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How to Help a Sibling with Alcoholism

When I Was Struggling to Get Sober, This is How My Sister Showed Her Unwavering Love


It seems like sobriety is everywhere — but never easy to come by. As I learned the hard way, sobriety is preceded by years of physical and emotional pain, and many, many failed attempts at actually staying sober. Detoxes, rehabs, remorse, regret, shame, and guilt all pave the road to sobriety. Family members, parents, children, siblings, and lovers suffered years of heartbreak at the alcoholic's hands, at my hands, all while wondering, "When will enough be enough?"

I tried sobriety many times. I suffered through withdrawals at home and in detox units. I dried out. I went to out-patient programs and in-patient rehabs. I'd stop drinking for a few weeks; a month here and there. I swore I wouldn't drink again. "I am done this time," I told everyone. I meant it. But I drank again. And again. And again. I hurt everyone who loved me. I lied. I disappointed. I was unreliable, unemployable, and un-loveable — or so I thought.

But through it all, there was one person who always said the right things to me. She's the most sober and emotionally healthy person you'll ever meet, but I swear it was as if she knew my every fear, emotion, and thought. She understood me; she understood the disease of alcoholism. She didn't judge my soul based on my alcoholic actions. She saw the good in me through all the bad I showed to the world. Over and over and over again she spoke these words to me: "I don't blame you for you drinking. You have this disease that causes you to want to drink all the time and stopping is nearly impossible for you. I don't blame you and I don't envy you. I wouldn't want to be in your shoes. If you want to keep drinking, I still love you. You can just say to me, 'I want to keep drinking' and that is okay."

For so long, I did want to keep drinking. I said I wanted to stop because I knew that was what everyone wanted to hear. I knew that a good mom, a good daughter, and a good person would want to stop drinking. I wanted to stop hurting people, but for so long I did not want to stop drinking. I loved loved every minute of it. This is the insanity of the disease. Despite the many negative consequences, I still only wanted alcohol.

But when my sister spoke these words to me, I felt a little less crazy and a little less worthless. She got it. I could just be me and still be unconditionally loved. For a minute, the blame of this disease was taken off of me. I didn't feel like a terrible person. I didn't feel unlovable or worthless.

I continued to try sobriety. I simply couldn't bear the path of destruction I was leaving in every direction. But I wanted to stop just as much as I wanted to keep drinking, and failed attempt after failed attempt left me feeling defeated. I wanted to give up and resign myself to life of chronic alcoholism because I grew so sick of failure. But again, there was my sister, with more great words of encouragement: "I commend you for continuing to try. You don't give up and I bet one day your kids will look up to you and be proud of you because you didn't ever stop trying."

Again, in my darkest hours, she lifted me up. She saw the light when all anyone else saw was darkness. She knew the words I needed to hear to just keep going, to keep trying, to not give up this fight for sobriety. My sister saw me as a person suffering, not a lowly drunk. She saw me as a mom fighting, not as an absent mother. She saw me as a sick person, not a bad person. She saw me as her little sister, who she would love through just about anything.

The impact of her words came long after the day she delivered them. I recently celebrated five years sober and her words stay in the forefront of my mind to this day to remind me that I am worthy of unconditional love, sobriety, and happiness. I wish I could find the perfect words to thank my sister, but they just don't exist. I can, however, strive to be more like her: To seek the good in the bad, the lightness in the dark, and to love with a heart that is forgiving, compassionate, and empathetic.

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