Perspective: Spiraling up

by Joanne S.

Alcoholism does demand full participation from the family and the most insidious part of it is that you don’t recall signing up. You’re enlisted without your consent. The disease demands it so it can thrive.

You adjust incrementally and small changes add up. Over time, your behaviour transmutes to cope with an ever increasingly more difficult and painful situation. You think it won’t get worse but unchecked, it always does.

It wasn’t easy watching someone I love commit suicide in my own home. I thought I could control the pain by fighting it. That didn’t work. However, by accepting its existence, I could transcend it. And so began the process of sorting out what I could change and what I couldn’t.

Through friendships with recovering alcoholics and addicts, I learned to make the distinction between the disease and the person. I had never known their befores, only their afters. Good people do bad things when they’re addicted.

My anger diffused as I began to identify addiction as the supreme highjacker – a particularly clever parasite that uses every trick to ensure its host doesn’t initiate divorce. It was easier to detach from my father’s destructive behaviour when I understood the motivation behind it. His actions and words became less personal and powerful as I began to see them as simple mechanisms by which addiction protected its domain. An explanation certainly helped but setting limits ensured that I didn’t excuse unacceptable behaviour.

Even though my father resisted recovery, I was at peace with the fact that I had done all that I could to help him. But still something kept drawing me back into the mess. I had stopped chasing after my dad, but my mom was another issue. I still gave her the power to displace me from my life and my priorities as she laboured under the weight of a partner who, over the years, lost his job, driver’s license, mobility, health and periodically his mind.

I held her up and she held him up. I pulled back. She pulled back. He finally began to take responsibility for his own welfare. But he ran out of time. A body weary of years of punishment finally gave out on October 12, 2004.

My life is more simple and satisfying as principles for living well continue to click. Someone once showed me a simple image of a spiral that helped clarify how and when a family member should help an addict.

Spiralling downwards: don’t touch (except, of course, for confronting your loved one with the problem and a solution). Spiralling up: give your full support. This image has helped both me and my mom as we deal with another close family member struggling with alcoholism. We simply ask ourselves, “Is he spiralling up?”, before we invest our time and energy. But regardless, our love for him is constant either way.

Thank you, Renascent, for helping me get to this place.

About the Authors

Renascent Alumni
Members of Renascent's alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email