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Sallie and The Game of Backgammon

BALM | March 3, 2014

What if I played backgammon as if I couldn’t lose? I’d just do whatever I wanted. I’d make “safe” moves, I’d make “smart” moves, I would make risky moves, even the ‘dumb’ moves my husband rolled his eyes at.  I’d ignore what was happening with the other player. I’d just do whatever I felt like doing at any given moment. For the most part, this landed me in backgammon jail and way behind the other player, but not always. Just almost always. Then I’d get tired of that and completely go back to playing it safe. Regardless, sometimes I won and sometimes I lost and the game would end and I’d start over.

That’s when Sallie said, “Ok. Wasn’t this already a movie? I think they called it Ground Hog Day. Wasn’t the point to never give up?”

Well, yes, and no.

Because suddenly, doing this backgammon waltz of play, win, lose; play, win, lose; hit ME in MY gut.

I realized I could start to look at my life, my relationships with the addicts I love and all that I see around me as a game, not so unlike backgammon. If it’s a game, I can play it with a heavy heart and lots of controlling energy – or I can hold it all lightly and live my life fully regardless of others’ choices.

Along with that, I get to make choices about how I want to interact with the people in my life or whether I want to interact at all.

The difference is, now I know:

  1. This isn’t ‘happening to me’. I am at choice as to how I will approach things from the inside out and I am doing so with my eyes wide open.
  2. It’s not life and death even when it seems that way. There will always be another game. (Here is where it breaks down of course, unless, like me, you believe in reincarnation!)
  3. Like me, other people get to play their part in their own way. They get to choose whether they are upset or happy, observers or all wrapped up in the game, etc.
  4. I don’t have to overly attach to outcomes (unless I want to!). Instead, I can be curious and interested in what is happening and learn stuff about myself and the other person and situations if I choose to.
  5. When things are not going my way, I can look for ways to be happy anyway, to have fun anyway, to make the most of whatever situation I am in. Sometimes, this may just be staying aware and watching the game, while being quiet and awake inside.
  6. My ‘mood’ can be something I create or something I watch as it creates itself.

At this point, Sallie asked, “Yeah, but, what does all this say about being related to an addict whose unpredictable behavior could do anything from getting him or herself killed to getting the whole family in a financial hole so deep that we may “never” be able to dig ourselves out?”

It says a lot actually.

Life is unpredictable. Even when we are totally prepared, totally skilled and totally on top of things, there is a random element that can turn things on their head at any moment.

Of course, this is true about life in general. Being related to addicts just makes it more obviously apparent and in your face.

It’s not the end of the world, even if the world as we know it ends. And by ‘world’, I’m talking about the end of a family member’s world. Even if our loved one does the unthinkable (whatever that is in their particular addiction: drinks, drugs, sexually cheats, gambles, dies, etc.) knowing that this is just one round of the game can help put things into perspective.

“Easy for you to say,” Sallie said. “But I don’t know what I’d do without my hubby…” As she said this, her eyes welled up with tears.

“Sallie,” I said softly, “I’m not meaning to be flip about any of this. I’m talking to you from the inside out. I’m a family member, too, after all.”

She nodded.

But, even aside from the D word, the family member can experience the escapades of an addict as:

  • debilitating for the family OR as ‘just what he/she does’
  • defining who that person is OR ‘what they are doing at this point on their journey’
  • pointing to the prospects of future success being gone OR ‘the behavior we are observing at this moment in time which could change when they make a different decision’

When I see my loved one’s despair as just a moment in their game of life, and not something I have to fix or control or get involved in, I can empathize with their pain, share my perspective, and let go of the despair I used to latch on to.

When I see an impending slip as something to point out through a BALM® lens rather than as impending disaster, I can be far more objective and less attached to outcomes.

Attitude is everything for family members of addicts and in life in general.

This doesn’t mean we are not dealing with a deadly disease.

Tip #28: Face the elephant in the living room.

In general, the key to a life well-lived is to learn how to the play the game the best you can because it’s more fun to play that way and then, let go, knowing that sometimes you will win and sometimes you will lose.

But, the fact is, every 19 minutes someone dies of addiction. This is the core fear of many family members which too often unconsciously leads to enabling.

In this case, of life lived with an addict, your best bet is to learn the BALM® skills of family recovery and to then use them to the BEST of your ability in order to free up YOUR life and give your loved one the BEST chance of a win as well.

Sallie ears perked up when I mentioned the unspoken truth about how often an addict dies. Suddenly, she could see what I meant and her resistance to learning and living BALM® principles appeared to diminish.

“You know Bev,” she told me, “there is only one difference between a Backgammon game and life with an addict.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“In this game, family recovery makes it more possible to have a win-win, but in backgammon someone has to lose.

This time, I nodded my head in agreement.

“You’re right Sallie,” I agreed, seeing that she seemed to have gotten the concept

“It looks like our session is coming to a close. What homework would you like to give yourself this week?”

Earlier I mentioned a tip that I had given Sallie in the past. I was referring to quite a few tips that are including in something I suggested she read in order to be a loving mirror to her husband.

“I’d like to reread that one book you sent me. There’s something about that book that I think will help me get through this week.”

>>>Here is the book Sallie is referring toReflect Reality

“Sounds great,” I said. “And that’ll help us next week, when we look at your behaviors!”

“Ugh,” Sallie said with a sigh. “I know I’ve come up short in that area. I’ve done so much for my husband that I’m surprised he can still do anything for himself.”

And that brings me to

Tip#29: It is never too late to begin your family recovery journey!

And Tip #30: There is no time like the present to begin!

As we were wrapping up our call that day, I heard Sallie’s husband enter the room and then Sallie dropped the phone.


You may have missed parts of Sallie or Melissa’s story. If you’d like to read more about Melissa, her family members and the tips I mentioned earlier, you can go to the upper right hand side of this page and add your best email address to receive a free guide to being in relationship with a loved one who is dealing with addiction. It tells you a bit more about “Being a Loving Mirror”. You’ll also be able to follow stories like Millie’s through regular emails delivered to your inbox. One more thing… Do you know a Millie, a Tom, or a Melissa? Share these stories with them.