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

Transitioning Into Recovery, A Family Perspective: Part III

In the first two parts of this series we have examined how to approach the subject of treatment with a loved one suffering from drug or alcohol addiction. Further we looked at how to help that individual make the transition into treatment. In the previous two pieces (which you can find here and here) I tried to make many helpful suggestions and to provide some insight into the potential pitfalls. In this article I would like to make some good general suggestions on how to help a loved one transition back into home life and their native community upon completing a treatment program. Getting sober is one thing, but of course the real goal is having someone stay sober. While we can’t do it for them, as the family of an addict we have a role to play in helping them stay sober. This article should is in no way meant to replace working with a professional. Every individual situation is unique and no one article could possible address every unique iteration of sobriety or family dynamics.

Returning To Your Home Environment

For many addicts returning home from treatment can be a shock to the system. For the past several months they have been sequestered in a supportive community with both staff and peers committed to their recovery. The individual has been receiving as much as six hours of daily therapy, in addition to their engagement in a 12 step fellowship. Upon graduation they return home and without a proper after care program in place can begin to experience a significant degree of loss. This experience of loss can be a major hurdle for one who is newly sober. For this reason it is often recommended to have the individual enter an aftercare program upon graduation from long term treatment. Aftercare programs take many forms. It can be as simple as seeing a therapist or other professional clinician once a week. On the other extreme it could be a five day a week four hour a day outpatient program. Each individual’s therapeutic need will be there own and any meaningful long term program will make aftercare recommendations to the patient and his or her family. In most cases the facility can and will help coordinate with local service providers on behalf of the patient. The important thing is that whatever the specific plan turns out to be the addict feels therapeutically supported and a part of a larger community of recovery.

Having an After Care Plan…. And Following Through With It

This thought brings us to our next point which is the importance for the addict of engaging in a 12 step fellowship and the recovery community upon arriving home. The old suggestion of a 90 in 90 (attending 90 12 step meetings in 90 days) is advisable but not mandatory. Almost everywhere in this country these days has a wealth of 12 step meetings on a weekly basis. One can find a meeting directory most often by Googling the name of the 12 step fellowship (i.e. AA, CA, GA, HA, NA, etc) and the name of your town. 12 step fellowships are still the largest support network for alcoholics and addicts available. To this day they are also the most effective. The important aspects are to attend often enough to first create the habit of attending. Secondly, attend regularly enough to become a part of the community of support. There are certain aspects of an addicts life that only other addicts will be able to understand. Membership in a 12 step fellowship not only provides a foundation for recovery, but also friendships, fellowship, purpose, and meaning. It is possible to stay sober without membership in a 12 step fellowship. However what is vital to recovery is community, fellowship, purpose and meaning.

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One of the most important aspects and perhaps the one addicts are least equipped to address is the necessity of creating a life of meaning and connection. How to do this is a difficult question to answer and in much detail lies outside the scope of this article. That being said, I think, I can provide some helpful suggestions. Engaging with family is a very important part of recovery. Include the addict in family life and events as much as is possible. The greater the connection becomes between the addict their family and community the harder it becomes to go back to the old way of living. Substance use takes away many of the things that once made life meaningful. In order to help your loved one think back to a time before their addiction really took hold. What were their interests and hobbies? What did they like to do with their free time? Encourage your loved one to return to these interests, especially those that were community based activities.

Finding Meaning and Remaining Accountable

One of the biggest helps you can provide to the addict is to help them feel fully responsible for their life and recovery. Try not to allow the addict to impose on you for money, or other material support. Encourage them instead to be self supporting as much as possible. Support them mentally and emotionally instead of financially and materially. For recovery to be long term the addict must take the lead and be fully responsible for their own lives. As loved ones we can be supportive and compassionate but must be careful not to assume the responsibility for them. If we allow this we may be hindering their growth.

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Our last point is to make sure, as much as possible, that the addict is able to have fun. Life is meant to be enjoyed. If our new life is a happy one it will be harder to return to our old way of living. There is no easily definable recipe for fun. However, if you and your loved one work to accomplish the above points and take some time just to enjoy each other and the new life he or she has been given, this should put you on the right track toward a happy, fun, fulfilling life.

Once again this article is not meant to replace working with a professional. Nor is it within the scope to address each individual situation. Rather it is my hope that it has answered some questions, while maybe posing others, and that it has been able to give some comfort to those who are bound to one suffering from substance use disorder by ties of affection.


Until next time
Your friend in service,
Rob Campbell
VP of Communications & Market Development

If you or someone you care about is struggling with substance use disorder, give us a call today. We are happy to answer any questions you may have about our program.