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.
Breaking the Cycle of Co-dependency
The week since our last session went fast and I was eagerly anticipating today’s meeting with Joe and Sarah. I’m a big fan of “homework” in therapy to continue momentum in between formal sessions and I had engaged them in a variety of exercises since our last meeting, so I knew progress had continued as they were working through their feelings of guilt and failing as parents for perpetuating Michael’s addiction through their enabling and co-dependency. Focus for this week was going to be on how they broke the cycle of enabling and finally took the steps needed for Michael to begin healing.
“It’s great to see you again Joe and Sarah”, I said. “We’ve had a busy week and I’m thrilled for the progress you’re making. I would love to turn our attention from what did not work to what finally changed for you to turn the corner and what steps you took to lead Michael down the path to getting the help he needed.”
“I can start with that”, Sarah chimed, “because it was really a point of crisis for me. You see, as a mother, I didn’t want to believe there was a real issue of ‘addiction’ that Michael was struggling with. I thought of every excuse in the book because, deep down inside, I viewed it as a failure of mine. I was responsible for him…for bringing him up…to caring for him. I just couldn’t get out of my mind that I was at fault…I did something wrong. Even though Joe said nothing could be further from the truth, it was still difficult to accept.”
“The first step for me”, Sarah continued, “was to set my own feelings aside, accept the situation as something we had to battle together, and make the conscious choice to do whatever was needed to help Michael heal from this disease. It took a lot of prayer and continually reminding myself…it’s not your fault for what has happened…but now that I know, not doing something will be my fault.”
“That’s a tough journey to take alone. Joe, I bet you helped in some ways. How did you help Sarah with this?”, I asked.
“You’re right, Dr. Brooks”, Joe said. “I realized I had to be right there with Sarah. That was the second key part for us. We had to be completely aligned…no confusion that we were fighting a battle against an addiction…not against each other and not against Michael. We knew it was going to be tough but we were committed.”
I was interested to really know if they were truly connected on this. “What did ‘completely aligned’ mean to you and how did you make that work?”
Joe and Sarah looked at each other. Sarah began. “It wasn’t easy. Being completely aligned meant Joe and I decided together what steps we needed to take and we held each other accountable to the decisions we made. For example, we decided that we would not give Michael any more money but instead would help him set up a budget and make better money choices. There were several times he came to me needing cash for seemingly legit reasons. I wanted to give it to him…I really, really did. But, Joe and I had decided no and I knew I had to stick to my guns. If I broke, it would show weakness in us and we learned very quickly that Michael, and really anyone struggling with addiction, can sense weakness easily and will capitalize on those opportunities. It’s a coping mechanism of the disease of addiction that allows those struggling to get their next fix or their next high.”
“Right”, Joe continued. “But it also meant we had to make tough choices for Michael’s sake. When we confronted him through an intervention process, it was one of the hardest days of our life, but also one of the best. We had to bring the darkness into the light and confront him with what we already knew. He denied…he lied…he pleaded…he cried…he blamed…he got angry…he even said we didn’t love him if we did this to him. But, we knew that the best love we could give was tough love. We would not have made it through if we had not been committed to each other, to the process, to get help from other caring professionals who have experience helping addicts, and trusting that we didn’t have the answers but we would do whatever it took…WHATEVER…to get Michael healthy again.”
Sarah then said, “The only way it worked was for us to be completely open and talk, talk, talk. Early on the talk was more about how we had failed as parents and let Michael down. But we quickly learned this wasn’t healthy for him or us. So, we turned our focus to talking about solutions. What did we need to do next? What did we need Michael to do? It was tough sometimes not to blame each other or him. But, that doesn’t solve anything.”
I was excited at what I was hearing and I wanted to validate their thoughts, approach, and commitment. “Great points, guys. It sounds like you nailed it. From experience, however, you know enabling can be an insidious trap wrapped in a belief of love. Knowing that you never learn as much as when you teach (I smiled), what advice would you give others from your experience who are struggling with co-dependency?”
“I’ll start”, Joe said. “First, stop the blame game. Everyone made mistakes and we could have debated all day long who was at fault and who was to blame. Ultimately though we needed to focus on Michael’s disease and getting him the help he needed.
“Next, talk about everything. Times we were struggling with holding the line, situations where we felt a different direction would be best, the best direction for inpatient treatment, who the best ongoing counselor or therapist would be…everything. There was not one decision we made as Michael’s parents alone. Plus, we even tried to include Michael in as many decisions as possible so he would have a say in his treatment and be more committed to the process and his recovery as well as learn how to make better choices for himself.
“Third, we viewed the addiction as an enemy to fight and would not accept anything else. We believed with all our hearts that Michael would be able to completely break free. We trusted that God had the ability to bring healing and freedom. We held close to I Corinthians 10:13 which says ‘God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out.’ That was huge for us. Some people say God never gives more than we can handle. That’s just not true. We are not tempted beyond what we can handle but what we found is that some days were so tough that we had no strength left. All we could do was give the day to Him and trust He was going to get us through.”
Sarah had tears in her eyes. Joe patted her hand gently. Silence.
“We’ve been through a lot”, Sarah finally said. “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.”
“Well, that’s exactly where we’re going to start next time”, I said with an encouraging smile.