Addiction and family acceptance
3- Addiction and Family Acceptance
Acceptance of addiction as a disease is the key to family recovery. When family members acknowledge they have not caused their loved one’s addiction, when they finally surrender and let go of trying to control or stop them from using drugs; then they can start the road towards recovery and a healthier way of life.
- An effective view of addiction
- Start your journey towards recovery
- Effective ways to help the addict
An effective view of addiction
No group of people know better what it is like living with an addict than those in 12 Step Fellowships devoted to families. These Fellowships suggest that when members feel guilty or ashamed about the addict they should remind themselves: “I didn’t cause, I can’t control, I can’t cure it”. Contained in these simple words is the wisdom earned over many years by countless family members who have dealt with the same problems that you are dealing with. Coming to terms with these simple truths, you will realize the limits of your power in dealing with the addict. In doing so, you will finally be able to offer real help to that suffering loved one, while also relieving yourself of a heavy and needless burden.
1. You didn’t cause the addiction.
It is not your fault your loved one is addicted to drugs. Repeat that to yourself: “It is not my fault”. Despite what you have come to believe, you did not drive that person to use drugs. Maybe the drug user has suggested you are the cause of the problem. Don’t believe it. The addict is highly resistant to taking responsibility and happy to put the blame on you. Remember too that you make the situation worse by taking responsibility when you should not. Think about it: if you are to blame, then that means the addict is free to use drugs without any feelings of responsibility. Your love or lack of it can no more compel someone to abuse drugs than to become diabetic. You are powerless over the disease of addiction – this is the first thing to remember.
2. You can’t control the addiction.
Unless the addict wants to give up drugs, your attempts at controlling the situation will be futile. Under pressure, the addict may ease off for a while, but they are bound to relapse. It’s only when the addict makes the decision that he wants to stop because he has had enough self-imposed misery that recovery can begin.
3. You can’t cure the addiction.
Unless you are a doctor, you likely will accept that you cannot cure diseases. In the same way, if your loved one is an addict, accept that you cannot make him well. Clinging to the belief that you can cure the addict worsens the situation. You make it harder for the drug user to get well, because you make yourself the agent of recovery. But it’s the addict alone who can make the decision to stop using drugs. Take that decision away from him and you diminish his power to find his way out of addiction. As with any illness, the sick person must first accept they suffer from a disease before they will do anything to address it. Unless you as a family member is clear on this point, you will cause yourself much heartache and frustration in fruitless attempts to force the addict to get well.
Start your journey towards recovery
Taking care of ourselves is a big part of recovering from the stress and frustration of living with addiction. One of the ways we do this is by “letting go”. One meaning of this is we let go of the illusion that we have power over a loved one’s addiction.
Here are some of the ways we can learn to do that:
- You can win peace of mind if you accept you are powerless over the disease of addiction. Give up all your fruitless attempts at trying to convince the addict to change or trying to force them to behave as you wish. Remember you cannot force someone to change if they are in denial and are unwilling to.
- Letting go does not mean that we let the addict run roughshod over our lives. Just the opposite is true. When we finally come to terms with the truth that addiction is a disease, and that we are powerless to stop the addict from using drugs, we gain clarity. We know what to expect from the addict and what we must demand of him. We can focus on what is best for ourselves and best for the family. We stop bargaining and arguing with the addict. We stop feeling guilty. Though we know we cannot cure the addict, we do demand that the drug user follow the rules we set down for the good of the household. We don’t let them bring drugs into the house; we don’t allow their drug addict friend into the home either; we don’t bankroll them; we don’t cover for them at the job; we don’t bail them out of jail. We stop babying the addict, we stop enabling him.
- Avoid blaming yourself for your loved one’s addiction. Guilt will overwhelm us if we are not careful – while clouding our thinking, and making us ineffective. Believing that somehow we are to blame for another’s addiction leads us to become enablers, to do things for the addict that only serve to prolong their addiction.
- Accept your limitations. The alternative is exhaustion, frustration, anger, and despair. You are not God. Despite how much you may love your addicted family member and want to help them, you do not have the power to stop their addiction. Knowing what you can do and what you can’t is key to your recovery. Practicing this principle of humility will help you come to terms with your family’s predicament.
- It is time to let the addict take responsibility, time to let him make whatever choices he wants – and then to live with the results of those choices. Of course, we protect ourselves and the family from any bad choices the addict may make. We insist the addict respect our rights to a harmonious household. Meanwhile, we respect the addict as an adult free to choose his path in life, even if it is clear that the chosen path will lead him to misery. When you allow the addict to live his life as he wants, you are freer to take responsibility and choose to improve the quality of your own life.
- Arguing or trying to reason with someone under the influence of drugs is pointless. Doing so will only frustrate you. If there is something you need to say to the addict in the family, wait for a time when they have not been using.
- Do not get angry or confrontational with them. This simply increases the addict’s feelings of guilt and the sense they are under siege – which adds to their excuses to use drugs again. In any case, remember that arguing with an addict almost always leave you feeling miserable. The yelling, the threats, the insults all add to the insane dynamic in families marked by addiction. Remember too that the addict has his drugs to escape to, whereas you don’t.
- Schedule time for activities that bring you pleasure and that provide a break from the toxic environment created by the addict. Living with an addict is exhausting and frustrating, so you need to take care of yourself. Making time for yourself will better equip you to deal with stress.
- Join a 12 Step Fellowship family group. This is the most important thing you can do for yourself, and it is as simple as showing up at one of the Fellowship’s meetings. You will be welcomed, and you will see for yourself that you are not alone in dealing with addiction in the family. Attending meetings of a family fellowship, which are free and open to all, will show you more clearly than anything that many share your difficulties. You will also discover effective strategies for dealing with the heartache of living with an addict. The legions of people in these fellowships have discovered that they can enjoy life regardless of what the addict is doing.
Effective ways to help the addict
Family acceptance or Accepting that your loved one is suffering from a primary disease, here are some of the things you can do to improve the situation:
- Learn about the disease of addiction. This will raise your awareness of the nature of the disease your loved one is suffering and help you come to terms with it.
- The disease of addiction affects the body, the mind, and the spirit. In dealing with the addict, ask yourself how would you treat him if he were suffering from another kind of illness like heart disease or cancer.
- There is a saying in family Fellowships: “Don’t get angry at the addict, but at the disease.” Even though their behavior may be causing you worry, try not to get angry or take it personally. When the disease has progressed, the addict is no longer choosing to use drugs, they are compelled. Addicts don’t know themselves why they continue using drugs despite the devastating consequences.
- Do not enable them. You may think you are showing your love for them when you make up excuses for their behavior or cover up their mistakes. But ultimately what you are doing is making it easy for them to stay in denial and continue with their addiction.
- You can help an addict by letting him take responsibility for his life. You need to exercise tough love, which means having the courage to allow them to deal with the fallout of their addiction. If they have been arrested, resist the impulse to bail them out or hire a lawyer. They got themselves into trouble and they can get themselves out. Addicts are much more likely to face up to their problem when they have suffered the consequences of it.
- Set boundaries on what is acceptable and what is not around the house. Setting boundaries is not about punishing or shaming them. Rules and expectations for behavior are for the greater health and good of the family – and, ultimately, for the addict too. Be firm and be consistent. A simple and reasonable rule is that the addict is never allowed to use drugs in the home. You may decide that you will stop providing money to the addict. Maybe you will go as far as to bar the addict from the home when he is under the influence. Whatever rules you make, it is important that you be ready to enforce them consistently. To do otherwise is to invite confusion and conflict for the household, which is what you are aiming to avoid.
- If you want to provide financial support, buy the goods and services the addict needs instead of giving them money that they will most probably use to buy drugs.
- For the good of everyone, create an environment in the home that is safe and stable. The addict will benefit from a household free of undue stress and turmoil. Naturally, if there are prescribed drugs in the home that might tempt the addict, they should be kept hidden away.
- Let them know that you will support them emotionally and financially to the best of your ability, so long as they are taking steps to address their addiction. For example, you might offer to pay for them to go into detox. Perhaps you will support them if they are going through a rough time as they struggle to get clean. But be clear that you are not going to continue enabling them or indulging them in their self-pity.
- Support them in activities that will encourage them to become clean. This might mean that you will attend a fellowship meeting with them to ease their anxiety. You will want to be welcoming to his new friends who are in recovery. Keep in mind that getting free of drugs is the absolute best thing they can do for themselves, so anything you can do to facilitate the effort is helpful. Don’t overdo it, though. You want to resist jumping in and trying to orchestrate their recovery. That would never work.
- If they have entered recovery, allow them the time and respect to process their new way of life. Recovering from drugs has its ups and downs. Do not suddenly expect or pressure them to change overnight and become the perfect family member. Have patience and respect for their recovery process. Remember they did not become addicts overnight, and they will not recover overnight.