During the time your family member was in active use of their substance or substances, chances are you suffered….a lot. You might feel and believe that it’s your turn, that your family member owes you, and that you should get a break. You think back to the insanity of it all…. Crazy behavior, missing money, they were gone for days on end sometimes, calls from jail, perhaps calls from the hospital. You endured sleepless nights, developed ulcers from worry, suffered financial disasters. You were ashamed, humiliated, and hurt.
Please get the support you need, because the journey is only beginning.
Most of the things mentioned above should be over if your loved one has detoxed and is serious about their recovery, but they are still the primary sick one. It is their disease that drives the illness throughout the family so it only seems logical that their treatment should come first.
Let me focus on that statement for a minute because this is key. It is their disease that drives…
You must be solid in your conviction that this is not a moral failure or bad choices, this is a disease.
In a landmark report from the Surgeon General, for the first time ever “dedicated to substance misuse and related disorders” (Dr. V. Murthy, 2016), it is succinctly stated that:
“It’s time to change how we view addiction,” said Dr. Murthy. “Not as a moral failing but as a chronic illness that must be treated with skill, urgency and compassion. The way we address this crisis is a test for America.”(Dr. V Murthy, 2016)
This understanding should help us become equipped mentally and emotionally to bear with the further changes in our lives by being supportive in recovery rather than requiring recompense which will ultimately just send your family member helter skelter back to the life of numbing the senses and throwing you back into the ravages of having a family member active in their addiction.
If your family member had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor and came home from the hospital would you begrudge that they had to return several times for chemotherapy or radiation treatments? Would you insist that now that they are home they need to resume their duties, whatever they might be?
I am only making a point by comparison, not stating that someone in recovery cannot do chores. It is the shift in the way we think about the continuing recovery that the addict must be involved in that is important. It is imperative, if we are to hope for any kind of success in recovery, that we also consider their continuing treatment as well as our own.
I touched briefly, in the last volume, on the mental condition of someone new to recovery and a short time from using substances to alter their feelings.
The Surgeon General’s report supports that fact:
“The report shows that substance use disorders typically develop over time following repeated episodes of misuse that result in changes to the brain circuitry.” (Dr. V Murthy, 2016)
These changes in brain chemistry may never get to be 100% back to the way they were before substance abuse began, but we can have hope that your loved one will recover to become a caring, thoughtful, and loving person, if we invest a little bit of ourselves into understanding the disease and allowing the addict to do what they need to do in order to progress.
Carte Blanche? Hardly. You developed some boundaries before and they need to stay in place. There may be some you can relax over time and some you may not. You may create some new ones. It is all situationally dependent.
For example, if you took away the ability to borrow your car, you may want to keep that in place for a while and let them prove responsibility. If one of your boundaries was based on following through on commitments, keep it. There needs to be responsibilities attached to every privilege and once again, defined consequences for violating a boundary.
An example of this would be, if you let them have car privileges back and they are gone longer than agreed they lose the car for 3 days again, or something along those lines, but something predefined.
Staying involved in your own recovery will help you know what limits are going to work and what is unrealistic. It will also help you understand that you should not take things personally when there is a problem or disagreement. Remember there is altered brain circuits in play here. When your family member was using you were the enemy even though you were loved.
How does that work you ask? Anything that could stand between your loved one and the acquisition of the substance of choice, the opportunity to use, the place to use, or any activities of using, is the enemy. During active addition, the addict will put their use above family, friends, work, everything. The disease is in full control. Understanding this is part of understanding how things could have gotten so bad before they finally decided to get help.
We will talk more about that in another volume, but just knowing it to be true will help us work through situations during recovery. That old mindset will show its ugly head from time to time. If and when that happens it is best to take the high ground and not engage.
So what are the main things we need to know to support someone in recovery?
- Do not hinder their meeting attendance
- When needed and if possible, assist in getting them to meetings
- Attend a few open meetings and listen
- Don’t probe into their recovery with questions that start conflict
- Don’t dig up the past
- Allow them private time for step work, writing assignments, etc.
- Attend a support group and share about what you’re going through
- Hold your boundaries, but pick your battles wisely
- Let them make their own choices
- Be prepared to let them suffer the consequences of their choices
One of the most important things we need to learn, and the most difficult, is how to love them enough to make tough choices. This is not a lesson I can teach, as the complexity of the principal is beyond simple teaching. Everyone is different, every situation is different. What I can say about it is this:
Love is the power that conquers all manner of evil, of negative energy, of indifference, of intolerance, and so much more. But love also puts the good of another above their wants; and in doing so, eventually is felt as love.
Your loved one may reject your statements of love for quite some time. If not verbally, perhaps still internally and privately. This is one of the spiritual awakenings that hits us during recovery, that many of the things we took as attacks were acts of love.
In the order of step work, if the program of choice is a 12 step program, these things don’t start coming out until steps 6 and 7, and amends come in step 9. I have seen people get to step 9 in under a year but rarely, and it can be years, literally. Above all things remember that your family member is sick, not morally deficient, intentionally causing trouble.
Treat them as such and let the improvement you see, whether it comes quickly or seems to take forever, be your hope, your satisfaction, and your joy, because this disease can easily be fatal, and that is last thing you want for your loved one.
In our next Volume, I am going to talk about the fact that substance abuse needs a, “Community Solution”, and what that means. So far we have skimmed across the surface of some of the aspects of addiction and recovery, the next volume will begin to get into the meat of the topic.
Please join me and feel free to let me know if you have received anything of value so far, or in the volumes ahead. My email address is on the website.