Addiction has hit society like a tidal wave, full of riptides, with giant currents that pull one in from deep beneath the surface. Families, together with the addict, are collectively swooped-up and spit-out. Half of the damage is from the current’s devastation and the other half results from cleaning-up the aftermath.
Addiction causes so much turbulence within families. More troublesome is the fact that the majority of families are hesitant to acknowledge the addict and his/her impact on the family. This is called denial and its extremely common – yet unhealthy – for everyone in the family system. There are many layers that comprise addiction.
In this issue, I’ll talk about how families are affected by addiction and ways for the family unit to survive and flourish.
How did Addiction get us to this dark place?
Every family and its members have different origins to their struggles and challenges. For some families, it can be traced to watching their parent drink too much or use substances. For others, it can be traced to an abusive home-life or a house that never became a home. On the other hand, sometimes too much love or closeness or smothering can be the culprit. One thing is for sure. Regardless of the root of the problem, the end result is all too similar. Family members are hurt, in pain, suffering, and living their life wandering in the darkness of addiction. Survival of the day-to-day challenge of the family’s new “norm” becomes the primary focus on each day. Yet, it does not have to be that way.
The addict is definitely not blameless. However, it is important to delve into the root cause of the addict’s addiction to truly begin to understand how he/she got to their current state of addiction. Many times, it is because they believed that they had no other escape or goal in life because they were stripped of nurturing and attachment when they were young. These factors are necessary for child development. For some, they watched their parents, aunts, uncles, or older cousins try to cope with life’s obstacles and challenges through drinking or using drugs. They learned that the best way to deal with pain is to simply cover it up or drown it away. For others, they watched their peers in school turn to substances to cope with the pressures of being a teenager in our modern society.
It no longer needs to be just our “norm.”
Just because an addict keeps doing what they consider their ‘norm’, or repeats the same destructive pattern of behavior, doesn’t mean there is no way out. The addict must come to realize that blaming everyone else for their problems is both selfish and ineffective. Likewise, family members must also learn to cease blaming the addict for the entire family’s woes and troubles. The addict and the family unit both share responsibility for the addiction and its impact.
It is common knowledge that addicts often turn to the 12-step model of recovery, for example, AA or NA. I propose that family members also engage in a version of the 12-step model. It is important for the healing process and recovery of both the addict and his/her family that they dig deep to take a moral inventory of themselves and search internally to explore the how and why they all arrived at their current “norm.”
For the addict and the family, the first-step is acknowledging that their “norm” is not permanent or fixed. With hard work and exploring the emotions of addiction, a new “norm” is created where addiction is no longer the elephant in the room – but rather starts to diminish in size and impact. This new “norm” can become a reality and a permanent part of the family unit.
Learning what makes each family member content.
In paying attention to the cycle of addiction, families tend to have false notions and beliefs regarding what it means to be “happy” or “content.” Addiction often stems from false or misguided beliefs about happiness, contentment, sadness and uncertainty in life. It is these thoughts that often causes a person to feel shame or guilt, anxiety or unease. These emotional states trigger negative behavioral patterns which results in more negative feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness. Long-term recovery is rarely sustained unless the addict – and the related family members – explore these feelings and emotions and their root causes. Since all of us will experience up and downs in life, and be triggered by various stimuli and events, effective recovery for the family system requires that each learn new coping patterns and behaviors to respond in different and healthier ways when triggered.
Here at Discovering Destinies, our mission is to provide effective, respectful and sensitive therapy and counseling to you, your spouse or partner, child(ren) and/or family so that you can live a happy, content and meaningful life. Most importantly, we never judge you based upon your values, beliefs, race, ethnicity, culture or sexual orientation.
If you or a loved-one are ready to Explore Your Emotions™, or are just contemplating individual, couples or family therapy, we are here to help by answering all of your questions and explain the process of therapy in a non-pressured way. We can be reached at 561-475-5800 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.