When someone in the family is struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, it impacts the entire family unit.
As much as we wish we could trade in some family members for a healthier, more pleasant version of themselves at times, we would all love to see those we love and care for thriving and succeed in life. We try to assist, guide, support, and do whatever we think is in the best interest of the addicted person, all while forgetting and ignoring our own needs, wants, and desires.
Most of the time, we are convinced that if we do not provide our unique support, in our certain way, then the addicted person has a lower chance of being successful with maintaining their recovery over a long-term period. So we jump into action, focus our attention, and pour all of our energy into "keeping" the addicted person on track. As counter-intuitive as this may seem, finding your own path is the best way to help another find theirs; in other words, "secure your own oxygen mask first, then help others with theirs."
Healing starts with having the willingness to heal. Some of us simply want to continue to tolerate pain and suffering due to limiting believes, such as: "I'm a mother, I'm supposed to worry," "as long as he's out there in the streets, I won't be able to find peace of mind."
Many people would say, "Of course I'm willing! I want this family to get better!", or "I just want things back to normal".
The kind of willingness that is needed, though, is the willingness to take a close look at yourself, understand what your own triggers are, be open, reach out for help, communicate, and look at your own role in this family disease. How we interact with others matters and also how we respond matters. Self-awareness is one of our best assets.
Family members must have the willingness to get help for themselves, instead of viewing the disease as the addicted person's problem alone. Each individual in the family must be willing to manage their own triggers. This is not to suggest that family members have no cause for being hurt, upset, or angry - all these feelings are valid; it's what we do about them that is key.
Understanding Family Triggers
A trigger is a stimulus that causes feelings of trauma or strife from the past to suddenly emerge. What many of us may have not considered is that anyone can be triggered - "getting triggered" doesn't just pertain to those of us who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. Being triggered it is not always a terrible thing; it's neither positive nor negative. Moreover, just as the addicted person has a set of triggers, so does every individual close to that person. Often family triggers emerge from a behavior or expression of the addicted person that leads others to be suspicious of relapse.
Having an awareness of what our triggers are gives us the ability to plan, and manage them accordingly. When support is required, we must communicate what the triggers are. The goal isn't to get someone to stop triggering us, but rather for the sake of connection and working as a team toward recovery.
Addiction in the family often causes communication breakdown. A family member may communicate too passively, unclearly, or ineffectively. This may look like keeping secrets, holding back real emotion, denial, people-pleasing, enabling, and/or avoiding difficult topics.
Conversely, a family member may communicate too aggressively. This could look like focusing too much on the way other family members respond to the addicted person, an obsession with forcibly changing the addictive behavior, or trying to manipulate and control others. Excessive anger often involves blame, rejection, and/or retribution.
Healthy communication requires one to be open, honest, nonjudgmental. We all want to know that we are heard and that connection with others is reciprocal.
Boundaries are essential in any relationship – but when a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they're even more critical. Boundaries establish guidelines for suitable behaviors, responsibilities, and actions. They are a tool we use to help teach others how to treat us. It's important to understand that having certain boundaries is not what will "keep" someone in recovery. However, it helps you maintain your peace of mind - or at least gain some type of control over the things that you can actually change, which includes yourself and nothing else.
Feeling as though you are taken advantage of, used, and overwhelmed can be a great indicator that your current boundaries are weak – or don't exist at all – and this compromises what makes you, you.
Weak boundaries allow you to lose yourself, your values, your freedom, and your personal space and don't allow for behavior change - either your own or the addicted person.
Healthy boundaries involve taking care of yourself, understanding your wants and needs, and determining what you will and won't accept. It also includes clear communication with your loved one. Healthy boundaries also mean consequences are clearly communicated and are followed through if the addicted loved one disregards them.
Families do not operate in a vacuum, or as individual people who do not affect each other in any way. Everyone's willingness, behavior, communication style, and boundaries are part of how the family relates to each other. When a family is in crisis, like when a loved one is struggling with addiction, it may seem counter-intuitive to stop and take a look at yourself, but this is essential for the health and well being of yourself, your loved one, and the family.
The only person you have any control over is yourself. You can't 'fix' anyone, or control how they feel, react, or behave, but you can control the way you respond to any person or situation, and how you care for yourself.
What is it about their behavior that bothers you the most? Why? Do you have healthy boundaries or boundaries at all? Do you have unreasonable expectations that may be hurting you, or causing others to find you unreasonable or aggressive? Are you keeping emotions to yourself, or enabling to avoid conflict? Are you trying to 'fix' the addict or other members of your family? Are you assigning blame on yourself or others?
Taking a hard look at how you help - and hurt - the situation is the foundation for healing. Finding individual therapy with a specialist who understands addiction and recovery can be helpful. Reaching out to others who know what you are going through and can help you with perspective is also beneficial. Family therapy or coaching can also help you understand the ways you impact the family unit, and gain a clearer understanding of how the family relates to each other as individuals and as a unit.
About Passaje, LLC
Passaje, LLC's mission is to help families heal from substance use disorder. Addiction is a family disease. Thus everyone in the family also needs help and support, aside from having the addicted person seek treatment. When families are not aware of their roles and influence and are having difficulties managing triggering thoughts, it complicates and deters the recovery journey for all involved.
My wish is to help individuals in the family approach recovery as a team because no one can do it alone. Families and friends need help and support as much as the person struggling with drug and alcohol addiction does, especially given the fact that tough love is not always practical. There's a fine line between enabling and adequate support. Family recovery is vital.