And in the blink of an eye my whole reality changed. He just admitted out loud what we had assumed, he was using. And whilst he was disillusioned into believing that there was no problem, we could clearly see that there was. How could this be? Why didn’t we see this coming? The whole thing felt like a really bad dream that I couldn’t wake up from. And things would get a lot worse before they got better… the following months would see things spiral completely out of control – car accidents, run ins with the police, broken promises over and over again. This wasn’t him. This wasn’t the person I grew up with. This vicious disease was stealing him away from us – as his family we felt like we were being left behind like wreckage on his tracks.
“Addiction is a family disease, one person may use but the whole family suffers.” – Shelley Louis
Do you have a family member or a loved one that is battling a drug addiction? I’m no councilor or psychologist of any sort, but I have experienced first-hand the emotional damage that addiction can have on a family. I want to let you know that whatever you are feeling now, there is still hope, hope that your life can carry on, hope that you can still be happy, hope that one-day your loved one may be set-free from the grasp of this disease. Hope is important. Hope is what keeps us going.
Here are some of my personal learnings that may be of benefit to you:
Get off the rollercoaster of emotions and onto stable ground.
I look back and see how my family and I went through such a range of emotions and changes in our behavior:
• Fear – distraught from dwelling on the worst possible outcomes.
• Anger – how could he do this?
• Control – non-stop phone calls or messages to find out where he was and what he was doing.
• Changing personas – Maybe I just need to act like his best friend…. Maybe I just need to act like his life coach… Maybe I just need to make him feel guilty…
• Hurt & Disappointment – Heart break every time he broke a promise or relapsed.
It was emotionally exhausting. I eventually learnt my instability had no positive impact on the situation as I couldn’t be a good support to other family members, I was run down mentally and if anything I was pushing him further away. I had to re-gain control of my emotions by understanding that his actions were beyond my control. No matter what I did or said, it did not change his using. Though at times things were disturbing to hear or watch, it helped to consciously say to myself – worrying is not going to change the situation, don’t expect the worst, hold on to the hope that regardless of what the situation looks like now his journey is not complete.
Everyone has opinions.
People will tell you so many different things – there will be those that encourage tough love, “cut them off, have nothing to do with them” they will say. Others will recommend you to enroll them into a multitude of different programs. Then there are those that will be dismissive and tell you “it’s not a big deal, they will get over it”. And finally there are those that basically say bend over backwards, forwards and back again to help them. What I’ve learnt is that every situation is different, every person with an addiction is different and every family is different. Like so many other things in life there is no one right approach. Follow your heart, whatever you are doing is your best and sometimes you need to explore certain paths to feel content that you’ve tried that. At the end of the day, everyone will have opinions but ensure your actions are based off the facts.
Be supportive but know your boundaries.
For me personally it was important that I felt like I hadn’t given up on him and that I was still there to offer support. If you take this approach of being there to offer support, it’s important that you know your boundaries. Those overcome by drug addiction can be manipulative and often will say the things you want to hear or pull on emotional strings in order to get the resources they need to support their habit. It is important that you define to yourself what support looks like. For example, for one family it may mean not providing money but rather just providing food and a place to sleep. Being supportive doesn’t mean that you have to say yes to things that will support their drug habit, but instead it is more about acting in a non-judgmental way, listening, offering a shoulder to cry on, encouraging and supporting positive behaviors – for example offering a lift to rehab sessions. Remember, there are many ways you can remain supportive without supporting their habit.
Your well-being comes first.
If you’ve been on a plane and watched the security demonstration you would’ve noticed that in the case of an emergency you are told to put the air mask around your face first, before you assist others. This works off the basic principle that you can’t really be of help to others if you yourself are struggling to survive. It is important to recognize when the situation is taking its toll on your well-being and to respond by investing in yourself – this could mean attending a relaxation class, speaking with a councilor, going on a holiday. Your well-being comes first, so ensure you protect your personal boundaries and invest time in yourself. Eat well, drink plenty of water, exercise and get enough sleep. These are fundamentals that you should not compromise on. The lesson for me here was that I was of more benefit to my family when I was in a good frame of mind and feeling fit.
Surround yourself with positive people.
Dealing with a loved one’s drug addiction is not the time to start hanging out with all the negative Nancy’s of the world. In reality you will probably have a few run-ins with people who feel obligated to share their unkind or unhelpful words – I recommend the “in one ear, out the other” approach for these people. The positive energy, kind and encouraging words from positive people can really help to lift your spirits. In our times of weakness we can draw on the strength of those around. If you feel lonely and are dealing with the situation on your own it’s important you reach out to meet people that can support you – a local church, a local community group or a family support group for families dealing with addictions.
Attend a family support group.
Attending a family support group is a good way to remind yourself that you are not alone and that there are many other families out there also battling with a loved one’s addiction. The experiences of others may resonate with you and you may even learn something from their stories. In the same way your story is so important and may help someone else. Attending a support group is a great excuse to get out of the house and to talk to others about how you are feeling in an understanding and non-judgmental environment.
Addiction is a journey
Finally, I see each of us on a journey through life. This life will not last forever. For me I found that instead of living out each day in anguish I was happier once I made a conscious decision to take one day at a time and to look for the opportunities along the way to learn, develop and grow. Whatever you are experiencing today may enable you to help someone else tomorrow. In the same way your loved one battling addiction is also on a journey, they are on a path that they must experience for themselves. They have not yet reached their journeys end. See their slips as bumps along the way, and hold onto the hope that one day they will reach the perfect destination!