3 Lessons Learned Coping with A Loved One’s Addiction

Looking Back On The Trouble and Turmoil

Several years ago we had two members of our family hit their respective bottoms in rapid succession. For me, this was a brand new experience. Of course, I had put my family through the turmoil, horror, and pain of dealing with the consequences of my own alcoholism 12 years earlier.  Until I had the experience first hand of watching a family member go through their struggles with addiction, I didn’t have the empathy or compassion necessary to really understand the anguish I had caused those that loved me. For me personally, this was a very challenging time while at the same time it gave me a deeper appreciation of the pain caused by addiction to those who are bound by affection to an addict.  This has been an inspiration in my work and in my personal life. Below is a bit of that story.

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At the time I was working for a Fortune 100 company managing an office of approximately 65 salespeople and staff, I had a young family with a wife and daughter, as well as, many community and recovery based commitments. The first thing I learned during this time is that life is not put on hold so that you can better meet the challenge.  On a typical day, I would talk to 3 generations of my family about our loved one before making it to my office in the morning. I would help my Grandmother try and understand that addiction is a disease that her loved ones were suffering from and that there was nothing she could do to change that, and most importantly that it wasn’t her fault. I would try to counsel my mom on how best to set limits and support her resolve to do so regarding family. On most days I would talk to 2-3 more relatives all before attempting to get through my workday productively and show up in the evening for my family. I was often left feeling like the guy in the old Vaudeville act where he runs up and down the stage spinning plates on sticks. The minute he seems to get them all spinning one begins to wobble, so he runs down to the other side of the stage and sets the wobbler spinning again. He breathes a deep sigh only to need to sprint to the others side of the stage to catch the next plate which has begun precariously wobbling itself. The strain was causing me to start to wobble.

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Many days I found myself too emotionally drained to be productive or present. Often I had trouble falling asleep at night. I would lie in bed worried about my family, and unable to let go of the stress and strain.  I wasn’t exercising enough, and my eating habits weren’t great. In short, I wasn’t taking care of myself.

Getting The Right Help, And How It Happened

After being in long-term recovery for many years, I still found myself overwhelmed by the stress of coping with a loved one who was suffering from addiction.  I found it extremely hard to balance the demands of life during this time of crisis and transition. The great news is both my family members were able to get the help they needed.  They are both now in long-term recovery themselves and are doing great. Our family moved forward together and now are closer than ever. The experience taught me, and I’d like to share some of that with you.  Please find below a short list of lessons learned, and things I might do differently if this were to happen again.

  1. Absolutely, manage your own self-care. Take care of yourself emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. As much as possible get enough sleep. Exercise regularly for both the physical and psychological benefits.  Eat well. In short, do everything you can to make sure your needs are taken care of. To take care of anyone else, we must take care of ourselves.

  2. Pursue your own healing. Addiction doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Most likely if a family member is symptomatic with addiction there is unprocessed trauma or stress within the family system.  If true, this is affecting all members of the family. We may find ourselves so preoccupied with our family members that we are unaware of the true nature of our own emotional and mental state.  Engaging in your own process of healing not only will help you personally but may also serve as an example to your loved one.

  3. Know your own limits and stand up for them.  When a loved one is in crisis, it can be easy to fall into a mode of perpetually responding to them and their behavior.  We love our family and want to take care of them, this is natural. It is important though that we try not to take on a level of responsibility within the situation that hinders our ability to carry on with our lives.  

Create a plan for how the family as a system will deal with an emergency. An excellent suggestion is to ensure that every family member has a “buddy” they can call in a crisis. This provides both that no one need handle a crisis individually and that no one individual within the family ends up inundated continuously by the crisis.

Have someone outside of your family that is unaffected by the current circumstance that you can lean on for support. Sometimes we need an objective voice, other times we need a shoulder to cry on. Identify someone in your circle that you can rely on in this way and let them know who they are. This person can become an integral level of support for you.

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I hope that these three lessons I learned can be helpful to others. My story might be inspirational to some readers that they too can weather the storm of addiction.  That there is light at the end of the tunnel.

At Granite Mountain, we are here to answer any questions or concerns.  Please contact us through our website or by phone at 844-878-3221. Reach out anytime, we are here to help.

Until next time
Your friend in service,

To get help for substance use disorder today contact us today

Bouncing Forward

How Families Can Become More Resilient in the Face of Adversity

Beginning in the early 1980’s researchers began studying individual resilience. That is, an individual’s ability to withstand and recover from traumatic experiences.  Before this research, it was common to view people through a deterministic lens. The traumatic experiences he or she had survived informed and primarily determined the sort of person he or she would become.  In this view, if one were the victim of child abuse, they would go on to become a perpetrator themselves. Over time many experts recognized that this presumption was not born out in actual practice. Most who were the victims of abuse did not go on to become abusers, most people who survived great disasters natural or human-made went on to thrive in life.  This observation contradicted the established deterministic view and caused a surge of research into what is now known as human resilience. Viewed through the resilience lens an individual who has survived trauma is not regarded as “damaged” rather they are seen as having been challenged by life and as having the innate abilities to foster their healing. An entire new discipline within psychology is growing around these ideas.  

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Around the turn of this century, psychologists began looking into resilience within a family system.  This work has expanded our understanding of what constitutes a thriving family system in adverse situations.  Resilience within a family system enables the family to face and successfully respond to challenging circumstances and to grow as a family through these experiences.  The family resilience framework views each family member not only in regards to his or her capacity but also in light of his or her potential impact on the strength of the family as a functioning system.  Resilience is a skill that can be learned and refined within individuals and family systems. In this article, I will present a framework of skills and attitudes which if practiced can maximize a families ability to confront and overcome challenging crises situations, thereby assisting the family in facing their current and future challenges more successfully.  

Based on the work of Dr. Froma Walsh we will consider three broad categories of processes involved in a family resilience framework: family belief systems, organizational patterns, and communication processes.

Systems of Belief

Talking about the narratives we tell ourselves

The stories we tell ourselves about our past, our present, and our future shape what we believe about ourselves as individuals, how we approach the world around us, and what options we feel are open to us.  Similarly, the stories a family tells one another about the family and its history shape the families systems of belief. This family belief system dramatically influences how the family views their shared history, their current situation, and their possible futures.  What a family believes will be a primary determinant in how they approach times of extreme stress.

Making meaning out of adversity

Looking past crisis to see what’s going on

Whether a family views a crisis as permanent, inevitable, and insurmountable or as temporary, comprehensible, and manageable may only be a matter of the stories the family decides to tell themselves about the event.  The shared story has a profound impact on the families ability to overcome the challenge and remain a connected family unit. Experiences are just that, things that happen, the meaning we decide both individually and collectively to ascribe to the state of affairs will largely determine how we can move past them successfully.   

Successful family systems have a sense of adversity as a shared experience and share a belief in the family’s ability to overcome the challenge together.  By relying on the family system, individual family members increase their ability to meet a crisis successfully. Also, by contextualizing and normalizing the distress of the family, the individuals can see their reaction and challenges, as well as, those of other family members as reasonable in the context of the current difficulties.  The understanding of crisis within the context of the family’s evolution allows them to see challenges as meaningful, understandable, and manageable challenges rather than viewing them as incomprehensible and insurmountable. By understanding obstacles as a shared challenge, normalizing the shared adversity, and understanding crisis as an essential experience within a family’s evolution we become better able to understand the experience and move toward exploring a more robust set of options for how to manage the situation. 

Keeping A Positive Outlook

Maintaining a positive attitude and an optimistic outlook for the future can be very challenging, this is never truer than in the face of great adversity.  If a family can maintain a positive outlook, it has a tremendous impact on the family’s ability to move through trouble successfully. The highest functioning families have been found to hold more optimistic views of life in general and appear more able to maintain this point of view during times of high stress.  

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By encouraging family members in times of stress, affirming for one another the strengths inherent in the family, a family system can bolster the positive attitude needed to overcome the current challenge.  Encouragement can counter the sense of hopelessness during these times and enable family members to act with courage and perseverance in surmounting a challenge. A focus on strengths and perseverance are calling cards of resilience.  

I have seen this demonstrated in my own life.  My wife was thirty weeks pregnant with our second child at the time that her water broke, this is far too early and was an immediate medical emergency.  My wife was on total bedrest for thirty days at the hospital to forestall delivery. Throughout this period of stress, she experienced the full range of emotions, as one would imagine.   We are fortunate to live in proximity to family and many friends. Over the thirty days I watched as each visitor affirmed for my wife that she was capable, they reminded her of other experiences she had been through that were very challenging and how she had surmounted those obstacles, and always encouraged her to continue to stay strong.  When she reflects on this experience, she reports how during times of greatest despair she would recall these conversations and how they provided the strength to make it through one more day.

Additionally, my wife will recount that her commitment to only focusing on the elements of the experience that were controllable enabled her to stay focused on positive actions she could take.  The research shows this is much more than a mental trick. Having a positive mindset is not about fooling oneself about potential risks or realities of a particular circumstance. Instead, it is about dwelling in the possible.  That is, the ability to take a realistic appraisal of a situation, what are the possible outcomes, and then focusing time, energy, and effort on creating the best possible resolution for a given set of circumstances. In the case of our family it wasn’t that her positive attitude and perseverance changed the outcome of my sons birth, but these traits enabled Aimy not to give up,  Her strength, in turn, inspired the rest of our family, allowing all of us to experience both the challenge and the good of the experience. When we look back on this time now we think of it not primarily as a challenging time; rather our family story is one of love, connection, and strength. We all agree that it was one of the most important experiences we have shared and that it brought us together as a family, and to top it off we were able to add another member to our family.


The Importance of Transcendent Belief and Affiliation

Finding a power to propel you

Traditionally most people were able to tap into inner resilience through religious affiliation and practice.  Many people still do, for those that don’t actively participate in a spiritual tradition, it is essential to understand what the mechanisms are within these traditions that allow people to tap previously unseen strength and resilience.  Research has found that attachment to ritual tradition, connections to a congregation, and a belief structure that extends beyond one’s specific place and time are the crucial elements.

Ritual traditions have been prominent in every culture of which we are aware.  Rituals are employed to mark the significant transitions in life, moving from childhood to adulthood, partner coupling, the birth of children, death, and many others.  If not members of a tradition which includes these types of rites and rituals it can be crucial for a family to make a conscious effort to develop personal family traditions that celebrate these transitions.  Familial rituals can ease the stress associated with a change allowing members of the family to embrace significant life events instead of associating stress and negativity with these times.

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We have many sayings in common usage that illustrate the understanding that connection and community are essential elements of human life.  “It takes a village,” “strength in numbers” for example. In times of high-stress deep connections to a community provide relief from stress and other negative emotions associated with the current crisis.  We don’t feel alone and have opportunities to be involved in the lives of others taking the focus off our problems.

Religious traditions provide a framework of belief that extends beyond our circumstances and gives individuals the ability to understand their challenges within a broader context.  Being able to take this more comprehensive view helps to lessen the perceived stress of a crisis. When families are overwhelmed with crisis transcendent beliefs, and broad community connections enable them to imagine a better future, cope with stress, and encourage a full sense of their ability to move forward into the future.  These are crucial elements of resilience.

This concludes part one of this multi-part series.  In part two I will examine how our understanding of family structure, connectedness, and a families social and economic resources impact resilience within a family system.  

If we can help answer any questions or concerns please contact us through our website or by phone at 844-878-3221, we are here to help.

Until next time
Your friend in service,
Rob Campbell.

For those seeking help for substance use disorder don’t hesitate to reach out to us today.

Harnessing a Family’s Motivation to Change

Much of the research into addiction shows that unresolved conflict within a family is a significant causal factor in the start of symptomatic addictive behavior. Within the family, we develop patterns of behavior and styles of relating that form the basis of our future social interactions and relationships. When a family’s ability to cope with stressors and process traumatic experience breaks down many of its members may begin to exhibit symptoms of substance and process addiction, suicidality, depression, and a host of other challenges. These effects are not limited to the current generation. Often, once this cycle locks in place, its effects may continue into perpetuity unless a family addresses the underlying causes.  On the other hand, when a family can be equipped with the tools and skills to resolve the conflict they can change outcomes not just for the current generation but for future generations of the family as well.

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In this article, I will examine the implications of the work of Landau and Garrett as presented in their landmark paper “Family Motivation to Change.”  Their work in Transitional Family Therapy provides many useful insights for any family suffering from addiction. By harnessing the inner strength and resilience of a family system, we can leverage the family’s motivation to change and improve the outcomes for several generations.

Transitional Family Therapy

Doing the work at home will help create a better family atmosphere  

In the Transitional Family Therapy (TFT) model the primary goal is to equip families with the ability to identify the tools and other resources that can enable the family to access their inner strength and resilience so that they can become the source of healing.  In this sense, TFT is an empowerment model of therapy. TFT “views the family as intrinsically competent, resilient, and healthy and the family can be a resource for individuals in times of stress” (Landau, Garrett, 2007). Most often TFT is a therapeutic model wherein the family system itself becomes the primary driver of change.  Change is accomplished through helping a family identify their competencies, strengths, and equipping a family with a belief in their ability to overcome transitional conflicts. Most often this enables a family not only to overcome current challenge but also makes it possible for them to handle future stress to the family system more efficiently, thereby limiting future symptomatic behaviors of individual members, including substance and process addiction.

Stigma still surrounds addiction and those suffering from it.  It is easy to view an addict’s behavior and assume that he or she lacks the willpower to stop, has a character flaw that is driving behavior, or is merely amoral.  While in some cases these observations may have some truth to them modern science conclusively demonstrates that addiction is a brain disease. However, the onset of substance use disorder is often left unaddressed in the research.  The Transitional Family Therapy model views the start of addiction as an adaptive response to a family system being asked to cope with more transitional conflict than it is equipped to handle. Please note that this is not limited to chemical addiction, process addiction, some forms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and many other symptomatic responses of individuals may be attributable to this overload.  There is a great deal of research that has studied individual response to stress and has shown that on average an individual can effectively process three to four life transitions at one time. Life transitions can be anything from a job change or new child being born, to the untimely death of a loved one or forced migration due to geopolitical or natural causes. When one faces more than these three or four transitions within a limited timeframe, he or she will begin to suffer deleterious effects to their well being.  A family, as a collection of individuals, will experience the same results.

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When a family system becomes overloaded with transitional conflict, one or more members will begin manifesting a symptomatic response; sometimes this causes the onset of addiction.  This response is an adaptive response to the stress placed on the family system. It can be viewed as an effort (albeit unconscious) by an individual within the family system to keep the family bond intact at times of overwhelming stress and upheaval.  This is done by taking the family’s attention away from the trauma caused by transitional conflict and by drawing the family together to deal with the problems associated with the new behavior. Now the addiction itself becomes the source of family closeness.  When the symptoms of the addiction begin to subside the grief related to past trauma will resurface, which serves to reinforce the “need” for the problem of addiction. Once set this cycle will be transmitted across generations until the time the family can resolve the underlying trauma.  

   The Family Healing Process

Allowing for time to heal and mend can help gain a new perspective

When a family can make the transition from viewing the symptoms of addiction as a shortcoming or as isolated incidences with some members of the family and can begin to understand it as an adaptive response to trauma that served to hold a family together they are on their way.  This understanding alleviates feelings of shame which hinder recovery and can create a space within which the current members of the family can better recognize their resilience and strength.

When this transition occurs within a family system not only are the individual members who are suffering the symptoms of addiction able to begin the recovery process but, indeed, all members of the family can start the healing process.  

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Ironically, it is the same strength within a family system that created the initial adaptive behavior (an individual becoming addicted) that ultimately brings freedom from suffering.  To see this, remember that the initial adaptation was an unconscious attempt to ease the pain of the family and keep close family connectedness. By shifting the attention away from the current instantiation of conflict, the ongoing effects of addiction, and instead placing it on the family system as a whole we can address the underlying trauma within the system.  As this work is undertaken by an increasing number of the members of a family, the addiction itself becomes redundant and will no longer be efficacious within the context of the family.

Often there exists the mistaken belief that addiction is a personal challenge to be met by the individual.  On the contrary, research indicates that an addict’s family is an indispensable component of the recovery journey.  A family’s commitment to change is often as significant as the addict’s.

Any member of a family can break the cycle of addiction.  Once decided, bringing the family together is indispensable.  It is ideal to include all members of the family. Doing so harnesses the inherent strength and power of the family support system to heal.  A demonstrable correlation has been shown in studies between family involvement and an increase in treatment uptake rate, and also in individual patients being more likely to complete treatment.  A family’s core strength is in its care, love, and loyalty to each other and it is these strengths that are needed to help the family overcome the cycle of addiction.

It is my sincere hope that this article is informative and encouraging to all who read it.  We at Granite Mountain BHC are dedicated to helping families and individuals break the cycle of addiction.  We are here to help. Please contact us through our website or by phone at 844-878-3221.

Until next  time
Your friend in service,
Rob Campbell

Landau and Garrett, “Family Motivation to Change: A Major Factor in Engaging Alcoholics in Treatment.”  Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly. Vol 25, No. ½, 2007. Pgs 65-83

To get help for substance use disorder today call 1-844-878-3221 today or reach out to us through our website