Recognizing and acknowledging that there is a problem is often the most difficult step in dealing with a loved one suffering from an addiction. We tend to become stuck in seeing who they are rather than how they are behaving. That often keeps us in a place of trying to help them by loving them unconditionally, which actually results in ENABLING versus helping. Our love and hope actually prevents us from seeing and facing the real problem, which allows our loved one to continue to feed their addiction instead getting help.
Understanding how addiction works, and how the well intentioned but enabling family member/s contribute to the problem is key to starting the process of being able to help the addict. The expression ‘knowledge is power’ is true here, especially when it comes to self-knowledge. You can only help someone with an addiction by looking honestly at yourself first. When the house rules of your own life have become twisted and compromised by the behaviour of an addict, it’s an indication that whatever you have been doing to help is not working, and it’s time for a new approach.
Re-framing how you love that person is a difficult but necessary step. The concept of tough love is hard for us to accept because it pushes all of our emotional buttons – shame, anger, disappointment – and most importantly – fear.
Giving up is not the solution – either by writing them off or ignoring the situation. Until the addict has hit their own rock bottom and is ready for help – or circumstances force a situation of rock bottom – the problem will continue. The process can be accelerated – and the emotional wreckage can be salvaged – if you are willing to come to grips with it yourself first. When you become stronger in saying “I love you, I can’t help you, you need help”, you are in a position to help the addict deal with their disease. This is a one-step-at-a-time healing process that a support group can help with immeasurably.
Actions speak louder than words, and a unified voice in the addict’s world of family/friends being on the same page and taking action together is a powerful force. An addict’s ability to manipulate includes driving a wedge between family members, and they will find and use the weakest link in the chain. Families are frequently torn apart by this. Standing together, finding strength in each other with a unified voice has made the difference for addicts and their families to find help.
When an addict reaches their rock bottom and seeks help, it does exist. The ‘system’ is not easy to navigate and going it alone is a hard road to follow. Finding a support group that shares their experience and participating regularly helps provide education, discipline, support and growth for the addict’s family. Sometimes it takes months of work by the family to start learning what to do and start healing themselves before the addict is ready…and when that time comes, the family is far better equipped to help productively.
The word ‘should’ can be destructive and unravel a lot of positive emotional growth. The addict’s behaviour is a result of their addiction and not an indicator of who they are. They are in pain – they don’t want it to continue – and don’t know how to make it stop on their own, or they would have done it already. No amount of talk will shift this, but a change in how you deal with them will.
Relapses can be part of the journey of recovery. Addiction is a lifelong disease and there is no quick fix. It requires a self-understanding of why they have turned to using a substance to deal with the pain in their life versus facing and dealing with that pain without the use of drugs. It requires stripping away the layers to discover their core, and rebuilding a stronger and healthier version of who they are, complete with appropriate tools to deal with life. Everyone has to learn to handle the stress and pain of life and we do it in different ways – some more productive and healthy than others. The addict needs to re-learn these, and take time to put them into practice in a supported way that strengthens their ability to recognize the triggers and respond differently. This is why short term programs may not be effective for some. Some of the people coming to Caritas, which is a 24 month residential program, have already spent tens of thousands of dollars hoping for a quick solution to their addiction. Changing thought habits that have been in place for years cannot be reversed quickly. This is why a long term program may be necessary when it comes to breaking an addiction.
There is hope. Our mantra – the phrase we have all come to understand as our most powerful resource when dealing with our loved ones who are addicts is: “I love you. You need help. I can’t help you. But here is where you can get help.” Caritas is one such place that has successfully helped individuals break their addictions and regain the lives. Step past your fear and take the first step in recognizing that you or your loved one has a problem and needs help. Seek out the information you need to help yourself, your family and your addicted family member. It could be the most important step of your life towards getting help for you and your loved one for recovery.
The Caritas Family Group meets each week to support families/friends of future, current and past residents of the Caritas School of Life, a therapeutic community for men suffering from addiction and mental health issues. The thoughts presented in this article are representative of some of our own experiences and discussions, and are in no way meant to be taken as medical or legal advice.