Addiction: A Family Affair

Post by guest blogger, Alice Tanner.

We are honored to present a post by guest blogger, Alice Tanner, Addiction Recovery Consultant and Intervention Specialist, founder of Bay Area Intervention. Because more than 60% of individuals diagnosed with a serious mental illness are dual diagnosed with substance use, we know this is a critically important topic for discussion.

Photo Credit: William H. Bender, ca. 1910

Photo Credit: William H. Bender, ca. 1910

Ever heard the saying, “The family that plays together stays together?” Well, here’s a twist: “The family that recovers together discovers together!

As a “family” disease, no longer do clinicians and mental health practitioners believe that “the problem” lies solely with the person who lives with addiction and, or substance use. Today, we know the disease of addiction has an equally strong and destructive counterpart, co-dependency, which is the role families and loved ones play. We now understand that those closest to the person diagnosed with substance use have also unwittingly become unwell in the downward progression of addiction. The maladapted coping tools developed to deal with the behaviors and attitudes of the addiction don’t work. An example of a weak coping tool is when a family member tries to control substance use by getting rid of the chemical, or by nagging, threatening, or pleading for the using to stop. These tactics may work for a while, but soon substance use resumes, often more hidden and escalated. Over time these ineffective and unhealthy coping skills become entrenched. When a family finally seeks professional help, usually through intervention, they begin to learn that addiction is not just Joe or Jane’s problem, that it is a family disease and that recovery must involve the whole family.

Recovery from addiction takes a lot of time and effort. It requires total transformation, changing from the inside out. This transformation is not intuitive, easy, or passive. We are quick to understand the need and desirability for a person who abuses substances to change, however, not so quick to understand or believe the need for the family to change. The source of the constant codependent pull is the belief that, “If John stops drinking and creating all this trouble, I won’t have to be so ______________________ (controlling, watchful, financially helpful, etc). The myth is that if the substance user gets well, the family and friends can get back to a “normal” life because the bad behavior and resulting consequences will stop. Nice idea, but it’s not the way it works. Truth is, without family recovery the codependent coping behaviors continue; they just manifest differently.

Families, blind to their own need for recovery, are content to let their addicted loved one do the recovery “thing” while they get back to “business as usual.”

Families are often challenged to understand that recovery is a family affair. Just as it was once incomprehensible that life could ever get as bad as it did for an addicted loved one, or that family life would be disrupted by the chaos of addiction, families frequently do not quite believe they need their own recovery. They must come to accept the necessity for systemic change in the same painful way they accepted a loved one’s addictions. Families, blind to their own need for recovery, are content to let their addicted loved one do the recovery “thing” while they get back to “business as usual.” At best, this path is a detriment to solid recovery and, at worst, a derailment to it.

How families engage their own recovery is not an easy or simple question to answer or navigate. In general, families successfully do so by addressing unhealthy attitudes and behaviors that were cultivated in order to cope with the addiction that was taking over their family. For example, families learn to stop cushioning the consequences of their loved ones drinking and drugging. Family members willing to learn about addiction and co-dependency can begin the recovery process. When loved ones implement coping tools and behaviors just as their addicted loved one does, it creates supportive relationships in a difficult, but necessary, transitional time. Over time, the whole family changes and grows. The family enters recovery together. And, they all come to understand that recovery is not a spectator sport for the addict . . . or the family!

What does the family that recovers together discover? Hey, go for it and let us know!

More information about Alice Tanner and Addiction Recovery services can be found at: http://www.bayarea-intervention.com.

As always, your comments are valued.


Razor Thin Line

tightrope-3

Good parenting means your heart breaks in a million ways. When your son or daughter strikes out at bat, is ditched in the lunchroom, ignored by a “best friend,” or stood up by a boyfriend or girlfriend, a parent feels it. These incidents make any parent want to put their child in a bubble, surround them with goodness and light. And then your son tells you how much he hates you, your daughter ignores everything you say, and they leave you in a hundred different ways. It hurts when that child you held for hours in the night and kissed from head to tiny, little toe acts as if you don’t know them. At some point you really do need to get to know them in a whole different way.

Part of good parenting, and also dreadfully painful, is letting a child fail and learn to pick themselves back up; giving them the space to discover that one can survive after a so-called-friend declares they have moved on. Flubbing a line in a school play is not the end of the world.

While witnessing their mistakes, all we can do is provide support as they navigate through the problems and solutions. We must show that while we cannot live their life and their problems, we love them unconditionally. Yeah. No problem right?

As if that is not challenging enough for a parent, it becomes a hundred times more complicated when a child begins to use substances. Or, when one’s child suffers through a crisis related to mental illness, particularly when the crisis appears self-inflicted as in the case when a person binge drinks, or goes off medication. Here’s the rub. A person who lives with mental illness needs a reliable advocate, who usually and most effectively is a parent. But parents of those living with mental illness usually agree that their child achieved recovery only after they took control of their own life. A parent’s guidance is critical, but sadly, it is only part of the solution. There is hope for a person with mental illness, but only if they own it.

Parents with adult children diagnosed with mental illness, and this includes addictions, must walk that razor thin line of allowing some failure and not allowing their son or daughter to hit rock bottom. David Sheff, acclaimed author of Clean, and father of a son in recovery from addictions, (http://davidsheff.com/clean) advises against the mythology of the past of allowing your loved one to hit rock bottom. There’s too much danger in that, including the very real risk of death, and further, every relapse becomes more profound than the last.

So parents, we walk the line.