Monday, January 18, 2010


Out of the mouth of an Al Anon member came this jewel of a thought. We were discussing the dilemma of whether and why anyone would stay in residence with an active addict. He said he had been thinking about this and felt that he had gone through three stages.

The first was the stage of being a VICTIM. This was when his wife was actively drinking and he was actively living his work life and not really focused on the situation beyond feeling annoyed and challenged and reactive to all of the situations that called for his management skills in the family. He had not identified the real enemy within and simply had not awakened to the source of any problem. He really did not clearly see that there was a problem. He was like that frog in the ever-increasing pan of water being heated on the stove. He just kept swimming faster.

The second stage was that of HOSTAGE. It was a slow awakening to the fact that the bottle in the back of the closet was not normal social drinking. In this stage, he sought help. Coming out of denial and into reality was a slow and shocking journey. He noticed more and more and learned more and more and hurt more and more and tried to control more and more. He recognized that he was losing himself and seemed to be operating in lesser versions of himself. After much time, he finally got it. But----he still felt trapped. It was a great relief to not be taking things personally any longer and it felt wonderful to have the support of others who understood. He still could not see his way clear to leave the situation. For good reason, actually.

He faced the great question of “what will you do if nothing ever changes?” and found that he needed to find his answer. There were so many compelling reasons to not leave the marriage. Money, children, extended family, the comfort of habit, the power of vows once taken. Staying felt wrong. Leaving felt wrong. He was a hostage to the dilemma. This man slowly worked through all of the barriers. He stopped blaming his wife for her choices and illness and relapses and behaviors. He stopped his complaints. He stopped reacting to her and began to accept the fact that his choice to remain was his and his alone. He developed compassion for her struggles and decided that this circumstance in his life had afforded him growth and self-awareness. He now felt that he was in the third stage of leaving (or not).

He saw himself now as a VOLUNTEER in residence. He clearly understood that his choice to remain was in the interest of fulfilling needs of his own. The household became more peaceful and the days more pleasant. There is a story about being a bird in a cage. If you now have an open door to your cage, you can fly out or remain. It is the feeling of being trapped that is so debilitating. If you choose to remain, you can decorate your cage to the max. Then, the choice is truly yours.