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Alcohol & Sub. Dep.: Family Struggling with Sobriety
On the last track, we discussed the second stage of family addiction, the development of a protective persona. There are five aspects of the development of a protective persona. These are polarization of the family, distancing, the breakdown of family rituals, the creation of new rules, and shame and blame.
On this track, we will discuss stage three of family addiction, hopelessness. In my experience, there are four important aspects of hopelessness. These are negative attachments, unbridgeable gulfs, living in a state of trauma, and connections no longer hold.
As you will see with Mary, after many years of living with addiction, her family’s resources were exhausted, and hopelessness set in. Do you agree that indifference becomes the primary coping mechanism in families like Mary’s? In the last stage of addiction, hopelessness, Mary experienced such deep sadness and fatigue that she could barely manage her own life.
# 1 - Negative Attachments
For example, Mary distanced herself from her own pain by putting down Todd in front of his siblings. Soon, her 15 year old son Ray began to mock Todd as well, and Mary and Ray became ‘partners’. They were negatively attached whenever Ray mocked Todd, and experienced a kind of camaraderie. These negative attachments entangled everyone in Mary’s family and reinforced their negative defense systems. The family’s relationships became competitive and adversarial.
# 2 - Unbridgeable Gulfs
Mary stated, “At times things got so bad I’d find myself hoping Todd would die of an overdose. I hate myself for thinking that! I must be the worst mother on the face of the earth. Whenever I find myself thinking that, I feel sick thinking about who I’ve become.” As you know, these thoughts are coping mechanisms, and addicts at this stage often wish themselves dead as well. I explained to Mary, “When someone feels hopeless, it is not abnormal to fantasize about the death or removal of the person causing the pain.”
Mary had been too entangled to realize this, and so she punished herself for these thoughts. Do you have a client, like Mary, who is at the risk for serious depression due to the shame caused by wishing something would happen to remove their addicted family member?
# 3 - Living in a State of Trauma
Do you find, as I do, that exiting the family is a common strategy and solution to trauma at this stage? I, like you, have observed children who run away, enter the military or university, marry and have children, or join gangs. Spouses may plan or execute a divorce, find a job that keeps them away from home for long hours, have an affair- anything to escape from the home situation. For Mary, anger became the last thing that kept her from total despair.
However, as you know, anger can be a dangerous strategy for children. In Mary’s younger children, Ken and Beth, I observed traumatic bonding. Ken, 13, and Beth, 11, attached themselves to the sickest member of the family, Todd, and by supporting him, experienced a connection that protected them and secured a relationship.
Mary’s husband Billy gave up, submitting blindly to the dysfunctional addictive family system. Billy experienced more psychological damage than the rest of Mary’s family, and began displaying signs of potential alcohol addiction himself. Do you agree that family members, like Billy, who give up and submit to the dysfunction, may be more prone to addiction later on?
# 4 - Failure of Connections
Ray, one of Todd’s younger brothers, stated, “life at home became really boring, but it seemed like we were close. But it got to be you knew what conversations would happened at what time. At 5:30, there was the ‘what’s for dinner’ talk. Dinner would be silent, then at 7 it was time for ‘what’s on tv?’
During times of crisis, everyone in Mary’s family was ‘free’ to vent their feelings, but after everything had been said, very little was taken seriously. The family believed the issues of Todd’s addiction to amphetamines were unsolvable. Mary’s family began to turn to Ken as a hero, as he excelled in both school and sports. Ken began to experience feelings of being trapped as a result.
He stated, “I wish I could take some time to relax, play some video games, goof off after school like the guys I know do. But it makes my family so happy when I ace a test, or catch a touchdown. It’s the only time they all sit down together and get along! I can’t let my family down!” Have you treated a Ray, who became afraid of discussing real issues with his family? Would it be beneficial to play this track in your next session with your Ray?
“My Opinions Matter” Technique, 2 Steps
As you can see, this exercise allowed Ray to begin building up his ability to discuss issues important to him, and defending his thoughts and values. Would your Ray benefit from a “My opinions matter?” exercise?
On this track, we have discussed stage three of family addiction, hopelessness, and the four important aspects of hopelessness. These aspects are: negative attachments, unbridgeable gulfs, living in a state of trauma, and connections no longer hold. On the next track, we will discuss the three ways the addictive process affects a couple. These three effects are, the initial agreement of the relationship breaks down, anxiety is created due to the breakdown, and the co-addict becomes the sole keeper of the initial agreement
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