By Donna Schwartz; Community Clinician for Valley Hope in Colorado
Trying to describe what life is like having a loved one, or being a loved one who is addicted, is too overwhelming to speak out loud for most people. The descriptions from family to family are amazingly similar, with specific details differing in each house-hold. One of the things I have marveled at through the years of working with families of substance abusing people is how much ‘commonality’ there is and how many people live feeling ‘terminally unique’; lonely and afraid not knowing where to turn for support or even realizing they need support.
I have compared the addiction in the family to a literal tornado; the impact is very much the same. There is devastation, wreckage, and debris everywhere. The dynamics of a tornado is that of creating havoc; sucking people in and spewing out harmful things. Anyone close to the tornado is pulled in...their lives feel twisted and out of control. Everyone is feeling powerless. Life feels unmanageable and terrifying. Where do you turn for safety? How do you protect and help people in danger? How can you stop the brutal winds from harming you and others you love? What is the answer?
If the one you love who is addicted is the tornado, there are some helpful things to know. First of all, you/we cannot stop a tornado! We cannot stop the addicted loved one from using! Before you feel hopeless by this reality, consider this truth... ‘what I can do is take care of myself; create safety for myself and my child loved ones impacted by the addicted loved one’s behavior.' Thinking we can stop a loved one’s addiction is about as logical as believing we can stop a tornado. I spent years trying and it wore me out.
How we can ‘help’ is to get help for ourselves; alanon meetings (which are meetings for loved ones of the addicted for insight and support) and/or seeing a therapist who understands families and addiction. In helping ourselves and learning ‘what’ we are dealing with, in our addicted loved one and within ourselves, we can intuitively know how to manage situations that used to baffle us and be capable of finding happiness and contentment, whether the addicted person still chooses to use or not.
Most people over time of dealing with a loved one’s abuse of chemicals will admit, in time, that their best choices to be ‘helpful’ and ‘loving’ did not change the loved one’s addicted behaviors. That would be an example of ‘powerlessness’. Most will also admit that they have had many sleepless nights and some anxiety/sadness attempting to ‘save’ their loved one from despair and self-destruction.
People who live in 12 Step Recovery, or other forms of recovery who have found support, help and safety in facing the ‘tornado’, with others who have been through one themselves, have found a peace in the midst of the storm--- and after the storm. I have personally not met someone who has the quality of life they long for, living in an addicted situation, without the support of recovery group, friends, literature, and meetings. Usually when a loved one stops ‘helping,’ the addicted person sees how the chemical use is impacting their own life; how consequences they are facing is due to their using vs. blaming everyone else for their problems. Trying to change without support and education is challenging for most of us. If you have questions about ways to step away from ‘the tornado’ while still caring about the one in the middle of it, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be good to YOU!