“All I have to do is keep my hands off and turn my heart on” –…In All Our Affairs
Detachment is the ability to let go while living with or loving an alcoholic (or in any other destructive or codependent relationship).
In the lovely booklet Detachment: The Art of Letting Go While Living with an Alcoholic, Evelyn Leite says, “Before you begin to list real solutions to the problems of living in an alcoholic family, you need to understand that nothing you can do is by itself going to stop the drinking.”
That’s pretty basic and crucial stuff to understand. Also not easy. Simple things in Al-Anon, or in codependency and abusive relationships for that matter, never are. It takes a while to let these things sink in. I know when I first started attending Al-Anon, it took me forever even to start to read the Big Book, How Al-Anon Works for Families & Friends of Alcoholics. It was easier for me to take in and understand the shorter bursts of Courage to Change, One Day At A Time in Al-Anon, or Hope for Today.
But that was enough. That, listening to the people at the other tables, and sharing my own story, got me through.
Detachment, however, at least physical detachment, wasn’t that difficult for me. One of my biggest survival strategies growing up was isolation, and I can still get into it if I’m not uber-vigilant today. It’s easy for me to walk out of a room, away from a situation that is too difficult for me, all in the guise of wanting a smoke, or checking my email, whatever.
Detachment, emotionally, has been trickier. Doing it with love I might classify as an Olympian event. 😉 I read in meditation book (can’t remember which one just now) that an Al-Anon-er thought she’d conquered detachment when she’d learned to leave her drunk spouse on the floor as he fell out of bed and step over him to get into bed herself. LOL I can laugh, see, because that sounds so much like me.
Later, as she grew in Al-Anon, she decided that detachment in love meant she still didn’t need to rescue him from the floor when he fell out of bed, but she could cover him with a blanket before she stepped over him.
When my nephew passed out in my house that day and could not be moved for the life of me (trust me, I tried), and I later shared about it at table of women at Al-Anon, I was surprised at the number of people who came up to me afterwards and said they would have “kicked the bum out” or “made him sleep on the porch.”
I understand people care about me and those are mostly knee-jerk responses, but to me that’s not even close to detachment with love. When he woke up – or came to – the next day on the couch, he felt terrible and to my knowledge has not had a drink since.
It’s possible to love the person and not like what they do. I know for a fact that not everyone likes what I do, but I sure hope they still love me. I make as many mistakes as the next person, probably more. That’s detaching emotionally, to be able to take a step back and say, “Without the alcohol (insert whatever behavior you need to here), this person is the one I’ve always loved.”