Almost every week, a woman who loves a good person suffering from the disease of addiction asks me if they should tell their family how out of control things have become.
Have you ever wondered if you should tell your family about their latest binge? Or about the time they never came home? Or what’s really going on with your marriage?
Your loved one might seem put together on the outside. Most men and women who drink too much or suffer from substance abuse hold down good jobs and earn a good living. Most of the time, they can help take care of the kids and household duties.
And because they are so high-functioning, it can leave you feeling nervous about sharing with family just how bad things have become. Will they believe you? Will they blame you? What if they are in denial and passively listen to you, but don’t really hear you?
How do you handle immediate family if they deny, enable, or blame you?
Well, before I get to the answer, I think it’s really important that we discuss why we cover up this disease for the ones we love and what makes us too afraid to tell others.
Telling my parents that the man I loved had a drinking problem was a huge deal for me. For years, I kept his issues a secret. Sure, they could tell he would have a few too many drinks on Christmas or birthdays. But they really had no idea how much and how often he was drinking or using.
Here are the top 3 reasons we cover up this disease for the ones we love:
Guilt. We feel guilty for betraying them. We feel like this is their secret to tell. But what have we all been taught about keeping secrets? Secrets keep us alone, ashamed, and stuck. Keeping their disease a secret is letting the addiction win. You have every right to share with loved ones what they’re struggling with because you’re struggling with this too. That’s why they call it a family disease.
For years I worried, “What if he found out that I told his parents he spends several nights a week drinking too much? Or that his drinking has turned into smoking pot and then doing cocaine?” The funny, charming man they call their son was blowing through our life savings at the local liquor store.
If they confronted him – he would be so angry at me. And they did confront him and he was angry at me. But the more I spoke about it, the more educated we all became. The more he was called out on the carpet, the more this disease began to lose control.
Protection. You love them and you want everyone else to love them too. You want everyone to see the real person you fell in love with and all their potential. You’re their biggest fan. And when they are sober, they can be the most loving and wonderful person on earth.
I wanted my parents to be my husband’s biggest fans. And the truth is that I thought that if he felt loved and accepted, it might help him get sober. So I made it my job to let my parents know just how wonderful he was. I would laugh a little harder at his jokes when they were around, I would mention how he loves to detail the cars and takes such great care of our vehicles.
But there was also a part of me that wanted to protect his reputation because I didn’t want to be embarrassed. I had always felt like the black sheep of the family and if they saw that I had made a mess of my marriage, it would just validate the fact that I would never be as good as my brother.
Looking back now, I can see that I was just owning his addiction. The truth is, I could have had a body like Barbie, a mind like Elizabeth Thatcher, and a heart like Mother Theresa, and he still would have had an issue with drugs and alcohol. His addiction and all the dysfunction that came with that had nothing to do with me.
Endings. And lastly, I didn’t tell my immediate family that the one I loved was struggling so badly with drugs and alcohol because I was afraid they would tell me I needed to leave.
I loved him. We had three babies together. I loved my home and the idea of leaving just seemed impossible. How could I give up and walk away? Where would I live? What would people think? What would God think? The questions were too overwhelming. The more I tried to answer those questions, the more afraid I became of being alone.
In the end, I did tell his family and my family many, many times about his addiction. And here’s the truth: their reactions are not my concern. If they want to live in denial and try to blame me or justify his poor choices, fine. I know the truth. I don’t need them to back me up.
Tell family members, but lower your expectations and stop waiting for them to justify your feelings. You know what’s going on. You’re a grown woman who is responsible and loving. You don’t need their approval. You don’t need their validation. Keep your sharing to just the facts. If they don’t cherish your feelings – don’t trust them with your feelings. Just keep it strictly to the facts. Think of yourself as a reporter.
I hope you found this helpful. It’s hard for people to understand what you’re going through. And if you’re looking for a community of women or a program that was created just for you that will teach you exactly what to do – then it’s time you joined one of our do-at-your-own-pace, online programs. There are no meetings to attend and you can learn from the privacy of your own home.