A reader named Aiusha emailed me and asked:
“I am not an alcoholic, but I have a friend who is. Since I cannot really relate to their alcoholism, is it still possible for me to help them?”
I’m glad you asked that question, Aiusha, because this is a really good topic. One of the reasons that this is an important topic is because I have seen several times in my experience where people can have some self-limiting beliefs when it comes to these ideas. More on that in a minute.
It’s true – the value of one addict helping another is without parallel
Now it is certainly true that when it comes to really connecting to others about the problem of overcoming addiction or alcoholism, it really does help to have someone who has “been there, done that.” That’s why they say that one addicting helping another is “without parallel.” You can’t beat it–as far as the ability to relate to each other.
But that is not to say that a “non-alcoholic” cannot provide any support. They certainly can, and in some ways a non-alcoholic can offer unique insights and perspective that a person in recovery is lacking (such as how the addiction affects loved ones). So do not discount the “normal person” just because they are not an alcoholic–they can most certainly be of help and respond to the struggling alcoholic with love and compassion.
On the other hand, it takes a wide variety of helping hands to help an alcoholic recover
When I was in early recovery, I believed that only other recovering alcoholics could help me. This turned out to be false, and I have had some wonderful teachers who were not in recovery. Many people in my family that I look up to are not recovering alcoholics, and they have taught me quite a bit in my recovery. To disregard these lessons simply based on their non-alcoholic status would be silly.
There are teachers everywhere among us. It is up to us to open our eyes and ears and absorb the lesson, regardless of who the teacher is.
Bottom line – don’t let limiting beliefs stop you from giving or receiving help
If someone says you’re not qualified to help them, then chances are good that you really can’t help them….because they are shutting you out and they are not open to the possibility. But understand that this is their loss, and their limiting belief.
It is true that fellow alcoholics in recovery can relate to each other on a very deep level. But remember that we are all human and we all have the same basic set of feelings. Uncovering those feelings and sharing them honestly with each other is a huge part of recovery. If you can lend a listening ear, then chances are that you can help a struggling addict. Don’t discount your ability to help. Caring and compassion are more important than whether or not you “qualify” as a fellow recovering alcoholic.
Action items – how you can help specifically:
1) Consider attending Al-Anon meetings, where you can learn first hand from people with real experience in dealing with addicts and alcoholics. These people can help show you the fine line between helping someone and enabling them.
2) Support your friend in any efforts to go to treatment or attend an AA or NA meeting. It’s probably alright to quickly research times and locations for them, and then just make the offer known. It’s probably not helpful to be pushy about it or constantly harp on them every time you see them. Make it known that you are offering to help. The next step is up to them.