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Integrating the Alcoholic Using Compassion

August 1, 2021

Something that I have come to understand the past few weeks as I spread awareness on the plight of the alcoholic, is that some people are not ready to humanize this disease. I can understand this complication, because alcoholism appears to be something that we choose to do to ourselves, and therefore anger and frustration tend to follow. However, the alcoholic is generally defined by having lost that choice, and in fact, we are talking about a mental illness. There is little to no control that the person is able to enforce when it comes to their drinking.  

What we see regarding alcoholism is the effects of it – the broken homes, the ruined businesses, and the disconnected and strange behaviour in social situations. What we don’t see is the mental state of the person preceding the first drink. Because it requires so much compassion and space to offer a destructive drinker the opportunity to go deeper than the surface chaos, it is easier to condemn their behavoiurs by way of dismissing them. We force ultimatums, move away, sever ties, act better-than, all in what are likely vain attempts to feel like we have control ourselves.  

It seems easier to walk away than to watch someone destroy themselves by their own hands, but I think this is just a band-aid solution in a society that doesn’t afford time to those who don’t produce fast enough. I have been taught the art of Nonviolent Communication, and shown how to use tools that open space and therefore permit incredible amounts of empathy and compassion, and I believe that with these techniques, the general person can overcome the darkness that the alcoholic around them creates.  

Blaming or villainizing the alcoholic does not lead to sustainable peace, in fact I can imagine it causing even more grief when that person passes. And if they are a true alcoholic without aid, they will most likely die. If we could understand this stark fact, we could approach this disease with a more clear mind. There is a lot of baggage around a problem drinker, because the very nature of alcoholism is turmoil, and then taking actions to conceal it.  

The first step is to let go of the idea that we have the power to change another person. This isn’t possible even in the best of circumstances. All we can do is influence people through inspiring them by our own actions, and even that might not be effective. The second step is to practice self-care so that we can maintain space to not get hijacked so easily. The third step is to take the strength fostered through self-care, and extend that to the alcoholic by simple and general niceties. These three principles can be a game-changer to a person’s relation to the alcoholic. 

I appreciate that some people are too hurt to consider their alcoholic loved ones as deserving of the time and space needed for both parties to begin the healing process, but recovery can be hard, and nothing in history suggests it shouldn’t be. Until we better understand this disease and include alcoholics as people who need deep therapy and compassion, we as a society will never reach our full potential. 

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