Brad came to work with us at The Center as a young man in his twenties. He was struggling with self-esteem issues that translated into a dependence upon alcohol. Unable to hold a job, he continued to live at home, making constant demands upon his parents. These demands drained their emotional and financial resources and alienated him from the rest of his siblings. Everyone in the family, including extended family living nearby, seemed to have tried to help Brad but was burned in the process. Many family members had already given up on him, deeming him beyond help and not worth another chance. Others saw our mental health and chemical dependency treatment agency as his last chance.
We were able to address and treat Brad’s reliance upon alcohol as well as work with him to uncover the roots of his addiction. Brad’s answers and demeanor began to reveal that his drinking was fueled not by an attraction to alcohol but by repulsion from something else. Brad had turned to alcohol due to some pain he was attempting to self-medicate and numb. As we worked with him to dig deeper, we helped him discover how and when his world had turned upside down and he had lost his horizon line of hope.
Most people know the half empty/half full glass analogy. It goes something like this; when people look at a glass containing liquid up to the middle, some will see the glass as half empty and some will see the glass as half full. Those who see it as half empty are pessimists, and the half full people are optimists. I’ve used this analogy as a way to illustrate to clients how subtle perceptions can alter their worldview. When they look at the glass, they’re actually seeing their own reactions to life.
Now, when Brad’s parents looked at Brad, they expected to see a completely full glass. After all, they were prosperous, hard-working people themselves, and they could envision nothing less than a full glass for Brad at all times. Sometime around Brad’s early adolescence, however, his parents began to perceive that Brad’s glass was less than full, for he began to operate below their expectations. In their minds, they had worked hard to fill Brad’s glass all the way to the brim, and Brad kept behaving and performing in a way that made the contents of that full glass spill out. This produced feelings of frustration, anger, and disappointment in his parents.
The only optimism they had for Brad’s future was centered not around what Brad was capable of achieving on his own but rather on what they had provided. He was expected to mirror their success — a success that mirrored their definition. Brad’s future was not really about him and actually about them.
Somewhere around 15 years of age, Brad decided he wasn’t capable — that his glass without his parents refilling it was actually completely empty. He turned to alcohol to stem the growing fear and anxiety of reaching adulthood.
Now, I believe that everyone is responsible for their own behavior, especially as they arrive at adulthood. In fact, the R in SOAR is all about responsibility. But as we identified this pattern of behavior between Brad and his parents, what became clear to me was their total lack of belief in a bright future for Brad — as Brad. He certainly didn’t have it, and neither did his parents.
The only thing the three seemed able to initially agree on was a paralyzing fear of what Brad’s future held.
Because of their own achievements, Brad’s parents couldn’t see the true horizon line when they looked at Brad. They kept looking inward at themselves and refused to see Brad for who he was. As his struggles with life increased in adolescence, they began to avoid really looking at Brad at all. It was too painful, for they truly loved their son, but when they looked at Brad’s failures, they caught a glimpse of their own.
What this family desperately needed was a restored vision of optimism and hope for the future. Brad’s parents needed to believe in God’s power to help Brad overcome his drinking. Brad needed to trust God’s plan for his life and stop fearing the future. They all needed to grasp God’s grace and learn to forgive each other. Fortunately, they’ve been able to heal and reestablish their relationships, but it took years of diverted time and energy to bring their family back on the right track.
I applaud your decision to put your energies into your family now!
SOURCE: Chapter 3, “O is for Optimism,” in Healthy Habits, Healthy Kid: A Practical Plan to Help Your Family by Gregory L. Jantz, PhD., founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources Inc.
Review Blog Schedule (every weekday devoted to excerpts from a different book by Dr. Jantz)