Lorelie Rozzano is a guest blogger for Vertava Health.
Is Your Loved One’s Addiction Controlling Your Life?
When you see an addicted individual on the streets, it’s clear they’re broken and despairing. But what isn’t clear is the impact this one person has had on the rest of their family. The addicted person’s family is often equally broken and despairing. Addicted persons don’t struggle alone. They have families in extreme distress. While the substance user is numbing out and getting high, their family is feeling and dealing with their wreckage. The family cleans up their mess, nurses them to health, sets them back on their feet and picks them up when they fall. There are many resources for the substance user. However, they are only part of the equation. When an addicted person becomes well and then returns home to an unhealthy family system, it won’t be long until they revert back to old behaviors. As the old saying goes – if nothing changes, nothing changes – meaning the entire family needs help. Working with the addicted person’s family in rehab is similar to working with the addicted individual. Both parties struggle with delusion, dishonest thinking and minimizing the effects of their behavior. In rehab, the addicted person will learn how to stay abstinent, while their family learns how to say ‘no’. Family members feel guilty saying no. Guilt is uncomfortable, so to avoid it the family or enabler says ‘yes’ when ‘no’ is the right answer. Families have difficulties setting healthy boundaries. This makes them easy to manipulate. Just as addicted persons seldom know how sick they are, neither does their family. The addict is focused on getting more drugs. The family is focused on the addict. It’s this outward focus that enables all parties involved, to continue spiraling downwards. Nancy – not her real name- recently contacted me. She felt guilty for feeling the way she did. Nancy wrote; my son can’t make it past 90 days of sobriety. He keeps hanging out with his old friends and relapsing. He hides his relapses and lies about them. I stopped cushioning my words. Now I just tell him like I see it. He doesn’t like me confronting him. Yesterday he said some awful things – the nicest of which was “you are useless to me, mom. “I’m done this time. It’s been 10 years and I’m worn out. I’m completely drained – financially and emotionally. I’ve distanced myself so much emotionally, I don’t have any tears left. They say never to give up hope and I try not to, but all I can do is pray. Some days I can’t even do that. Do other Moms feel this way, or is there something wrong with me? Nancy wonders if there is something wrong with her. Without intending, she has given away her financial security and emotional health. She is 65 years old and still working. She has tried everything she could think of to help her son for the last 10 years. Nancy tended to her son’s responsibilities while he was off getting high. She paid his child support and lawyers’ fees when he got picked up for DUI. She paid his truck insurance and even his rent. She bailed him out of trouble over and over again. Nancy is just starting to understand she plays a role in her son’s addiction. Reading this, you might wonder why she would she give away her hard earned money and retirement savings. Or why would she jeopardize her health? Yet Nancy is not alone. There are millions of families across North America going through the same thing. They suffer in shame and silence while struggling to pick up the broken pieces of their shattered lives. It’s natural to want to help your addicted loved one. However, one on one is not a good idea. The fallout from helping is that their disease can become yours. There are some Mothers who claim they will never stop fighting. Nor should they. But know your opponent. Pick your battles. Addiction is a deadly foe masquerading as your child. Coddling an addicted person, only makes things worse. Require more of your loved one. They are grown, treat them so. Give them back their problems. Refuse to take ownership of problems you didn’t create. Nancy, there is nothing wrong with you. You are not a failure or a bad mother. You simply lack some critical tools. You’re in pain and you’re tired. Betrayal by your own flesh and blood is devastating. Whether you’re the addicted person or their family. Both parties suffer. Underneath anger is hurt. Grieve, cry, rant and scream. Then pick yourself up and carry on. Your son is not himself right now. He’s not thinking or acting in good health. Don’t let him bully, use or disrespect you. That only empowers his illness. Love him, from a distance if you must. But never give up hope and keep praying. If he refuses to seek help, call an interventionist or someone who can guide you. But more importantly, look after you. Detach from the drama. Detach from the chaos. Detach from the demands and the use. Although you can’t change the past, you can lessen the impact his addiction has on you today. But you can’t do it alone. You can seek support through counseling, 12 step groups, Smart Recovery programs, or attending family programs. For more information, please call the number below. If you or someone you know needs help, please call this confidential support line for assistance. 888-601-8693.