After dealing with my husband’s addiction for ten years I was tired and hopeless. When I found a new recovery community that promised to help me salvage our relationship, I had to give it a try.
By Michelle Horton
Walk into any Al-Anon room and ask, “What do you, as family members of an addict or alcoholic, ultimately want in your life?” and you’ll hear, across the board: peace.
Oh sure, we might use other words — words like “stability” or “contentment” or “living with someone who doesn’t steal my money” — but it all points to one basic need: peace.
Living with, or simply loving someone struggling through an active addiction is like living in hell, and we assume peace will come in time, right? It will come after our child admits she has a problem or our husband goes to rehab or our mother sticks to a 12-Step program. When they change, then our lives can go back to normal.
Or maybe we know, through our own recoveries and programs, that “happiness is a choice.” That we didn’t cause the addiction, we can’t control the addiction, and we can’t cure the addiction — all the “Cs” of Al-Anon. Maybe we’ve discovered that the hell continues, even after recoveries begin. Loving someone who is struggling with inner demons, and realizing, through loving that person, that we, ourselves, have inner monsters to wrangle, is tough work.
I’ve read all the literature and recognized my codependent tendencies, and yet all the intellectualizing in the world won’t stop the anger from rising in my throat whenever my recovering husband nods off on the couch. When I’m lying awake at 3 a.m. listening to his wheezing asthma, I’m rarely repeating mantras and working on my breath work. No, my mind is replaying that time EMT workers were in my bedroom, sirens blaring, with my 4-year-old son sleeping in the next room. Then I remember the medical bills. (Deep breaths, Michelle.)
Despite standing by my husband for over a decade of addict behavior, I’d asked for a separation three times within the first year of his tumultuous recovery. I came to the conclusion that in order to love my husband the way he deserved — to truly accept him as he is, whether he uses or not — I needed some safe space. His actions and behaviors were still affecting me, and I wanted off the rollercoaster of recovery. I wanted to love him, and I wanted to love me, and I thought the best way to do that was in separate houses.
But then I spoke with Beverly Buncher, the founder and head coach for Family Recovery Resources, based in Coconut Creek, Fla. She developed a program called the B.A.L.M., which stands for Be A Loving Mirror. The course is designed to help family members of addicts and alcoholics get their lives back. It also promises to teach skills and tools to effectively help loved ones get and stay sober, not through controlling or nagging or wanting it really really badly, but through “being a loving mirror.”
I was skeptical, as one is when she’s at the end of her rope, dangling toward the perceived freedom of separation, but I took a call with Buncher anyway. Within the first 20 minutes of our conversation, she completely changed the trajectory of my thoughts and intentions. Not only did I realize how few recovery tools I had for myself, but she convinced me that her approach — the entire philosophy of the B.A.L.M. — was sensible and life changing.
“It’s possible to lead a sane and happy life while living with a lunatic,” Buncher promised, with compassion and kindness toward said lunatic. With the right tools, the right perspective, and the right support, it’s possible to live alongside a struggling, sometimes-crazy person and not morph into an even crazier person in the process.
In our first conversation together, Buncher gave me something I’d been missing for a long time: hope.
We are their best chance at recovery, when we focus on our own recovery.
“You have a crucial role to play in their recovery.”
That’s the message Buncher gives in her introduction to the B.A.L.M., a general overview on her 5-year-old program. It’s a monumental thing for a family member to hear. You see, we’re often told that we can’t play a role. It’s out of our control. It’s up to them to get help, and the best we can do is accept and let go.
Through the B.A.L.M. program, acceptance and letting go are still crucial, but Buncher argues that when family members get their own lives back — when we find true, radiant, infectious recovery for ourselves — then that’s our loved one’s best chance at wanting and finding recovery, too.
Not only that, but when we learn the most effective tools and strategies for dealing with our loved one’s behavior — when we can trust our own eyes and ears, when we have a healthy amount of compassion and understanding, and when we have the personalized support to put our tools, mental scripts, and boundaries into action — it has the potential to change everything.
Buncher knows this to be true professionally, as a recovery and life coach who has helped families transform not only their lives, but their loved one’s as well. But she also knows this personally, as a 29-year recovery veteran, Al-Anon devotee and wife of a recovered addict. She and her husband have been through hell and back, and she credits the B.A.L.M. method for saving their marriage not once, but twice.
The B.A.L.M. isn’t a replacement for Al-Anon or another program; it’s a supplementation. It’s another tool (or rather, it’s more like a pre-packed set of tools). In fact, Buncher’s program addresses the one thing I couldn’t find in my local meetings:
“It’s refreshing to hear that a recovering marriage is possible, because it seems like everyone in my Al-Anon meetings are divorced or separated,” I said to Buncher over the phone. “It’s discouraging.”
Buncher laughed. While she very much understood what I meant (“I couldn’t find anyone under the age of 50 who was still married to the alcoholic, either”), she does credit Al-Anon for saving her life, and virtually all of the experts and speakers in the B.A.L.M. program are part of Al-Anon, too.
“I consider the B.A.L.M. to be Al-Anon PLUS,” she said. “Do you know about the 4 Cs?”
Hmmm, I knew about the three (you didn’t cause it, can’t control it, and can’t cure it), but there’s a fourth?
“The fourth one used to be much more prominent in the original Al-Anon literature, but it’s quietly faded over the last couple of decades,” she continued. Here it is: You can contribute to your loved one’s recovery, and you don’t have to contribute to their addiction.
So the B.A.L.M. is basically all of the wisdom and support of Al-Anon and similar compassion and common-sense based programs, but it emphasizes the long-lost 4th “C”: You can contribute to your loved one’s recovery in a practical and meaningful way.
Be A Loving Mirror
The way we do that is through reflecting — mirroring — what we see. Not what we feel or think or fear, but what we’re truthfully seeing, from a place of love and peace. Because the B.A.L.M. is designed to help family members achieve peace (which is all recovery really is; our inner radiant peace), we can reflect that peace onto our loved ones, like a mirror. That’s what relationships are, after all: mirrors. For better or worse.
Other books, therapists, and programs advocate the same thing, but the B.A.L.M. is strategically designed to facilitate this through three main components: information, transformation and support, all of which is focused on not only the family member, but the family member’s relationship, too. Al-Anon tells us to keep the focus on ourselves, not our loved one, but the B.A.L.M. says that it’s also about our loved one. The program recognizes our inherent interconnectedness.
The program starts with The Daily B.A.L.M., which is the “information” component of the program. Each week, participants receive one of the 12 B.A.L.M. principles in an email, including an hour-long lesson with Buncher, as well as all sorts of reference materials — corresponding power points, interviews with experts, past support call recordings around that topic, and stories from people who have walked the walk and made it through. Participants also receive journaling prompts, printable handouts that correspond to each lesson, and note-taking templates.
Every Wednesday there is a “support call,” where Buncher further explains the principle, interviews an expert or inspiring recovered person, and gives participants a chance to ask specific questions or share our struggles. Not only do we hear valuable advice from smart, inspiring people, but we then get to talk to them directly. Additionally, participants get two coaching calls each week, where we chat with a B.A.L.M. coach more in-depth about current issues, or any questions they might have about the weekly lesson.
Then comes the “transformation” aspect of the program: The 7 Steps To Being A Loving Mirror, an 8-week course that promises to teach family members how to “get calm from the inside out.” We’re also paired with a weekly partner to practice, and there’s more discussion and support available throughout.
“It’s not about the strategy, it’s about the recovery.”
I’m only four weeks into the B.A.L.M. program, but it’s blowing my socks off. The support and personalized attention is incomparable, and the lessons are really, truly helpful. I was hesitant when I heard the price ($1800 for the full year; $999 when they run their occasional specials), but when I broke it down on a monthly payment plan (which they offer) and considered that it includes up to four family members, it was almost cheaper than therapy.
The most valuable part, for me, is having access to a wide variety of people who made it through to the other side. Access to the radiant peacefulness of recovery, acting like an outstretched hand, saying it’s possible, it’s available, just jump. It’s also inspired me to keep going to my meetings and to deeply commit to my recovery, knowing I have a weekly schedule to keep me on track.
And so then maybe I, too, can embody that kind of peace I’m seeing in the B.A.L.M. community.
Maybe I, too, can have my hand outstretched to my husband, saying look what recovery looks like; it’s safe to jump, my love.
But even if he doesn’t take my hand, if he doesn’t choose to join me, at least I’ll still be here, dancing in my own blissful peace, radiating in recovery.
You can find out more about The B.A.L.M. program and buy Beverly Buncher’s e-books at FamilyRecoveryResources.org. Family Recovery Resources also partners with treatment centers across the country, and offers an extensive training course for recovery coaches; contact Buncherfor more information.