Dear Dr. Donna,
My ex-husband has been having a problem with alcohol for the past seven yrs. He is in and out of jail and was recently found to be using alcohol while still incarcerated during work release. Both he and his family minimize the problem and often do not inform me what is going on. We have a young child that I have to make decisions about regarding visitation with his father. I am made to feel guilty when I express my concerns. How can I help this family understand that this information could save my child's life? I feel that our child should not be around his father until he has stopped drinking for good and that I have every right to protect our child. Any advice would be welcome.
Thank you for writing, as I'm sure many can relate and benefit from discussing this issue. Addiction in general and alcohol in particular bring with them a problem of family denial. The people closest to the addicted person unwittingly protect the integrity of their family member and, in the process, enable the behaviors to continue.
I think this is a protective mechanism and an issue of self-esteem, because everyone, including the addict, feels out of control. It typically takes education and feedback from others outside of the closed system to open a doorway to change. Sometimes the use of an intervention can be helpful. Perhaps you have seen the television show with the same title? An intervention can be done by one or two people, such as yourself and one other person whom you trust who knows the family, or a counselor knowledgeable in the field. Typically, an intervention is rehearsed ahead of time and you may think about and write out what you plan to say beforehand. It consists of arranging a meeting with the "key players" -- your ex-husband and/or some of his family members -- and expressing your observations in factual terms, without evaluation or accusation, your feelings, your needs (reassurance of your child's safety), and your requests.
When all else fails in an intervention, you need to follow through by setting limits that will meet your needs to ensure the safety and well-being of your child and for your own serenity and peace of mind. Sometimes such limits may include involving the legal system, like informing a judge and the police about your concerns and the police.
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