From time to time, clients’ families tell us that living with someone suffering from addiction is like living in a tornado. While we don’t want to belabor this analogy, it does offer a helpful way to consider the problem.
First, a tornado, unlike a heat wave or rain storm, does not just damage, it destroys, making it difficult to remember what things were like before it hit.
Secondly, it creates a frightening environment few have ever experienced before.
And lastly, it is both specific and random: your home and life may be destroyed while your neighbor’s is left untouched, creating a sense of victimization and isolation.
Addiction is, in many ways, a family disease, but the family is not simply affected by the disease of addiction, it is changed. As an individual’s addiction deepens—as their pathological relationship to intoxication develops—all aspects of their life conform to its demands. They see their friends less; hobbies they used to enjoy fall by the wayside; the next drink or drug is never far from their thoughts. And all the while family and friends are making similar, incremental allowances. So incremental, in fact, as to be all but imperceptible.
Members of the family may think of themselves less to prioritize thoughts of the addicted. They may change their behavior so as not to upset the addict or alcoholic and risk a binge and its attendant consequences. They may forgo plans or activities for fear of leaving the addicted family member alone. Or, worse yet, they may forgo these events because they worry about the addict or alcoholic’s behavior at the events. They and their lives become subordinate to the addict or alcoholic’s and, thus, to addiction.
Our Family Program revolves around three crucial, interrelated questions:
- “What can I do?”
- “What do I need?”
- “What happens next?”
The simplest answer to the first question is: be honest. Be honest about how you feel. Be honest about what you know and, often more importantly, what you don’t. Talking about your experience is the only way to gain insight and perspective on the issue. You may be trying various tactics in an effort to help your family member, but your efforts may be having the opposite effects. You may remain reluctant to make difficult decisions out of a normal but misguided sense of responsibility. We can help you to define a path and stick to it.
Above all else, you likely need help. This is not because you are weak or unwilling. It is because the disease of addiction does not respond to the tools we typically apply to other problems. Logic can appear useless, so new tools are required. The early days of recovery can swing from unbridled optimism to despondent resignation, and in these latter moments, many people need reassurance and counsel to remain resolved. We can provide a caring but objective source of support and guidance.
And lastly, what does this journey look like?
Some clients begin to recover quite quickly with outpatient counseling alone. Others may require Intensive Outpatient (IOP) or Residential treatment to start. In still other instances—most commonly with younger clients—the case may entail Wilderness Treatment and therapeutic boarding school.
And finally, we have worked with many families for whom referrals for acute and/or ongoing psychiatric concerns are necessary. This process may have you seeking answers to questions you never knew existed.
While recovery may not be easy, it is most certainly worth.
At New Directions Program, we pride ourselves not only in understanding and anticipating addiction’s pathology and manifestations, but we strive to use this knowledge to help individual members of the family interpret their unique experiences, reactions, and resulting behavior.
For instance, one adult child of an alcoholic—molded into co-dependent behavior from an early age—may go on to play the part of a caretaker in his or her romantic relationships; whereas, another child from the same family may shun relationships entirely or seek out partners they can easily control.
An adult in ongoing recovery may have difficulty coping with the fact that his or her child continues to use and drink addictively. An older sibling may have had to all but raise younger siblings who now suffer from addiction. In this case, the older sibling may harbor uncomfortable and counterproductive feelings of resentment toward these younger siblings.
This is to say nothing of the children living with parents either in active addiction or in early or even ongoing recovery. In the former situation, these children’s lives may be fraught with anxiety and fear, and in the latter two, though their immediate situations will likely have improved, what happened still happened.
No two situations are the same and none are beyond hope. Regardless of how far things have declined or how many times you’ve felt frustrated or resigned to the fact that nothing is going to change, we can help.