Friday, May 7, 2010


There is so much loss and grief in life. It is so difficult to allow grief. It hurts. It paralyzes. It is like standing in bubble gum. Sometimes it lasts for months or years, even forever. We distract ourselves and find ways to avoid facing the losses. We fall into anger or depression or spend our days and energies on bargaining away the loss (trying to make it not have happened with all of our 'what if' thinking and blaming and avoidance.)
Unresolved grief can be like a cancer that eats away at our progress and recovery. Someone once stated that the hallmark of a true adult was one who could see reality, accept responsibility for their own behaviors, and could do their grief work.
The following is a good visual analogy for grieving. It is a myth, but very helpful.
When lions go on a hunt, they pick the oldest and biggest of the pride to sit in the middle of the clearing as they wait for the prey to appear in the circle. This old guy has no teeth and no claws and no clear eyesight----but he can surely roar the loudest of all. So he waits--the prey appears --his roar is enormous--the prey runs into the surrounding brush.
Guess what is in the brush?? The real danger; the lionesses and younger males.
The moral of the story is simple: GO FOR THE ROAR.
It is also the wisdom of grief. You need to cry and allow the feelings and, indeed, lean into them. There is no right way to do this. Just do it. The danger in the brush for us is all of the ways we distract ourselves from the pain and allow it to fester and settle in and contaminate our health and emotional life. Crying is OK. Crying is healthy. Crying is cathartic.
Crying is what the body wants us to do. Wherever did we get the idea that it was not dignified or manly??
This emotional honesty uncorks us for progress and growth and moving on. I always remind myself that blossoming requires moisture.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


The process of change is only easy if it relates to changing your socks. The process of changing what I might need to change to improve myself is less obvious and often hidden to me. In the 12-Step program, it is referred to as Step 4. It asks for “a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”. It is a new focus. We have been really riveted to the inventory of someone else and that has been easy. An addicted person has much of which to be critical.
How many hours and conversations with friends involved hoping that the other person would change? Get sober. Get loving. Get helpful. Get home. Get up. Get with it.

It is both the good news and the bad when we finally realize that the only person we can change is standing in our shoes. And we need to. It is both exhausting and freeing to finally see the amazing truth that we can feel better when we tend to our own growth. Well-- there is a process to change. We cannot change what we do not SEE needs changing. That is when some light bulbs can turn on at a meeting as the person across the table triggers a truth in self with their own story, or you have a moment of clarity. I can remember the day when I pulled into our driveway and suddenly had a full, stunning awareness of how HE must feel coming home to ME. Not a pretty sight.

The next step to change is to actually hear yourself take ownership and verbalize what needs to change.
There is something about sharing it and hearing your own mouth express it all that makes it irretrievable and, surprisingly less awful. Somehow it all seems less powerful and more manageable.

Then the big step of DO. Can I replace judgment with perception? Can I replace reaction with response?
Can I replace impatience with patience? Can I replace resentful with forgiving? Can I replace disagreeable with agreeable? Unkind with kind? Indifference with loving? Not easy--but doable.

Addiction can bring out the worst or the best in us. Why let someone else’s disease make us less? I love this quote (do not know source) “Our goal is to have a relationship with both men and women that does not diminish the other and a relationship with others that does not diminish self.”

Monday, January 18, 2010

Since the house is on fire, let us warm ourselves (old Italian proverb)

The first time I read this, I laughed. I was not sure of just why it was funny, but something inside of me recognized the truth of it and knew it to be wise. It also struck a cord of “oh, darn” – what is it that life is now calling me to deal with? I am tired of needing to cope with life’s stressors. I am tired of needing to do more emotional work. I am tired of the need to change perceptions. How about good old status quo? But the fires in life come uninvited and surely. They can be started by others or by ourselves or just by spontaneous combustion.

As Huxley said: The choice is always ours. The fire is not always our choice, but how we respond is. Attitude is everything. Eventually we decide whether to escape, to let the fire consume us, or to turn the tables and use the heat to our advantage.

The good/bad news is that every life eventually has pain and loss and grief. We can choose whether or not to find the opportunities for growth and insight in each struggle. The expression “Older but wiser” comes to mind.

Some of the gifts of struggle and loss and the warming factors are: acceptance of powerlessness over most people and events; the awareness that I can change things about myself that may have been part of the kindling; the growing knowledge of and reliance on God in my life; the ability to listen better; the willingness to love others even if I would not choose to have lunch with them; the focus on all of the joys and blessings that remain; and the trust that the fire will be contained in time.


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.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, Four

There is a thing called projection. We are all good at it. It is an unconscious trick of the mind. It usually keeps us more comfortable. If you are the family member, you are highly likely to be the target. Think of the childhood game of Hot Potato. Projection is like that game. You can wrap up a feeling and toss it into the lap of someone else. There are other little tricks of the mind that also keep us from facing what we really feel. Denial, rationalization, minimizing, etc. but this projection thing seems to be an unknowing favorite of the addict. One fact that families need to accept is that while the severity of the addiction increases, so also do the defense mechanisms. They serve a mighty purpose and keep the addict from facing the full reality of the mess they are in. On a positive note, it might even keep a person from suicide.

BUT: the family and friends need to be aware when the potato comes their way. During my days in the family program at Brighton Hospital, a family member who arrived late was often greeted in the lobby by a patient with some guilt inducing comment such as “Why are you so late?” “You forgot to bring me clean socks.” Or “Why didn’t you call last night?” What the patient cannot express yet, for whatever reason, is all of the guilt they feel for having to be in treatment, guilt for the behaviors; guilt that the family member is spending a day in a family program. So—the guilt is now on the visitor, who, more than likely, catches the potato and begins to explain about the lateness, the socks or the phone call. Mission accomplished!

A bucket of lead is easier to carry if two people have the handle. BUT: the patient needs to slowly get honest, get in touch and begin to own their feelings. Such is necessary for recovery. AND: the family member needs to stop catching the potato. We do so over-function!

We tend to catch guilt, fear, shame, hurt, inadequacy, loneliness and a whole host of negative feelings that really are being tossed over.
It is not easy to be aware of every spud that comes your way, but one gets better at in time. In general, if you are feeling OK and suddenly find yourself explaining at length, you probably should get ready to make one large potato salad for lunch.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Because we need to change what we do does not mean the situation is our fault

A lot of us are guilt based. We react strongly when someone suggests that we might need to take a peek at our part in a relationship or situation. Over conscientious people are especially hard to convince because they have tried so hard and so long to be helpful and to fix things. The very suggestion that change is needed in ones actions, thinking or attitudes feels threatening.

It is so easy to identify the person who needs to change. The addict! Plain, pure and simple. They need to get clean and sober and tend to their recovery. The family member, however, often reacts like a deer in the headlight to the very suggestion that some change is needed by them.

It needs to be made clear that the need to learn and alter our behaviors does not at all imply guilt. It is very true that many addicts continue their use regardless of how enlightened the family has become. It is conversely true that many addicts choose recovery in the most ineffective of environments.

There is a process to change. The first step is to become aware of what might need changing. Then you need to digest the thoughts. Next you prepare for the changes and then you try them. The final step is to maintain the changes. This process is greatly evident in every 12 step meeting. You go, you wake up, and you think about it, you try it and then you like it and you keep doing it. All of this takes time and support. You get the information and ideas from others in your shoes.

You learn that we are responsible to each other, but that does not mean that you are my fault!

If you remove your expectations from me, you are free to receive my gifts.

I once read that depending on your expectations, you can spend your whole life being pleasantly surprised or sadly disappointed. Wow.

How wise was one man in the recovery program, after a few years of attendance, to utter that he had just about given up on what to expect and just lived to see what would happen next? Wow.

Often, our expectations of a situation or person are based upon what we want to happen or see. Reality is to see what we see and to know what we know. Do we see what we want to see and not what we need to see? Do we need an “illusionectomy?” Wow.

I think one of the hardest parts of life is to see reality. Denial and delusion abound. They are really useful for keeping fear and pain at arm’s length. So, we keep expectations alive and complain often when the person or life falls short. Wow.

Truth may be painful, but at least you can deal with it. Wow.

The wise man above was quite peaceful internally. He had hopes but not expectations. He knew that having the latter would set him up for resentment, anger and disappointments. He also knew that we can become so blinded by what we expect that we fail to see what is truly available to us.

One lady in my group had cried for years and said she just wanted to be happy. Who knows where she got that concept? I suggested that life was not always happy. It was possible to have a happy life with some unhappiness in it. A light went on for her. She later said that even with her husband drinking, she now felt content. She had expected more and was missing the moments. Wow.

If you want all of your birthday presents wrapped in green paper and all you get is a darned blue paper, are you letting expectations destroy your day? Wow.

Maturity is about trying to come to grips with our flaws (quote from D. Gergen)

Maturity is nothing more or less than how one deals with their feelings. Or perhaps it is to spend your life trying to outrun lesser versions of yourself – which sounds a lot like not wanting to face flaws.

There is no better program than 12 step meetings to encourage one to look at their own inventory. I knew a man who put a mirror in his home that had two words written on the top: THE PROBLEM
and two at the bottom: THE SOLUTION.

I remember the first time I had a fleeting glimpse of myself. Married to a man with unrelenting alcoholism, I was full of unrelenting criticisms. I pulled into our driveway with no kids in the car and no distractions when suddenly I was hit full blast with how it must feel to him when he came home to me. Well, I naturally slammed the lid on the nauseous revelation and continued to be the whiner. In those days, I had a doctorate degree in sniveling, whining, nagging and pouting. All these years later, I have compassion for that former self and realize what a waste of energy it was. It is so common to see that cycle of inebriated person and angry other. Which comes first?

In a recovery program we learn that the only person under our guidance is our self. It is amazing how much better we feel once we face our own flaws and refuse to be a part of that cycle of the decline. It feels so good to really have some power over something once we catch on that the only outcome we can impact is our own. Like Alka-Seltzer says: Oh what a relief it is!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Facts do not cease to exist just because they are ignored

Mental health is said to be a dedication to reality at all costs. Denial and delusion are really great defense tools to keep us out of pain. The problem is that we tend to stay in pain in order to avoid pain.

Truth hurts, but at least you can deal with it. Trying to not face reality is like punching away at a fog. There are so many times when one has only a random moment of perception. Here and then gone. We need to go from being ignorant of being ignorant to being aware of being aware.

So, what am I talking about? I am remembering how I thought my husband had sinus trouble because he was always sick (alcohol will do that.) I often called his work and made the excuses. I am remembering how I thought my son had a bad cold when his nose kept running (cocaine will do that.) I am remembering how I believed the mouth of addiction.

Denial can be wonderful as it offers a temporary soothing of the heart. It seems to me that there is the denial that follows knowing and the denial of truly not knowing. Both are only a detour from truth. It is also a fact that when you do not know you are hanging on to something, such as a delusion, it is awfully hard to let go.

I think that denial is the biggest issue for families. It is one of the biggest contributors to not being truly helpful to the addict. I want to say “wake up!” and try to see things as they really are and not as you would have them be.

A First Class Human Being has some regard for Human Frailty

This is often hard for a family member to swallow: There is nothing harder than living with an unrecovered family member.

Actually, in the perfect world, family members and friends would receive attention, help and education about addiction two years before the addict starts recovery. Two years is about the amount of time needed to deal with resentment, anger, blame, hurt and a myriad of losses. The timing is awful; an addict goes into treatment or recovery and others are expected to have nothing to resolve about what has been happening. Families are expected to be supportive and caring. Well—good luck!

I like the analogy of everyone having an open wound on their heart. It needs to heal and repair itself. It is best not to keep ripping off the scab, which is what happens when we keep bringing up the past as a weapon, when we keep reminding each other of all of the hurts and relationship failures, when we do not tend to our own recoveries. Often, the family member simply wants the addict to heal, but has no grasp on the fact that they themselves harbor so much unfinished business. What is common to hear is “Well, it was not my problem, it was theirs.” Yes, this is true. It is also true that you have been deeply wounded and are in need of some help to mend that heart.

The addict has to stay sober long enough to learn how to be sober. As hard as it may seem, the others in their life need to not pull the rug out with angry words. I did not say that you are not going to have anger. I also did not say that you are in any way responsible for someone’s relapse. I have often suggested that we all put a 6-inch piece of duct tape over our mouth for several months and only release it when we have kind and supportive words. Then, everyone goes to their meetings, remove the tape, open your ears and mouth and speak. Back to the car, tape in place again until the day comes when your heart truly feels loving and has a new perspective.

Friday, May 1, 2009


In the 12 Step Program, one of the healthy concepts often referred to is that we should never let yesterday use up too much of today. If you had a childhood imprinted by someone’s addiction, there is a great chance that it created some suffering for you of any or every kind. You may have been robbed of trust, respect, fun that was safe, connection and loving behaviors from a parent. Actually, even if the addict was your sibling, there was suffering for you in that home. So--you build defense systems and survival skills. One of these may have been the conclusion that it was not safe or wise to feel good, be happy or have fun. As a child, it makes sense to never expect these things would at least not lead to yet another disappointment. It is not uncommon for children of alcoholics to not trust feelings of well-being because the next parental drink or drug would plunge the household or picnic into another bad memory. Neither is it uncommon for these children, now grown and into their own lives, to recognize that they are uncomfortable with sanity, consistency, pleasure and to trust that it is OK to feel good. Actually, they can sabotage the good times from an unconscious need to return to what feels familiar. (Many relapses are thought to be based on this truth).

It is OK to be OK. It is OK to feel OK. Childhood conclusions can be reassessed in the light of today’s realities


With all due respect to what has been called the worst song ever written from 1975, I want to talk about these pesky little things that seem to pop up forever for family and friends of an active addict. It was once researched (do not ask me when or by whom) that if a person was using chemicals during an event, such as alcohol, that the passage of time will obliterate any feeling memory of that event. Not so for the drug free family member who will register the event in their brain with all of the myriad of feelings that came with the happening. The drug free brain will then hang on to the feeling memory until the end of time. So--what is the problem?? It is found in the recovery. The addict may remember, however vaguely, the things that occurred, but not the feelings that registered at the time. Remember, the addict is sedated, anesthetized and numbed. For the other person, however, the feelings will accompany the memory and reappear in full force--even years later. That is a major difference in the recovery tasks of both people. In Alanon, one learns to be on guard against the unguarded moments. You need these skills when, out of the blue, some old feeling grabs you and you are in a painful place again. It is not unusual for your phone to ring at 3 am and your heart races even though your addict has been in recovery for 8 years and is asleep next to you. It is not unusual for the sober addict to be detained on some errand, and you start to clock-watch with increasing old dreads. These old feelings are like flashbacks and have a powerful pull. In a recovery program, you learn to quickly recognize what is probably irrational and are able to calm yourself back to reality.

Nan Reynolds


There is such wisdom in the Serenity Prayer, which is recited at every 12 Step Meeting. GOD, GRANT ME THE SERENITY TO ACCEPT THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE, THE COURAGE TO CHANGE THE THINGS I CAN AND WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE." It is the final phrase that is the challenge. It is also said that God does not drive a parked car. We need to follow a dual path--knowing full well that we do not control the outcome of others, but also knowing that there are some more effective attitudes and behaviors and actions that we might try when attempting to encourage or motivate the active addict toward wanting help. It is imperative that we reach out to professionals, 12 Step literature, 12 Step family meetings, or the wealth of literature now available on the subject. We need to stop our reactions and start responding from a base of knowledge and facts. A common uninformed family behavior is to react over and over. Why do we keep on repeating actions that have never worked? As an Alanon member once said: The addict is on drugs and we need to be on Alanon.

Warm regards,
Nan Reynolds




How many hours and years family members mull over all of the reasons why they think that the addict they love is using alcohol and other drugs. We think of reason after excuse after explanation.

The fact is that chemical dependency is it's own entity. It has a life of it's own. There is an old saying that the man takes a drink, the drink takes the drink and then the drink takes the man. The first time the drug is used may well be just a social decision. It may be used in the hope that it will enhance an already fun time. The altered state of mind and feelings may also be sought as a solution to a problem. Then the solution eventually becomes another problem. The fact is that there are many people with mental illness or life pressure or moral weaknesses who do not alter their minds with alcohol or other drugs.
It is important that family members learn to understand that addiction clouds and confuses the picture. Like cream in coffee. For example, alcohol is a depressant. Many alcoholics are surprised to find that when they stop ingesting a depressant, they stop being depressed. The first thing that needs to stop is the chemical use. It is only then that a clear picture can emerge of other issues that need to be addressed, if any.

Warm regards,
Nan Regards

Thursday, April 30, 2009


It is important for those who care for an active addict to not take it personally when they are on the receiving end of a lie. We need to understand that as the disease progresses; there are several defense mechanisms that begin to be in play by the addict. Most of these are unconscious and common to addiction. It is the brain of the addict finding ways to protect itself from the reality of the shape it is in. If I can lie to myself about what is happening to me, I can surely lie to you. Once a person has lied, there is a loss of credibility. Much of the pain of the family is the loss of trust as a deceit is uncovered. Family and friends expend a great deal of energy now testing trust. It feels so unloving and unkind to admit that you no longer trust that person. We lie to ourselves about that, all of which drags us down the rabbit hole.

When recovery begins, the addict wants our trust and we lie again--saying that we do trust. We do not want to be emotionally honest for fear it will upset the recovering person.
Well--let me suggest a better way. It is OK to be honest and nicely tell the truth. "No- I do not trust yet. I trust you, but I do not trust addiction. Let us not talk about trust again for a year. Let us, instead, just focus on what we both need to do in our recovery. I want to trust you and I love you." It is important to think of recovery like a Podiatry program. We need to watch the feet and not the mouth. Are your feet and their feet where they need to be? Hint; at meetings and in healthy places.

Warm regards,
Nan Reynolds


A friend of mine once said, "Nothing seems to be getting better except me!"
And this is the wondrous feeling one can acquire if one chooses to do the hard work of turning lemons into lemonade. It is said that the only real disability in life is a bad attitude.

Loss and pain enter every life, eventually and in a myriad of forms. It is the choice of whether we want to have had a sad life, or a life with sadness in it. Maslow said, "Make growth choices, not fear choices". A question I ask myself is whether I would prefer to be better, or bitter. Pain is a great alarm clock. It can wake us up to the need to come to terms with whatever the pain is about. Alanon has always been a great help in this journey and helps one give perspective to life. We can stay attached to the pain, or let go and risk that we shall not perish. The pain in my life has always led me to a path that offers growth and a whole new “turn in the road.” Soldier on!


This little profound statement takes some explaining. It is often the feeling of loss and emptiness that family members have once the addict reaches treatment, begins to change and the people in the relationship start a needed new way of relating to each other. In the case of the family member being a spouse, it may have involved some heavy-duty care-taking and controlling of the addict and this role, no longer desired in recovery, sometimes leaves the spouse feeling unemployed or pink-slipped. The addict is struggling for self-reliance and confidence and the spouse needs to support them in no longer being the addicts answer to life. It can feel depressing and disorienting to the spouse who has wished for a partner, but now struggles with words and feelings on just how to not be the one with all the answers. In the case of parents and an adult child in recovery, the same feelings occur. Just how do you come to grips that your parenting days are over, even though you remain the parent? Just how do you now develop an adult-to-adult relationship with your child. Most mothers, especially, dislike this true statement: Mothers are not for leaning on, they are to make leaning unnecessary. Ouch! My response to this daily pondering is that we are not roles, but we are individuals. Roles change but relating as individuals is part of the richness of recovery for everyone.

Nan Reynolds

Thursday, January 22, 2009


"THE RELATIONSHIP REMAINS THE SAME BUT THE FELLOWSHP IS BROKEN." This is not as confusing as it seems if you understand that once a person becomes addicted, they are really just not available to you. And--this can mean any addiction of any type: To the computer, to sex, to shopping, to business and career, to eating, to working, to volunteerism, to any excessive preoccupation.
The relationships remain--as in parent to child, spouse to spouse, child to parent, friend to friend, sibling to sibling. However, the connections are broken. Many, if not all, of the "used to"s are evaporated. The addiction slowly eclipses the ways we connect to others. I remember missing my sons great sense of humor when he was preoccupied with his marijuana .
We have an initial vague sense of loss and cannot identify it. We make excuses. We try to make it OK and try to fix it, whatever "it" may be. We settle for reduced contact.Even if the addict is sitting next to you, their focus is elsewhere.You can tell. Their addiction becomes increasingly the only game in town and we do not have an invitation to the stadium.


This is a line from "THE YA YA SISTERHOOD". The oldest and responsible daughter of that Southern family with the charming and brutal alcoholic mother came to this realization after she returned home as an adult. She was attending a family reunion after many years away and she saw that not much had changed in the family dynamics. She had always tried to cheer up her father, stop her mother from drinking or being upset, rescue her siblings. It did not work. She had left home angry and bitter.
As she returned North to her adult life, the thought for today was also her thought on the road. It is a bittersweet reality. On one hand, it is grievous to know you really cannot change someone else and, on the other hand,it is a great relief.
So often, we use anger to separate us from what upsets us. How profound that she was able to see that she could still fully act loving with her family. She realized that allowing the soft feeling toward others does not mean you are going to jump into the ring with them. It is the great lesson of 12 step programs and they call it Loving Detachment. Detachment does not mean abandonment.


Limitations..We all have 'em. But what I want to talk about is a limitation that I have observed mostly in men. Actually, men are socialized to "fix" things. Do we not give little boys a tool belt as a gift? Did we not ask Dad to fix the bicycle? Or toaster? (And I know that many women, at this point, are feeling a protest coming on). However, we frequently look to a male to be a fixer. Thank heaven that so many of them are up to the task. BUT---it is a reality that you cannot fix an addict whether child or spouse or parent or sibling or friend. Here is where is gets rough for men--because they have often agreed with me that their failure to "fix" the most important people in their lives has led them straight to feelings of anger because it creates feelings of inadequacy in them and this anger is so detrimental to their health and relationships. It feels like a measure of their worth as a person.
The truth is that they need to know that it is not humanly possible to fix someone who does not wish it. It is a hard lesson in powerlessness and sadness. It is this sadness that they need to allow. It is hurtful, but far less damaging than anger. They then need to get support and education about addiction to discover what behaviors and actions just might have an effect on the addicts choices.


While facilitating a family and friends group at Brighton Hospital, there were several memorable moments. One of my favorite was a spouse group where 12 wives of 12patients (sounds like On My Way To St. Ives) were exploring the week's issues. The door opened and in flew a late arrival, exclaiming "I am so happy today. I think my life is crumbling into place". We all knew exactly what she meant.
Like a jumbled puzzle where none of the pieces make sense, when you finally get an education about addiction and truly understand that it has nothing to do with you and when you finally begin to emotionally extract yourself from the chaos, it does begin to clear the picture. It does feel like the implosion of all of your prior perspectives and conclusions and what rises from the dust is reality and a grip on yourself. All of which, ironically, is also the best thing ever to happen to the addict. The pieces begin to make sense.

We have been reactive and our way of thinking had become our way of being. Now, at last, there is the freedom of responding and only then do thinking and acting
become congruent. Whew!

Nan Reynolds



The Ad Council once ran this as an ad. It surely recognized that the responses we need to follow in relationship with an addict do seem, at times, cruel, unloving and harsh. It does indeed feel like a punishment or an angry decision. However, it is possible to say "No' lovingly.

Why is is that we feel we must be angry to say No? Lovingly----That is the ultimate destination for a family member, and this attitude is learned in attendance at 12 step family meetings available in 157 countries. It is important to match our attitude to the facts. The fact is that none of our home remedy efforts to help the addict are effective if they are efforts to fix yet another mess made by the addicts' use.
To refuse to be a part of the problem is, at first , very hard on the family or friend. We are delusional,however, if we feel that one more bail out of any kind is helpful. It is only a Band-aid on a gaping wound.
We will later explore the process of Interventions, which is highly effective. Even this great tool feels as if we are doing something TO the alcoholic or addict. That is, until everyone realizes that it is the most loving form of ToughLove. Tough on us and the addict.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008




There are so many dilemmas and questions and choices if you are in a relationship with someone who is addicted. There are not too many "rights" or "wrongs". The situations are all so different, even though they are so alike. It is like having a cat up a tree. We all know what that must be like, but there are different cats and different trees.

It occurred to me one day that I really was between two unpleasant choices for myself. If I said "YES" to the person, I would feel resentment. If I said "NO" to the person I would feel guilt. I used to even feel guilty about feeling guilty!.
Over the years and multiple opportunities to make such a decision, the choice of feeling guilt took priority over the choice of feeling resentment. The fact is that I got much better at shedding guilt rather rapidly and not so hot at letting go of resentments. So--No it was and Guilt it was. It felt like being kind to myself and, amazingly, the world still turns.




Years ago, the man in my life and I came home from the video store with two choices. I had picked Jungle Book and he chose a John Wayne movie. Once home, I was going on and on about how all adults need to see Jungle Book with all of its great life lessons. He listened patiently from the chair as he held his John W. video. After I had exhausted my list of arguments, he simply looked at me and uttered the pondering for today. Of course, we watched John Wayne.

This man was 30 years in the 12 step recovery program and had learned to keep it simple. And I have quoted his great line many times. It seems to make it all so clear.

Friday, October 31, 2008




It is so common to become eclipsed by someone else's problems, and as addiction begins to take the relationship hostage, one easily begins to put their energy into trying to "fix" that other person.

I remember a man who said he had purchased a boat for entertainment, but was afraid to take his wife out on the water for fear she might get drunk and fall overboard. When asked, he realized that he had not been on that boat for 6 years!

How common it is to postpone the dreams and plans in life waiting for the addict to stop using. Like, where did I go??

Ask yourself: What will I do if nothing ever changes?

The sad reality is that none of your sacrifices will change another person. Another example I have heard so many times is the wife quitting work because the addict complains that her being gone creates his need to drink. So--she then finds herself at home simply watching him drinking. Nothing changes, except her loss of a source of self esteem and security.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


There is a great difference between reacting and responding. Someone once said(not sure who) that maturity is marked by the lack of reactivity. It means that you have stopped allowing others to pull your strings. You actually put the old brain in gear and think awhile before you answer.
This is a valuable thing to master in life. And imperative if you are struggling with someone who uses chemicals(alcohol is a chemical) to excess.
It is well known in recovery circles that the addict will create an argument as a set-up to reach for the bottle. Creating distance is necessary for the addict, who prefers isolation and being in the company of other addicts. So--be careful that you do not take the bait. It will not stop the addict from leaving the house or the fellowship, but at least you feel better about yourself and retain personal power.
Many a spouse has been left behind, feeling that they said something wrong that set off the addict. Then, in their guilt, the whole system deepens as they try to make it all better by walking on eggshells. Please. You are not in a relationship any longer, but now in case management.
Please remember that these addict behaviors are common and as much a part of the disease as a cough is to a cold. The addicts brain is again trying to protect it from the reality of what a mess they are in. It is an unconscious defense mechanism.
One Alanon presenter once suggested that there are some neutral responses to a coming argument: OH---OOOOHHHHH---YES---NO--MAYBE---REALLY?---WOW!

Warm regards,
Nan Reynolds

Thursday, September 18, 2008


So--who knew?? Not many people have home or school preparation for how to live more effectively with an addict. It should be worth at least 100 credits. If you are the child of an alcoholic, you learned how to survive, but not necessarily how to cope. As an adult, we need coping skills.

People always advise that one should take care of themselves. Sounds good, but what does it mean? In my years as a therapist with the Brighton Hospital family program, there was a simple picture that people seemed to grasp. I drew a boxing ring and in it was a stick figure of the addict doing a wild dance with their addiction. Arms and legs are flailing about. The other stick figure in the ring was the family member standing next to the addict doing all the well-meaning behaviors. Helping, rescuing, lecturing, saving, protecting, etc. Actually, all the family member got for their effort were several bruises as the arms and legs of the addict continued to swing about. Also--the anger grew and grew.

I then moved the family stick figure and simply placed it just outside of one of the ropes of the ring. Protection. Not abandonment, but a safe place from which to observe the ongoing dance of the addict. The rope symbolized all of the ways of taking care of yourself. They included educating yourself about addiction, attending your own support group(Alanon or Naranon),no longer taking it all personally, setting boundaries for yourself, returning to your own authentic life and the things that you have postponed doing, learning to be responsive and not reactive, tending to healthier living.

You would be amazed what changing your perspective can lead to. And, as a bonus, when you finally see that the addict continues the wild dance you can to really see how it is not about you.

Warm regards,
Nan Reynolds

Tuesday, September 2, 2008



I am not sure just why we react so personally to this disease of addiction. I can think of no other situation where family memeber and friends become so eclipsed by the misfortune of others. No doubt, part of the explanation lies in the fact that we do not see the problem. We also become eclipsed and slowly increase our caretaking and rescuing and efforts to control. Then, as nothing is successful, our walls or resentment build. The main question we mull over is: Why is she/he doing this to me?
Actually, the addict is NOT doing anything TO you--they are simply in a relationship with the chemical and it is the only dance partner on their card. The addict may look like and smell like and dress like the person you know, but they have been beamed up and are no longer fully available for your old relationship. They have a new love. It is helpful for us to also realize that they do not realize this--their toxic brain keeps them from seeing reality.

Monday, August 4, 2008


I suggest that everyone who loves an addict start carrying around a Q-tip in purse or pocket. This is to remind you that you need to "Quit Taking It Personally".
Of course, it feels very personal. The truth, however, is that none of the behaviors or actions or words or disappointments or unloving moments in the relationship with the addict are a reflection of you or your worth as a person. Addiction of someone else is not about you. It never has been, is not, and never will be. This is true regardless of the nature of the relationship. You are off the hook!
Whether you are a child, a spouse, a sibling, a friend or a parent, you need to be clear in the knowledge that you are not the problem and did not cause the problem. It is only when we think that we are and then we try to help that we run the risk of then becoming a part of the problem. Later on that became called enabling.
Surely, when we annoy others and hurt them and fail them we are are less than perfect in our humanness. This is still not the reason that addiction develops. The addict sees chemicals as a solution and has little thought or knowledge that their solution shall become a problem. Addiction has a life of its own.
I guess this is the good/bad news for families and friends. Because if it has nothing to do with us, then we also face the reality that there is nothing we can change that will fix the addict. We then face our feelings of powerlessness.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


A middle-aged Brighton Hospital patient describes her alcohol addiction problems and her path to recovery with the help of the drug treatment program's counselors and staff. Brighton Hospital is the second-oldest alcohol and chemical dependency treatment provider in the country and the first to be licensed in Michigan. A national leader in addiction treatment that began in the early 1950s.


A middle-aged Brighton Hospital patient describes her alcohol addiction problems and her path to recovery with the help of the drug treatment program's counselors and staff. Brighton Hospital is the second-oldest alcohol and chemical dependency treatment provider in the country and the first to be licensed in Michigan. A national leader in addiction treatment that began in the early 1950s.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Welcome to the Brighton Hospital Blog....Please continue to visit as I post new blogs & please respond with your comments and questions so I can speak to your issues.

Thank you,
Nan Reynolds