A look at relationships, personal growth, & living/working in the 21st century.

Posts tagged ‘substance abuse’

Was my Grandfather an Alcoholic?

I never even considered the possibility that my grandfather had a problem with alcohol.  At least, not until he told me his doctor said he had done so much damage to his liver he couldn’t even drink diet pop.  I was shocked at this revelation.  He had never said anything before to me to suggest that he had done anything in the least bit self-destructive.  As he told me this during a brief conversation, he never used the word ‘alcoholic’ or ‘alcoholism.’  He just said that he couldn’t drink pop or anything stronger.  I thought about this conversation for a long time and I had a hard time making sense of it, given my experiences with my grandfather.  I had never seen him drunk or in any apparent way impaired by alcohol.  The more I thought about it though, when I visited him at home, he always had a certain 12oz. glass within reach, and I knew it held rum and coke.  He had a bar set up in the corner of the dining room.  It was liquor bottles and pop bottles on top of an attractive wood piece of furniture.  I always thought of it as a classy, antique or some sort, with its purpose unknown to me.  To me it signified his leisure time and one of his famous collected items, as he was a collector. 

It was at some point late in grammar school that it really began to sink in that he had had another life before he was my grandfather, and my grandmother’s husband (common-law).  Now, looking back, I see he was an alcoholic and he apparently soothed his unresolved pain with alcohol, I guess.  At his funeral I read a poem chosen by my grandmother, his wife, who adored him.  My grandfather adored her too, and I never heard him say anything bad or even passive-aggressive about her.  The way they loved and accepted each other is an example I’m glad I witnessed, as they taught me about loving and respecting others.  Anyway, at my grandfather’s funeral, his daughter and her sons were there.  As was his sister and her husband.  His daughter, who we have always had sporadic contact with, told us that her mother kept she and her brother away from their father (my grandfather).  She said that her mother told them that their father wanted nothing to do with them.  His daughter told me one way she later found out this was not true was when she saw that my grandfather faithfully paid child support until she and her brother were adults, while their mother was at the same time saying he had abandoned them. 

Long story short, anyway, yes, my grandfather was an alcoholic.  I guess you could say a functional alcholic.  I say that because he always paid his bills, kept his long-term job, took care of elder family members, and treated my grandmother and everyone in our family with love and kindness.  I’m in no position to judge anyone, and I don’t write this to in any way judge him.  I write this to let others know that people can be alcoholics, addicts, whatever and still love those they care about.  Being the ‘adult grandchild of an alcoholic’ does not mean anything to me other than to sound kind of silly.  Alcoholics, like anyone else, are all different, and trying to group them with labels is generally not helpful or fair.  As a counselor/licensed therapist I see the value in those terms (i.e., alcoholic, addict, etc.).  But I also know it’s best to keep those terms in the proper perspective, because they refer to people, not things to be described simply with a trite label. 

My grandfather was a loving person, an imperfect person, but a person who cared about others and wanted to treat them with kindness.  He may not have been my ‘biological’ grandfather, but he was all I would have ever wanted him to be.  I was a very young child when he entered my life, and, until he died of prostate cancer, I could not think of a time in my life when he wasn’t there for me.   He’s been gone a year now, and I often think of him.  I miss him and may he rest peacefully. 

Peace to you all, and be kind to yourself and others.  I’m trying to be better at doing that myself – like my grandfather.


Addiction – Not Only a Disease but also a Symptom?

Seek peace from within...it's worth the effort

Addictive behavior, or excessive/compulsive behavior of any kind, can be viewed as a symptom of an underlying, distressing psychological issue.  For example, someone struggling with loneliness, depression, or low self-esteem may turn to the mood-altering effects of alcohol/drugs or excessive/compulsive behaviors (gambling, sex, food, spending, etc.) to try to escape their emotions.  The alcohol/drug or the distracting/compulsive behavior (gambling, sex) is utilized to help avoid facing one’s own psychological distress.  Thus, people are soon addicted to the physical effects of the mood-altering substance (alcohol/drugs, cigarettes, food, etc.) and/or the psychological effects of the excessive/compulsive behavior (spending, gambling, sex, etc.).  We are vulnerable to what relieves pain because, as human beings, we do not like pain – emotional or physical.

In my attempts to counsel others, I take the approach that it can help to view an addiction as a problematic behavior, with a deeper, pain-relieving purpose.  Much of my focus during individual and group counseling sessions involves finding ways to tolerate seemingly intolerable pain and discomfort.  Thus, I encourage others to try to take responsibility for coping with their pain in an effective, adaptive way.  I suggest this outlook, in contrast to a disease model of addiction, to help others gain a realistic amount of control over how they cope with their lives.  We never truly have complete control over our lives, but we can realistically seek to control the ways we cope with life.

Letting go of a very traditional and longstanding disease model of addiction, at least to some extent, can seem threatening.  The disease model offers protection and comfort by taking blame off the person for their self-defeating/destructive behavior. And who among us really wants to try to take responsibility for something which seems wholly outside our control.  Abandoning an emphasis on the disease model, and accepting that addiction also has components related to the addicted person’s moment-to-moment choices, puts blame and responsibility back on the individual.  It can take great effort to achieve readiness for this level of responsibility.  At the same time, achieving insight into one’s actions is also quite empowering and uplifting.  Such empowerment and insight, I believe, can lead to a true, lasting recovery from emotional pain and related self-destructive behaviors.

I welcome and appreciate your feedback on this strategy to wellness, as opposed to what I see as the somewhat narrow, traditional, disease-model focus on AA/NA, etc. as being the only necessary component of addiction treatment.  I support the idea that the disease model, like the biopsychosocial model of addiction, is a valuable tool which is necessary, but not sufficient to effectively treat an addiction.

Let me know what you think.  Peace to you.