There isn't a parent, sibling, spouse or any family member that is happy about their loved one's substance abuse issue or prospective addiction problems. The strongest family bond can be ripped to shreds when someone they love to the depths of their soul is heading 90 miles an hour toward a brick wall and they are virtually hopeless to do anything about it.
What prompted me to write this column was an email I received from a friend who was full of anguish as her granddaughter was now in a rehab in Utah and she hadn't seen her for over a year. This friend of mine was very aware that my own daughter had followed a similar path, so she felt comfortable reaching out to me for some solace. There was a sentence in her email that said her own daughter would be very angry that she was sharing this with me. Why? I had been there/done that and was a specialist in this field so surely won't judge, but empathize.
If her granddaughter had a serious physical illness she might not feel the need to make that comment. Maybe the thinking is that that kind of disease is out of one's control and the other is irresponsible behavior and poor parenting? Hogwash.
The most irresponsible families have children that are not caught up in addiction, and just the opposite is also true. This is a worldwide epidemic, and sadly everyone might be a member of this club.
So, what are some of the reasons why family members struggle with accepting this kind of personal malady? Here are three that are all intertwined, but each one can stand on its own depending on where each family is coming from.
• Denial: A common communication thread that I hear when first starting to counsel a family member about their loved one is "Well, he/she can stop anytime," or "So he/she has a few drinks too many now and then... you would, too if you had to deal with all the pressure that he/she has to." Or, "It's not so bad, so and so is making way too much out of it."
If there is a problem with out-of-control behavior because of one or two or a dozen too many drinks, then saying that one can stop at anytime if they feel like it obviously hasn't worked yet.
• Shame: "This can't be happening to my child/husband/wife/sister, etc. We are a good, religious family with strong values." "This has to be dealt with privately and no one can know. We don't air our dirty laundry."
Embarrassment that a loved one is in a state that they are not able to control is well... embarrassing to some. It might show that they are weak or stupid or just lost, and their family has done a poor job in setting proper and good examples. For myself personally, I was embarrassed and felt ashamed that my husband at the time had to live in a sober living environment instead of taking care of his problem like an adult. Of course, anything that would help him was really the whole point of the goal toward a clean and sober lifestyle, and my ego got in the way; what would my friends think, and how could I have picked this guy? Couldn't I do better?
• Guilt: Even with a DUI or jail time or stealing, it can still be difficult to get the family to acknowledge there is a problem with their loved one and substance abuse. It is guilt that takes hold the tightest.
It is easy for a parent, spouse or sibling to blame themselves because they were a single parent, worked two jobs, paid more attention to another sibling because of physical or mental disabilities -- or the opposite, by excelling in intelligence or sports that would carve up more time to them then to the other sibling.
They feel there is time to make all things right no matter how long it takes, how much it costs or the toll it takes on them personally, and possibly other family members.
This guilt can have a wingspan that will last for decades. I have a client that has a son with an addiction. He has fathered two children and is unable to care for them, nor can the mother. My client has carried around so much guilt about her "poor parenting while he was growing up" that she has now legally adopted both of these children. This is loving and commendable, but her partner of 20 years, now near retirement age, honestly professes that he "did not sign up for parenting all over again."
Guilt will hamper a loved one's recovery, for if the proper button is pushed to a family member, they can easily crumble. I have shared more than once with my readers that my daughter and I have a very anxious relationship, as she is in and out of recovery.
For years I would acquiesce to her demands, for if I didn't, she would easily and as if on cue ask me why I adopted her, I was never around and surely didn't love her like I did her other adopted sister.
To prove my love (or what I thought would), I would give the thumbs up to whatever she wanted from me. After a while, I realized that there was nothing in the bank from the time before of me granting her request, because according to her, we were always starting over.
I have hobbled my guilt and now am able to stop myself from going down that road of enabling that is spawned from guilt.
There are more important things to feel guilty about today other than whether we were good or bad parents, spouses or siblings. Guilt and resentment are easy to keep alive, for not only the alcoholic/addict but the family as well. We get used to this feeling and are almost comfortable in it, because we have been in it for so long.
It takes guts and determination to change our ways. It is scary, and we can be punished or judged from people we didn't even know existed in our lives. But change it we must if we are going to be responsible to not only the alcoholic/addict, but ourselves.
There are millions of us around with loved ones that have a substance abuse issue. Join the club: Come out of the closet of your denial, shame or guilt. It can be a freeing experience and one that will be the first steps in helping the alcoholic/addict in your life start the long road to recovery. If you deny it or shove it under the carpet, then so will they.
If I can be of service, please visit my website at www.familyrecoverysolutions.com. In addition, I invite you to explore my new book "Reclaim Your Life -- You and the Alcoholic/Addict" at www.reclaimyourlifebook.com or on Amazon. In addition, only through my website, my book is now available as an audio CD.
For more by Carole Bennett, M.A., click here.
For more on mental health, click here.