SPECIAL REPORT: Support for families and friends of people affected by drink
“If you ask 20 people how they would define an alcoholic, you would get 20 different answers,” says Amy *.
She is a member of a group in Spalding that supports the families and friends of those with alcohol problems.
Her husband was an alcoholic and the Al-Anon Family Group, which meets every Monday evening at the Ivo Day Centre, has been a huge help.
It will also meet on Christmas Day.
We have not used Amy’s real name as a tradition within the group is to keep people’s anonymity.
Amy said: “The group is for anyone who feels they are either struggling to cope or have been affected by somebody else’s drinking.
Christmas can be a very difficult time. We often get people coming along for the first time to the group just after Christmas or after New Year.
“It is irrelevant their opinion on whether the person is or is not an alcoholic. It does not matter.
“People get bogged down by the definition. They might think, ‘he or she does drink but I do not think they are an alcoholic’. So the group is open to everyone.
“It could be your mum, dad, brother, sister, or grandchild; it could be your work colleague.
“We support each other and everyone, whether they know someone who is still drinking or has in the past.
“We talk about how we cope but we never give advice on what to do.
“We would never say ‘you should leave’, because that is a very individual thing.
“There are coping skills and sometimes it is about focussing on ourselves and taking the focus off the drinker.
“You put all the focus on the person drinking, trying to get them to stop, that you lose yourself.
“Seeing what you can do for yourself for the better, sometimes that has a knock on effect.
“In the past, there has been lots of support for the drinkers but little for the families and friends.
“Families who are affected by someone who is drinking may try to hide from the outside world. You can become quite isolated by not talking to friends or neighbours. It can isolate you from society.
“People may also try to hide it from the individual’s other family members.
“The group is there whether the person is still drinking or has stopped, or even if they have lost someone who was an alcoholic.”
“Christmas can be a very difficult time. We often get people coming along for the first time to the group just after Christmas or after New Year.
“It is very hard to see someone you love destroying their lives and their health. You cannot simply make them stop. I have heard all the stories from people who have tried.
“The alcoholic in my life was my husband. He is sober today with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“But for me, the biggest problem was the secrecy and the lies.
“He tried to control his drinking but he couldn’t. He was often starting and stopping.
“He tried just drinking at weekends or drinking a particular type of drink but it escalated.
“I had to find out what he had been drinking as he hid it from me.
“I became obsessed. The focus of my day was finding out if he had been drinking. What would happen then is I would find the evidence or a receipt, an empty can or bottle.
“I would say to him ‘I know you have been drinking’ and then we would have a big, big argument and later make up again.
“You get really angry with yourself for not believing him. I became very isolated.
“I did not have friends or a social life as I wanted people to think we had the perfect life and everything was normal.
“It was all about what my family thought and I thought I could hide it from my family.
“I am lucky he was never violent towards me and underneath the drinking he is a lovely, gorgeous person - very caring and actually very honest.
“But he could not stop his addiction to alcohol and so he just lied and it became very underhand.
“When I came to Al-Anon I started to put the focus on me and to look at myself for the first time.
“I started to look at how my behaviour had been. I had spoken unkindly to my children because I was so annoyed with him.
“I was so wound up - like a coiled up spring.
“In the end I had to allow him to make his own mistakes and to take responsibilty for his actions.
“He just reached rock bottom, mentally, spiritually and physically and that’s when he knew he needed help.”
Anybody can go along to the support group in Spalding and people do not need to book.
For more information on Al-Anon, which has more than 780 support groups in the UK and Eire, go to: www.al-anonuk.org.uk
* Name changed to protect identity.
○ The Al-Anon Family Group meets every Monday at 7.45pm at the Ivo Day Centre, Albion Street, for an hour and a half.
“Everything that is said in the group is strictly confidential and people do not have to say anything if they do not want to,” Amy said.
“They can just come to listen.
“We have a cup of tea or coffee and it is a really friendly group.”
People of any age are welcome but must be accompanied by an adult if under the age of 12.
You can call the Al-Anon Helpline on 020 7403 0888.