Four Strategies to Help the Family Heal
Pain, worry, embarrassment and anger are some of the intense feelings family members experience facing addiction. You may be doing everything you can to help your loved one change, and yet there seems to be no forward progress. Frequently returning to anger, fear, and shame, you may notice you’re changing too, and not for the better. As a family, you may notice the break-down in relationships, the quality of your time together, as well as a break-down in sustained efforts to help the addict get recovery; addiction affects everyone in the family system. The following are four important strategies that help the family recover from the devastation and heartache:
Seek support from others who understand what it’s like to love a family member with an addiction and can offer you hope. Unlike other diseases a family may cope with, untreated addiction brings an added element of unpredictability, shame, betrayal and blame. Some days, it may seem that everyone in the family is on the same page and can agree on what needs changing and how, and on other days, there’s avoidance, abandonment, rage, and retrenchment. Getting plugged into a support group can help to regain sanity, share about these challenges and hear how others developed skills to initiate and maintain positive change in the family. You can look up therapy groups on Counseling Washington or Psychology Today or seek peer support through 12-step groups, such as Al-Anon or CoDA.
Commit to rigorous self-care. Getting out of crisis mode requires some dedication to understanding your needs and learning how to meet them in healthy ways. Taking care of yourself first is often the best way to love another. Self-care frees us of resentment, guilt, and reactivity, allowing others the dignity of owning their own needs as well as the ability to learn from the consequences of their own actions. Intentional focus on meeting your physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental needs can provide a powerful, motivating example to other family members.
Begin family therapy to learn new ways to problem solve and communicate. In my practice, we identify goals which enhance healthy boundaries and strengthen the family’s core values. While this is unique to each family, often, it may first mean understanding what addiction is and responding in non-blaming or shaming ways. Second, the family can unite in showing love with limits. In active addiction, it is important to understand enabling and how this leads to over/under-functioning. A family can be divided on definitions of healthy limits and responsibility, and where there is division, the addict can continue to manipulate, blame, and use. As families begin to work together in therapy, they can transform what they stand for, both committing to taking the necessary steps to stop enabling as well as making greater space for fun, relaxation, and opportunities for intimacy. Adjusting to changes within a family takes patience and time to allow others and yourself to change, knowing that it is a process, marked by setbacks and success. For this reason, it is important to work with a professional to guide and encourage you on the journey.
Start individual therapy. The impact of addiction can mean a breakdown in each family member’s ability to function. Abuse, neglect, and trauma caused by addiction can demoralize and deplete the family’s resources. Repeated attempts to help the addicted member change can bring on depression, anxiety, and isolation, solidifying unhelpful self-beliefs. Through these habits, you may find yourself sabotaging your efforts to recover or impacting the family’s recovery; it is what you’ve known. In my practice, I work with clients to build skills and coping methods that increase self-esteem and the ability to enact change in themselves and their families. So, we work together in a focused way to build awareness of unhelpful beliefs, face and heal accumulated traumas, and complete homework to build a more hopeful, free life.
Remember, your health and your family’s health are worth it: consider finding a group or calling for an appointment.