Alcoholism

The Myth of Hitting Bottom

A letter from one of our readers…

Dear Jeff and Debra,

My daughter is an alcoholic, and she refuses to get help. People tell me there’s nothing I can do until she hits bottom, but she has two small children, and I just can’t bear to watch this go on much longer. Is hitting bottom the only way?

Worried Mother

 

Dear Worried,

Why not raise the bottom to right now? You don’t have to wait for a drunk driving or a medical problem or an accident with the children. You don’t have to wait for something terrible to happen. You can take action right now, without waiting for her to hit bottom (whatever that means).

 

The idea of hitting bottom is difficult to define, when you examine it closely. What does it take for an alcoholic to realize they’re sick and accept help? For some people it might be the loss of a job or a marriage, but many people will keep drinking anyway. For other people, it might be a medical or legal problem that opens their eyes, but many people will keep drinking anyway.

 

So, what is hitting bottom? What will cause a person to hit bottom, and realize they’re an alcoholic? How can we define “bottom?”

 

Simply put, an alcoholic’s bottom is a moment of clarity, and a moment of action. At the bottom, an alcoholic will admit that they can’t go on drinking and they don’t know how to stop (and stay stopped).

 

Dr. Vern Johnson, an episcopal priest and a recovering alcoholic, realized in the 1980’s that there had to be a better way than merely letting a person free-fall to their bottom. He developed the first popular intervention technique to help bring about this moment of clarity, without the dire consequences.

 

Over time, the technique was evolved to truly harness the power of love and concern, so family and friends could break through the wall of alcoholic denial and help the alcoholic accept help. Using a love-first approach, we have learned how to raise the bottom to right now, and begin the recovery process before it’s too late. Remember, for some people, the classical bottom has no bounce. They simply die of their disease.

 

This post originally appeared in the Grosse Pointe News

 

You may also want to read this excerpt from No More Letting Go: http://lovefirst.net/no-more-letting-go/hitting-bottom-a-family-affair/

The Silent Treatment

A letter from one of our readers…

Dear Jeff and Debra,

My little brother is successful in business, but his life is being ruined by alcohol. He’s already lost his marriage because of his drinking and verbal abuse, but he’s still playing a blame game. Some of his friends and I tried to talk to him about his drinking, but he wouldn’t listen. Some people say I should cut him out of my life until he accepts help. Should I stop talking to him?

Big Sister

Dear Sister,

Just the opposite. When a person doesn’t accept help for an obvious problem, it’s usually more effective to increase communication. Alcoholics usually want to isolate themselves from concerned family members and friends. They do not want to talk about their drinking. When forced to talk about it, they will reframe the issue and blame others for their dilemma.

 

Your informal intervention didn’t have the desired effect because it wasn’t well planned. When we do a good, structured family intervention, we spend a lot of time in training and rehearsal. There are three keys to a successful intervention: Plan, Plan, Plan. We need to use the power of love and concern in a very specific and organized way, so we can break through the natural denial and defenses of the alcoholic, and bring them to a moment of clarity where they will say Yes.

 

If we can’t reach an agreement for treatment, the family members and friends should promise to continue the conversation at every opportunity. They should no longer avoid the issue. If the person we’re concerned about was avoiding treatment for any other life-threatening illness, we wouldn’t walk away. Why should we do it with addiction?

 

Mental health and addiction problems thrive in the dark. They grow in islolation, and snowball with other negative emotions. When we continue to bring the issues into the light with care and compassion, we make it more and more difficult for the alcoholic to refuse help.

 

Rather than give your brother the silent treatment, you should consider a better-planned approach and keep the conversation going. We don’t recommend nagging him, but we do recommend a family commitment to recovery.

 

This post originally appeared in the Grosse Pointe News

 

 

Holiday Drinking Guide

A letter from one of our readers…

Dear Jeff and Debra,

We now have two family members recovering from alcoholism (and a few more who probably should be). We always host a large family party over the holidays, and we wonder if we can offer something besides soft drinks and coffee for the non-drinkers?

Holiday Hosts

 

Dear Hosts,

Thoughtful people like you embody the spirit of the holidays. Family parties should be a time for celebration, but for newly-recovering alcoholics, they can be stressful and dangerous. Having some interesting alternatives to alcohol will not only make their lives easier, these “great pretender” drinks can also encourage others to stay within their limits.

 

For many years, AAA Michigan published “Great Pretenders” drink recipes for just this reason. Although it hasn’t been published this year, you can find a previous edition here: http://bit.ly/2heHguW .

 

We also found a tasty drink called Golden Glow Punch at drinkmixer.com

6 oz orange juice concentrate 6 oz lemonade concentrate
1 qt chilled apple juice
2 qt chilled ginger ale

1 pint lemon sherbet or ice ring

Pour the concentrates and the apple juice into the punch bowl. Stir the ginger ale into the bowl. Spoon in sherbet or add an ice ring. Serve immediately.

 

To make ice ring, arrange thin citrus slices in a 6-cup ring mold. Pour water into mold to partially cover fruit. Freeze. When frozen, add water to fill mold 3/4 full. Freeze. Unmold and float fruit side up in punch bowl.

 

Everyone will enjoy these festive drinks, and your thoughtfulness will be appreciated. Your sober friends and family members will notice the extra effort you’ve taken, and your holiday spirit will really shine.

 

This post originally appeared in the Grosse Pointe News

Rebuilding Trust

A letter from one of our readers…

Dear Jeff and Debra,

Our adult daughter’s life has been shattered by addiction, causing hurt and harm to everyone around her. She’s been through residential treatment twice, and is now living in a sober house, far from home. She asking us to trust her and allow her to come back to live with us, but we’re not sure what to do. How will we know when we can trust her?

Wary Parents

 

Dear Wary,

Your daughter is making a common mistake in asking you to trust her, and you are making a similar mistake in pondering the question. She is pulling at your heartstrings and asking for a favor. In most circumstances, her request might be reasonable, but in light of her addiction it could have life or death consequences.

 

Your daughter’s question shouldn’t be, “when are you going to trust me?” Her question should be, “What am I doing to become trustworthy?” As parents you are naturally wary based on your experience with her relapses. We can only imagine the havoc her addiction may have already caused in the life of the family. You are right to be cautious.

 

Like many things in life, recovery from addiction is the result of right actions maintained consistently over a sustained period of time. If someone has a broken leg, the bone must be set, the cast must be worn, physical therapy must take place, and so on. There is a natural healing process that must take place with a broken leg, and if the process is interrupted, the leg may be worse than it was before.

 

Similarly, your daughter must follow the recommendations of her treatment team. She must stay in a structured environment, continue her Twelve Step meetings, attend counseling sessions, and work an active program of recovery. It is up to her to rebuild trust by following the directions and achieving realistic goals. There’s work for you to do, as well. Follow the directions in the book, “It Takes a Family,” (Hazelden, 2014) and learn how you can support her progress. By building a culture of recovery in the family, trust can be rebuilt on both sides of the equation.

 

This post originally appeared in the Grosse Pointe News

College Drinking

A question from one of our readers…

Dear Jeff and Debra,

Our son has been having problems at college related to alcohol and pot. He used to be a good student, but his grades have plummeted. We know from reliable sources that he’s “partying” every day. We don’t want to interrupt his academic career (he’s a junior now), but college is expensive and we don’t know what to do.

Paralyzed Parents

 

Dear Paralyzed,

If you treat college like an entitlement program, you’re asking for trouble. Your son is fortunate to have parents who can pay for a good education, but that privilege brings responsibility.

 

As long as he’s living on the bank of mom and dad, there should be clear expectations for his behavior and performance.  He’ll face even greater expectations when he enters the workforce.

 

We don’t know if your son is addicted, but we do know it’s time for a serious talk, and probably a professional assessment. Don’t make the mistake of sending him to a counselor for a solo session. A thorough assessment will involve several family members and others with first-hand information. If he has developed a addiciton problem, it’s unlikely that he’ll be forthcoming about it, because denial is usually a hallmark of addiction.

 

If he doesn’t need addiction treatment, but needs to change his behavior, here are some tips for discussion. 1) Let him know that you’ve invested tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours in his education, but 2) it doesn’t look like he’s making the same level of commitment. 3) Tell him it’s OK to drop out of college and get a job if he’d rather party, but that 4) he can’t live at your home.

 

It won’t hurt him to get a taste of the real world, and reconsider the value of a college education. Early in adult life, most of us learn things the hard way. One last point: illegal activities are illegal. If you give any ground on that issue, you’re asking for trouble.

 

This post first appeared in the Grosse Pointe News

 

 

 

Addiction and Redemption: the way out

addiction-and-redemptionHere is a PDF of an article I wrote for Human Development magazine. The article begins on page 8.

 

Addiction and Redemption, by Jeff Jay

 

The article contains some material from my book, Navigating Grace. It also contains material on Steps 1–5. I hope you’ll pass it on.

 

–Jeff

 

 

 

 

 

“Addiction and Redemption: The Way Out,” by Jeff Jay, as originally published in Human Development Magazine.

Why isn’t AA helping?

A letter from a reader…

Dear Jeff and Debra,

My wife has an alcohol problem, and she knows it. She’s admitted she’s an alcoholic. After trying to quit on her own, she tried going to a few AA meetings, but nothing seems to work. I don’t know how to help her. She’s tried everything. What do you suggest?

Bewildered Husband

 

Dear Bewildered,

If someone went to the gym a few times, but said it didn’t work for them, would you blame the gym or the treadmill? If someone tried various diets, but quickly gave up on them, would you blame the diets?

 

Alcoholics get frustrated when there’s no quick fix. They’re used to the instant gratification of alcohol or other substances, and they’re impatient with the idea of working a program of recovery. It requires honesty, open mindedness, and willingness.

 

It’s no coincidence that “one day at a time” is such a popular motto among recovering alcoholics (and their families). To avoid frustration, keep it simple, and take it day by day. Participate in a Twelve Step meeting today, call your sponsor today, read some recovery literature today. Most people find they can do almost anything for one day.

 

Before too long, there will be positive results. Crash diets don’t work because they’re not sustainable. But if we take a slow and steady approach, we can be successful. Our communities are filled with people who are ready to help (they’re at the meetings). Experience shows that if we keep doing the next right thing, years of sobriety can be achieved by taking it one day at a time.

 

 

 

This post was originally published in the Grosse Pointe News

Debra Jay interviewed at the Women’s Symposium

The legendary Jerry McDonald of Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, interviewed Debra Jay about her book, “It Takes a Family.” Debra was presenting on the topic of Structured Family Recovery™ and the best methods to increase family involvement and improve treatment outcomes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Treatment Didn’t Work?

A question from one of our readers:

 

Dear Jeff and Debra,

 

My husband went to treatment, but he started drinking again after he got home. He was only there nine days, but it didn’t seem to help at all.  What can we do? I’m so frustrated!

 

 

 

Dear Frustrated,

 

We feel your pain. Families are always shocked when they learn how little time a person gets in a residential treatment program. After waging a long battle to get their loved one to accept help, they expect the person will be away and in treatment for at least a month. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

 

What your husband received is more properly called detoxification and stabilization, rather than treatment. Once a person has been medically stabilized, has received basic education, and has received a continuing care plan, they are discharged. The next phase is typically an IOP (intensive outpatient program), meeting at 3 to 5 times per week for 6 weeks. Not many patients comply.

 

When resources allow it, we recommend 30 to 90 days of residential treatment. The “gold standard” used for airline pilots and physicians who need treatment is 90 days—and that’s just the start.

 

Your husband’s focus has to be on Twelve Step meetings and outpatient services. Right now, the goal should be to consult with his doctor, keep it simple, and start over. The old prescription of “90 meetings in 90 days” is a good place to begin. He’s had a bad fall, but it’s time to get up and try again. There are many recovering alcoholics in our community who’ll be happy to help him.

 

 

This post was also published in the Grosse Pointe News

The Unexpected Gift

desert tree

 

Christmas 2015

 

Imagine a young woman, about sixteen years old, living in a conservative religious community, and discovering she’s pregnant. In the time and place where she lives, marriage at a young age is common, but her fiancé knows he’s not the father, because they’ve never had sex, so the engagement will have to be ended. The pregnancy isn’t visible yet, but the reaction of the community is certain, because pre-marital sex and children out of wedlock are outlawed. She will be ostracized, if not banished outright from the town. Her parents are dead, and there are no extended family members nearby. Imagine her fear and anxiety.

 

It’s hard to have faith when no human help is at hand, when life plans fall apart, when people desert us. Where is God in our darkest hours? How can faith battle despair?

 

Welcome to the drama of Christmas, without the tinsel and parties and cheer. The young woman only had her faith, and an uncertain road leading to a son born on December 25th.

 

Imagine the fiancé acting on faith, too. He comes back to his love and marries her, as the pregnancy shows itself to the village. The townspeople assume he’s the father, so he’s disgraced along with his bride. He’d been considered an honorable man, but pregnancy is shameful and unacceptable, and may cost him much-needed work. With only his faith to go on, he perseveres and does his duty, as best he can.

 

Welcome to the trials of Christmas, the way of love and grace. See how much pain and humiliation goes with every human life, often without cause or warning. See how lonely and embarrassing it feels to have others turn away in judgment.

 

Imagine the young couple, fighting cold and poverty, traveling many miles to a larger town, as required for the census. With no money and no friends, they are consigned to a barn for their lodging. Animals are the only source of heat in the stable, so the child is born with little protection from the cold. Like so many new beginnings, this one looked bad from the start. Some sheep herders came to marvel, but what could they make of this scene?

 

Welcome to the very first Christmas, a story of hardship and hope. There are no sugar cookies or crackling fires, no Starbucks or Santa. Through the mystery of suffering and the perseverance of faith, a new life is born. All things are possible with this recipe, guided by the hand of the Master. Can I bring myself to the precipice of belief? Can I accept the danger?

 

Christmas is a time of renewal and a celebration of grace. It’s a time for forgiveness and hope. We exchange gifts to show gratitude for all we’ve been given, and we give generously to the poor who wait in hope and fear.

 

I remember being helpless in my own addiction, at the end of the road, unable to see anything but darkness. Suicide seemed like the only option, though unspeakably sad and desperate. Without the help of others, without a loving interruption to my madness, without the love of family and friends and professionals, the disease would’ve swallowed my soul and snuffed out my life.

 

But help alone couldn’t save me. My recovery wasn’t simply a do-over with clinical guidance. I had to come to a point of deep surrender, and an abject willingness to give up my throne of control. My absurd and deadly pride had to be relinquished, or I would never find a power strong enough to save me.

 

I remember pacing the hospital ward and seeing a framed poster with the motto: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Could it be true? Could I really begin again? It would have to be on a new basis, without the fireball certainty of my old ways. Could I come to believe? Would I have enough to rededicate myself, like the miracle of the Hanukkah lights?

 

Little by little I made my way down the new road. Or perhaps I was carried by the kindness of strangers, the love of family, and my own willingness to lay down the old life and try a different one. When I was drinking and drugging, I didn’t care what people thought, so why should I care now? I’ll go to the meetings, I’ll pray with the group, I’ll make a decision to turn myself over to the miracle.

 

Christmas is a celebration of the greatest things coming out of the lowliest, the triumph of humility in the face of suffering, the transformative power of faith. The meaning of Emmanuel is “God among us.” Isn’t that the story of recovery? As we get the daily reprieve from madness, and a rebirth into limitless possibilities, don’t we find it together, in God-among-us, in unexpected joy? Don’t we find it when we share the gift?

 

Let’s bring the gift with us wherever we go—the gift of being present and ready to help. Let’s help with the dishes, the children, and the lights. Let’s suit up and show up and say Yes to life. Let’s show the world we’ve really come back, and we’ve come back to give back, and come back for good. Merry Christmas.

 

Jeff Jay

Navigating Grace, by Jeff Jay

 

 

Jeff Jay’s latest book is Navigating Grace, a solo voyage of survival and redemption.