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Alcohol & Sub. Dep.: Family Struggling with Sobriety
On the last track, we discussed the effect addiction has on children. The four aspects of the addictive process affecting children are consequences of addiction affect children differently, the innocence of children, the attachment of the child to the addict, and the age and development status of the child..
On this track, we will discuss the characteristics of a family entering recovery. We will also discuss the three key steps family members of addicts make as they become ready to enter recovery. These are, accepting they cannot control the course or consequences of the addiction, realizing that family interactions have been controlled by the addictive process, and finding out that addiction is an illness.
When I think of a family entering recovery from addiction, the image of a town damaged by a hurricane comes to mind. Some individuals leave the battered town and write it off as an unpleasant memory. Most families experience intense psychological and emotional damage from the storm, and need to begin an extensive rebuilding process. I find that some of the most common signs of this damage are, a genuine desire and hope that everything will be fine now tempered by distrust, and a collective loneliness.
I have also observed signs of hopefulness and cynicism, hurt, anger and fear, high levels of mistrust for even positive changes, and the use of a defense system. In addition, my colleagues frequently see skepticism about the future, focus on short term needs and issues, and reliance on a drive for power rather than a drive for meaning in families entering recovery from addiction.
# 1 - Realize the Lack of Control
I find that it is difficult for family members to realize that staying up until three in the morning, waiting for their teenage addict to come home, does not help in my experience, yelling and making demands can no more stop addiction than they can stop heart disease. Do you agree that the first major step for family members is accepting that they are powerless over the course of the addiction?
# 3 - Realize that Addiction is an Illness
Do you agree that this is often due to hurt, anger, and the mistaken assumption that admitting they are dealing with an illness means that they must forgive behavior they find unforgivable? My client Anna, the 19-year-old daughter of an alcoholic, told me, “Am I just supposed to forgive him because he has a disease? Am I supposed to just forget the time he peed in the corner in the middle of the night because he was so trashed he thought it was the bathroom? I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way for me. If he wants me to forgive him, he’s got a lot of work to do!”
Do you find that Anna’s reaction is the most common? I find that many family members want ‘proof’, such as months of sobriety, before they begin to let their defenses down. As you know, this is normal and understandable, but family member need to open to others outside the family who can help them start the recovery process. I find that it is useful to explain to family members that accepting addiction as an illness does not automatically absolve the addict of past behavior.
“Control Check” Technique, 3 Steps
On this track, we have discussed the characteristics of a family entering recovery. We also discussed the three key steps family members of addicts make as they become ready to enter recovery. These are, accepting they cannot control the course or consequences of the addiction, realizing that family interactions have been controlled by the addictive process, and finding out that addiction is an illness.
On the next track we will discuss the label of “enabler”, and ways in which family members can reframe their role to better help their own health and that of the addict.
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