This September marks the 25th annual celebration of National Recovery Month.
The simplicity of this year’s theme—“Speak Up. Reach Out,” demonstrates the community’s continued effort to smash addiction’s stigma.
“Hi, I’m an alcoholic. But I still have a family, and love to play, and laugh, and feel valued. I’m no different from you, really.”
Statements like these are at the heart of this year’s theme. A shameless addiction community is on everyone’s mind.
Addicts need to talk about their addictions. Addicts in recovery need to support each other. And we all need to work together to smash the stigma, so that people will be more likely to get help. But we can’t stop here.
The invitation to speak up and reach out extends to the family members and friends of those changed by addiction too. I want to show you with the next 800 words why families need to take recovery seriously, and with a healthy dose of maturity.
Addiction Is a Family Disease
Addiction impacts more than the person who abused drugs and alcohol; it touches everyone in its path—of course this primarily includes the family.
Families become part of the addiction in multiple ways:
- They often join the addicted loved one in denying that something is wrong or that it isn’t as bad as it seems.
- Their actions, thoughts and energies become consumed with navigating the addicted loved one’s behaviors.
- They end up walking on eggshells around their loved one in hopes that they don’t set off another drinking/drugging binge or catching all the serious consequences that come as a result of addiction from hitting their loved one.
It’s natural to want to help someone who is suffering and to alleviate the pain. Yet, there’s a proper way to alleviate the pain of addiction.
Professionals call this common reaction of family members toward a loved one’s addiction codependency.
Codependency in a Nutshell
Codependency looks different for everyone, and not everyone with an addicted loved one will be codependent. (Nor will every codependent have an addicted loved one.)
Melodie Beattie boils down the complexity of codependency into the following sentence:
“A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.”
–Melodie Beattie, Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself
When a loved one’s addiction consumes all your thoughts and energies, it becomes unhealthy for both you and the addict.
One Family’s Story
I want to introduce you to just a normal American family—husband, wife, three beautiful children, and a few dogs.
The parents—for the most part, always drank responsibly. But time added new struggles: the kids were almost all out of the house, and a beloved parent passed away. It was then that Pam’s drinking gradually became out-of-control.
“I caught her drinking after I took her to AA. I broke the bottle in the house. I was upset. Probably overreacted a little bit. I was like, ‘This is the last time.’ She was like, ‘Don’t tell anybody. I’ll stop.’ She just lied to me. I wore that, from that moment on, all the way through it.” –Matt, son
“I would sleep at my friends houses all the time. I would spend weeks at one of my best friend’s house. I didn’t know why I didn’t want to go home, I just didn’t. I didn’t want to be here.” –Jordan, son
“I felt an immense amount of distrust and a disconnection from the family too. We weren’t cohesive. It just wasn’t working. It wasn’t just with my mom . . . It wasn’t like family time was real anymore. I just felt angry at the situation.” –Ashlynn, daughter
“When it comes to her alcoholism that got to me the most, was the lies. I’m just a very honest person, and to be lied to really cuts deep.” –John, husband
“My kids felt betrayed. My husband felt betrayed. They didn’t trust me. My word was no good. I had a very definite effect on the family, a negative effect on the family.” –Pam, wife, mother and recovering alcoholic
Addiction Requires a Family Approach
As families who are part of an addicted loved one’s journey, you’ve done so much and you’ve been hurt so much, that when someone suggests you need help, it might sound ridiculous.
You’ve kept the family together, paid the bills, taken care of emergencies, while your loved one uses, drinks, and lies to you. John expresses his experience this way:
“Being a spouse of an alcoholic, when it all falls apart, there is definitely resentment there. Personally for me, the resentments were just the fact that she lied, and I resented myself for being so stupid to believe her, but I loved her, so I believed her. Then the damage it caused the kids at the time, I really had to keep the family together.”
You have to address the problems the addiction created for you and the family. Even if your loved one is not in recovery, you can choose to be in recovery. And sometimes that means reaching out for help for yourself.
Ashlynn, the daughter, agrees that the family had to approach addiction together and be supportive of their mom getting help, despite their anger and frustration:
“Just the alcoholism alone created years of problems for all of us individually and as a family. We had to learn to address all of those and deal with them. And, make a decision as a family.”
Guts and Tough Love
This family’s way of supporting their mom to get help was not a fuzzy type of support feeling.
Who knows how many times Pam promised, “I’ll stop,” and didn’t.
It was not a self-control issue. No. Pam was sick. And she needed help.
So her family confronted her and gave two options: get out or go to rehab.
The get out meant divorce. It meant not being part of her daughter’s upcoming wedding, nor her son’s Air Force graduation. And the most important part is as difficult as it would have been to follow through with those boundaries, her family stood firm behind them and were going to do what they said.
“I was absolutely scared to death that I was going to lose my family, so that’s a huge motivator. For me it was anyways.”
Recovery Can Restore a Family
You’d think that after all the pain and hurt everyone has been through, that life will never be as good as it was before.
It’s true that life is not the same after you get back up from addiction’s downward spiral. Yet, it’s not the same in a positive way. It takes time and hard work, but recovery truly is a gift that keeps on giving:
“She’s not going to be asleep on the couch when you get home. She’s going to be, “Hey, what’s up? You hungry?” Being a mom. It’s pretty cool to have that again.” –Matt
“I never would have thought that our family was going to do this. In a lot of ways, I’m glad that we did. As hard as it was and as much trust it took out of our family for a long time, rebuilding has been some of the most fun times.” –Ashlynn
“I always know that when I come home I’m coming home to a loving house rather than a broken house which makes it a lot lot better, especially coming back from college where you just want your family.” –Jordan
“To fall in love again is great. It really is. I wish I could give you an exact timeline, but what I can say is the proof was there. I trusted her again and I was proud of her. I was thankful.” –John
“The difference today is that I like who I am, and if I don’t like who I am, I have the power to change that and make it someone I like. That’s different. Before I just thought I was stuck in the situation, and I didn’t like me. I wasn’t very fond of me. There’s been great transformation in that regard.” –Pam
Speak Up, Reach Out!
Pam’s family is one of many living in recovery. If your family is in recovery, speak up and share your story. Let others see that recovery is possible.
We know there are other families that addiction is still negatively impacting. Whether your loved one decides to go to treatment or not, you can reach out for help and protect yourself (for example, try out a few Al-Anon meetings and/or find a counselor).
“Just don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to make the phone call. Don’t be afraid. Don’t make yourself out to be a bad person because you’re seeking help. We all need help from one time to another. This disease is ultimately fatal, and there’s help out there . . . and it’s easy, and it can potentially save our lives.” –Pam