Loving an addict isn’t easy. Addicts often manipulate and lie to the people closest to them in order to keep their disease alive. They tend to be self-absorbed, avoiding and impulsive. They are inconsistent, having difficulty meeting responsibilities, holding on to jobs, and following through on commitments they make. They often wreak havoc on family relationships, alienating significant others through constant disappointment, neglect and embarrassment. A Jewish therapist for mother or wife of addict can help.
It is difficult for family members not to take the actions and attitudes of their loved one personally. That the addict won’t just stop his or her behaviors out of their love for them or care for what they share together, pains them. They live in constant fear of what will happen to the addict. They live in perpetual frustration of not being able to get through to the addict no matter how hard they try. They fight to hold on to their conviction that the real person they believe their loved one to be will come back, but constantly have their hopes dashed with one failed attempt at sobriety after another. Yet they suffer in silence because of the emotional neglect of the addict, and because of the shame they feel and fear no one can understand.
Significant others are usually consumed with pain, frustration and fear by the time they come to see me for their initial session. They come wanting to borrow from my expertise, asking me:
“What can I do to make my loved one better?”
That’s when I have to deal the devastating blow: “Nothing.”
Addicts only get better when they themselves choose recovery, and actively continue to choose it every day, every moment. And it usually gets worse before it gets better. And it may never get better.
At this point my horrified client usually wants to know if that is the reality, what is the point of therapy for family members of addicts?
“Are you in recovery?” I ask, using the term commonly used in addiction to describe a person taking action daily to treat their problem.
“ME??? Why Me? My loved one is the one with the problem. I’m not the sick one!”
At that point I say, “Let me ask you… who do you feel is suffering more right now- you, or the addict?”
Addiction is a family disease. It affects everyone in the family. And although no one can change the addict, what family members do can either enable the addiction to continue, OR help facilitate its cessation and help the family recover.
Codependency is a term that was created by addiction professionals for a tendency they commonly observed in significant others of addicts. Codependency can be translated as: a pattern of trying to control others for their own good, which ends up being bad for oneself and the relationship. Many well-meaning family members out of their love for the person-in-need try to give to the addict or help them, only to find the problems get worse. And although the family member’s life often becomes consumed by anguish over repeatedly trying to help the addict but not getting the results they want, they tend to continue repeating the same ineffective pattern. This is because codependency is an addiction too! Just as an addict experiences a compulsion to repeat a certain behavior despite negative consequences, the codependent experiences a compulsion to repeat a certain behavior despite negative consequences. The addict is addicted to a substance or behavior, the codependent is addicted to the addict!
So how does a loving, caring family member effectively facilitate recovery for the addict, healing for themselves and healthy functioning for their family? By entering into a recovery of their own.
What does recovery for significant others of addicts entail?
1) Education– Despite their repetition of the behavior, most addicts don’t want to be addicts. Addiction is not just a physical dependency that happens within the body, it’s a disease of the mind. It is a compulsive disorder based in self-deceptive thinking. The words commonly used to describe addiction are cunning, baffling and powerful. It defies logic and rationalization. That’s why addicts usually can’t “just stop” even when they want to.
Since addiction is like another language from what people are used to, recovery is learning that language so you can properly engage it. Part of therapy for significant others is being educated about addiction- how to identify it and the variety of ways it manifests itself, as well as education about recovery- what it is and what is necessary to facilitate it.
2) Management of Codependency– Because their emotional involvement often makes it difficult to be objective, significant others of addicts often need help identifying what is within their control and what is not, and what to do about each. What is in their control are their own actions and reactions. Examples are how they communicate with the addict, boundary setting, stopping enabling behaviors, creating consequences and putting the responsibility for recovery on the addict instead of absorbing it themselves. What is not within their control are the actions and reactions of the addict. The difficult work here is accepting their lack of control, coping with the objectionable behaviors and their inability to change it, and managing their uncertainty and fears of what will be- without their fear taking over their life or putting more strain on the relationship.
3) Support– Since most people do not have the correct understanding of addiction, and addiction carries a stigma in many communities, significant others of addicts often suffer in silence. Having support, especially from someone who understands, can be especially valuable. Not only is it emotionally gratifying, but engaging with others who are also doing the work of recovery helps one stay on the path of recovery themselves. The insight and encouragement of a peer is helpful in acting in new and healthy ways, and not losing yourself in the pain and frustration of addiction. Finding a safe environment to be open and honest about the pains and fears one experiences living with addiction is also crucial to the mental health and healing of the significant other.
Where does recovery for family members happen?
To deal with addiction and codependency, a person has to be educated in it. There are lots of books and websites that can provide that information. A good book for understanding the addictive mind is “Addictive Thinking: Understanding Self-Deception” by Abraham J. Twerski. A good book to learn about codependency is “Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself” by Melody Beattie.
Just as there are 12-step meetings for addicts to gain the tools of recovery and support in maintaining abstinence, there are 12-step meetings specifically for family members of addicts to gain the tools of recovery and support in maintenance of new behaviors (see below). These meetings are free, are in almost every city, and occur everyday at a variety of times.
However psychotherapy with a therapist knowledgeable in addiction and codependency like myself, could provide individualized attention, and help the family member identify what is needed for recovery within their family in specific. A psychotherapist trained in addictions can help the family member identify which of their struggles could be a consequence of the addiction in their family or their own codependency and ways of handling it. An addictions psychotherapist can also help the person to explore dynamics within their family that could be contributing to the addiction, and help them come up with interventions that could be helpful in bringing about recovery. Addictions psychotherapy can provide the information, tools and on-going support family members need to facilitate their own recovery as well as help them effectively engage in the recovery of the addict.
If you’re in the NY area and want to schedule a consultation session with me to see if therapy can be helpful to you in your situation, please visit the contact page of my website.
Family Recovery Resources:
Al-Anon (for family members of alcohol and drug addicts): www.al-anon.alateen.org, 888-425-2666
Gam-Anon (for family members of gambling addicts): www.gam-anon.org, 718-352-1671
S-Anon (for family members of sex addicts): www.s-anon.org, 800-210-8141
CoDa (for individuals struggling with codependency): www.coda.org, 888-444-2359