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The Six Cs of Recovery

Originally published on on November 27, 2015

Dear Abby's response to a loved one who just ended a relationship with an alcoholic:

"Alcoholics are like everybody else: sometimes amazing, loving, smart, charming, funny and compelling. Unfortunately, the fallout from addiction can be tremendous for loved ones. It is a depleting, depressing, and lonely life to be with someone long-term who engages in such dangerous behavior."

In 2013 the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported that 16.6 million adults age 18 and older had an Alcohol Use Disorder. Many more millions of family and friends share their pain. James Graham writes that there are two great human resources on alcoholism: recovery alcoholics who have front-line experience and combat veterans who have been exposed to the active drinking of a loved one for long periods of time. I am a combat veteran whose husband lost his battle with alcoholism.

On Christmas Day, 1996, my husband, Terry, committed suicide. He was only forty-seven years old. Although he admitted he was an alcoholic, he hated the label with its image of street drunks clutching pints of rotgut liquor beside dumpsters in dark alleys. My husband was more than a lush, a drunk, a barfly. He was a gifted lawyer, a loving son, proud step-dad, loyal friend, supportive husband, and rabid Dallas Cowboy fan who eventually succumbed to this cunning disease. Terry was never mean, nasty, or violent. When drunk, he simply wasn't there. Immobile, like a corpse. Once I asked, "Why do you drink when it causes such heartache?" "Oblivion," he responded. "I like the oblivion."

Terry inhabited a parallel universe: his hidden self and his public self. Like light which consists of wave and particle, my husband was both things at once--a baffling paradox. Shortly after he died, I composed a poem to "my husband of a thousand joys and sorrows." For every sad episode associated with alcohol, there was an equally joyful time when Terry was sober. We careened between the highs and lows of the roller coaster ride of our marriage. Looking back, I recognize my part in this risky journey. I thrived on the melodrama. That's likely why I didn't embrace my own recovery.

Years passed. Terry progressed from the middle to the late stage of the disease. At one point, he attended a residential treatment program. At a weekend event for family and friends I was introduced to the twelve-step philosophy. It make sense but I didn't follow through. I was too arrogant, willful, and stubborn. I believed that I could fix my husband. Shortly after treatment, he relapsed. For the remaining years until his death we resumed our life of managing the disease.

Jump shift to several years later when I discovered that my adult son was abusing drugs. Once again I climbed on the roller coaster and redoubled my efforts to fix my son. I wasn't about to lose him, too. Nothing worked, but that didn't stop me. Finally, after several tsunamis, I was depleted, depressed and drowning in fear and hopelessness. A friend invited me to a twelve-step meeting where I discovered I wasn't alone. My situation wasn't unique. In fact, my challenges were the same as everyone else. We were all combat veterans struggling with the disease. How do we give up control? To keep our spoon in our own bowls? To walk on our side of the street? To learn how to live a healthy and happy life? To recover from our loved one's destructive behavior?

Early on, I was introduced to the three Cs about addiction. I didn't cause it. I can't cure it. I can't control it. Over the years, these Cs have become my "go to" mantra whenever I relapse into old behaviors.

Subsequently, I've added three more Cs: courage, compassion and community. Recently I attended a workshop where the leader asked, "What is the strength you already possess which you can draw upon to create the life you want for yourself?" I jumped up and replied, "courage." It takes courage to walk into a twelve-step meeting for the first time. I recall my apprehension, self-consciousness, and tears at my initial meeting. (Thankfully everyone was welcoming.) It takes courage to seek a sponsor. (What if she says, "no"?) It takes courage to embark on step four. (Make a searching and fearless moral inventory.) Facing my character defects and working to overcome them has been a monumental task. With the help of the program, I've been able to develop compassion for myself and my loved one. I work hard to not beat myself up for the many mistakes I made trying to "fix" my husband and son. One wise member often says, "When you know better, you do better."

I could not have come far in my recovery without the love and support of the twelve-step fellowship, a community in which we help one another heal our bruises and release our burdens. We reach out to celebrate our triumphs, admit our failures, express our sorrows, overcome our fears, and share our gratitude. One member often says, "All you have to do is to be willing." Willing to show up and contribute, willing to listen and learn, and willing to laugh and cry. We counteract the fallout from a loved one's addiction by sharing our experience, strength and hope. We embrace the Cs, slogans, steps and traditions. We seek serenity and rejoice in the gift of recovery.

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