Over the past few weeks, Dr. Jason Brooks shared with us one family’s struggle in loving their son who is addicted and enabling their son who is addicted. Throughout the series, Dr. Brooks has guided the family on breaking the cycle of codependency. This week, their story of enabling and codependency continues with what it looks like to love their son in a healthy way – without “loving him to death.”
Recognized as one of the most prominent emerging voices in personal and organizational transformation, Dr. Jason Brooks is also likely to be one of the most authentic, transparent and “real”. Viewed by many as the “youth pastor of personal growth and success”, his life mission of “bringing hope, healing, and inspiration to everyone he meets and leading on the journey for change, growth, and success” provides the foundation and focus where his purpose and passion are fully unleashed.
As a bestselling author, inspirational speaker, and Chief People Officer of Vertava Health, Dr. Jason brings a heart for helping others to achieve their greatest potential and success… one step at a time.
Learning to Love After Heroin Addiction
As I was preparing for this weeks session with Joe and Sarah, her final comments from our last meeting resonated through my mind. “We’ve been through a lot. But through it all, the last thing we always made sure of is that we did not lose hope. Hope to have Michael back, well and restored. Hope that we would learn to love him in a healthy way as parents. Hope for our family to be restored. That’s exactly what’s happened and we praise God every day for where we are today and future ahead for us all.” I was looking forward to our conversations this week to begin the process of building a restored and healed relationship would look like and what would be needed to create that type of relationship.
When Joe and Sarah arrived, I jumped right in. “So, when you left last week we started to lay the foundation for talking about what a healthy, restored relationship would look like and how to make that a reality in your lives. I’d like to hear from you both on the first point…what would a healthy relationship look like for you?”
Joe started. “I think the first thing is that we have full trust in Michael. That’s essential. Over the years of Michael’s active addiction, there were so many lies and we now see that our love was violated. In many ways we feel like the person who has been in a cycle of abuse for years. Yes, we contributed to the problem through our enabling…I get it…but there is responsibility Michael has for the broken relationship too.”
Sarah continued. “We have forgiven Michael which to us means releasing him of any judgment and further accusations from his actions of the past. But, it doesn’t mean that we’ve forgotten the pain he caused us and the rest of the family and learning to trust again will take time.”
“How do you learn to trust again?”, I asked.
“I think it’s all about openness and honesty”, Joe said. “There was so much hidden in the dark during those years. There can be no darkness left. Everything has to be in the light. Thoughts, feelings, behavior…everything. Power of addiction often comes through secrecy. Trying to hide, cover up, disguise, manipulate, lie, cheat, steal…it’s all with the goal to keep the disease in the dark. Our family motto for honesty, openness, and transparency is ‘Light it Up’. We’ve made a commitment to each other to accept nothing less than total honesty and truth, regardless of how painful the message can be. It’s making all the difference.
“Ok, I’ve got trust”, I said. “What’s next for you.”
“Responsibility and accountability would be next, I think”, Sarah said. “Taking responsibility for our own actions. For years we bailed Michael out of challenging situations, all through the lens of ‘love’. But, in the end, we were just enabling his disease. Today, we’re living the responsibility of the decisions we make and the accountability that follows. Regardless of the choices we make, there are consequences. Some are good…some are bad. We’ve learned we can’t always rescue each other from the experience. We have to grow through the experience.”
“Now, that doesn’t mean we’re walking through life alone”, Joe said. “And this brings us to our third point…we’re always there for each other to help coach and guide, but not rescue. There may be a fine line here, so I’ll explain the difference for us. In the past when Michael needed money for his apartment, food, or whatever, we would just give it to him…no questions asked. Now if he gets in a financial bind, we have him bring his checkbook and bank statements. We walk him through the choices he’s making, what he’s spending, and help him to solve the problem rather than us just bailing him out.
Joe continued, “There are so many benefits to this approach. First, Michael’s learning and we’re teaching which is a powerful force. Next, Michael’s taking responsibility for solutions in his life and learning important life skills for the future. We also are not feeling like we’re being taken advantage of but instead we’re being ‘parents’…the parents we weren’t for many, many years.”
“Absolutely”, Sarah said. “And I think this goes hand in hand with another point. We know we’re all in this together and we have a shared commitment to healing. We had a lot of conversations around what it would take to heal. We laid out what was needed from each person and asked the tough question, ‘Is there anything on this list that you can’t or are unwilling to do to bring our family back together?’. We all agreed and actually signed a ‘Contract of Commitment’, demonstrating our commitment to be ‘all-in’ and do whatever it took to heal and restore. It one person is working harder than the rest, well, that’s enabling again, right? So, we are very intentional to hold each other accountable to continually being committed to our part of the solution.”
“I love it! Anything else that you would say is important for what a healthy, restored relationship looks like and the steps you’re taking to make that a reality in your life?”, I asked.
“Well, the first three points are really focused internally to our family. But, we’ve also found that support from others are an important part of our healing”, Joe said. “As you know, Michael went through a great inpatient treatment program for 90 days that has a phenomenal alumni component for those who successfully complete the program. We are all involved in the ongoing process of healing through family meetings, support groups associated with the treatment center, frequent follow-up, and continuing to learn about the disease of addiction and how we can be supportive in a healthy way for Michael and the family. We believe that no one is an island and they support we’ve received by being involved in this alumni group has been amazing. It’s helped us through some tough times and taught us a lot about how to love Michael but hate the disease.”
“I’m hearing a lot of great stuff guys,” I said. “You’ve obviously learned a lot through this experience…and grown a lot. The disease of addiction doesn’t hurt just one person…many people are affected. You’ve seen this first hand. But, I’m proud of you for recognizing that your enabling, disguised as ‘love,’ was actually hurting Michael and you deeply and ultimately making the tough choices to get Michael the help he needed. Now you are supporting him on the continued journey for recovery and bringing restoration and healing to the family. You’ve made great progress and I know the best is yet to come.”
Looking me straight in the eye with a hope and confidence, Joe said, “We absolutely know that too. Yes, we made some wrong choices and yes, pain was the result. But, through faith in God, faith in ourselves, and faith in each other, we know we’ll be stronger. Our hope is to ultimately be able to share our story with others to help them avoid the mistakes we made and bring freedom from addiction to their loved one. If our story can help just one person or family, it’s worth it.”
Sarah ended our time together with a profound statement that resonated with me still today, “You know, Dr. Brooks, I always thought addiction was something that ‘someone else’ struggled with. I didn’t realize just how close to home it was lurking…literally right down the hall in our precious sons room. While we’re not going to be paranoid, we’re definitely living much more aware and intentional. We’re engaged with our kid’s lives and we’re here for each other, no matter what. That’s our new story of our new family and the foundation for our hope and healing for the future…”
When I reflect on the story of Joe, Sarah, and Michael, and their family, it could easily be the story of thousands and thousands of families who are struggling with the disease of addiction. I’m honored to have been a part of this family’s journey from pain to healing and restoration and I look forward to touching countless more lives in the future.