When a loved one is suffering from an addiction to a substance or problematic behavioral pattern, the truth is that it is the whole family that suffers. You may have heard it said that “addiction is a family disease” and truly nothing could be closer to the truth. The family system to which an individual belongs has a great deal to do with how they have learned to process and cope with painful emotions in their lives, how they tend to respond to others in times of conflict, and how they manage to recover and make amends for arguments past. Many times there may have been harmful messaging passed along generationally, whether about the need for ultimate control over one’s emotions or through expression of unrealistic expectations for behaviors. All too often, even well-intended attempts to help loved ones leave them trapped in a cycle of shame and judgement, and only serve to further their desire to ‘get high’ and disconnect. While addressing the individual health of the addicted family member is important, facilitating ways for the whole family system to be involved on the path to find healing and stability is equally important, especially when seeking long-term sobriety. When a family is united, the recovering individual is able to learn new ways of relating to the world with the backdrop of a supportive family to help them navigate the rough times ahead. The following is a list of the most important ways that family can demonstrate their support.
Perhaps the most important thing that you can do for your loved one is to send love and encouragement their way, specially packaged in words and sentiments devoid of judgments that they will be more likely to hear and accept. Part of your loved one’s recovery journey is to work to replace the tapes that they play over and over in their minds, likely to the tune of “I am not good enough”, “I am a disappointment to my family”, or “It is hopeless to try to change”. As their supportive family member, it is your job to help them latch onto a new narrative, and re-record those tapes. Let them know that you love and care about them, and have hope for a future together, free of substances. Communicating openly about your respect for their decision to work through treatment will likely go a long way. The more that you join them in celebrating their accomplishments thus far will help them to see that their efforts are not going unnoticed.
The depth of difficulty of seeing a loved one battle with an addiction or co-occurring mental health condition is indescribable. And it can be even harder to walk with them throughout the treatment process. There are some predictable roles that present themselves in the family members of those who are still operating in active addiction, partners, parents and children alike. Typically these patterns express themselves in the ways that family members have learned to deal with their loved one and the resulting emotions and stress, whether through humor, pouring oneself into work or academics, becoming lost to a world of imagination, or of housework and never-ending tasks. The whole treatment process certainly takes an observable toll on the family, and is undoubtedly draining for all, thus self-care is highly important. You will need to be in the right headspace in order to recognize and overcome these ingrained patterns, and to be able to communicate to your loved one your support and understanding. For these reasons, it is important that you seek out and attend your own counseling or join support groups like Al-anon or Alateen and fill your schedule with your own self-care routines.
It is crucial for someone who is learning to rid their lives of negative habits and addictive behaviors, to also learn how to fill their lives with positivity: physically, mentally, and emotionally. Look for ways that you can join them in developing new positive practices, whether cooking healthy meals together, motivating them to join you at the gym, or just being there to provide that extra needed friendship, thereby normalizing vulnerability and leaning on one another for support. Helping them develop goals and sticking to them can be incredibly important for helping grow their self-esteem. As is helping to include them in activities that steer clear of temptation and support sobriety.
Your commitment to helping your loved one recover may just be the most important difference for them between a life of sobriety, and one trapped in the relapse-recovery cycle. Helping them to pick up the pieces of their lives once they return home will be vital to their recovery. However, your choice to put in the hard work first, by showing up, and joining them in the process of treatment will speak volumes in ways that a simple ride to an AA meeting cannot.
We encourage the families of our clients to attend one of our three-day family programs that addresses in more detail how to show love and compassion, make your self-care a priority by developing healthy practices of your own, and the power of participating in a community of people walking through the same struggles. Through providing formats for family education, family group counseling, and individual counseling, our focus is on empowering you to have all the tools to make your loved one’s treatment a success story. Perhaps you have been drawn to this article because one of your loved ones is embarking on a recovery journey (or you want them to be), or perhaps you are starting to recognize the effects of your own negative habits on those closest around you. Either way, we want to support you however you’ve come to us. Give us a call today to learn more about how we can work with and for you and your family to find a new ‘normal’.