – to either clarify or catch me in a lie – but he won’t catch me lying. He’s smart enough to know when someone’s bullshitting him, but it won’t be me. It doesn’t mean enough to me to lie to him.
He’s already been surprised by how much I understand his situation, even his thought patterns. I understand them because they used to be mine. For 25 years. When I told him some of the things I was afraid of – reasons I told myself I couldn’t quit drinking – I could tell from the look on his face that it was as if I were reading his mind. He’d even been afraid to voice those concerns. Now here was someone who had those same fears, and had found out they were a lie.
I told you I didn’t have an angle – that I didn’t get anything out of it if he sobers up – and that’s true, but slightly more complicated. You see, I get something out of it either way. Whether he sobers up or dies, I’m going to learn something that keeps me sober. I either get to see one more good man taken down by alcohol, or another miraculous recovery by Alcoholics Anonymous. And, of course, my human Pride and my Ego makes me hope it leans towards Recovery. I’ve seen enough people die, but would really like to play a part in a few more people finding their way out of that darkness.
A.A. itself does not have an opinion on rehabs, and I don’t know that I do, either. Treatment centers do have a different message than A.A. does – Therapeutic Community, Rational Emotive Therapy, Cognitive Restructure – all sorts of Jedi mind tricks have they. Some of them are probably very effective for some people, but Jim is probably handicapped there: he’s smarter than the therapists. A guy like him, honestly, is “beyond human aid”. That’s the type of people A.A. specializes in.
You see, I can’t help him. All I can do is convince him that I was once in his position and found a way out of that hell. If he believes that much is true, then he may allow me to show him the path I had to walk down to get help. That path is a set of steps – spiritual in nature – that provide a spiritual solution to what we believe we have: “a spiritual malady”. In my experience he doesn’t have to believe in God or Christ or Buddha or any other damn thing for it to work. All he has to believe is that it worked for the people who walked the path before him.
If he does the footwork, he will have a spiritual awakening that may allow him to accept that there is a God or Christ or Buddha, but he doesn’t have to believe it for it to work. I know a little bit about medicine – though not as much as you – but I can explain the difference between antigens, antibodies, antibacterials and antibiotics. On a good day I can even tell you how the Kreb cycle works. But you know as well as I do that knowing how antibiotics work or believing that they will work does not increase their efficacy in any way. It’s merely taking them that causes a cure. Likewise, he only has to believe that it worked for us just enough to walk the path for himself.
If there is anything you can do – as his sister – to encourage him to go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, I believe it would help him. Even if we can’t help him, he may be able to help us. The group I belong to – Sobrenity – is full of “low bottom drunks”. He knows where it is. For the most part we were in Jim’s shape at one time, yet many of them now have not had a drink for 10, 20, 30 years and more. I, myself, took my last drink over 15 years ago: August 7th, 1999. There is hope for your brother, but as you have found out for yourself, family cannot fix the problem. But God can if we let him. A.A. can help arrange the meeting.