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Providing non-judgmental and non-criticizing support for family and friends of end-stage alcoholics through one-on-one coaching, support groups, blog posts, workshops and public speaking.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Nipping alligators...

I was watching Dr. Phil on Thursday, March 22, 2012, when he aired a segment titled “Partying to Death”. It was about two young people whose binge drinking has become a common occurrence for them. The video clips and attitudes of these youngsters were very disturbing. I wanted to reach through my television screen and just slap some sense into them.  But, I’m not a violent person and instead I just watched as they tried to justify the destruction of their lives. For the young lady, the destruction was not just about herself as it was revealed that she was pregnant and to celebrate her pregnancy, she went drinking!
You can find the link here:
As a mother who has lost a son to alcohol, I was appalled at the things revealed about one of the mothers. But, then I realize that some people are really just muddling along trying to do what they think is best. I don’t think either of the mothers ever wanted to inflict harm on their children. I understand their confusion and frustration. What DO you do when whatever you do, you always feel you’ve haven’t done enough or that what you’ve done has just been wrong?
I wonder nearly every day what I could have done that would have changed my son’s outcome. There’s certainly enough blame to go all around. I blame myself (of course), his fiancé, Riley, his fiancé’s father, an ex-girl-friend, and all his local “friends.” In my opinion, we all played a part in escorting Brian to the grave. As his mother, I feel the largest amount of blame falls squarely on my shoulders.
If I had only known then what I know now… How many times in our lives have we said just that about so many things? The truth is we don’t always know everything all the time. Things we need to know are often never revealed to us until it is too late. I can’t change the end result for Brian, I can only continue to work towards forgiving myself for not knowing what I should have known. I’m not sure if I will ever come to the place where I can forgive any of the other parties to his demise. I work on it. I try to understand their points of view. But, for the ex-girl-friend and Riley – there will never be any forgiveness in their direction.
One aspect of Dr. Phil’s show had to do with the brain and liver. He showed a real brain of a healthy person and compared it to a real brain of a person who was an alcoholic. The brain was remarkably smaller and there were holes that were clearly apparent. Along the same lines, he presented a healthy liver and an alcoholic’s liver. The difference was clearly visible even over the many miles of video broadcasting wave lengths. This is something that I know. The information was not new to me. But each time I see the real deal, I am always in shock and awe. I guess it’s one of those things I know, but don’t want to have as a constant visual.
But that brought to mind the idea that maybe our children need to see that true to life visual. In our efforts to protect them from the things that may damage their delicate psyche’s we also protect them from things that they really need to know. It’s kinda like the time when Alea was about two years old when she kept climbing up the cupboard drawers to watch me cook. She was an uncontrollable monkey and I was always afraid she’d get up there when I wasn’t in her sight and touch the electric burner when it was hot. One day, after she’d made the trek up the drawers and the burner had just been turned off, I took her little hand and told her the burner was hot. I then placed her hand over the burner so she could feel the heat. Her hand never touched the burner, but the heat was rising above it so she got the idea. After that when she watched me cook, she would repeat to me – “burner hot” “no touch”. She knew not to touch that burner.
Maybe if I had told Brian, from the age of two, that alcohol is hot (dangerous) – maybe if I had shown him those pictures over and over again. Maybe he never would have even started drinking in the first place. OK. So I know how unrealistic that is. Maybe two years old is too young. But, still, I believe education is the key. Knowledge is survival. If I had trained him earlier… if… if… if…
There is insanity in living with an alcoholic and children of alcoholics are endangered species from the moment they arrive into the world of the alcoholic family. The non-alcoholic becomes enmeshed in the dance of keeping the family together or protecting the family from the fall out of the alcoholic. The alcoholic’s need for the non-alcoholic to take care of “things” causes them to lose sight of taking care of the children. The kids grow up in the insanity. Why shouldn’t they think it’s normal? What is normal is what you’ve always known to be true.
I am reminded of the phrase “It’s hard to remember that your main objective was to drain the swamp when you’re up to your butt in alligators.” It’s hard to remember that we need to educate our children on the dangers of alcoholism, when we are so busy protecting the alcoholic. We may think we are protecting our children, but the reality is the only way to truly protect a child from alcoholism is to remove drunken insanity from their lives. At the same time, we must educate and provide the knowledge they need to keep them from falling into what could be a “family trait.”
Generally speaking, I love the Dr. Phil Show. He speaks from a point of honesty and doesn’t molly-coddle his guests. I’m not much on molly-coddling. I believe the reality of the situation is brought home to all the parties of this segment. I’m not sure if you can see the whole thing on his website or not, but just the amount available for viewing is great to watch.
Dr. Phil – You get a giant size THUMBS UP for this segment! Thank you for helping us keep in touch with reality when the alligators are nipping at our hindquarters!


Gerry said...

My two older sons with an alcoholic father and an alcoholic grandfather who was their benefactor after I divorced their father following ten years of marriage started drinking in their teens. My dad only binged two or three times a year when they were growing up but had a long history of heavier early drinking. I decided that with my next two kids I would not have any drinking men in our home. My dad had passed, so I thought if they did not see alcoholic examples of males perhaps they would not do the drinking.
A few bad drinking bouts was all it took this time for me to determine I would not tolerate a husband and father of my children drinking and abusing. I had been left an inheritance from my father that helped me to be independent. He had inherited quite a large amount from his father who had not been a drinker. My own father, a bad drinker in my childhood, had a number of near death experiences from alcohol before he finally cut his drinking way back, enough to survive and make money as a rancher as his father had done before him. To make a long story shorter my son Dan, the youngest, did not drink or smoke or do drugs during high school at all. He was a joy to me, and did not really start to drink until he joined the navy. But did not do drugs or smoke. Today he does not have nearly the difficulty the older two do with alcohol. So I believe it does work to distance the kids from the bad example, making raising them more about protecting them than about protecting the self indulgent fathers.

Kibble said...

I'm not so sure that we can educate enough to keep people from making bad decisions. If that were the case, every young offender that went to a scared straight program would remain unincarcerated for the rest of his or her life. And nobody who watches TV would ever smoke; we've all seen the graphic commercials about the negative impact of cigarettes.

On a personal note, I had a drunk driving MVA at 17 that valleyed my skull and tore my ear nearly off, but it took until I had a kid of my own to stop my own drunk driving. Until then I was pretty sure I was immortal and I would never be one of those statistics.

But I do agree that it's important to interpret for our kids the actions of irresponsible drinkers and make them aware of consequences, not make excuses for them, and to show kids that there is a way out from under the influence both of drink and the drinker.

I hope some day you can forgive everyone associated with your son's death, but mostly yourself. You did what you knew to do, and even the best seed sometimes falls on barren soil.

Syd said...

Linda, I don't think that there is much anyone can do because I do think that alcoholism has genetic links. Just reading Bill Wilson's story tells me that there is a physical allergy and cravings are triggered by just a small amount of alcohol. Sure, we can tell others about the disease and urge them not to drink but how many kids really listen to their parents and don't experiment with drugs or alcohol? I think that is why the Just Say No campaign did not work.

Forgiving others is a good thing. Hoping that you forgive yourself and others in time. I am very sorry about your son.

Anonymous said...

Linda, I understand that the loss of your son was the worst experience of your life. Brian had a gene inside of him. You could have armed him with all of the knowledge in the world, and no matter what you couldn't prevent him from being an alcoholic. It's not your fault. It's nothing that you did, right or wrong. Not to be harsh, but had Brian died from cancer, you wouldn't have blamed yourself. Alcoholism is a disease. There is no vaccination. Don't be so hard on yourself.

Gerry said...

I discussed this entry with my son Raymond who agreed that he had romanticized both his cowboy but hard drinking grandfather, and his singing alcoholic father to the point that trying alcohol was just not possible for him to resist. My youngest son Dan's heroes were sports figures who could not play ball as alcoholics. Those are still his heroes today, so I think that their heroes have a lot to do with what teens especially try.
Having dealt with a great many alcoholics all my life, I do not think the gene is as important as others think it is. I think there is a propensity to drink yes, the teen generally has examples in his family of that, but I still there is a lot that parents can do who become totally dedicated to preventing alcoholism in the family. More must be tried. We don't know everything there is to know about it.