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Alcohol & Sub. Dep.: Family Struggling with Sobriety
On the last track, we discussed 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.
On this track, we will discuss the ‘collapse’ stage of recovery. In my experience, the three most important points to consider when discussing the collapse stage are, letting go of long-standing routines and rituals, letting go of old attitudes and behaviors, and the fear of ‘walking backwards’.
I find that one of the hardest things for families in early recovery to do is to let themselves and their family “collapse”. I use the term ‘collapse’, because for many families, this is how it feels for them to let go of the past and begin building a new life together. As you are aware, this is extremely frightening for most family members of addicts. As you will see with Jen, family members have organized their lives around the addiction, sometimes for many years.
# 1 - Letting Go of Routines & Rituals
Jen stated, “it’s like we had this little play we performed. She comes home at 1am, drunk, sometimes pukes on herself. I get mad, yell. She cries and yells at me. Then I feel bad, clean her up, put her to bed. The next morning, she makes me breakfast and we both smile and laugh, like it didn’t happen. It’s always the same, but what else can I do?” Do you agree that the family creates internal and external triggers that lock the addict into using behavior, and the co-addicts into controlling behavior? As you know, for recovery to be successful, this way of life needs to end, or ‘collapse’.
# 2 - Letting Go of Old Attitudes & Behaviors
Jen stated, “I never know what to say to Mom to get through to her. If I try explaining, she just gets nasty. Once she actually told me if I shut up and wore some makeup to cover my pimples, I might finally get a boyfriend and have someone else to nag! That really hurt. Why try to talk to her any more if she’s going to come back at me like that? I’d be stupid to just invite her to attack me again. It’d be best if I just focused on keeping her from drinking herself to death, and keeping her from getting in and hurting me any more than she already has!”
Clearly, Jen’s attitudes revolved around minimizing damage and control, rather than a sense of love and family. Are you treating a Jen who has given up support and community in favor of defending him or herself?
# 3 - The Fear of ‘Walking Backwards’
Jen told me that she felt terrified when facing letting go of the rituals she had established with her mother Pam. Jen stated, “ever since I can remember, I’ve been my mother’s mom. I cleaned her up if she comes home smashed and gets sick on herself. Friday night was my night to sit and pray for her to come home safe. I can’t remember a night out with friends. Hell, I don’t have friends. Everything focused on taking care of Mom. Now you’re telling me to go focus on my own life. What life? If I don’t look out for her, who will? I hate this ‘let go’ stuff. You say it so easily. Do you have any clue what you’re asking me to do?”
Jen’s personality and identity had been defined by how well she cared for Pam’s addiction for as long as she could clearly remember. I explained to Jen that the fear she was feeling was normal and understandable.
On this track, we have discussed the three important aspects of the ‘collapse’ stage of recovery. These are, letting go of long-standing routines and rituals, letting go of old attitudes and behaviors, and the fear of ‘walking backwards’.
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