Q. Knowing that alcoholism is considered an illness, and you’d like to support alcoholic friends the way you would someone with a physical illness, what are some appropriate gestures to acknowledge their recovery journey?
A. An estimated 1.2 million Americans are members of Alcoholics Anonymous, so it’s most likely we all know someone who is in recovery – and would welcome our support.
Catherine Johnston’s friend Gail – who has been in recovery for several years and now sponsors new AA members – offers practical advice.
“Be excited about their recovery. Congratulate them and don’t be afraid to ask them about it. There is so much shame and humiliation around alcoholism that most folks – family and friends – are uncomfortable talking about it.”
People in the beginning of the recovery process might feel uncomfortable in social situations, so don’t be offended if they decline party invitations. And allow them a gracious exit if they leave your party early.
“If the newly recovering alcoholic is working a good program, they will make a wise decision about whether they can come or not,” Gail said. “If we are in fit spiritual condition, we can be around alcohol.”
As your friends mark milestones in recovery, acknowledge those milestones with a phone call, a card, a simple gesture.
But be prepared for possible changes in your relationship and adapt.
“The alcoholic is strongly encouraged to go to 90 meetings in 90 days, and after that still attend a number of meetings a week. Don’t get annoyed with the time the alcoholic spends in recovery meetings. We are told that we need to be willing to spend as much time in recovery-related experiences as we spent drinking – and that usually is a lot of time,” Gail said.
Your willingness to support your friend leads to understanding as well as a strong, authentic friendship – a gift to both of you.
Q. Do men grieve differently than women?
A. In the weeks following the 9/11 tragedy, New York firefighters cried on television news interviews – without apology. Grief experts weren’t surprised to see men acting against the men-don’t-cry stereotype. Though gender influences a person’s grieving style, it doesn’t determine it.
Traditionally, grief experts described “feminine” styles of grieving vs. “masculine” styles, but even that language is outdated. Instead, they now describe the differing styles as “intuitive” and “instrumental.”
“Intuitive is more crying, more talking, more seeking connection with people,” explained Matt Kinder, director of social services for Hospice of Spokane.
“Instrumental grieving is more action – participating in rituals, taking on projects, exercising, starting a meaningful organization,” he said. “Regardless of gender, people can be anywhere on the spectrum between intuitive and instrumental grieving.”
In 1980, mothers of children killed and maimed by drunken drivers organized MADD. This action would constitute a more masculine style of grieving, yet angry mothers initiated it.
One major difference exists between grieving men and women. Men are often reluctant to seek out grief support groups.
“One hospice was trying to start a support group, but men wouldn’t come,” Kinder said. “So they called it a ‘men’s lunch.’ It was a grief group without calling it a grief group. It was part educational, and there was something to do – eat. If men are on a drive, or fishing, or on a walk, they might talk.”
But again, grief experts stress that there are no real rules when it comes to grief.
“Just because someone isn’t crying doesn’t mean they aren’t grieving,” Kinder said. “Every person has their own path to travel through grief.”
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