"Being able to attend a group for family members is a wonderful opportunity" (November 2017)

There are at least 6 million people in the UK, 10% of the population, whose lives are very badly affected by someone else’s drinking.

These are the partners, children, parents, siblings and close friends of the estimated 1.5 million practising alcoholics in the UK.  They often become damaged as they try to cope with their situation.

Most treatment centres involve the client’s family to some degree, to help with the client’s therapeutic process and often to confront any denial the client may be holding onto, to communicate face to face some of the consequences of their behaviour.

We too use this process at Mount Carmel where it is helpful.  But we are unusual as a treatment centre in that we also offer direct help to the families and significant others themselves, without the client being present, through our Family Groups.  We are also unusual in that this help is given completely free of charge to any eligible family member or significant other.

Family members need to recover, just as the alcoholic does

Our Deputy Manager Anne Clenshaw, who leads the Family Groups programme, explained: “We invite partners and adult children of our clients to join our Family Groups to help them to cope with the impact the client’s drinking has had on them.  The purpose is not to try to give the client an easier time when they return home.  It is to enable the family member to better cope with, and to gain some detachment from, the inevitable problems that come from living with an alcoholic, both a drinking alcoholic and one in the early stages of their recovery.  The family member needs to recover, just as the alcoholic does.

“People need a safe space to talk, in confidence and honestly, with help and support, and we find providing that for the family members works well for them.  There is a self-help fellowship throughout the UK and other countries called Al-Anon Family Groups, that addresses exactly these issues, groups meeting weekly just like AA.  We use the principles of Al-Anon in our groups, because they work for Al-Anon, and they work for us too.  We see the progress people make.

“One of our members gave the following feedback from their experience:”

What Mount Carmel’s family group has given me.

Being able to attend a group for family members whose loved ones are in addiction is such a wonderful opportunity that I believe all family members should take it up.

Our loved ones have finally accessed treatment and are learning ways to cope with feelings and what life throws at them. The family members do not necessarily understand the complex ways addiction takes hold of a person. 

Family members need to make their own recovery along with the addict for relationships to repair. The family group goes into depth about alcohol/substance misuse and the affects it has on a person. When our loved ones are receiving treatment (as naive family members) we think our problems are solved now. In reality, it is just the beginning of another route along our journey. This can become an even more stressful time, because we have lost the control we thought we had over them and have to rely on the loved one telling us what is happening as we cannot see for ourselves. We have to learn to trust them again. This is not an easy task.

The group allows us to speak about our fears and concerns for our loved ones and hear from other people in similar circumstances that we are not alone, which in turn gives us hope, faith and comfort when it is needed most.

If not for Mount Carmel and the care and time taken to listen to family members and reassure when they can, would I still be with my husband today?  We both have worked on our own recovery separately but at the same time alongside each other. This gives encouragement to both, and strengthens the bond that was so badly damaged between them. We have opportunities, if agreed, for 2-2 meetings. This gives both parties the opportunity to talk openly about any fears or concerns they may have with or for each other, before the loved one leaves treatment. What is so helpful is that there are counsellors present, which ensures what is said is not taken in the wrong context. After all, without realising it, both parties have changed since the substance misuse has been removed. The parties then have to get to know each other again.

Knowing Mount Carmel is there for us both should we need them at any point in life is priceless!

Anne commented: “that’s so good to hear – because that’s exactly what we are aiming for!”