Heart to Heart is a column for individuals and families struggling with addictions. It appears on the last Tuesday of each month.
Dear Heart: I know you will think this is a stupid question, but I need to ask someone who can't laugh out loud in my face. How much drinking should I tolerate from my son who is in the 10th grade? He is a good boy and I've never seen him drunk. He says all his friends have a few beers at their parties.
Dear Wondering: Your fear of being laughed at for asking such a foolish question indicates that you already know the answer. In case you don't know the answer, I'm not going to risk the consequences of assuming you do. The answer is "none." It is usually the greater fear of the parent to give this answer to their child. It will not be accepted without rebellion.
It may be true that most of the kids your son hangs out with drink, but it is not the basis for allowing him to join in. How much pot smoking will you tolerate? How much cocaine use will you tolerate? How much inaccurate manipulative nonsense will you tolerate before you do what your parental instincts tell you is right?
Stop wondering and start parenting your 10th grader as an adolescent who needs a firm hand to guide him away from the unnecessary risks that are tempting him. Write back if you need more help taking the next step. I really do want to support you in your time of need -- and I will. Meanwhile, read on:
Dear Heart: My husband and my son fight all the time. It's gone too far. They are hurting each other physically. My son is a senior in high school. His father refuses him his college funds because he drinks too much. That's true, he does get drunk on the weekends. Most of his friends do. However, he needs an education.
My husband says he can either go to a rehab or abstain from all use of booze. I don't think he will do that. I don't think my son needs to go for alcoholic rehabilitation. He's a normal kid. What do you think?
-- Mrs. K
Dear Mrs. K: I agree your son needs an education. I think your entire family needs an education. An education about the use and abuse of alcohol combined with a course on the disease alcoholism. I'm not saying your son is an alcoholic. That needs to be left up to a trained healthcare professional. Treatment centers provide accurate evaluations for families who have problems that appear to stem from alcohol.
Your family and child are anything but normal. Violence is not normal. Getting drunk is not normal. They might be common and familiar to you, but neither are acceptable components of a normal life.
You have some serious problems. Stop trying to hope this will just go away. It won't. Get some serious and professional help and do it quickly! My answer is brief and extremely direct because I want you to act now.
Who's sorry now?
Dear Heart: I've spent six years of my life and every dime I had taking care of a lousy drunken boyfriend. His third DWI forced him into a recovery program. He is happy and hasn't had a drink in a couple of months. Now, the rotten guy is dumping me.
What's with you alcoholics? Don't you know a good thing when you have one? Are alcoholics only capable of using us to help them get their booze? Is there anything I can do to get this man to see that he's making a huge mistake? I'm not even sure he's worth it. I must be crazy to ask but I'm asking anyway.
Dear Sarah: Did you hear about the woman who supported her husband while he went to law school and then left her shortly after he graduated? Did you hear about the guy who worked two jobs while his wife attended medical school only to divorce him and take the house and two kids after she became a successful doctor?
Male alcoholics don't have a corner on the market on using people. Sick people do sick things. Human beings are capable of making huge mistakes. I am willing to admit that I would have, and did, use anyone available to help me support my alcohol and other drug habits. I did not hurt people intentionally. Most of the time I wasn't even aware of the fact I was doing it.
The addiction leaves you no choice but to use or to recover. Recovery was not a clear and obvious option 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Most of the time it didn't even seem possible. Many care-takers get caught up in my disease. That's why they call alcoholism a family disease. I'm sorry to hear you are hurting. However, I would strongly advise you to pay attention to yourself.
I believe these are the important questions that you need to answer for yourself. How am I going to prevent this from happening again? Why was I attracted to a sick man to begin with? What new skills have I learned so that I will recognize this if it starts to happen again? What makes me think I'm helping someone when I'm actually enabling them to be self-destructive? Was I ever happy with this man? Am I happy with myself? This could be the biggest opportunity of your life. Don't let it pass you by.
Write to Mike Ristau, c/o Toler Media Services, P.O. Box 168, Fort Edward, N.Y. 12828, or e-mail email@example.com
For locations of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Erie County, call 853-0388; in Niagara County call 285-5319. For information about Al-Anon Family Groups, call 856-2520. Narcotics Anonymous has support groups and a 24-hour helpline, 878-2316.