Family Addiction Recovery: A Blog
Being the mother of an addict thrust me into a world I never wanted to visit yet alone live in. This world was full of chaos, lies and feelings of both helplessness and hopelessness. I referred to this time as the roller coaster ride from hell. One day things are looking up, full of hope and promise, the next day life was spiraling out of control. Addiction was like that. Giving you the illusion of control. Controlling the addict. Controlling your reaction to the addiction. Controlling anything you could get your hands on.
During this time I received a front row seat, hands on education into the world of addiction. At first I bought into the mindset that addiction was a self inflicted condition. That if my son really wanted to stop he would. I never understood the assault being inflicted on his brain and body by the opioids he used daily until the day he decided to detox at home. It wasn't by choice. He blew through his monthly supply in two weeks and had no money to add to his supply. Being a nurse I wasn't afraid. I really was so naive and knew very little about what to expect.
The first day wasn't too bad. Some shakes, sweats, nausea and irritability. By the second day I was panicked. His body was raging war with itself. I was witnessing a medical nightmare. If I had any pills I would have demanded he take them to stop the madness. I learned from that experience that addiction was not self inflicted. Addicts must continue to use in order to live. If they don't the brain and nervous system wage a war the addict will never survive.
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We are almost positive you have heard someone say “he won’t change until he hits bottom.” Have you ever thought deeply about what is being conveyed in that statement? Slang for as bad as it gets, “hitting bottom” usually refers to the need to reach a place (or state of being)
where one is so desperate about how bad things are that you simply “have to” change.
On one hand there is a lot of sense in this idea, as it really describes one of the ways people get motivated toward change. “I finally got sick of waking up hung over all the time with my wife mad at me… it just wasn’t worth it anymore, so I’m getting some help.” Deciding that the costs outweigh the benefits is the primary reason people change.
On the other hand, our beliefs about substance abuse and compulsive behavior problems—and the potential for change—are built into the words we use to speak about them. The the statement “he needs to hit rock bottom” conveys a variety of problematic, deeply held culturally ingrained beliefs and attitudes and there are huge downsides to using it as a way to describe what needs to happen in order to change behavior.
First, it promotes a belief that the change process cannot start until bottom is reached. It also implies that people won’t change unless they are “punished enough” by their own behavior that they see the light. Both of these assumptions could not be further from the truth and they have contributed to many treatment providers sending patients away and telling them to “come back when you’re ready.” It’s also contributed to family members and friends feeling like their only option is to step aside and watch their loved one suffer. Many opportunities for change and lives have been lost due to this flawed belief and culturally loaded statement.
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US Drug Czar Michael Botticelli is trying to change the language surrounding addiction in order to reduce the stigma.
“Junkie” is a historical word. In the early 20th century, people who did heroin were referred to as junkies because they would collect scrap metal, copper wire, and other junk, to pawn or sell to pay for their drugs. Bubbles from David Simon’s The Wire was junkie incarnate, wheel-barrowing garbage all over the city, scrounging for dollars. But over the years the word became an insult, degrading the behavior of drug users.
The Boston Globe recently surveyed advocates and researchers, uncovering the meaning of the language we use to describe addiction. The consensus is that the current lexicon of addiction needs a dramatic makeover.
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You are a person, and being a person is hard. You want to do everything perfectly, but sometimes forces outside of your control become obstacles that prevent you from doing so.
Breathe. Remind yourself that you are not your achievements. The best way for you to move forward from critical thoughts and foggy feelings is by being nicer to yourself. If you turn those negative voices on the inside into positive ones, it'll show on the outside.
This is a reminder to have self-compassion. You are stronger than you think you are. Watch the video above from The School of Life and start practicing a compassion exercise that'll redirect the flow of any negative self-talk.
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For many families, there comes a time when recovery and emotional capital is in short supply, and anxiety about the sustainability of the family is growing. Family members are even unsure of their personal futures within the family and as a leader, you are, stressed, anxious and losing lots of sleep.
You are not alone. Hundreds of thousands of families all over the world dealing with addiction/mental health are currently experiencing uncertainty about the direction of their family. They had built what they thought was a great, but then addiction/mental health seemingly dropped from the sky and blew the family apart. In the face of the chaos brought by radical change, they had not yet found their core strengths, so their communication efforts were inefficient and insufficient. More importantly, they weren't focused. They were often on different pages, with the co-parent as far as their future vision.
With guidance and a few relatively simple steps, you can begin to find your groove and turn the family around.
Here is how:
1. Be transparent.
When making changes, it is imperative you are straightforward. For the whole family not to jump ship, they need to trust you and your leadership, and that begins with knowing the hard truth. So, step one was to establish and maintain full transparency with everyone. Clarity is the best feeling in the world. Everyone wants to know where they stand.
2. Create a common vision.
You need to make sure everyone is on the same page. As a leader, outline how the family is going to jump-start the turnaround. The vision has to be shared, and more importantly, all the key stakeholders need to weigh in. I would engage not only family of origin but also anyone who cares about you and your loved one who is struggling. The result was everyone wanted to be part of the successful turnaround.
3. Fake it till you make it.
Real sustainable change takes time. But each day, week, the month that you are moving closer to achieving the goal of family stability, there will be important milestones hit. We use each one to celebrate our successes -- from declaring our self-care anniversary, supporting our loved one into treatment and continually striving for improving our connection with everyone in the family of origin and choice.
4. Wrap culture around your vision.
When times get tough, and people are struggling to change deeply engrained habits, culture plays a huge role in sustaining excitement around your family vision.
For your family, that could mean weekly breakfast meetings, special personal growth sessions focused on improving communication, a simple family member of the week campaign and maybe a family room re-painting party to brighten the environment and build teamwork. You CAN create a great place to connect with each other. In a fast-paced world, taking the time to intentionally provide an environment where you see and hear each other is so important.
5. Manage for long-term momentum.
Lead your family as you're not going anywhere and totally committed to your vision, and everyone will believe it and invest their time and effort to make it happen.
If you’re intentional, every day, about your self-care you will be successful in turning your family around. Keep in mind turning a family around is not an event, but a process, so stay with it and most importantly get yourself a coach to hold you accountable. Coaching is the sure-fire way to accelerate your family to sustainable change.
Matthieu Ricard, a 69-year-old Tibetan Buddhist monk, has been called the "world's happiest man."
That's because he participated in part of a 12-year brain study on meditation and compassion led by University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson. And Davidson found his brain waves and activity to be off the happiness charts.
In 2008, Davidson had a group of expert meditators (including Ricard) and a group of controls (people who were not experienced in meditation) meditate on compassion, he reported in Scientific American.
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Timothy Harrington is passionate about helping family members of the addicted loved one awaken to their own power and purpose.