By Sarah Miller
When one works in the addiction field, it is common to be asked, “are you in recovery?” I remember the first time I was asked this; I felt flustered by the question because it didn’t feel like a simple “yes or no” to me, it was more of a “no, but…” or “yes, and….”
However, I’ve learned that when people ask this question, they are really asking: “Will you judge me?” or “Will you be able to understand me?” — because at the end of it all they’re just hoping to find someone who will listen and genuinely care.
For me, a great way to show I care is to educate myself. For this topic, the best way to understand the pain your loved one is going through is to understand addiction and how it works.
Myths & Truths About Addiction
It used to be believed that addiction was a question of morality—that bad people are addicts/alcoholics while good people are not—but this is NOT TRUE. Bold it, underline it, and repeat. Struggling with addiction does not mean someone is morally flawed.
Addiction is a DISEASE. As explained by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is defined as a “chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences.” It is a brain disease because drugs/alcohol change the brain—it’s structure and how it works.
Addiction affects a person’s ability to:
- Make rational decisions
- Feel pleasure
- Control cravings
Addiction & Alcoholism is Treatable
The good news? Once you’re able to understand that addiction is a disease, it is easier to see it as TREATABLE (!!). Being deep in the trenches of addiction it may not feel like treatment is possible, but successful recovery stories are out there—which means your loved one may be able to recover too.
Why My Loved One?
You may be wondering why your loved one is struggling while others are not. The answer is—we are all different. We have different risk factors (i.e., early use, genetic predisposition, drug availability, school and peer group, etc.) and different protective factors (i.e., positive relationships, parental monitoring and support, or other environmental factors) that may contribute towards becoming addicted. “There is no single factor that determines whether a person will become addicted or not.” As with any other disease, vulnerabilities differ from person to person.
Addiction: The Unwelcomed Family Guest
Although we didn’t invite addiction into our home, it has made itself a part of the family. Whether our loved ones are active in their addiction or active in their recovery, addiction feels like the family member that is tough to talk about. It’s common to feel like you’re walking on egg shells with words like “craving,” “trigger,” “relapse,” or “overdose” consuming your thoughts, and what used to be “easy” conversations may turn into painful arguments.
Recovery is a family process since everyone in the family has felt or been impacted by addiction. This is important to note because it might mean that changes need to happen within the family to navigate this new chapter. Addiction thrives on secrecy and on isolating those effected, but staying silent is dangerous and this is a fight that doesn’t have to be alone. Recruit back-up. Reach out to people you trust or go see an addiction counselor. You don’t have to look far to find someone else who has been impacted by addiction and seeking counseling as an individual, couple, or family is a great place to start.
You’re Not Alone
At this point you might be thinking, “but Sarah, it’s not that easy!” — and you’re right. When you’re clouded by real fear and worry for your loved one, addiction/recovery is not easy to navigate on your own, that’s why I will always suggest seeking professional support and help.
In my own experience, addiction has trapped some of my family members and friends. Even though I have experience in the field, I found myself falling into the common pitfalls that family members commit. Including becoming the parole officer, lecturing my loved one, looking up treatment centers, looking up Anonymous groups, berating and even shaming—all in the attempt to exert some control over the addiction. In my way, this was how I was trying to help my loved one, but without realizing it I was blurring the boundaries and feeding the addiction’s hold.
I have learned that the best way I can help is to take care of myself whether it be through counseling, seeking support from friends, or spending time doing things I love. This allowed me to learn how to love my loved one while simultaneously fighting the disease of addiction.
If you’re ready to take the first step, either in your own recovery of self-healing, as a family member, or as a couple or family, give us a call to set up your appointment today!